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Steve Austin has a history as a man who, in the right circumstances, will stand-up for what he believes in a refuse to follow orders. In 2002, he walked out on a Raw tapings following being asked to job for Brock Lesnar on free television. It's also well documented that Austin had previously refused programs with Jeff Jarrett and Billy Gunn, believing that neither of them were on his level. But a lesser known story is Austin walking on on a TV tapings before he was a star. In fact, before he was ever in the WWF.
Back in 1995 Austin was a guy in WCW. A well-tenured guy, but one that was floating around the mid-card and lost in the shuffle of things going on above him that it would not be unfair to say were way above his station. He was clearly liked by some (Paul Heyman tried twice to bring him into ECW) and there were other stories floating around that Austin was being lined-up for a reincarnation of the Four Horseman. But Austin was just a guy.
Austin turned up at WCW Worldwide tapings in early May and was asked to do clean TV loss to The Renegade - WCW's answer in more ways than one to the Ultimate Warrior. It's difficult to exactly line up the timeline - WCW taped months and months of Worldwide in the course of a few days - it's fairly safe to assume that the outing would like be Renegade's first TV match since debuting, and one that would precede him winning the WCW Television Championship off of Arn Anderson at the Great American Bash pay per view in June.
Renegade's position in the company is difficult to gauge. It's clear that WCW were slowly trying to assemble the cast of the WWF from the 1980s. In the case of the deceased Andre The Giant, they had hired a wrestler who was bigger than seven feet tall to play the defacto Andre (he would debut a few months later as "The Giant", you'll know him as "The Big Show"). While the Ultimate Warrior was available, both sides clearly couldn't come to an agreement about him. Warrior wouldn't resurface until the following year in the WWF.
Renegade had been brought in as a babyface enforcer to play a part in the Hulk Hogan/Vader feud to counteract the threat of Ric Flair. Quite where they'd have ended up with him it's not quite clear, but plans in the infancy were significant. Whether it was the WWF sending cease and desist on the gimmick, a change in circumstance of the real Ultimate Warrior or just the company having a change of heart it's not clear - but Renegade in May 1995 still seemed to be a guy the company had plans for.
Austin, less so. It seemed to be bad luck that ran over Austin in his last year or so with the company. I detailed that a lot more in the previous blog, but Austin through a course of bad luck (Ricky Steamboat getting injured), injuries himself and plans just going to other people (he was lined up to be managed by Sensuous Sherri before she was then put with Harlem Heat).
But Austin refused to do the job. And perhaps he had a point, WCW television matches at the time that featured two "recognised" roster names almost never ended cleanly. To insinuate that Austin would have to lose to Renegade clean was akin to saying to Austin at best that he was a lower card job guy (which probably isn't all that far from how some in the company saw him), and that Renegade was a guy on his way to the top.
All of this came at a time when WCW were looking to cut costs. Whatever angle you want to take over the firing of Dustin Rhodes and The Blacktop Bully, it's clear that their departures were good for WCW's balance sheet, as was the decision to axe Harley Race (who was legitimately injured in a car accident) was another one that indicated where the company were coming from. It's not that they were financially in trouble, more just trying to accommodate for Hogan (PPV prices went up around this time) and trying to stop a trend that had saw the company lose money in every year of its existance.
Names that were mooted as being next were the likes of The Butcher (Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake), Brian Pillman and Austin himself. The latter two guys that were on higher than average contracts and who'd been around for a while. It's a sign of the backstage issues with regards WCW booking that both Austin and Pillman were names that regularly featured in discussions for new programs - Pillman was linked with a Crusierweight Title tournament that bubbled under for ages. Austin, as mentioned previously, had been either linked with or paired with Harley Race, Col. Robert Parker and Sensous Sherri in the prevailing six months.
But Austin didn't want to do the job for Renegade. He was seen as a hero by certain parts of the roster. Guys like Pillman, Johnny B Badd, Steven Regal and others who had all been around a while had seen mid-card pushes cast aside for Hogan's brigade of 80s stars.
The reaction to the situation seemed a little strange. Given that tapings were being held over several days the immediacy of the situation wasn't all that apparent. More bizarrely was it seems like there was no definitive answer over who had even asked Austin to do the job in the first place. Flair was "in North Korea" (he was, but the timeline meant he probably should've been back by that time), and Hogan and Jimmy Hart weren't going to be on site for Worldwide tapings.
Flair returned a day or so later, and he and Arn Anderson tried to reason with Austin. Flair spoke as a man not without justification who had had to put guys over in the past he didn't like to (Flair's last in ring appearance was an event where he put Hogan over in a match he wasn't even in). Anderson spoke as a guy who was scheduled to do the job to Renegade at the June pay per view. But Austin wouldn't budge, and left.
In the end Austin ended up doing the job at the next set of tapings. It's not apparent that he was an any massive amount of hot water, but it's certainly the case that had he refused the second time he might have been - Ric Flair's authority as head booker had taken a hammering by Hogan in recent months as it was, an uprising from below may have been more than he could've handled. Austin also put over Randy Savage in a US Title Tournament match, less forgiving although it only lasted two minutes.
It saved us from what replaced it at the first set of tapings. Renegade wrestled Tex Slazenger in a match that was described by some as the worst match in the history of the company. The match was so embarrasing it doesn't seem to have ever made it to air, and several WCW performers were laughing as Renegade somehow dragged Slazenger down even further than anyone thought possible.
In the end, this story clearly was a non factor in Austin's WCW departure. It's never been cited by Austin or Eric Bischoff as something that was a massive issue. Maybe had Austin had refused on the second occasion then things would've been different. But it was a sign of perhaps what was to come. Austin, leverage or not, wasn't afraid to stand-up if he thought he was being wronged.