wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Was Steve Austin a Better Champion or Challenger?

June 3, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WrestleMania 38 Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dale Earnhardt Jr Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

Hey, ya want a banner?

I’ve been told I should promote my Twitter account more. So, go follow me on Twitter.

Night Wolf the Wise is cuing up the Benny Hill theme:

I was re watching the 2nd Broken Skull Sessions with Stone Cold and the Undertaker. They were discussing both of them being Heavyweight Champion. Both said they thought they were better chasing the title then being champion. What do they mean by that? And do you agree with that sentiment?

They mean that stories were more compelling and their characters worked better when they were portrayed as being a contender pursuing the championship as opposed to being portrayed as the actual champion.

I absolutely agree with that sentiment that Austin was better off chasing the title. If you look at what propelled him to popularity, it was being the anti-establishment underdog who had everything thrown at him by the powers that be but prevailed anyway. Yes, you want that sort of character to win the championship from time-to-time, because otherwise his runs as a contender becomes less compelling. However, if he holds the belt for too long, he begins to lose his status as the underdog. His oppressors need to have the upper hand get heat on him for a while in order to make his eventual win all the more special.

On the flip side of things, far be it from me to think that I know the Undertaker’s career better than the Undertaker, but I would actually disagree with his statement that he was better chasing the title than he was holding the title.

In fact, I’m going to take this in a completely different direction and say that, in my opinion, the best Undertaker was the Undertaker who wasn’t in the championship picture at all.

Particularly when he was going heavy on the supernatural theatrics, in my mind the Undertaker gimmick was unique and special enough that he could be an attraction on his own without the need to be a titleholder, in much the same way that Andre the Giant managed to be an attraction who was just as important as the champion without ever really being the champ. Given how long he was around and how wrestling evolved over the years, I do think that you were going to have to put a belt on Taker occasionally just so that he could maintain his credibility as a top guy, but, for the most part, he didn’t really need it.

Besides, whether we’re talking about the Undertaker, Steve Austin, or anybody else, there’s really only one chase that matters, and I don’t think either Stone Cold or UT would be particularly good at it:

Also, do you think there are wrestlers outside of Stone Cold and the Undertaker that were better at chasing the title then being champion?

The name that immediately springs to my mind is Ricky Steamboat. He had some epic matches and feuds as a challenger for championships, but he always seemed to lose a bit of his luster when he was holding the gold himself.

Harry wants to cross (paths with) the boss:

How would a wrestler get a meeting with Vince McMahon. His attitude is that he likes people to come to him, but unless you’re Chris Jericho or someone, I can’t imagine you ping his cell or just grab him? Would you go through some management and then maybe get an audience with Vince or could you knock on his door. Maybe he even has a PA to sort it all out?

Based on every story I’ve heard from a wrestler who has worked in WWE, it really doesn’t seem that difficult to get an audience with the guy. Granted, as the backstage environment has become more corporate, there may be more Johnny Aces or creative team members that you have to navigate before you eventually get to the kingpin, but I don’t think I’ve ever once heard a wrestler share an anecdote in which the upshot was, “Man, I really wanted to talk to Vince about my push but I just couldn’t peg him down for a meeting.”

Far more often, the story is that they got through to Vince and he did a Jedi mind trick on them in which he left them feeling great about their position in the company only for them to realize a couple of hours later that he hadn’t actually promised them anything or done anything to meaningfully change their situation.

Ken things the second “H” stands for “history”:

Apparently Vince Russo claimed he stopped WWE from firing HHH after the curtain call. This has maybe been asked before but I’m curious what would’ve happened if they did fire HHH. Would he have gone to WCW? Would he have done well there? How would things be different?

The entire reason that the curtain call occurred was that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were headed to WCW, and Triple H was part of the crew that they were incredibly tight with . . . so you can rest assured that he would have wound up running with his buddies in Atlanta if the WWF were to have fired him. He almost assuredly would have been part of the nWo, since he fit with the general motif of being a supposed WWF invader, just like Ted DiBiase and Sean Waltman did when they joined the company not long after Hall and Nash.

