On This Day in Pro Wrestling History… Stone Cold Steve Austin Delivers the Austin 3:16 Promo at WWE KOTR 1996

On this day in Pro Wrestling history, Stone Cold Steve Austin delivered his famous “Austin 3:16” promo at the 1996 edition of WWE’s King of the Ring Pay Per View on May 23rd, 1996. This promo, famously cut after Auston win the King of the Ring tournament, began the true momentum of Steve Austin’s climb to the top. After recently changing his gimmick from the failed “Ringmaster” Ted Dibiase understudy, Austin was now his own man and beginning to freely act outspoken on his promos by talking lots of trash to his opponents. Reportedly before Austin cut his promo, he famously asked Michael PS Hayes (Doc Hendrix at the time) what Jake Roberts said during his promo. Jake “The Snake” was pushing a religious angle at the time and cut a promo based on that, which is all Austin needed.

“Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass”.

VIDEO of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s “Austin 3:16” speech at King of the Ring 1996 in case you missed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjWPoQWdmjg

It received an IMMEDIATE reaction from the live crowd (Hayes selling of the phrase was great, too) and instantly at Monday Night RAW shows, you saw “Austin 3:16” signs everywhere. Then, the WWE created the Austin 3:16 t-shirt and that sold like hotcakes and remains a top merchandise item on WWE Shopzone.

Why was Austin 3:16 so popular? What made it hit with wrestling fans? Well, if you’ve seen sporting events for years, especially the NFL, you’d see “John 3:16” everywhere. It’s one of the most famous and most quoted Bible verse which states about Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The CRAZY thing is that Steve Austin innovated the Austin 3:16 speech on the fly, with him not preparing beforehand and nobody writing for it. Yet, it’s a billion dollar idea when you combine the merchandise with the impact Steve’s character made on the WWE.

After winning the King of the Ring, Austin would continue to grow in the midcard during 1996. Reportedly, Vince McMahon wasn’t all the way sold on pushing Austin as his top guy, as he was still in “Bret & Shawn” mode for his top guys. Of course, that all changed during 1997 when Shawn Michaels “lost his smile” and helped usher in some changes to the top spots. Had Michaels been available for Wrestlemania 13, for example, that would have likely been Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels and not the famous Austin vs. Bret match that further cemented Austin as a future #1 guy. Crazy enough, the Austin push almost didn’t happen with the SummerSlam 1997 incident with Owen Hart breaking his neck. Austin somehow survived that and adjusted his working style to have an explosive 1998 where he shoved Mike Tyson to start it.

But we almost didn’t have this Austin 3:16 launching pad at King of the Ring 1996. There were some political events that caused Austin to win the tournament, as it was originally slated to be Triple H. That said, in my opinion, Austin would have eventually become “the man”. Many WCW fans would tell you that “Stunning” Steve Austin was one of the best things on WCW programming and many of us were excited when Austin signed with the WWE. There’s too much in-ring talent, personality, and promo cutting skills there with Austin and he’d eventually make it anyway. What I fear would have been if Triple H won the King of the Ring in 1996 and was pushed too early. Would wrestling fans be excited for a Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels feud during 1996? I don’t know about you, but Triple H wasn’t ready for that top spot.

So what happened to Triple H and why didn’t he win the King of the Ring tournament, as intended? Well, he messed that up thanks to his unscripted actions at the Madison Square Garden houseshow on May 19th, 1996. That show was going to be the final show worked by Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) and Diesel (Kevin Nash) before they joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW). As you may know, Hall, Nash, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H were close friends in real life and along with Sean Waltman (X-Pac, 123 Kid, Syxx), they formed the Clique as dirtsheets commonly called them. At this MSG event, it featured Razor Ramon (face) wrestling Triple H (heel) and it was main evented by Shawn Michaels (face) versus Diesel (heel). After the Diesel vs. Shawn match, both Razor and eventually Triple H came to the ring for an in-ring salute to New York City fanbase.

