On his latest Unleashed podcast, Stone Cold Steve Austin called his WrestleMania X-7 main event match against The Rock for the WWE (then WWF) Championship.
To ensure I experienced his insights in the most effective way possible, I synched his audio recording with the match itself as I watched on the WWE Network.
|How I miss flashbulbs. Kids today with their cellphone gizmos.|
Watching and listening in this way permits pro-wrestling fans a direct line into Austin's reflections on the match some thirteen years later, his state of mind during the match, the reasoning behind even the most minute movements executed by he and The Rock (positioning, homages to former wrestlers and past matches, properly kicking out of a three count, and even how to properly clock someone over the head with a ring bell). This auditory and visual experience makes it seem like Stone Cold is sitting right next to you, offering a pro-wrestling critique as only a pro-wrestler can.
It feels, I imagine, not unlike being a young wrestler hungry for some guidance, learning the nuances of a veteran's stellar work-ethic. Without revealing too much, Austin graciously pulls back the curtain on the match (and pro-wrestling), and as a result, viewers and listeners will walk away with not only a deeper education on the artistry of pro-wrestling performance, but also a deeper appreciation for the depth of psychology and the craftsmanship behind building a main-event caliber bout.
Aspects of a match we might take for granted, or not even notice (such as opponent's drawing the camera's attention towards themselves so the other wrestler has the privacy to "get color") are illuminated in a captivating way.
|"Getting color" is the practice of using a hidden blade to cut one's head to produce blood. This is done to enhance the drama of the match, and is a time-honored tradition among wrestling professionals.|
Those who synch the audio and video as I did shall be the most rewarded, essentially experiencing a crash-course in good pro-wrestling ring-work.
It's also purely entertaining and amusing to hear Austin delight in his own bravado, excellence, and pro-wrestling itself. He is very clearly a fan of the medium.
"Boom!" he screams after a good punch.
"Yeah, wrestling is fake!" he ribs, watching himself shove his knee into The Rock's bloody face.
"Okay, here I'm gonna fuck with The Rock a little bit...okay now it's time to bring The Rock up a little bit..."
His enthusiasm and delivery is reminiscent of the way a self-evaluating athlete might go over a good game and also the way a filmmaker might explicate their film - a fitting blend considering that wrestling is a sport-performance or "athletic performance art".
It's particularly refreshing to understand the way Austin looks at wrestling. His understanding is founded in the idea that this is a fight. Simple, seemingly obvious, but such is a tenet of pro-wrestling performance that is far too often forgotten these days (by both the audience and younger wrestlers).
Yes, it's a performance, and it's staged, but it's the staging of a battle. In order to perform that simulated battle effectively, one must keep their character grounded in believable, violent actions.
He emphasizes the importance of good pins ("If you don't try to pin the motherfucker how are you going to beat him?!"), and explains the reasoning behind an urgent pin or a lackadaisical pin, how each choice from each performer (and even the creative choices of the referees and the commentators) coalesce into a complete story that plays with audience-expectations and moves an audience to think and feel.
He describes "protecting a finish" and even reveals a moment where he paused to take a sip of water mid-match (these are the kinds of insights fans usually have to read about in a book, but here it comes in a more direct way with the visual accompanied by the voice of the performer).
He compliments The Rock's ability to sell and criticizes The Rock's less-effective elbow-attacks. And there remains a competitive edge in Austin's critique that will likely bring a smile to listener's faces (as though the respectful feud never really ended), as the rightfully-confident performer is quick to point out what he does better than The Rock (not in an insulting way, or in a manner that takes anything away from The Rock, but in a genuine way that explains to viewers exactly why something is not as effective as it could be). He praises The Rock for raising a hand during chair shots, how well The Rock kicks out, and seems to take joy in watching The Rock perform as any fan would.
He does point that critical eye at himself (the mark of any good performer). As quick as Austin is to celebrate what he did so well in the match, he "cringes" at the final moment where the Stone Cold character shakes Vince's hand.
This is a particularly vindicating insight for someone who struggled with that creative decision at a young age.
As a fifteen-year-old kid, watching Austin transform into a truly vicious character that utterly destroyed my childhood hero, and then shake the hand of the most despised man in all of wrestling, came as a massive heartbreak.
As an adult I can easily appreciate Austin's desire to evolve as a performer (and I especially appreciate that when one pays attention to the match, it becomes clear, ever-so-subtly, that Austin is turning heel throughout). But as a kid (and even sometimes today) I inevitably believed in the fiction of wrestling regardless of the fact that I knew it was staged, especially when someone is as good a performer as Austin.
While Austin has explained in previous interviews and documentaries that he regrets the choice to shake Vince's hand and go heel (regardless of the amusing segments that came out of his heel character), hearing him discuss this now with "20/20 hindsight", explaining why he was so eager to go heel, and then why it ultimately wasn't the best move, helps bring closure (for me) to that fateful night.
For that I am grateful.
Any wrestling fan that discovers this blog should immediately go to Austin's Unleashed show and fire up the WWE Network, or watch the WrestleMania X-7 main event here and listen and watch simultaneously:
Best version I could find. Mute it and listen to the podcast.
Any young wrestler that isn't regularly listening to Austin's podcast should do so immediately, especially this analysis of WrestleMania. This latest podcast is a culmination of lessons he's already taught, brought to light through visual proof of good work: don't look at the ref during a count, just listen to the cadence of the count, don't look at yourself on the screen, don't always rely on the three clothesline comeback, and keep your head down or cover your mouth during a call.
Austin offers an education, two cans of "Audio Whoop Ass", each and every week for "F-R-Double-E". This is like getting free filmmaking lessons from Steven Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick.
Austin has transformed into a truly significant resource for those passionate about the medium, and also entertains with his ever-reliable sense of humor, and his always-entertaining and imaginative four-letter-word-riddled stories.
And anyone who has ever called pro-wrestling fake or scoffed at the idea of grown men "rolling around in the their underwear", should watch Austin's ring-work and listen to his accompanying words.
His WrestleMania X-7 match is a rich story founded on passion, allusion, innovation, allegory, and the desire to be the absolute best at one's craft.
Swig a beer to Austin 3:16.
Have you listened to the podcast and watched the match simultaneously? What are your thoughts if so? Comment below and follow on the gimmicks!
All photos via WWE.