Presumably Trips would have done fairly well in WCW, given that he would have had some powerful friends backing him up and would have been part of one of the biggest angles in professional wrestling history.

Given that WCW did not exactly have the best track record with younger talent at the time and a lot of their “can’t miss” prospects wound up jumping to the WWF and becoming bigger stars eventually (Jericho, Big Show, the Radials, etc.), I suspect HHH would have wound up in a similar position and probably would have been back on Raw before the end of the Monday Night War anyway. From that point, there’s not much that would have stopped him from winding up more or less exactly where he wound up.

Elvis blows up balloons all day:

Do you remember the guy in the audience who would hold up a sign that said something along the lines of “## PPVs in a row?” I’m just wondering when was the last time we saw him and what number he got up to? I’m thinking he probably didn’t make it to the Saudi Arabia shows, but who knows?

The gentleman’s name is John Glick, and you can actually still follow him on Twitter, where his handle is WWEsBiggestFan.

According to a Facebook post that he made on December 14, 2014, he attended 37 consecutive WWE pay per view events, beginning with Survivor Series 2011 and ending with Survivor Series 2014. He even managed to keep the streak alive for a period of time with a broken leg. Ultimately, he ended it not because of that health issue but rather because he felt book ending the run with two Survivor Series shows was as good a stopping point as any other. He also noted that he never really intended to have a streak that long but that, instead, he started by attending three straight shows and things just happened to take on a life of their own from that point.

JoJo just hasn’t been the same since he stopped hanging out with K-Ci:

I was thinking about the worst skits ever on Raw/SD — and i remember one with Y2J, Miz and Brad Maddox (GM). It was so bad Michael Cole apologized to the viewers telling them to forget about the skit, something like that. I googled it. It was a March 2013 episode of RAW, but I could not find the video. Please help find link. Could it be that bad?

Nope, I can’t find a video. This one seems to have been scrubbed from the internet. Oh well. Enjoy this other awkward interaction between Jericho and Maddox from Raw in July 2013.

By the way, what is your favorite RAW/SD trainwreck ever? Mine is the Trump vs. Rosie match.

My favorite has to be the entire run of Vince McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania. Yes, it ended with a scripted disaster, as the Monday Night Raw set exploded and squished the chairman of the board, but for weeks before that, there were plenty of hilarious unscripted disasters. Marvel as Vince McMahon struggles to operate a touch-tone phone! Gasp as contestants called by McMahon either admit they are not watching Raw or just don’t pick up at all! Thrill as awkward dead air fills your screen!

However, the two unquestionably greatest moments of he experience were: 1) a segment in which the Great Khali got pissed off and cut a promo on a contestant in Punjabi (at least I think it was in Punjabi – it was always hard to tell with that guy) and 2) Vince McMahon getting Rickroll’d. No, really:

Michael is my homeboy:

What is your feeling on wrestlers always winning in their hometown? It seems many commenters feel it’s sacrilege for a wrestler to lose in their hometown, especially in a title match, but I disagree generally. I reference when HBK beat the Bulldog for the European title in England. I believe he Had to convince WWF management that it was the right call but the crowd was rabid as that match unfolded and it brought HBK unbelievable heat. So I would say it worked. Your thoughts?

There are going to be exceptions to every rule, but, generally, wrestlers should win in their hometown.

Keep in mind that the point of professional wrestling is to make money. If you build a wrestler up as a major star in their home market, local fans are going to be more likely to buy tickets to see them perform when you come to their hometown and their name is on the marquee.

If you tell fans that they’re not anything particularly special by having them lose major matches when they’re in their own backyard, then why in the world would local fans plunk down their hard earned money for those tickets?

Granted, we are now in an era where major professional wrestling promotions don’t even announce cards in advance when they come to a town and just try to sell tickets based on the brand name of the promotion alone. In that sense, perhaps the concept of the face winning in his hometown is a little bit dated.

However, if you want to book professional wrestling and make money off of it the way it’s been booked and monetized for the vast, vast majority of its existence, faces dominating in their hometowns is the only thing that makes sense. Getting your heel booed is secondary. Making money at the box office is far more important.

