In 1995, 24 years ago, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was fired from WCW, unceremoniously, via phone call. But unbeknown to everyone—Austin included—that firing was a butterfly effect that changed the direction of the wrestling business for the next five years.
Back then, Austin wasn't "Stone Cold." He was "Stunning" Steve Austin, and he was best known as one-half of the tag team The Hollywood Blonds with Brian Pillman.
The team won the WCW and NWA Tag Team Championships, and Austin was pegged as a midcard contender. To this end, Austin won the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship in December 1994.
But in 1995, Bischoff contacted Austin via phone and fired him. At the time, there were rumors that Austin had been fired because he wasn't earning enough money, or because Bischoff didn't see any creative potential with Austin's persona.
But in an interview with the Brooklyn Brawler on his Bischoff on Wrestling Overrun podcast (h/t Aaron Varble on Still Real to Us), the sacking was done for more practical reasons: Bischoff disliked Austin's attitude and felt he was too injury-prone to build around; at the time he was fired, Austin was nursing a triceps injury
In his book The Stone Cold Truth (h/t JP Zarka of Pro Wrestling Stories), Austin discussed how slighted he felt by the firing:
"But the thing that really pissed me off was the way I was fired. You know, I only lived thirty miles from CNN Center in Atlanta. It wasn't like I was going to kick Bischoff's ass for firing me. I mean, treat me like a damn decent human being and invite me down there and say, ‘Steve, we know you're hurt and we're sorry about that. But we ain't got nothing for you.'
“In other words, I thought he should have fired me to my face. The way it went down was totally disrespectful."
Austin would do a brief stint in ECW before joining WWE. And in WWE, it initially seemed as though he would resume his status as a solid, but respected midcard worker. He was given the gimmick The Ringmaster, a prodigal Superstar who knew every move and hold in the book and could wrestle circles around other competitors.
But Austin hated the gimmick, and despite some modest success, Austin asked for a character change. When WWE Creative got back to him with Chilly McFreeze and Fang McFrost, Austin took his career into his hands and developed the "Stone Cold" we know and love today.
It's fascinating that for half a decade, no one saw the megastar working among them. He had to make that happen for himself. But in a truly ironic twist of fate, none of that would have been possible without Austin's WCW firing, which was, for Austin, a fortuitous blessing in disguise.
How differently could things have gone? Today, Austin is a legendary, Hall of Fame Texas Rattlesnake, instead of one half of a solid tag team billed from Hollywood, CA.
That's an incredible upgrade. It deserves a beer bash and a big ol' "Hell Yeah!"