Steve Austin

Steve Austin

By Mike Mooneyham

Feb. 9, 2003

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin can’t be returning soon enough for World Wrestling Entertainment.

With just seven weeks left until Wrestlemania, WWE needs a shot in the arm in the worst way. WWE owner Vince McMahon is counting on Austin to provide the cure for the company’s ills.

Ironically, the “Texas Rattlesnake” was booted out of the organization last year for “unprofessional conduct,” namely skipping out on a Raw taping after refusing to lose to Brock Lesnar. With Austin’s unceremonious dismissal, WWE lost one of its biggest drawing cards and has subsequently experienced declining TV ratings and house show attendance.

The bottom line is that Austin wants to be back in wrestling and WWE desperately needs his star power. Austin is said to be in great shape and has been training religiously in preparation for his return. Considering the controversy that surrounded his departure, it is expected that the company will handle his homecoming with kid gloves.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]With the chances for a Bill Goldberg-Rock showdown at Wrestlemania looking more and more remote, WWE officials are now looking at a Rock-Austin main event.

The 38-year-old Austin generated out-of-the-ring headlines when he was involved in a domestic dispute with estranged wife Debra Williams less than a week following his WWE suspension last June.

The pressure obviously had been building for Austin, who had become increasingly vocal during the last year of his run about his displeasure with particular storylines and the overall creative process, singling out chief Raw writer Brian Gewirtz.

Austin, who is scheduled to make his return at the No Way Out pay-per-view Feb. 23, broke his silence in the latest edition of Raw Magazine. While some of his comments were fashioned to generate interest in future storylines, there’s little doubt that many of his remarks were candid and heartfelt. WWE officials have insisted that the story came straight from Austin.

“When Ric Flair was at his hottest in the NWA days, he wasn’t doing comedy,” Austin told the magazine. “He was saying what was on his mind, and it came from his heart and his head, because he believed in what he was saying. I believed in what I was doing. Hogan, for what it’s worth, when that guy was hot, he was saying what was in his heart and in his mind. He didn’t have no one – some 25-year-old, fresh out of sitcom school or whatever the hell it is – telling him what to say. That’s the big problem to me.”

In what is most likely part shoot, part work, Austin also discussed his anger over a promo cut by The Rock in the wake of Austin’s suspension.

“Here’s a guy who I was a tremendous influence on his career in he ring. He’ll tell you the same thing – and if he don’t, he’s a liar. Anytime he needed advice for a problem, I’d give him the best advice I could. I always helped that guy out – I helped everyone who asked. If you wanted my honest opinion, I’d give it. So anyway, the problem was with me and Vince, it wasn’t with me and Rock. I thought that was the biggest chickenshit thing I’d ever seen done to me, so far in the business, for him to go out and call me out. That’s how he pays me back? That was pathetic.”

The fact that there’s no love lost between Austin and figurehead Raw general manager Eric Bischoff also should make for compelling television. Bischoff, then an executive at WCW, fired Austin from that company in 1995. Less than two years later, Austin became the hottest drawing card in pro wrestling.

“Bischoff can make a lot of claims about this and that, but really he doesn’t have a proven track record,” Austin told The Post and Courier in a 2001 interview. “He has never proven himself as a talent in the ring like a Vince McMahon does when he comes on camera. He doesn’t have any substance or presence, and no one really respects the guy.”

Austin also said in that interview that Bischoff’s opinion meant little to him.

“What he says doesn’t bother me. Him putting limitations on me or ever wondering what they were going to do with me in New York only inspired me, because if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll always prove you wrong.”

Austin, who was charged with assault causing bodily injury from a June 15 domestic disturbance at the couple’s home near San Antonio, said in the Raw interview that he and Debra are again separated. Several months ago he was sentenced to a year’s probation with no drinking, plus community service.

The San Antonio resident, who had filed for divorce from Debra in July in an attempt to end their two-year marriage. revealed that he later tore up his divorce action, but added, “We filed for divorce again, and we’re living in separate properties right now … I still talk to her every now and then.”

Austin was at ESPN offices in Bristol, Conn., last week, cutting promos for the network and filming a commercial for Sports Center where he hits Dan Patrick with a chair.

- Sting revealed recently that he has had talks with Vince McMahon within the past year and would consider returning to wrestling if a “meaty” angle was presented.

Speculation has surfaced that Sting is being considered as a Wrestlemania opponent for Triple H, whose current program with Scott Steiner appears to be winding down.

- Raw dropped from a 4.1 to a 3.4 last week. Smackdown posted a 3.3, up from the previous week’s 3.2 and going head-to-head with the Michael Jackson special on ABC, which did a 16.8 broadcast rating.

- WWE’s latest “bad boy,” Nathan Jones, recently said on the company’s Web site that he served eight years of a 16-year prison term in Australia, but denied reports that he had broken any handcuffs. He did admit, however, that he had ripped cell doors off their hinges.

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Jones also claimed he never took steroids but told that story “to get out of prison.”

“I never actually took steroids, believe it or not. I don’t look steroidal – look at my face. I trained for 10 years, and I was naturally big anyway. At 19 years of age, I was 127 kilos – about 280 pounds. In 10 years, I’ve gone from 280 pounds to 295 or 300 – 10 years of training, and it’s hard training. It’s diet and hard training. At one stage, I was heavier. I was 350 pounds at one stage in jail. I was putting on the extra weight for leverage in powerlifting. It wasn’t really all muscle. There was a lot of body fat as well.”

- Hulk Hogan may have returned to a tremendous pop in WWE, but don’t take it as a sign all is well between the Hulkster and Vince McMahon. “There’s no love lost between those two,” said one WWE performer, who added that McMahon still hasn’t forgotten about Hogan’s refusal to job to Lesnar at a pay-per-view last year.

- Gene Okerlund has signed a new contract with WWE. He will remain as host of Confidential, but will add backstage interviews to his duties.

- Randy Orton is scheduled to return to in-ring duty in early March.