Richard Roper hopefully isn’t angry that I punched up his name:

I watch a lot of wrestling, and WWE is the only company I’ve seen that uses actual ropes on their rings. Are there any other companies of any size that use actual ropes on their rings? And do all the companies that don’t use ropes use steel cables instead? If not, what do they use? And if WWE is the only company that uses ropes, are they wrong? Is there opinion from wrestlers as to what they prefer?

Yes, WWE is the only company of significance that I’m aware of that uses actual rope as ring “ropes.”

Yes, the only real alternative to rope is steel cable, though I will say that I’ve seen some really, really low level independents – think a step or two above backyard wrestling – try to use some sort of rubber tubing with nothing inside it, almost like a garden hose. Typically you can’t run those ropes unless you have a death wish.

I wouldn’t say that WWE is “wrong” for using actual rope, just like they’re not “wrong” for using a ring that is a couple of square feet bigger than what most other promotions have historically used. It’s just a matter of personal preference of the people making the decisions. As far as wrestlers’ preferences are concerned, this isn’t a subject that comes up all too often, but those who I have heard speak on it have tended to prefer cable, because it gives a bit more momentum when running the ropes and because it’s easier to jump off of if you’re going to be performing a high risk maneuver.

However, it’s not a huge issue for most. It’s usually just a matter of taking a bit of time to adjust when you transition from another promotion to WWE or vice versa.

Joseph wants a different take on an old question:

Some years ago I asked your predecessor about the possibility that Bret Hart would have defended his championship at Wrestlemania IX against the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and Randy Savage as opposed to the match with Yokozuna which is what we got.

I was wondering if you could indulge me with the same question. How would you book each of those matches both in terms of the buildup and the match itself?

When all is said and all is done, which of these potential opponents – with or without Yokozuna – was the best possible match?

Yokozuna was the best possible match.

Granted, the way they booked it in the end was dreadful, but on paper at the time, Yokozuna was the best possible match.

Why? Because Bret Hart had been a world championship level babyface for less than a year at this point, and what the company really needed was to continue to build him as a major star. The problem with booking him against Warrior, Hogan, or Savage is that all of those guys were established faces at the time and all significantly more popular than the Hitman, so if you booked any one of them against him you ran the risk of Hart’s star being dwarfed by their popularity and damaging his upward momentum.

Of course, what actually happened at Wrestlemania IX did its own sort of damage to Bret’s upward momentum, but I was asked about booking something good, not booking something just as bad as what happened in real life.

If I had to book one of the three matches Joseph asked about, it would be Hart/Savage, because the Macho Man had the most history as a heel in the eyes of WWF fans at the time, so it would be easiest to turn him back into somebody who would not be cheered over Hart.

The best story to get there, in my mind, is a version of what Ric Flair and Terry Funk did to set up their feud in 1989. (Keep in mind that the WWF and Crockett had largely separate audiences at this point, so you’re not going to have that many people crying “ripoff.”) Keep the Macho Man out of the ring in late 1992 and have him work primarily as an announcer. After a major title defense by Hart, perhaps against Shawn Michaels at the ’92 Survivor Series, have Savage hit the ring, congratulate the champ, tell him that he’s the greatest he’s ever seen, and go on to say that the Macho Man wants to test his mettle against the best.

However, Savage doesn’t get the match, not because Hart doesn’t want to do it, but because WWF brass sees Savage as being a retired star who can’t just leapfrog the other contenders. Then, at the ’93 Royal Rumble, Savage snaps and brutally assaults Hart to the point that the Hitman demands the match at Wrestlemania, with the powers that be being unable to refuse a demand from the champ. (Keep in mind that the “winner of the Royal Rumble gets a Wrestlemania title match” hadn’t been an established rule yet – ’93 was the first year for it, so you can just not use the stip for another year).

Then, at Mania, the two men have a barnburner of a match, and Hart goes over clean.

After Savage, the next of the three that I’d pick would be Hogan. There would be a difficult balance to strike here, because, even though there were some “smart” fans starting to sour on the Hulkster at this point, the core of the fanbase still thought he was the bee’s knees. Turning him heel is almost certainly off the table given that nobody succeeded in convincing him to do it for another three years, and turning Bret heel is counterproductive for the long-term direction of the company.

