Twenty five years after cutting the famous Austin 3:16 promo, Stone Cold Steve Austin joined Busted Open Radio to reflect on the moment that kickstarted his famous character in WWE. All these years later Austin is amazed at it’s lasting power, as well as all the things that needed to break correctly for it to happen.
“Who would’ve figured it would’ve lasted that long?” Austin asked rhetorically. “I watched that promo about ten times last night, just so I could kind of take myself back to where I was. But so many things had to happen for that promo to even happen. That incident had to happen at the Garden where the guys hugged, because Triple H was supposed to win that King of the Ring. Vince tells me I’m going to win. I go in and wrestle Marc Mero, who’s a wonderful human being, get along really good with him. I was fortunate enough that he kicked me in the mouth. If he’d never kicked me in the mouth, this never would’ve happened. They haul me to the hospital, I get fourteen stitches, come back. Michael P.S. Hayes is right there at the ambulance, telling me ‘hey, Jake just cut a religious promo on you.’ So thank you Jake for cutting a religious promo, thank you Michael P.S. Hayes for telling me that.
“So we didn’t go out there trying to plan a barnburner of a match, myself and Jake. It was short and to the point, got rid of him, got the win. Then Michael interviewed me and he told me ‘hey man, when Jake was cutting the promo on you, it was kind of religious based.’ I said ‘well what he say?’ And he told me and that’s when the Austin 3:16 popped into my brain. And I went out there, and I had Austin 3:16, I had ‘because Stone Cold said so’ as a button, cause I knew I needed a button. I came up with it on the fly. And looking back on that promo, I predicted my future. I said ‘I don’t care about any of the WWE superstars, what they are, they’re all on the list, Stone Cold’s list. And I’m fixing to run through all of them.'”
Austin, who has named a book after his famous promo, delved a bit deeper into some of his philosophy behind his promo, comparing it to how some UFC fighters talk after a victory today. He also questioned if he ever would’ve taken off like he had if not for the promo.
“You always know you get a push coming out of King of the Ring, so I was predicting my push,” Austin said. “And I also through myself into the title mix, which is what all these UFC fighters do these days. They wanted me to say something about the championship match, to let people know how important that match is. I said ‘hell I don’t care if its Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, but you’re looking at the next WWF Champion if I ever get the shot. And that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold said so.’
“So many things happened in that promo, but so many events happened to line up. It was almost like it was predestined for that promo to happen. And if none of those events had happened or happened out of order, that promo would’ve never happened. Maybe I’d have still been a big star, but that promo gave me two tag lines, 3:16 and ‘because Stone Cold said so’, at one night at an event I was never supposed to win. So I’m entirely grateful for all the pieces and people that fell in place for this to happen.”
While it’s long thought that Austin immediately took off as a main eventer following the promo, it was actually a few months before WWE actually fully got behind him. Austin said the catalyst for this was the fans bringing 3:16 signs to shows, prompting WWE to finally give Austin his own shirt.
“When we saw those signs, I remember Marc had just come to the company, they’d brought in Vader, Mick Foley, a lot of guys,” Austin recalled. “And they didn’t really have any merchandising plans for me. And I’d always talk with Jimmy Miranda and say ‘goddang Jimmy, the office got any ideas for a shirt for me?’ And he’d always say ‘no Steven they don’t.’
“Finally when all those 3:16 signs started showing up, it was a thing. And Jimmy came up to me at TV one day and said ‘Steven the office finally wants to do a shirt for you. You got any ideas?’ I said ‘you goddang right I do. Put Austin 3:16 on the front, carve in Stone Cold on a skull on the back.’ We got it cleared. Here’s something I’ve said before, maybe not everybody knows, Undertaker had to give me clearance to use that skull because Vince thought that might be gimmick infringement. I ran it by Mark, he was cool enough to give me the green light on the skull, thank you Mark. And that shirt was born.”
Austin also went into detail about receiving his first royalty check for his merchandise as he was taking off. The money didn’t seem to correspond with the sales that were coming in, prompting Austin to have a discussion with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
“You know, when I say ‘hey here’s the first shirt’ and we came out with it, I had a little conversation with Vince,” Austin said. “I remember getting a royalty check and I was like ‘look at that royalty check’ and I was looking at all those shirts out there and I was saying ‘hey man, this ain’t matching up.’ I went to Vince and had a conversation with him and I increased my percentage. And that’s a rare thing. At that point I kind of worked hand in hand with the art department. I’d kick in ideas and they’d shoot me a rendering and I’d say ‘no no, like this.’
“So I just took it upon myself. And because it was a lot easier for talent to be hands on with merch back in the day. But I saw the value in that shirt and I didn’t think the percentages added up. That was a key business move. I never like talking contracts, money with Vince and stuff like that. But that was something I needed to address and I’m glad I did because I increased my merch.”
The promo was an example of Austin coming up with his words on his own, an extreme contrast to WWE’s era of scripting promos today. That sort of environment makes Austin happy that he came up in the era that he did, even if he thinks you can still get over with a grand slam promo today.
“I’m not around today’s current system,” Austin said. “I thought someone got let go because they went off script recently. Maybe they were going to get let go anyway, I don’t know. It was a different time, it was still the wild west back then. And here’s the thing; I think even if you went off script in this day and age, if you go out there and you hit a double grand slam, walk off, game, series winning promo, I think everybody’s going to be happy about it. That promo, at the time, if you watch that promo, I was on the way to getting over. I wasn’t over, over yet. And when I said ‘Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass’, and I love that Milwaukee Mecca arena, that crowd was the biggest pop I got from saying that one line.
“So I think if you knock one out of the park and everybody knows it, I think you’re cool. But if you just go out there and its kind of good, maybe you’re showing some potential. But you know it is different system. I don’t know how tight they make the talent stick to that, but hey, I’m just lucky I came around when I did. And I was never afraid to push the envelope or go out on a limb. Once I started evolving into that Stone Cold Steve Austin character, man I knew I wasn’t the biggest guy on the roster, the most talented guy, the best looking, nothing. But I knew I had enough things that if I did everything I could and executed at a high level, I could get over.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Busted Open Radio and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription