WWE Flashbacks, Volume 8: Stone Cold Steals the Fans' Heart Against Bret Hart
WWE Flashbacks was a Bleacher Report series that captured the essence and magic of recent feuds in the world of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Now, for the first time in seven months, WWE Flashbacks returns to remind you of feuds of years past, and how current WWE Hall of Famers became legends in the business.
Today, I present to you the eighth volume of the series that will relive the rivalry of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Bret "The Hitman" Hart; which changed the path of the industry forever.
1996 King of the Ring: The Redneck King
After defeating Marc Mero in the first round, many wondered if Steve Austin would be able to compete in the finals, as he had to have 16 stitches put in his mouth.
This wouldn’t be a comparison to his opponent for the final round though, Jake "The Snake" Roberts. At 41 years old, Roberts was taken away in an ambulance due to injuries after beating Vader by disqualification in the first round.
The Match: Roberts made his way into the ring, already out of breath. Austin gave him no time to catch his breath either, attacking him with a flurry of kicks and punches right away.
Once Roberts had hit the canvas, Stone Cold targeted his ribs, which Vader had hit a Vader bomb onto earlier in the night.
Jake The Snake had been in the position of an up-and-coming heel like Austin was, but he now played a more grizzled veteran, beloved by the fans for the years of service he had given the company.
This could be considered a passing of the torch, given Roberts would leave the WWF for good just months later.
Jim Ross would put things best on commentary, as he often did; this was nothing short of a physical dissection. A man with injured ribs, who struggled to do something as simple as breathing, had no chance against this relentless redneck.
This didn’t mean he couldn’t try, as he fought Austin out of the corner with two punches, before Austin took advantage of his fatigue again.
Austin untaped those injured ribs, with babyface announcer Vince McMahon foreshadowing their great rivalry that would unfold years later; What kind of competitor is this? What kind of man is this? He angrily grumbled, with the fans at home agreeing with him.
Commissioner Gorilla Monsoon stomped down the entrance ramp into the ring. He attempted to put a stop to the match, but Jake Roberts shook his finger in disapproval of the idea.
Their brief discussion ended when Roberts turned around and nailed Austin in his ribs.
He gave a valiant effort, this time even grounding his opponent.
As he signaled for the DDT, however, he gave Steve Austin the opening he needed.
Austin rammed Roberts’ shoulder into the turnbuckle with his shoulder, displaying the strength of a bull in the process.
He taunted the fans, jumping on the second turnbuckle and raising his arms in celebration.
Roberts stumbled to his feet, and was nailed with Stone Cold’s Stunner.
Afterwards, Austin confidently strutted to his throne, to take his rightful spot as 1996 King of the Ring.
He began his coronation unceremoniously; “The first thing I want done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF. Because I proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore.”
He continued after a short pause; “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 your John 3:16; Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.”
Why It Worked: This night really provided a blueprint of how you build up a heel.
An already hot Austin got a little beat up, but pretty much steamrolled the popular Marc Mero and the legendary Jake The Snake Roberts, who was symbolically staggering into the match.
The promo was the beginning of Austin’s famous ‘Austin 3:16′ catchphrase, and many will argue that it was also the beginning of the Attitude Era, ultimately catapulting the WWF over WCW in the Monday Night Wars.
A King Calls out a Hitman
When Stone Cold Steve Austin called out Bret Hart for the first time, everybody was stunned.
They were stunned because nobody called out Bret Hart, one of the biggest names in the WWF at the time. Even more shocking, was Austin’s disrespect to The Hitman, saying he was the best there is, the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be.
When Bret Hart finally accepted the challenge of Steve Austin, the anticipation for the Survivor Series match was at an all-time high.
Fans absolutely despised Austin, and they had only grown fonder of Hart after his hiatus.
Now, nothing more could be said.
To view the match, beginning at part one, click here.
Before the match began, Bret Hart made it clear that he was not greedy for money, just greedy for respect. And by the end by the end of this match, Stone Cold Steve Austin was going to have a new found respect for ‘The Hitman.’
The bell rang and Austin’s intensity picked up. He stared into the eyes of Bret Hart and flipped him off with both his middle fingers, something that he was known for throughout his career.
We had a very slow paced bout early on. Stone Cold, with his signature plain black trunks, strutted around the ring with his once-in-a-decade charisma, attitude and flair for the live crowd in Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, sporting his classic pink and black, Bret Hart proved he was still the same terrific wrestler that main-evented WrestleMania with Shawn Michaels.
Austin methodically wore down Hart’s head and neck. After a series of underhanded tactics and submission maneuvers, it looked as if Steve Austin was going to be the next to challenge for the WWF Championship.
However, Hart began to mount a comeback with, like his adversary, a series of elementary wrestling moves.
This match proved that you don’t need to be the flashiest wrestler, or have the most most complex of moves to be a star. All you need to be able to do is tell a story. Both Steve Austin and Bret Hart could do that with the greatest of ease.
Hart sent Austin over the guardrail, as Jim Ross and Vince McMahon plead for the referee to not allow this match to end in disqualification.
Austin would soon recover and send Hart into the Spanish announce table, which gave Austin the advantage.
The crowd was awaiting their hero to arise again. Who was the better man? Who had more heart?
Bret Hart once again picked up the pace, and left Austin laying on the canvas after yet another boxing-like striking standoff. He hit a move off the Irish Whip, to set up a now-illegal piledriver.
Both men were down, but Hart decided to take a chance and go to the top turnbuckle, only for Austin to meet him there. After some chops to Hart’s chest, Austin delivered the Superplex, leaving the Madison Square Garden crowd awestruck.
A sneaky pin attempt by Hart would only reach a two count, and have both down again heading into the final stretch of this epic encounter.
Hart got up and stalked Austin, awaiting for Stone Cold’s grasp on the ropes to cease so he could end this thing. But no, Austin hit the Stunner out of nowhere!
1…. 2…. Kickout!
How did Bret Hart kick out?!
Austin was infuriated, he just couldn’t put away The Hitman. Even the Texas Cloverleaf failed to put him away. A kidney-first slide into a steel post didn’t do the trick either.
All of the sudden, Hart tried the Sharpshooter and the Sleeper Hold, but Steve Austin fought his way out of both, countering with the Million Dollar Dream.
Ultimately, while still in the submission, Hart pinned Austin and became the new No. 1 contender.
Bret Hart was ready to challenge for the WWF Championship after just one match, and Steve Austin’s name had officially become one of the biggest in the World Wrestling Federation.
Steve Austin entered the Royal Rumble, in hopes of dominating the match as usual and winning.
He was originally eliminated by Bret Hart to continue their rivalry, but the referees didn’t notice. Austin snuck back in the ring, eliminated Hart, and won the Royal Rumble with his second chance.
Why It Worked: As if he wasn’t already drawing enough heat, this was enough to launch Steve Austin into the nuclear-heat level.
He was eliminated, but as a sore loser, he slithered back in like the rattlesnake he was and took advantage of his unsuspecting opponents.
In Your House 13
After Shawn Michaels forfeited the WWF Championship due to injury, it was determined that the Vader, The Undertaker, Bret Hart and Steve Austin would face off in a Fatal Four-Way to crown the new champion.
The rules to this match was that there was no disqualification, and you could be pinned, submitted or sent over the top rope to be eliminated, continuing the Royal Rumble theme.
Austin would be eliminated first after being tossed over the top rope by Hart.
He would come back for vengeance, stomping (and punching) a mud hole in Hart before tossing him back inside the ring. When he went inside the ring for more in the no-disqualification match, The Undertaker clotheslined him out of the ring.
Despite this, Hart went onto win the match and the WWF Championship by sending a distracted (by Stone Cold, once again making his presence felt) Undertaker over the top rope.
Why It Worked: Austin may have lost, but he was displayed as a dominant force that wouldn’t be going away anytime soon.
He returned to try to cost his enemy, Hart, the match multiple times, which didn’t work on this night.
It would, however, work on the second try.
The Double Turn
Bret Hart’s ego combined with his temper had reached a boiling point. He had become nothing more than a whiny, past-his-prime shell of his former self.
Meanwhile, Stone Cold Steve Austin was at the top his game. He was hungry for success, and would do whatever it took to achieve that success, whether you liked it or not.
Setting the stage for the two immortals to tear down the house at the Showcase of Immortals: WrestleMania XIII.
To view the entire match, click here.
Stone Cold Steve Austin literally shattered glass when walking through curtain, perhaps a symbolic gesture, as he had broken that glass ceiling that prevented him from being in the main event.
Not only a main event, but the main event of WrestleMania.
Bret Hart walked out to a mixed reaction, as opposed to the raucous one that Austin had received, with a scowl on his face. He half-heartedly handed a kid in the front row his sunglasses and headed up the ring steps without any emotion. In his mind, he was ready to end this kid’s 15 minutes of fame.
Yes, Austin was very much a proven commodity at this point in time, having won the King of the Ring, the Royal Rumble and main-evented numerous pay-per-views. However, without this match, it’s doubtful if he would ever reach his full potential.
Hart strutted near Austin with attitude oozing from his pores. The Rattlesnake didn’t wait, pouncing on his prey with a Lou Thesz Press, followed up by a series of punches.
Hart turned it around and pounded the head of Stone Cold before rolling outside the ring. Austin uppercut Hart as his feet met the floor, and Hart responded with an uppercut of his own.
The tone for this I Quit match had been set. It was a tone fueled by pure hate and anguish for one another. It was one that featured much brawling and technical wrestling, and wasn’t for the faintest of hearts.
This is a war at WrestleMania, I love it! ~Jerry Lawler
The two went back and forth, exchanging offense, brawling outside the ring and through the crowd in hopes of dismantling and/or weakening the other. The camera had trouble focusing, as without the technology we have today, the cameraman had to fight through the sea of humanity to get the fans at home a good view of the brawl.
Special guest referee Ken Shamrock had to catch up to Hart and Austin as well, finally doing just that as they headed back down the stairs. Hart then hit a back body drop on Austin.
Back at ringside, Austin immediately sling-shot Hart into the steel steps, shoulder first. He followed up by getting on the apron, flipping off his rival and shouting ‘Austin 3:16′ before diving off onto The Hitman.
Jim Ross said “I like this!” in an almost enlightened voice, as if he finally understood what Steve Austin was about.
Austin raised the top part of the steps above his head, signaling he was ready to knock Hart unconscious. Hart, though, swept the leg of Austin, who tumbled down faster than Humpty Dumpty.
Yes, I fit in a Humpty Dumpty reference.
They worked their way back into the ring, finally slowing things down and pushing the reset button in a way. Bret Hart took control, working over Austin’s knee, which you could only assume was to weaken it for The Sharpshooter.
Despite Austin hitting a Stunner to momentarily catch his breath, Hart recovered and went back on the attack. He locked in a figure-four, locking the legs of Stone Cold around the steel post, triggering bone-chilling pain as the once-villain pounded the mat. Hart eventually relinquished the hold, but still looked to prolong Austin’s agony.
So he grabbed a steel chair and rolled Stone Cold back in the ring. He wrapped the chair around the weakened knee, and headed to the top rope. Austin removed it as Hart climbed the turnbuckle, and knocked Hart off with a shot to his head.
Hart fell to his hands and knees as Austin hit him again with the chair, this time to the spine, to the delight of the fans. It was Austin’s match to lose now, as he dominated Hart for the next couple minutes.
Hart would only get back into the match with a poke to Austin’s eyes, when Austin attempted to lock in the Sharpshooter. He’d target the midsection with a couple punches and headed outside.
He Irish-whipped Austin into the announce table, ironically into Austin’s future rival, Vince McMahon. Austin's head bounced off the protective barricade, causing him to be busted open in the process, and giving Hart the chance to throw him around for several minutes. Hart used the steel chair to attack both of Austin’s knees, including an already injured one with a brace on it.
“He’s like an animal! He’s out of control! Hart is trying to break Austin’s leg!” Jim Ross furiously uttered.
Hart tried to lock in his Sharpshooter, but Austin stopped him with a rake to the face. When he trapped him into the corner for a flurry of offense, Austin opted for a low blow.
Back on offense, Austin stomped a mudhole in Hart and hit a Superplex.
He grabbed an extension cord, caught a slithering Hart to try to submit him, but Hart rang his bell with the ring bell.
Hart took Austin off his feet with a nasty chop, and locked in The Sharpshooter. Blood poured profusely from Austin’s head, as he shook and screamed, refusing to quit. Resisting, scratching, clawing. Nothing worked as the fans watched from their feet, cheering on Austin.
Even when it looked as if Austin had broken The Sharpshooter, he hadn’t. He didn’t have the power it took in order to break the nearly unbreakable hold. His body became limp and he didn’t move.
Steve Austin had passed out. Ken Shamrock called for the bell. Your winner: Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
Once he finished celebrating, Hart further attacked Austin. Shamrock didn’t allow it to last long, as he hit a belly-to-back suplex on Hart.
Hart, like the bully he had become, walked out of the ring with his tail firmly tucked in-between his legs to a chorus of boos. Austin refused help, Stunning a referee and stumbling to the backstage area on his own.
The double turn was complete. And it was done in one of the greatest professional wrestling matches of all time.
In Your House 14
In a sharp contrast, symbolizing just how far we had come from Survivor Series of the previous year, Bret Hart entered the arena with no fanfare. He instead had The British Bulldog and Owen Hart as his back up, although they were booted from ringside before the match even started.
Stone Cold paced down to the ring, with Vince McMahon simply stating “This man is not a role model!”
He slipped in the ring and was met a boxing-like encounter right off the bat, an encounter which he won.
The match featured a very similar pace to their WrestleMania bout the month before. At the start, neither could maintain an advantage for long. It was more of a see-saw affair. Afterwards, once you would count one out, they would make rousing comeback after rousing comeback.
Austin made one such comeback in the final sequence. He locked in the Sharpshooter on an unsuspecting Hart (nailing him in the head with his knee brace to daze him,) who was trying to lock in the maneuver.
Hart had been wearing down Stone Cold’s injured knee, ripping off the brace he had been forced to wear by his doctor. Bulldog and Owen Hart jumped on the apron to distract the referee, forcing Austin to relinquish his hold and fight them off.
When Austin locked in the hold a second time, Bulldog bashed him in the back with a steel chair, effectively ending the match by disqualification, giving “Stone Cold
Steve Austin the win.
Bulldog would again be restrained, and Austin finally successfully ended the segment in irony, avoiding a shot from the ring bell and locking in The Sharpshooter.
Both men limped away, meaning it was only a matter of time before these two met one last time.
Taking It to the Streets
As Bret Hart strolled down the aisle for his street fight, his cronies once again made an impact.
This time, instead of ending the match, they began it. Owen and Bulldog attacked Stone Cold from behind, giving him no chance to retaliate. The referee looked on as the three men beat down Austin, and he could do nothing. It was a street fight. No disqualification, no rules, nothing.
They were dragging him around the ring like pitbulls, to paraphrase Jerry Lawler. There was no hope for Steve Austin, until Shawn Michaels came running out of the stands with a steel chair. “It’s Shawn Michaels!” Vince McMahon screamed.
Michaels nailed Owen and Bulldog with the chair, grounding them, but Bret ducked the shot. HBK then chased Bulldog and Owen through the stands and out of the arena, as Bret weaseled his way back into the squared circle before going back to work.
He hit a leg drop, then an Irish whip into the corner, making Stone Cold vulnerable. Punch after punch, finishing off with a kick to the gut, Hart took advantage of a weakened opponent.
A piledriver on Austin sent the crowd into more a nervous frenzy.
Hart carefully placed a steel chair around the ankle of The Rattlesnake, went up to the top rope but missed when Austin rolled out of the way. Austin removed the chair from his ankle as Hart stumbled to his feet. He nailed Hart on his lower leg, to bring him down to the mat.
He stomped a mudhole in Hart, punched him down and hit him with steel chair shots for the next several minutes. Austin stalked Hart, flipped him off, and locked in the Sharpshooter.
Hart watched his entire career flash before his eyes, knowing it could very well be the end. Screaming in pain and agony, Hart hadn’t officially tapped, but every fan in the arena knew it was over. Referees gathered around Austin to attempt to put a stop to the hold, although only successful when being pried away by five other men.
Hart would be helped out of the arena by his brother and The British Bulldog on this night, while Stone Cold further built his bad-ass reputation by having a confrontation with Gorilla Monsoon.
Later on, Stone Cold continued the beating while Hart was being stretchered out of the building.
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