Stone Cold Steve Austin has spoken at length about two of the standout matches of his career with a man he credits for helping to ‘make’ him in the WWF – Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart.
Austin discussed his legendary feud with Hart in conversation with Chris Jericho on the Talk Is Jericho podcast. Running down some of the key matches from Austin’s career, two with Hart were worthy of discussion.
First was their match at Survivor Series 1996 in Madison Square Garden, New York. This was Hart’s first match on US soil since his sixty-minute Iron Man match in the main event of WrestleMania 12.
Steve Austin discussed how it was Hart that chose Stone Cold for his comeback:
“It was really interesting because Bret had seen me coming in WCW as he always does. I had been an admirer of Bret Hart’s work – him and Anvil I loved them as a tag team. And I’d been watching Bret a long time because he got into the business before I did. I remember he was gonna do surgery to get his knee cleaned up and he needed an opponent for Survivor Series. He told Vince [McMahon] ‘hey I can make money with this guy.’ I get a phone call from Bret that he wants to work with me.”
“So, he hand-picked me to come back from his surgery and we would go out there and just – it’s an old school match. That kind of classic pro-wrestling style and if you watch that match back, it’s a bit grainy, we’re not digital. The ring’s mic-ed different. It’s a sold-out crowd in the Garden and you know how the Garden can be man. It’s a magical place.”
Stone Cold then discussed the match itself. The finish of which mirrored a classic Hart finish with Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 8:
“Without a whole lot of hype or a whole lot of build we went out there and just turned in an instant classic. Bret was coming back and you go back and you watch that match and you watch the finish, the gimmick roll-up of the Million Dollar Dream.”
“If you watch his face and this is a shoot, he mouths ‘f*ck’ because he’s dead-dog tired and he was blowed up. He’d been at the house healing up and it was that gruelling of a match. Bret Hart is one of the greatest of all time so the fact that he hadn’t done a whole lot of in-ring work or none really and had to knock a little bit of ring rust off, he was gassed.”
“To that note, Bret was always great thirty minutes into a match at just looking dead-dog tired but he was fresh as a daisy. On this occasion, because it was a comeback, he was actually tired after the match because it was that gruelling.”
Austin sums up the Survivor Series clash and mentions how important Hart was to his career:
“It was a classic style match that I was very proud of. At that time putting in a match like that, Vince started to see who and what I could do as a performer as Stone Cold Steve Austin. I’ve said many times that match in the Garden [and] WrestleMania 13 obviously in Chicago, Bret Hart put me on the map. He made Stone Cold Steve Austin. I had to do a lot of it myself obviously but that’s how important Bret Hart was to my career.”
Chris Jericho then asked Austin about the return match between the two men at WrestleMania 13. A recent poll by Inside The Ropes named that match as the greatest in WrestleMania history.
Austin however was not sure about the ending of the match that had been dreamed up by WWF Chairman Vince McMahon as he explained:
“I’ll never forget we went into the finish room with Vince, this is way back in the day – the way things were – in that old building. We sat down and Vince says ‘hey man you guys do whatever you wanna do, you’ve got this amount of time but what I’m seeing Steve is you passing out in the Sharpshooter.’ Bret was down it because it was his finish, he was going over. Bret went every single match I ever wrestled him and I’m cool with it. I didn’t need to beat the guy. I’ve never beaten Bret in my entire career and I’m not gonna make my comeback to beat him [laughs].”
“So there we are in the finish room and [Vince] says ‘there we are, that’s all I’ve got for you’ so me and Bret go out to the ring. We’re just standing there on the apron talking and I said ‘I’ll be right back.” And I went back to Vince’s office because I’m willing to do business with Bret no problem but I’m a little worried about that finish.”
“I go into Vince’s office and I still don’t know him that well at this time and I said ‘Vince, are you sure about that finish?’ And you know how Vince talks, he looks at you and goes ‘Oh Goddamn Steve, I’m telling you it’ll work.’ That’s exactly what he said. Dude, if Vince gives you that reassurance and he’s the guy, so I said ‘Ok, I’m down with it.'”
Bret Hart then offered Austin a suggestion to make the ending of their match as iconic as it would become. Hart told Austin the match needed blood:
“I go back out and me and Bret are talking and he goes ‘Steve if you’re gonna pass out in the Sharpshooter, you need to have some colour. At the time there was a no colour policy. So I’m the newer guy, ain’t got no tenure and that’s when Bret offers up ‘if you want I can get it for you.'”
“There’s a point where I hit my head on the guardrail and I got busted open but that was his idea. In that exchange, when we go to the floor I told him ‘judgment call,’ meaning if you want to get it but if you don’t, don’t worry about it because we’ve got these people hook, line, and sinker. He followed through and I’m so glad he did.”
“I sold it like a motherf*cker but had I not had all that red sh*t on my face, streaming through my teeth and then you see how much blood I actually lost. It wasn’t one of those gore fests because you can go too hard and get too much and it just becomes distracting and hard to watch. This was not hard to watch. This just added the next level to the struggle I was going through but it was not just a turn off. So it became one of the most iconic images in my opinion in the history of the wrestling business.”
The matches with Hart then set Austin on his path to superstardom. At WrestleMania 14 the next year, Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to win his first WWF Championship.
Stone Cold Steve Austin also discussed another incredible rivalry from his career that led to a trilogy of WrestleMania bouts with The Rock.