VIDEO of the MSG houseshow incident from 5/19/1996 in case you haven’t seen it before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exG-HzUnNhQ

Now, folks, this was 1996. Yes, many fans knew that wrestling was scripted but the wrestlers and promotions themselves kept it very quiet. Wrestlers still used 2 separate locker rooms, tried not to travel together, and their real lives were kept hidden from the public. That’s unlike right now where wrestlers spill everything on Social Media while the WWE Network advertises how scripted they are (“it’s just Sports Entertainment”). Reportedly, the Clique requested to do this with Vince McMahon (which I’ve never heard him confirm), but things got hotter after it happened. The Clique members insist that it was Vince’s management team and road agents, many former wrestlers or personalities, who got pissed about it and changed Vince’s mind.

Following the Madison Square Garden houseshow incident, now commonly referred to as the “Curtain Call”, punishment had to handed out. WWE couldn’t punish Scott Hall or Kevin Nash, as the MSG show was their last contractually and now they were joining WCW. Shawn Michaels just won the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 12 and with Bret Hart taking extensive time off, they couldn’t afford punishing him right now. And that left Triple H, who was a midcarder and had a shorter tenure with the WWE. They initially thought about terminating him, but opted to spare his professional career and depushed him instead. HHH went from winning the King of the Ring 1996 tournament to wrestling a dark match on the show against Aldo Montoya (at least Triple H won that match). In my view, this was the best medicine for him as it gave Triple H not only more experience, but fuel to burn that fire in his belly to really earn that Main Event spot. By 1999, he was obviously ready.

Getting back to Steve Austin, his King of the Ring 1996 night was rather interesting before he cut that famous promo. Earlier in the night, Austin wrestled Marc Mero in the semi-final of what appeared to be a lackluster tournament and by accident, Austin’s mouth was busted open during that match. Prior to Austin wrestling Jake Roberts in the Finals, and this was an older and heavier Jake Roberts who had just returned recently, Austin had multiple stitches added to his lip. If you think about it, Austin was shoehorned into this tournament to be the winner, gets busted open, and the delivers the most gamechanging promo in the history of wrestling on the fly. It’s utterly amazing.

And the Austin 3:16 promo makes this King of the Ring 1996 Pay Per View worth a damn. The semi-finals of the tournament was Roberts/Vader and Mero/Austin. Bear in mind, the WWE opted not to use the Ultimate Warrior to advance in this tournament, while also not letting Owen Hart (former KOTR winner) or Yokozuna (former Champion). Vader not advancing over Roberts was a joke at the time, but I’m thankful for it because it inspired Austin to come up with “Austin 3:16”. Roberts, by the way, defeated Triple H in the first round of this tournament during RAW tapings… The Main Event of this show was Shawn Michaels vs. Davey Boy Smith. Look, I love me some British Bulldogs, but it’s clearly a midcarder getting pushed against Michaels here. This was actually the 2nd Pay Per View in a row headlined by Michaels vs. Davey Boy, which followed the prior event losing power in the arena because of a storm and they did a follow-up Pay Per View immediately… Right after Wrestlemania 12, and you wonder why Shawn struggled as WWE Champion. The Mankind vs. Undertaker match is really good and worth checking out to see a sign of many great things to come.

27 years later, this “Austin 3:16” promo is still talked about and March 16th (3:16 Day) has become “Steve Austin Day” to many wrestling fans and it is celebrated annually online.

The CRAZY part is how it almost didn’t happen and how Steve Austin, despite the circumstances, came up with this amazing catchphrase on the fly. What a talent… Goes to show you what wrestlers can do if they are (a) experienced & well trained and (b) given some creative liberties and freedoms. This “Austin 3:16” promo couldn’t happen in today’s heavily scripted WWE environment, particularly for a midcarder like Steve Austin as he was on this day in pro wrestling history from 27 years ago. Today’s WWE writers would feed him a script and he’d probably lack emotion reading it. Instead, Austin owned this promo, was fully invested in cutting it, and just let it rip. The rest is history and here we are, 27 years later, STILL talking about this amazing promo.

Why? Because Stone Cold Said So! And that’s the bottom line!

*Glass Shatters*

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