Thursday, December 7, 2023

WrestleMania 38: Ranking all seven of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin’s matches at the massive event

When it comes to WrestleMania legacies, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s resume is quite a bit shorter than most WWE legends. Austin only engaged in in-ring competition at WrestleMania seven times in his career. However, many of those bouts stand out as some of the best and most influential matches in the history of the biggest event in professional wrestling.

Austin is set to appear at WrestleMania 38 this weekend, though in an appearance on Kevin Owens’ “KO Show” rather than in a match. Still, Austin’s return provides a fantastic opportunity to look back at his WrestleMania legacy. Besides, who expects Austin to not get physical with Owens, even without a referee?

Let’s take a look back at Austin’s seven WrestleMania matches while ranking them from worst to best.

7. Scott Hall — WrestleMania 18

Austin’s match with Hall is full of issues. Austin’s star had been tarnished by the decision to turn him heel at WrestleMania 17 and he seems visibly checked out in the match, which feels somewhat tossed into the middle of the card. Austin would go on to walk out on the company for a week following the event. Meanwhile, Hall was not in a place in his life where he could put on matches in line with his status as a once-great, in-ring worker. The result was a match that failed to live up to what fans had come to expect from Austin and was instead carried by a lot of overbooking and involvement from Kevin Nash at ringside to help manufacture a bit of drama across less than 10 minutes. At least WWE didn’t go through with their original plan of having Hall go over here.

6. Savio Vega — WrestleMania 12

Austin’s WrestleMania debut came in 1996 when he was still aligned with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and mere months before his career really began to take off by winning King of the Ring and cutting his infamous post-match “Austin 3:16” promo on Jake Roberts. The match with Vega is a fun brawl with some fast pinfall exchanges years before Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn made them cool. The match ended with a cheap finish where DiBiase distracted the referee, leading to the ref being knocked out. Austin then used the “Million Dollar Championship” to knock Vega out cold before applying the Million Dollar Dream for the win. Austin’s future success was far from guaranteed as half of the match was spent with commentary on the phone with Roddy Piper, who was chasing Goldust on the highway in a white Ford Bronco, a call back to the O.J. Simpson chase from two years prior. The better Austin vs. Vega match would come in a brutal strap match two months after WrestleMania.

5. Shawn Michaels — WrestleMania 14

Between Austin vs. Michaels providing the moment where Austin won his first world championship and the involvement of Mike Tyson, WrestleMania 14 is a major moment in WWE history. The match itself is somewhat lacking considering it features two of the WWE’s all-time greats, but Michaels was working through a back injury that would see him leave in-ring competition for years. Seeing Austin’s rise over two years from a mid-card match with Vega overshadowed by a two-year stale O.J. Simpson parody to a true superstar elevation against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 and finally to receiving a completely unhinged pop for his entrance here is a testament to how incredible Austin’s connection with the audience was. Austin’s ascent was completed on this night and he was given every possible assist by WWE between the start of the feud with Vince McMahon, the involvement of Mike Tyson and the biggest stage in the sport. In that way, Austin vs. Michaels is nearly perfect. In terms of in-ring execution, it’s merely good.  

4. The Rock — WrestleMania 15

A decent, if not quite great, match between two men who would go on to not only develop far better chemistry, but also deliver two far better WrestleMania matches. The first Rock vs. Austin WrestleMania match saw the benefits of Attitude Era production that aided the sense of unpredictability and chaos. The match was a bit overbooked, as was the style at the time, but also saw a frenzied pace that felt as though production was trying to keep up with a brawl that would go wherever either man felt it needed to. Austin, in the midst of his feud with Vince McMahon, was still the biggest wrestling star on the planet and the crowd was ravenous to see him take out The Rock, who’d sold his soul to McMahon at Survivor Series. A story can carry a wrestling match beyond what the in-ring action can produce as was the case here. Though these two would go on to produce true magic in the years to come.

3. The Rock — WrestleMania 19 

The year after WrestleMania 18 was a strange one for Austin, who spent months in a bitter real-life feud with WWE, walking out on the company repeatedly and leading many WWE personalities — including Rock — to say Austin “took his ball and went home.” Austin eventually worked things out with the company to finish his in-ring career in a way that was far more fitting for such a game-changing superstar. That Austin’s career would end with one final WrestleMania match with The Rock just feels right. The crowd is still red hot for the match and the two men had developed really great chemistry over the years. It takes three Rock Bottoms but The Rock finally gets his win over Austin and Austin got to end his career on the right note, going toe-to-toe with one of his great rivals on the grandest stage of them all. It’s also worth noting that the “Crack Addict” pre-match video package is also the greatest such package WWE has ever produced.

2. The Rock — WrestleMania 17 

You could reasonably argue either WrestleMania 17 or 19 as the better of the Austin vs. Rock WrestleMania clashes. 17 is wrestled at a positively blistering pace, with no disqualification rules put in place as the match started, which turned out to be a set-up for the really terrible business decision of turning Austin heel as he was helped to victory by Vince McMahon. Setting that decision aside, this match played out with a level of drama that puts it at the top of the list of the best WrestleMania main events ever. Both Austin and Rock bleed in a match filled with callbacks to previous interactions or past moments in both men’s careers, and it all plays out in front of a crowd that is buying into every second of the action. The match was a clash of the two biggest stars in the sport at the height of their powers on the biggest stage possible. It’s hard to top that.  

1. Bret Hart — WrestleMania 13

The art of professional wrestling may have never been executed as perfectly as it was in this match. Austin vs. Hart is one of the greatest matches not only in the history of WrestleMania or WWE but in all of pro wrestling history. Austin was already growing as a star when his rivalry with Hart started, but this was the match that took everything to new heights. A submission match suggests a focus on technique, but Austin and Hart brawled throughout the arena and used heaps of weapons, all leading to Hart winning but losing the fans in a perfectly executed double turn, with Austin officially becoming the hero of the people and Hart leaving as a fallen hero. Ken Shamrock does an exceptional job as the special guest referee, bringing a serious presence to the match without ever being in the way and Hart and Austin went all out to create pure magic. There may be no more iconic shot in WWE history than Austin, blood streaming down his face, screaming in pain as he refused to submit while in Hart’s Sharpshooter. Austin vs. Hart is simply pro wrestling perfection.

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