From Stunning to Stone Cold, Austin Became the Biggest Name in Wrestling
Born Steven James Anderson and, later, legally changing his name to Steven James Williams (after his stepfather's surname), Stone Cold Steve Austin became one of the biggest names professional wrestling. A six-time World Wrestling Federation Champion, Austin became the WWF's fifth Triple Crown winner and the highest grossing Superstar in WWF/E history.
Austin began wrestling as Steve Williams in World Class Championship Wrestling. Under the tutelage of "The Gentleman" Chris Adams, Austin learned the technical aspects of wrestling. But it was WCCW referee Tony Falk who taught Austin how to tell a story and the nuances of kayfabe when he talked Austin through a pinfall victory over Frogman LeBlanc.
After Continental Wresltling Association and WCCW merged to form the United States Wrestling Association, Memphis booker Dutch Mantell changed Austin's ring name from Steve Williams to Steve Austin because CWA-- now USWA-- already had "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Austin began a feud with his mentor Adams, managed by Percy Pringle and accompanied by his real-life girlfriend Jeannie Adams (ex-wife of Chris Adams). During this feud, Austin began his "Stunning" gimmick that followed him to World Championship Wrestling.
Austin signed with WCW in 1991, and defeated Bobby Eaton for his first WCW Television Championship just weeks after signing. He would also join Paul E. Dangerously's Dangerous Alliance during this time. By 1993, Austin teamed up with Brian Pillman to form the Hollywood Blondes and won the WCW Tag Team title from Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas. After suffering an injury in 1995, WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff released Austin after Bischoff didn't see Austin as a "marketable" star.
Paul Heyman, who was known as Paul E. Dangerously in WCW, signed a disgruntled Austin to a contract with his Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion. Though still injured and unable to wrestle, Heyman provided Austin with a platform to get his frustrations out through the use of in-ring interviews and promos. It was during this time that his future "Stone Cold" persona began to take shape. While with ECW, Austin lost two opportunities for the ECW World Heavyweight title-- Heyman wanted Austin to win the title, but Austin stated he was better as "the hunter than the hunted."
In late 1995, Austin signed on with WWF and was given the Ringmaster gimmick. He was given the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase as his manager and spokesman-- Vince McMahon, had not seen any of Austin's promos from ECW and wasn't aware of his mic skills. After DiBiase left for WCW, Austin began his run as Stone Cold and won the 1996 King of the Ring. After beating Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who was going through a born-again Christian gimmick, in the final; Austin gave his now infamous "Austin 3:16" promo and the Stone Cold era was under way. Though he was supposed to be a heel, Austin would become quite popular with the fans and began receiving a lot more cheers during his matches.
When Austin began his feud with then-face Bret "Hitman" Hart, Hart began receiving a mix of cheers and boos and Austin popularity continued to grow. By Wrestlemania 13, Austin's popularity had grown so much that McMahon decided he was going to turn Austin face-- in the role of the anti-hero. This to the great double-turn end to the Submission Match with Bret Hart. Hart would defeat a bloody Austin when Austin passed out after refusing to submit; the double turn taking place when Hart kicked Austin in the mid-section as they shook hands.
From there Austin's meteoric rise in the WWF began. At the 1997 SummerSlam, however, his career was nearly ended in a match with Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship. Hart accidentally injured Austin's neck while performing a Pile Driver. An clearly injured Austin would go on to win the match as planned, but knew the injury was pretty serious. Because of the severity of his injuries, Austin relinquished both his IC belt and the Tag title he held with Dude Love at the time. Austin was out of action until Survivor Series when regained his title from Owen Hart and began his first feud with The Rock.
After Austin forfeited his IC belt to The Rock in defiance of Mr. McMahon's orders, Austin threw the belt into a New Hampshire river during a Raw episode. After coming out to attack Hart a few weeks later, Austin was confronted by McMahon himself-- then still only a commentator and not openly known as the owner of WWF-- about not being "physically" able to compete and was summarily given a Stone Cold Stunner to begin the most popular rivalry in WWF (and possibly the entire profession) history.
At the 1998 Royal Rumble, Austin would win the match-- because no referees saw him eliminated-- to earn a shot for Shawn Michaels's WWF title. Austin's triumph was witnessed and cheered by Mike Tyson, who would sign on for Wrestlemania 14. At Wrestlemania, Austin would defeat Michaels with Tyson (who was aligned with Michaels' Degeneration-X stable) giving the three count as the special ring enforcer. Austin would again win the WWF title at Wrestlemania 15, this time over The Rock. However, by Survivor Series, Austin would use a storyline where he was hit by a car to step away for nearly a year to have much needed neck surgery-- as his neck had taken to much of a beating.
Austin would return in late 2000 to get revenge on the driver of the car, who had been revealed to be Rikishi. Triple H would then reveal himself as the mastermind behind the whole plot, which led to a Six-Man Hell in a Cell match for the WWF Title. After winning the Royal Rumble a second time, Austin would again be pitted at Wrestlemania against The Rock. The match was changed to a No Disqualification Match minutes before it was set to begin. During the climax of the match, Mr. McMahon walked down to the ring and handed Austin a chair. Austin used the chair to ensure his victory and shook hands with McMahon after winning the WWF title again. He began a heel run and teamed up with Triple H to win the tag titles as the Power Trip. The Power Trip would lose the belts after a short run due to Triple H legitimately injuring his thigh muscle in a tag match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.
Austin would "betray" the WWF/E during the Invasion angle and join the WCW/ECW Alliance. During this time, Austin began to ask "What?" after every statement and the fans began to intimate the question during Austin's promos. After the Invasion angle ended, Austin slowly began moving back into a face-- his popularity having never truly waned, even as a heel. With 2003 right around the corner, it became apparent that Austin's injuries had taken their toll and he would need to retire. This led to a third and final main event with The Rock at Wrestlemania 19-- the only time that two men would headline Wrestlemania three times against each other. Austin would drop the title to The Rock, who would thank Austin and allow him the final curtain call of the night.
Austin would begin a nearly two-year run as Co-General Manager and Sheriff of Raw. This allowed Austin to show his true comedic abilities while embarrassing several heels on the roster-- much to the delight of fans. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 by Vince McMahon who would call Austin "the Greatest WWE Superstar of All Time." Today, Austin hosts a weekly podcast where he interviews several people in the wrestling business. Austin appeared with Hulk Hogan and The Rock-- the three most popular WWE Superstars ever-- to open up Wrestlemania XXX.
At the end of his career, and to date, no WWE Superstar has grossed as much money as Austin has in merchandise sale; making him the highest-grossing Superstar of all-time.