Monday, February 6, 2012

What If: Austin 3:16

Austin 3:16
By Chad Smart
@chadsmart on Twitter

Since Kevin is busy with his Black History Month series, and since there’s not much going on in the current world of wrestling that has me motivated to hammer out 1,000 words on a daily basis, I’ve decided to resurrect a previous concept around here, the What If?  This week I’m going to look at different scenarios that changed the wrestling landscape and how the world of wrestling as we know it may not exist if events played out differently.

The first installment involves an ad-libbed throwaway line that help usher in the biggest boom period in wrestling over the last 25 years. A line that, had booking plans not been changed, may have never been uttered.

The day was May 19, 1996. The location was Madison Square Garden. On the show that day, Razor Ramon battled Hunter Hearst Helmsley in an undercard match while the main event was a steel cage battle between Diesel and WWF Champion, Shawn Michaels. After the main event was over, with Shawn successfully defending his title, Razor Ramon came to the ring to celebrate with the champion. The reason for the celebration was this was the last WWF appearance for Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall and Kevin “Diesel” Nash. About two weeks later, Scott Hall would show up on WCW’s Monday Nitro program, followed a few weeks later by Kevin Nash in the start of the nWo angle.

The Kliq says goodbye
Shortly after Razor entered the ring, Hunter came out to celebrate as well and Diesel joined in the celebration.  It was no secret the four men were friends outside the ring, but this was when the Internet was still in its infancy and wrestling still was mostly presented as “real.”  Therefore seeing both good guys and bad guys celebrating in the ring was a shocking event. After footage of the incident got out to the public, Vince McMahon decided someone had to be punished for the incident. Hall and Nash were on their way out of the company, Shawn Michaels was the top guy, and the punishment fell on the shoulders of Triple H.

At the time, Hunter was being positioned to be pushed up the card and was penciled in for the finals of the King of the Ring tournament in June. Because his punishment led to Triple H being removed from the tournament someone else had to be put into the finals match. I don’t know who Triple H’s opponent was originally planned to be, but the final of the King of the Ring tournament eventually came down to Jake “The Snake” Roberts and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Austin 3:16 is born
Austin, while a rising star in the company, had only a month before King of the Ring gotten rid of his manager, Ted Dibiase and was forging a career path of his own.  After winning the tournament, during his coronation speech, Austin brought up Jake’s newfound Christianity by mocking Jake.  Talking about Jake quoting scripture, Austin now famously said, "You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere! Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"  Austin 3:16 soon became synonymous with the WWF’s Attitude Era. The question is what would have happened had Austin not uttered this famous catchphrase?

Had Triple H not broke character and gone on to win King of the Ring as he was scheduled to do, what would have happened to Steve Austin? Without a victory over Jake Roberts, “Austin 3:16” wouldn’t have been said. Without that catchphrase for the fans to plaster on signs and WWF to make t-shirts of, would Austin have risen to be the most popular character of the Attitude Era?

I think the Attitude Era would have still happened due to it being directly influenced by ECW’s style and WCW’s rating dominance over WWF. However, I don’t know if Austin would have become the superstar he did.  Triple H’s ascent to the top was delayed a year due to his punishment. Without that hiccup, Triple H would have been higher up than Austin and could have possibly been put into the title match at Wrestlemania 14 so Shawn Michaels could pass the torch to his best friend. 

At the same time, Rocky Miavia was slowly morphing into The Rock. Even though Rocky and Austin feuded over the I-C title, had Austin not been in the position he was in after the King of the Ring, his side of the feud could have been given to someone higher up on the card. Austin could have been stuck in the mid-card waiting for the one spark to light and launch him to the next level.

Hart vs. Austin
At the same time, Austin might not have been put into the position of trash talking Bret Hart back into the WWF or being the antagonist to the Hart Foundation during the early half of 1997. No Hart Foundation feud means no match with Owen Hart at SummerSlam.  No match means Austin doesn’t suffer a stinger due to a botched piledriver and then doesn’t have the neck injury that leads to an early retirement.

Think about it, had Austin not coined “Austin 3:16,” there’s a possibility Austin would be healthy enough to face CM Punk at Wrestlemania

I really think had “Austin 3:16” not been coined, the Attitude Era would have been different and Austin, while still becoming a star, wouldn’t have gone above the number 5 spot on the roster, if that high. I attended a house show the week before King of the Ring. The third match on the show was Austin vs. Duke “The Dumpster Droese.  Austin came out first to a smatter of applause. Even after the match was over most fans were more interested in when the Smoking Gunns were going to fight instead of cheering or booing Austin.

That's the bottom line!
The bigger question than where Austin would have ended up on the card is how his non-star would have affected the wrestling landscape. WCW would have eventually self-imploded due to egos and bad booking but would WWF have been able to draw a significant amount of fans away from WCW? I don’t think so. I think the Monday Night Wars would have fizzled out. While The Rock became a bona fide superstar, and Mick Foley has success on the literary charts, neither they nor Undertaker nor Triple H had the same level of mainstream popularity as Steve Austin. Without that popularity to draw in casual fans, WWF would basically be where WWE is right now. Successful enough to be profitable but not cool enough to be popular.

That’s my123cents on a fantasy scenario. What do you think? Would wrestling have suffered without Steve Austin’s famous quote? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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