WM Top 25: #8 – Austin’s ascension to glory, WrestleMania XIV

Check out this article at Examiner.com to see an embedded clip of Stone Cold's historical Title win at WrestleMania XIV.

Every once in awhile a wrestler superstar comes around that completely changes the face of the game. Steve Austin is one of those superstars.

“Stunning” Steve Austin made his wrestling debut in 1989 under the tutelage of British wrestler “Gentleman” Chris Adams. By 1991 he debuted in World Championship Wrestling and become one of the company’s fastest rising stars. He looked as if he would be one of WCW’s biggest names but in early 1995 he was injured during a tour of Japan, and was subsequently fired by then-WCW president Eric Bischoff, who cited that Austin wasn’t a marketable star.

After a brief stint in Extreme Championship Wrestling, Austin showed up in the WWF at the very end of 1995, dubbed The Ringmaster. He didn’t set fire in the WWF right away either until the company finally threw up their hands and decided to jus let Austin be Austin. He dropped “The Ringmaster” moniker and became “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a bald-headed, goatee wearing, bad-ass who did what he wanted, said what he wanted and become the ultimate company loner.

Despite his traditional villainous tactics, he actually turned out to be the anti-hero that the company sorely needed. By early 1997 it was becoming evident that Austin would be THE guy in the company; it was just a matter of time.

And that time came on March 29, 1998 at WrestleMania XIV in Boston, Massachusetts, when Stone Cold Steve Austin won his first WWF World Heavyweight Championship. The stage was set when Austin won the 1998 Royal Rumble match in order to earn that Title match. To say that Austin was on fire at this point in his career would be a vast understatement, and his Rumble victory was perhaps the most obvious and telegraphed one in history. He marched into WrestleMania to challenge Shawn Michaels, the reigning Champion.

On that night that Austin earned his Title shot, Michaels successfully defended the WWF Championship against Undertaker in a casket match, but in the process he severely destroyed his back and was in desperate need of surgery to repair the injury. The injury was so bad that Michaels completely stayed out of in-ring action in the two months leading up to WrestleMania.

To add the excitement of WrestleMania it was announced that WWF had reached an agreement with boxing legend Mike Tyson to make an appearance at the pay per view, serving as the main event’s special ringside enforcer. To help hype up the appearance, Tyson was shown in a skybox at the Royal Rumble, and then made a historic live appearance on Monday Night RAW to confirm his appearance. Naturally that appearance on RAW was interrupted by Stone Cold, who got in the face of Tyson and gave him the “two-finger salute,” which caused a pull-apart brawl between the two fighters. With Tyson’s appearance and Austin’s meteoric rise that was leading the WWF to its biggest heights in years, WrestleMania looked to be something historic.

Austin came into the match as the clear fan favorite and the clear odds-on favorite. Michaels’ back injury was incredibly serious and it was thought that this would be his last match. Despite his hurting, Michaels went out and did the job he was called upon to do. He grimaced and fought through constant back pain he was feeling to give Austin the main event level match he needed to solidify him as a superstar. Michaels bounced and bumped all over the ring for the new hero and after a punch from Tyson and a Stone Cold Stunner, Austin pinned Michaels to become the new WWF Champion.

It’s often hard to truly see the beginning of an era in a crazy medium like pro wrestling, but Austin’s win at WrestleMania XIV was the clear indication of the start of something new. His victory signaled the official dawn of the WWF’s “Attitude” era, with Stone Cold leading the charge. Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart were working for the competition and Michaels became a thing of the past. Austin became the beer drinking, middle finger raising, and foul-mouthed anti-hero for a new generation of pro wrestling fans. Whole new groups of people were exposed to pro wrestling under the watch of Austin and his peers like The Rock and DeGeneration X. He carried the WWF to its highest highs and made himself and the company more money than they could have imagined. Today he is considered the highest-drawing wrestler in WWE history, and probably in U.S. wrestling history. Not bad for a guy that Eric Bischoff didn’t think was “marketable.”

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