Examining How King of the Ring 1996 Defined Steve Austin's WWE Career

Aaron Bower@@aaronbowerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2016

Credit: WWE.com

Every WWE career undergoes a defining moment before reaching the pinnacle of the company—and in the case of a chosen few, greatness.

Those are always open to debate, of course, but moments like Shawn Michaels' triumph at WrestleMania X, Vince McMahon's involvement in the Montreal Screwjob and many more have defined some of WWE's biggest stars.

Steve Austin is no different, and although he became Stone Cold Steve Austin in the WWE for the first time in March 1996 after abandoning his The Ringmaster moniker, it wasn't until later that year when he underwent his defining moment—the moment which made him the Hall of Famer he is today.

         

Prelude

Austin had made a decent fist of working alongside Ted DiBiase, winning the Million Dollar Championship and becoming a moderately interesting heel character.

However, he knew it was a weak gimmick, and therefore asked WWE for a change. They came to him with a list of ideas which he felt didn't fit, so he opted to shave his head bald and go to Stone Cold Steve Austin, a change which became inspired.

Yet Stone Cold did not initially sparkle. Sure, he beat Savio Vega at WrestleMania XII, but he lost a Caribbean Strap match to Vega at In Your House: Beware of Dog.

However, that forced DiBiase out of the company, allowing Austin to go his own way and do his own thing. By the time King of the Ring came around in 1996, Austin was ready for his big moment.

     

The Event

Modern-day WWE does not have a great affiliation with King of the Ring. Recent winners like Sheamus and Wade Barrett have gone on and done little with the gimmick, but back in the 1990s, winning the King of the Ring was a big deal and a precursor to big things.

Two weeks before the pay-per-view, Austin had debuted his new finishing maneuver, The Stone Cold Stunner. However, it wasn't until King of the Ring when it came into prominence for real, as Austin used it to win all of his matches on the way to claiming the title.

The Attitude Era is notorious for having several starting points. Some say the Montreal Screwjob kicked it all off, others say Mike Tyson's involvement in WWE started it. But in reality, the beginnings of the era can be traced back to this night, where Austin's new attitude typified what was to come in WWE over the coming years.

Marc Mero fell to Austin in the semifinals before Austin brutally dismantled Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the final, as any good heel would have done. His swagger when approaching the ring, even without the theme song which would become his trademark, was unmissable. 

The way he acted in the ring, beating people down in merciless fashion, was spectacular. The commentary accompanied the action brilliantly, too, instantly elevating Austin as someone fans had to take notice of.

This was a time when Austin was still renowned as a mat maestro, in the years before his serious neck injury, so his in-ring efforts were markedly different from the Austin who would dominate WWE in the coming years.

But in his semifinal against Mero, he sustained a mouth injury which required 16 stitches, eventually handing Mero his first loss in WWE—another serious indicator about the push Austin was about to go through.

Austin was impressing in the ring, but what he did outside of it was even more magical. 

Roberts, going for one last ride at the top before bowing out, was fed to Austin in spectacular fashion, underlining how serious WWE was about pushing a guy who had gone from bleach-blond hair and little about him to WWE's most absorbing character in just a few short months.

Roberts was portraying a gimmick involving him being a born-again Christian at that time, so when Austin stepped up to collect his accolade at the hands of Dok Hendrix, Austin cut a now-famous promo which gave birth to the success of his career, saying to Roberts: "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!"

     

The Legacy

The Austin 3:16 catchphrase spread like wildfire, quickly became printed on Austin's T-shirts all across WWE events and took the company by storm.

It catapulted Austin into the mainstream as a bona fide main event character. Less than a year later he had gone through one of the most infamous double turns in history to become babyface before going after Vince McMahon in the Attitude Era's defining storyline.

However, all of this would not have been possible without King of the Ring. He may not be remembered as the 1996 King of the Ring winner, but that night in Milwaukee was Steve Austin's career-defining moment.

That interview, those victories, that attitude to go to the hospital, get his mouth stitched up and return to win the final—all the things which made Austin so loved around the world—they all started here at King of the Ring.

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