WWE Classic of the Week: Steve Austin vs. Jake Roberts from King of the Ring '96

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

Throughout WWE history, fans can instantly recognize the instant a wrestler became a Superstar.

For Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, that moment came at the 1996 King of the Ring, where he delivered his iconic "Austin 3:16" promo and laid the groundwork for the single greatest babyface run Vince McMahon's sports entertainment juggernaut had ever experienced to that point.

And he defeated the legendary Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the process.

While Shawn Michaels was at the top of the company, The Undertaker and Mankind were in the midst of a developing and intense rivalry and Bret Hart was the talk of the wrestling world, it was Austin who stole the spotlight at the annual June pay-per-view extravaganza.

And he did it with three wildly different performances that demonstrated just how diverse a worker he was.

Whether he was stealing the show inside the ring, proving his vile villainy or captivating the audience with a history-making coronation address, Austin made sure that everyone who bought the show would never forget what was, to that point, the biggest night of his career.

The Background

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Austin was fresh off a feud with Savio Vega that saw the Texas Rattlesnake lose a Caribbean Strap match at In Your House: Beware of Dog. As a result, manager "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase was forced to leave the promotion forever.

In the wake of the defeat, Austin revealed that he may have intentionally lost the match to rid himself of the burden of DiBiase. He did not need a manager by his side. He did not need some fancy gimmick name like the Ring Master, and he most certainly did not need a Million Dollar belt around his waist.

He was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and he just wanted to kick some ass.

At the 1996 King of the Ring, he would have that opportunity, as he battled former WCW alumnus "Wildman" Marc Mero in the semifinal round of the tournament.

Fighting through a bloodied lip that would later require medical attention and numerous stitches, Austin pinned Mero in a brilliant wrestling match. The win would catapult him into the tournament finals.

His opponent? Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

The star of 1980s WWE had recently made a return to the company, hoping for a career renaissance of sorts. He was reborn as a believer in Christ who was sober for the first time in his adulthood.

In the semifinal round of the King of the Ring tournament, he battled the brutal, violent mastodon Vader. The heavyweight's use of the referee as a shield led to a disqualification that earned Roberts a date with Austin.

Unfortunately for the grizzled veteran, Vader pummeled Roberts, delivering his vicious Vader Bomb finisher and leaving The Snake with a set of broken ribs.

With both men nursing injuries, it would be a war of attrition between Roberts and Austin, with the title of 1996 King of the Ring on the line.

And in the end, one man's relentlessness and ruthlessness would earn him the victory.

The Match

The Analysis

Austin was brilliant in the King of the Ring finals, beating the injured Roberts to a pulp and showing no remorse in the process. He had a singular goal and accomplished it with a Stone Cold Stunner.

Anyone expecting a five-star match here was surely disappointed. What they got instead was one of the defining performances of Austin's career. From a match-quality standpoint, it was garbage. Austin dominated and put his opponent away in relatively short order.

From a character-building perspective, though, it was a classic performance from Austin and one that would fuel him going forward.

The post-match promo is the stuff of legend and has been replayed dozens of times since it occurred. Everyone knows the importance of it, but when packaged with the Roberts match and the stellar contest with Mero earlier in the night, it really was no wonder that Austin became the star that he did.

Aftermath

There is this belief that Austin suddenly became a huge star or that he immediately moved into his career-making program with Hart. The fact is that Stone Cold was left to wallow away in the midcard following his monumental victory.

Sure, he worked the likes of Undertaker and Sycho Sid in Raw main events, but it was clear to everyone that WWE had not fully gotten behind him to the point that he was allowed to beat either of those men.

As time passed and the feud with Hart developed, Austin picked up steam, leading to an epic encounter with The Hitman at Survivor Series. From there, it was onward and upward for the man who would eventually become the most successful main event star ever promoted by McMahon.

Roberts, on the other hand, would struggle to maintain his sobriety, not to mention his status as one of the more prominent midcard stars in the company. Soon, he was stuck in a rivalry with Jerry Lawler before fading further into obscurity.

He would leave the company in 1997.