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25th Jun 2018

22 years ago this week, Austin 3:16 was born and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin became a superstar

Dave Hanratty

“Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16…”


June 23, 1996.

A historic date for wrestling fans, thanks to the above words.

Words, incidentally, that weren’t in the script.

Having defeated popular veteran Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts in a brutal one-sided King of the Ring final, Steve Austin ascended to a throne he had little interest in occupying.

Crushing the hopes and dreams of a legend was much more appealing, you see.

Roberts was on a comeback run, having shown up for the 1996 Royal Rumble in January and stuck around with something of a redemption gimmick, one that blurred the lines between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ as references were made to the enduring grappler’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.

Austin, meanwhile, was floundering as The Ringmaster, having been brought in from rival WCW by the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase some months back.

Even with the famous Million Dollar Belt, The Ringmaster was a generic sort, armed with nonsense microphone work about “everybody out there in TV Land” and no real sense of direction.

Clip via WWE

It looked like Austin was destined for the middle of the card. A feud with Savio Vega showed promise and bite, but Austin himself knew that he could do more.

Eventually, his chance arrived. And now he stood atop that King of the Ring podium.

No pomp and circumstance, no ceremony, just a mean dude and words that came from within, in the moment, rather than a team of writers backstage hours earlier.

“The first thing I want to be done is to get that piece of crap out of my ring!” raged Austin, pointing to a broken Roberts as the popular veteran was helped down the aisle.

“Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF! Because I proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore!”

So far, so standard ‘dickhead heel’ promo. But then…

“You sit there and you thump your bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”

And the crowd go wild.

Clip via WWE

The next night on Monday Night Raw; a sea of homemade Austin 3:16 signs rose high in the crowd.

This wasn’t the plan, and they weren’t to know quite yet, but the World Wrestling Federation had its biggest star since the glory days of Hulk Hogan.

The stage was set for Austin to capitalise on this anti-establishment rebel outlaw character, the kind of guy everyday guys saw themselves in, guys that wanted to stand up to, humiliate, triumph over and possibly even beat the hell out of their boss.

They couldn’t, of course. But ‘Stone Cold’ could.

Austin’s resulting prolonged feud with Vince McMahon – who would fully embrace and perfect his egomaniac ‘Mr. McMahon’ persona along the way – was the making of both men and pretty much the crowning achievement and most profitable element of the notorious Attitude Era.

Sure, you had Rocky Maivia shaking off that tepid smilin’ babyface loser and developing the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment.

You had D-Generation X.

You had the Undertaker running around mock-sacrificing people and the birth of Kane.

You had Mick Foley.

You had chaos every week.

None of it connected like Steve Austin did. Nothing has since, and likely never will.

How different it all might have been, too.

The story goes that Triple H, then in conceited rich snob Hunter Hearst Helmsley mode, was scheduled to win the coveted King of the Ring prize and enjoy a huge push as a singles wrestler, but that was supposedly scuppered following his participation in the infamous ‘Curtain Call’ at Madison Square Garden.

On that evening, Triple H, alongside Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Diesel, ‘broke kayfabe’ when they celebrated together in the ring after their match. Good guys and bad guys hugging one another in full view of the fans, a sight totally unheard of at the time.

Ramon and Diesel were finishing up with the WWF, and headed over to WCW, so couldn’t be punished. Michaels, the top babyface in the company at the time, couldn’t be reprimanded due to his status.

That left Triple H, who was summarily defeated at every turn, most notably in a squash match at WrestleMania 12 at the hands of the Ultimate Warrior.

Clip via Simply the Best

This version of events – laid out by a bitter Triple H in the above interview with Jim Ross when he christened himself ‘The Game’, has been disputed by fans.

Whether it’s true or not hardly matters at this point, as it’s fair to say things worked out pretty well for Triple H.

As for ‘Stone Cold’, well, that cowboy rode off into the sunset when injuries called time on his career, and given that he’s responsible for crowds yelling ‘WHAT?’ during promos, perhaps his best days were behind him.

But what days they were. Wrestling is enjoying something of a new boom period at the moment, with fans utterly spoiled between the WWE Network, NXT, New Japan and thriving local scenes.

And yet, it will never be as hot as it was during the mid-to-late ’90s. Crowds were louder. People cared more. Yeah the action was kinda rubbish apart from a few specialist main event level talents, but it felt alive in a way that it rarely does now.

Essentially, the business needs another ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.

As the man himself said when looking back on that iconic moment:

“’Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass’ was prophetic, and it became a phrase that defined my career.

“It is still one of the most popular phrases in WWE history, and anyone who doesn’t like it can piss off.”

And that’s the bottom line…