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"I will become the ECW Heavyweight Champion, nobody can stop me. And that's the bottom line". Stone Cold wasn't quite saying so, yet, but Steve Austin's genesis into stardom is rightfully placed around three short months that he spent in Philadelphia with ECW at the end of 1995. While the storylines, and matches, were certainly not "superstar", the time when Austin was given a blank canvas and seemingly a never ending-reel of time, the early shoots of the biggest draw in American wrestling history were being born.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Austin's promos within ECW were years in the making. Arriving into the promotion still injured, Paul Heyman just let him talk, vent almost. Austin often really wasn't even cutting promos, in the traditional sense – there was no hype for a match or a live event, almost no purpose. But in the times he was given to talk he was captivating.
His arrival was inconspicuous - Joey Styles randomly transitioned into a "ooh, we better get down to the locker-room" to see a confrontation between The Public Enemy and The Gangstas. It was the latest in a number of awkward attempts to try and make a show sliced and diced together to have some sort of coherence. Styles (now teleported somewhere else in the building) got up close as the arguing started, then turned around and went - "THAT'S STEVE AUSTIN".
Austin, like a circus act, was already performing a Hulk Hogan promo... dressed as Hogan. He proclaimed Steve-A-Mania, wearing gear right down to a nice red weight-lifting belt and a plain yellow t-shirt with "STEVE- A-MANIA" scribbled on the front. Austin had arrived in ECW, and there were a few people in WCW he had his sights set on.
He would appear next in a "Beulah's Box" segment (a listless set of otherwise ordinary wrestling promos that just happened to include Beulah McGillicutty). She introduced Austin, now dressed as Eric Bischoff sat at "the announce table" of Nitro. Alongside Bischoff was "Bongo", Bobby Heenan couldn't be there because Bischoff had fired him... over the phone. "Welcome to WCW Monday Niquil, 'Where The Big Boys Play With Each Other'”.
Austin was plugged into the ECW Title feud between The Sandman and Mikey Whipwreck. If Paul Heyman really wanted to show people, both within WCW and the wider wrestling world, what they were missing with him as an in-ring talent this was hardly a Hollywood pass. Austin, indeed, had arrived injured, but it said a lot for the state of ECW's in-ring roster (beyond the conveyor belt of great outsiders Paul Heyman kept finding) that options to capitalise on Austin's in ring prowess were limited. Still, when ready, Austin would at least be chasing a championship.
Austin had one more WCW name in his sights first, however. There was no costume for Dusty Rhodes (although asking him to gain 150 pounds and cheese-grate his forehead was perhaps asking too much – ECW would provide that elsewhere). Austin bemoaned the occasions he would pitch ideas to WCW management, only to be told: "We sowway Schteve, but that's for somebaddah else."
It was time for Austin to insert himself into the title storyline. This was not necessarily an ECW crowd that wanted to boo Austin, he ran down ECW as a promotion, called the ECW arena a "shithole" and basically implied that whoever won the match between Mikey and Sandman would only be the champion short term. In another segment (prior to Mikey winning the title), Austin climbed the ladder, called Woman (aka Nancy Sullivan/Benoit) a "five dollar whore" before giving his permission for the main event to start.
Once Austin did make his way into physical action... things didn't quite hit the heights. Despite being out injured, Austin had managed to return in fantastic shape. His match with Mikey Whipwreck – where after getting Hulk Hogan chants from the ECW crowd he would imitate Hogan's big boot/leg drop combination. The only thing that sequence missed was Mikey hulking up afterwards. The match itself was disappointing at nine minutes long, but Mikey won cleanly setting up a triangle match for the beginning of December.
Following now usual ECW Triangle match rules, the three way started with just Austin and Whipwreck. The action between these two was about as good as you could expect, Austin piledrives Whipwreck onto the concrete, ushering out The Sandman... whos entrace took so long Mikey was actually up and fighting by the time he and Austin were ready to lock horns.
The match at this juncture took a predictable nosedive, although Austin and Whipwreck were hardly having a classic before.
Austin popped the crowd by eliminating Mikey with his "stun-gun" finisher dropping him onto the top rope. We would have a new champion. Austin and Sandman brawled, before we twice saw the use of brass knuckles, the second time Sandman pinned Austin, who got his foot onto the ropes – but the ref didn't see it. Sandman was your new champion.
It was a disappointing end to what would turn out to be Austin's last in-ring appearance with ECW. He wasn't slated, at this stage, to be signing/starting with the WWF so soon, although reports of the two parties talking had surfaced weeks earlier. Heenan would later apologise to ECW fans for Austin no showing an event (due to illness), but his chance at the ECW championship had gone.
He did, however, have one last stand. Yet again given free reign to talk, Austin cut less of what be construed as a wrestling promo and more something akin to a man baring his soul. This wasn't a wrestling promo – there was no event to promote, no real storyline furthered, it was just Steve Austin in the raw.
Austin bemoaned his luck, saying that he always thought when he got his chance he would take it, but that he failed twice against The Sandman and Mikey Whipwreck. He then got on his hands and knees and begged Eric Bischoff to take him back into midcard mediocrity, and said Bischoff deserved the honour of being called "Announcer Of The Year". He ended the six-minute monologue by promising he would win the ECW title at the next try. Like any good heel, he never delivered on that promise.
As it turned out, illness aside, Austin was just a couple of weeks away from debuting in the WWF. The story, at this time, is a well worn one. Vince McMahon bought Austin in to be a mid-card workhorse, he even called him "The Ringmaster". And if you wanted the full extent of how little McMahon understood of Austin's strengths and weaknesses at the time, he put him with Ted DiBiase... who's going to pay to see Austin talk, eh? Vince, clearly, hadn't been watching Hardcore TV.
How can you analyse Austin's run in ECW? Heyman was one of the guys who throughout the early 90s maintained that Austin could and would go on to become the next big star in the industry. Heyman had him for three months – in a varying gradient of injury. While the promos were fun and entertaining to watch, quite what pass Heyman was giving Austin to show his skills by putting him with Sandman and Mikey was anybody's guess.
And, beside the point, would it have been such a bad idea to give Austin the title, even for a week or two? By this stage it was already becoming clear that ECW was being squeezed from both sides in the Monday Night War. Why not use a guy like Austin to show newer fans that ECW was the home of the stars of tomorrow? It went against the grain of how ECW presented itself, but it could've been a way of switching the perception.
Was Steve Austin misused by WCW?
The Time Steve Austin Walked Out On WCW
Should WCW Have Fired Steve Austin?