June 23, 1996, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
For Steve Austin, it was a pivotal point in his career. He had turned to professional wrestling after a knee injury derailed his football career at the University of North Texas. He joined Chris Adams’ wrestling school held at the Dallas Sportatorium and wrestled there as a part of the World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) roster. He wrestled under his real name (Steve Williams) but changed it to Steve Austin when he went to work for the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), so as not to be confused with wrestler “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. After teaming with his girlfriend Jeannie Adams (Adams’ ex-girlfriend) against Chris Adams and his wife Toni, Austin left the promotion in 1990 to sign with World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Within a year, wrestling as “Stunning” Steve Austin, he won the WCW World Television Championship. He joined Paul E. Dangerously’s (Heyman) Dangerous Alliance faction before teaming with Brian Pillman to form the “Hollywood Blondes” Tag Team. The team was successful in unifying the NWA and WCW Tag Team titles but WCW was not pushing him near the top of the card and when he suffered a triceps injury, WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff fired him. Austin accepted an offer from Paul Heyman to move to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and while he was unable to wrestle, he developed his microphones skills and used them to bury Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan (whom he blamed for his lack of a push in WCW. These promos eventually caught the eye World Wrestling Federation Head of Talent Relations Jim Ross. He made his debut on an episode of Raw on January 8, 1996, where he was awarded the Million Dollar Championship by his new manager, Ted DiBiase. He was given the ring moniker “The Ringmaster” which he hated. He felt he had proved himself as a gifted talker and did not think he needed DiBiase as a mouthpiece. He instead shaved his head, grew a goatee and rechristened himself “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He began giving the best promos and interviews in the promotion and when Hunter Hearst Helmsley found himself in the doghouse ahead of King of the Ring 1996, Austin knew it was his shot at the big time.
In a semi-final match, Austin defeated the “Wildman” Marc Mero in 16:49. Austin was injured when Mero delivered a plancha and suffered a large cut to the lip that required 16 stitches. Nonetheless, he returned for the King of the Ring finals to face Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Roberts, having fallen into problems with alcohol and drugs, was making his return to the promotion as a reformed, born-again christian. After executing a Stone Cold Stunner to secure the victory, Austin mocked Roberts religious conversion. In a post-match interview with Dok Hendrix (Michael Hayes) he 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 quickly became the favorite catch phrase in the business, with the WWF selling more than 10 million t-shirts with the phrase. The popularity of the catch-phrase launched him into the upper stratosphere of the business, making him arguably the top draw in the business for the 1990s.