So, you’re stuck doing a babyface/babyface match, which is also not ideal because those types of bouts typically only work when the faces have both been established at a high level, and the Hitman just wasn’t there yet.

Ultimately, I think what you’d have to do here is something in which Hart has a plausible reason for wanting to wrestle Hogan while remaining a babyface. I’d suggest taking the tag team feud between the Hulkster and Brutus Beefcake and Money, Incorporated that was run around this time and putting Hart in Beefcake’s spot, perhaps with the idea being that Ted DiBiase and IRS seriously injure Brutus with the Hitman making a save and tagging with Hogan thereafter. During a Hogan/Hart versus Money, Inc. match – which I guess you would have to book as a rare Hogan appearance on Raw – the babyfaces win in such a way that Hogan gets the pin but it’s clear that Hart dealt the final blow that allowed Hulk to log the three count.

Then, in a post-match promo, Hogan makes a comment that is rather condescending to the Hitman, implying that he’s a good wrestler, but Hogan is immortal. Bret doesn’t take it well and points out he’s the one with the WWF Championship and he’s the one who just won the match for the team – so perhaps at Wrestlemania we can see who will really be carrying the World Wrestling Federation for the next ten years.

That gives us the match, and . . . oof, this is a difficult one to come up with a finish for. It’s easy to say that the best choice is Hart retaining over Hogan clean in the middle, but I can just hear Hulk saying, “That doesn’t work for me, brother.”

As a result, I think you’ve got to do something that lets Hogan save face. Assuming we’re still headed to Hogan/Yokozuna at King of the Ring, perhaps Yoko and Mr. Fuji interfere at the finish – in a manner that Hart does not see so as to keep his hands clean – weakening Hogan to set him up for a pinfall loss to the Hitman. Then, to one hundred percent solidify he is still on team good guy, after the bell Bret realizes what happens, and he and Hogan beat Mr. Fuji with an inch of his life while Yokozuna decides he’ll live to fight another day and hits the bricks.

Last and certainly least, we have the Ultimate Warrior. This is the dirt worst option, in part because you’ve got all the same problems you do with Hogan probably not turning heel and probably not putting Hart over clean, plus on top of that it would no doubt be the worst match from an in-ring perspective. Also, since Warrior wasn’t actually part of the WWF roster at this time, so it’s hard to tie the match into any direction he was coming from or going into.

I suppose that the easiest and least offensive thing to do would be to introduce the “Royal Rumble winner receives a Wrestlemania title shot” stipulation, as happened in real life in 1993, and have Warrior win the match. And, no, I wouldn’t have him win as a surprise entrant. In the 1990s, when you’ve got something as big as the return of the Ultimate Warrior to the WWF, you promote it to sell tickets and pay per views, dammit.

From there, just have Hart and Warrior cut babyface promos on each other for the next couple of months and see what the Hitman can drag out of the facepainted homophobe for a Mania main event. Perhaps Bret could win when federal agents storm the ring and arrest Warrior for alleged possession of HGH.

Seriously, though, with Warrior likely being unwilling to drop a fall, I think the best thing you could probably do is use Hulk Hogan’s star power to put his Wrestlemania IX match on the show last with Warrior/Bret in the middle of the show, which gives you more latitude to do a screwy finish, perhaps Bret winning by count out.

Yeah, that’s a terrible idea . . . but there’s also a reason the match was never booked in the first place.

What a goof! My god, I almost forgot the fourth Horseman! Tyler from Winnipeg, get on down here!

As a youngster, anything stick out in your mind when you were upset at the conclusion of a match?

Not really. I never got particularly worked up by the outcomes of wrestling matches, because I never believed wrestling was legitimate. Several years before I actually got into wrestling myself, I had a friend in elementary school who was a big fan and was constantly bringing WWF Magazine with him on the school bus. There was a group of older kids who would make fun of him for doing it and would call wrestling fake. So, when I started watching a while later, I knew it wasn’t on the level. That makes it a bit harder to actually get worked up about the results.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.