Pretty much everyone agrees that Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the greatest wrestling talkers of all time. To this day you regularly see arguments among wrestling fans (and in wrestling blog comment sections), not just about who’s as good as Stone Cold, but whether anybody working today belongs in the same conversation as Stone Cold. But everybody has to start somewhere, and Austin wasn’t born delivering the “Austin 3:16” promo (although professionally, he kind of was). In a recent appearance on Dale Earnhart Jr’s podcast, Stone Cold talked about learning to talk as a wrestler, and who he learned from.
As Austin explained, everyone starts out bad at talking, including him:
You start off being bad at it. You talk about green as grass. I go out there and try to talk. You first start off, your voice is really high. You haven’t learned to talk from your diaphragm. You don’t really know what to say. You haven’t really created a character so there’s no ground base to build from so you flounder. You’re doing the best you can but when you shitt the bed, you’ve done just that. Once you fall on your face enough you learn this is sink or swim. These are shark infested waters. You better succeed or your ass is going to get left behind.
Austin credits his partner in the Hollywood Blonds at WCW with forcing him to step up his promo game.
They didn’t think I had ‘it’ yet so they stuck me in a Tag Team with Flyin’ Brian Pillman. Brian was one of those guys who would sit there and read dictionaries and books just to increase his vocabulary. He was forward thinking and if you put a microphone in front of his face, he always had something to say. So all of a sudden, it was like “You better crank it up Steve cuz you’re going to sound like a deaf mute next to Flyin’ Brian because he’s lightening it up.”
In 1995, Austin was fired by Eric Bischoff, who didn’t see star potential in him. He went to ECW, where he cut an shoot unusual promo that’s still worth watching today.
Paul had just started ECW down in Philly. Paul said, “Hey Steve, you’re up.” And I said, “What do you want me to talk about?.” Paul said, “Just talk about how you’re feeling. Just talk.” He turned the cameras on and I rattled off that promo still on YouTube and I talked for about six minutes nonstop. Ad-lib. Told it like it was. And that was probably the groundbreaking promo where I started feeling who and what I was. I hadn’t come up with the Stone Cold thing yet, but I realized at that point that who I was in that ring was, if you turn me up to eleven, that’s me. Paul Heyman taught me to deliver a message, get that message across, and make people feel things because that’s how you draw money.
It would still take Austin a couple of years to become Stone Cold, but once he’d worked with Pillman and learned to tell it like it is from Heyman, it was only a matter of time. (Thanks to Wrestling Inc for the podcast transcript).