Stone Cold Steve Austin has been reminiscing about his iconic ‘Austin 3:16’ promo at the 1996 King Of The Ring as the moment that sold millions of t-shirts celebrated its 25th anniversary.
As far as seminal moments in wrestling history go Steve Austin’s promo after winning the 1996 King Of The Ring is right up there. Austin joined Dok Hendrix in front of his throne after defeating Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts for his first royal proclamation as the WWF’s new king. Rather than don the crown, cloak, and sceptre, Austin launched a blistering attack on his night’s opponent as well as putting the entire WWF roster on notice that at any given time they could find out firsthand exactly what Austin 3:16 meant.
Speaking to Busted Open Radio on the 25th anniversary of the moment, Steve Austin recalled the serendipity that was at play for his breakout moment to come to pass.
“Who would’ve figured it would’ve lasted that long? 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.”
Austin continued, noting that Austin 3:16 came to him after hearing about Roberts’ religion-based promo. Stone Cold revealed that this was also the night when he knew he had to hit another of what would become his best-known catchphrases.
“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.’”
“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 threw 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 it’s 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 Austin 3:16 no doubt set Steve Austin on the road to superstardom, it also had a more immediate effect. With fans bringing more and more signs quoting Austin’s famous phrase, it was soon time for the Texas Rattlesnake to cash in on some lucrative merchandise. Austin explains thought that he had to seek permission from another wrestling legend to be able to use his famous skull design.
“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, 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.”
Beyond King Of The Ring, Stone Cold Steve Austin found his WWF career stuttering in the later summer and he wasn’t even on the main SummerSlam card. Things were to change later in the year when Bret Hart returned to action and faced Austin in the first of two of their iconic meetings at Survivor Series 1996.