"Stone Cold" Steve Austin became one of the biggest stars in WWE history in part for his brilliance talking into a microphone. Now, more than 15 years removed from his in-ring career, Austin has carved out a niche queuing up others for quotes and soundbytes.
The WWE Hall of Famer, who retired in 2003, has a critically acclaimed interview podcast, "The Steve Austin Show", and he's expanding those efforts to the WWE Network with "Broken Skull Sessions," where Austin will sit down for lengthy, in-depth conversations with prominent figures in pro wrestling history.
Austin's first guest is his former longtime on-screen rival The Undertaker. The show will premiere Sunday night right after WWE's Survivor Series.
Throughout his three-decade career, The Undertaker has done almost all of his interviews in character. The first show is being billed as Austin chatting with Mark Calaway the man, not the Undertaker gimmick.
Ahead of the anticipated premiere, ESPN caught up with Austin to get his thoughts on a number of topics, including the significance of that Undertaker interview, whether or not he'll ever return to the pro wrestling ring for a match, the state of wrestling in 2019, CM Punk's return and much, much more.
ESPN: The Undertaker is your guest on the first episode. He hasn't really been out of character during his career and hasn't talked in depth with anyone. Is it a daunting task to interview someone like that because there is so much to cover?
Steve Austin: Well, yeah. There was so much to cover. And also the first time you do anything -- I do a podcast, but this is more like an interview show on television via a network -- so when you're doing something for the first time, it is a little nerve-racking. And then you're trying to cover a 30-year career. You realize right before you start rolling, there ain't no way we can cover 30 years in this amount of time. So, I think we'll see another session with The Undertaker, because he's had such a long, successful career and it covered so much information.
As much as I've known Mark -- and I've always called him Taker -- as long as I've known Taker and I've worked angles with him, we were strictly business. We didn't always just sit around and shoot the breeze. So, this is one of the first times I've really sat across the guy and traded stories about life, about the business, life inside the business, how he made that character work. It was daunting.
I was a little nervous, but I had a blast once we started rolling, and I watched that guy light up like a Christmas tree and laugh and smile like a regular human being. He'd tell stories that are just unbelievable.
ESPN: Were you not close when you and Undertaker were working together?
SA: We were friends, but we were more acquaintance friends. Because man, back in the '90s and that Attitude Era, he was kind of reinventing himself coming back from an injury and he came out with American Bad Ass. That was such a competitive time. We were at war with WCW, with Nitro. But man, within that locker room, we were all getting along, you know we were traveling together -- it's like a package deal because there are 10 matches on the card and you're in that circle. It's like a brotherhood, or a sisterhood, like a group of people that do a very specific thing and there's not a whole lot of people doing it.
So in some form, in a way you're very close. But also, because it's so dang competitive, everybody is fighting to get to the top of that card. A lot of times you're holding your cards pretty close to your sleeve just because you're trying to get on top. That whole locker room now, when you look back at that Attitude Era, almost everybody on the card is or is gonna be in the Hall of Fame. Everybody there was kicking, scratching and clawing to get to the top.
ESPN: What were your goals going into the interview? What kinds of things did you want to ask him, and do you feel like you succeeded?
SA: I guess the results will be seen once it airs. I was faced with the task of covering such a long, successful career. With the Broken Skull Sessions, it's pretty loose, pretty relaxed. So we get into some storytelling things where we need more time to cover more ground. So, I don't know whether I delivered or not. From what I've seen, I've enjoyed what I've seen. I'm hypercritical of anything that I do. There might be some journalist that will say, 'Well, he didn't ask this, he needed to ask that.' I guess it'll be judged or graded once it's seen. But from where I stand, I know that I'd like to have Part II with Mark because there's no way for all that career to be covered in a two-hour span.
ESPN: Who else do you want to sit down and chat with for an extended period of time?
SA: There's 10 right off the top of my tongue, but we're keeping that very close our vests. I just want to stay silent on that one.
ESPN: Can you give us a hint as to maybe one or two?
SA: If you were to construct your Mount Rushmore, I'm sure your Mount Rushmore would cover a couple of guys that are on my mind. How's that for an answer?
ESPN: That's fair. It seems like a lot of guys from your era are coming back and wrestling again. Do you think you have one more match under your belt?
SA: I'd be happy to give you a two-letter answer: N.O. It's like people say, it's show business, and in the wrestling business, it's never say never. If you ask me, 'Steve do you have a couple of Stunners, a couple of right hands or do you have some hell raising left in you?' Absolutely, I do. But just to go in there, lace them up and go in there for a 15-, 20-minute match? No, man. I don't. Nor do I want to. I did what I did, and in WrestleMania 19, that was my last match with The Rock and he beat me 1-2-3 right in the middle of the ring. Took three Rock Bottoms, but that was the last match that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin will ever have.
ESPN: Does watching the current product and some of the great athletes and some of the great characters out there give you the urge ever?
SA: I DVR all the shows. Sometimes I'll watch live or I'll go back and watch something if someone tells me, "Hey man, go watch this match." And I'll watch that match, and my wife will be watching me. I'm leaning in and punching and leaning back. She goes, 'What are you doing? Why are you moving like that?' I say, 'I'm just watching the match.' She's like, 'Yeah, but you're acting like you're doing the match.'
I'm into it. I do that all the time. I think I have something left in me. Not a match, but I still enjoy watching the guys and gals do their thing.
ESPN: Is there anyone in particular you'd want to work an angle with or a segment?
SA: No, I'm not gonna name names. As soon as I do that, everybody is gonna start making these fantasy matches. A few weeks back on my podcast, I was kind of just giving a physical assessment of where I am. Because everyone thinks that all the guys are just beat to shreds -- and by and large many of us are. But I was simply stating, hey man, as far as the pain level I feel good. Most times on a 1 to 10, I don't even register as a 1. So I said, in theory, I could have a match, because physically I'm in a good shape. So now all of a sudden, I get taken out of context and people start saying I'm fishing for a dream match. Like God dang, I opened a whole other can of worms.
ESPN: You just don't want to do another match.
SA: No. The expectations would be off the charts. We talk about what it takes for The Undertaker to get ready for a match. You'll hear that discussed on the Broken Skull Session after Survivor Series.
The wrestling business for me, it's very addictive. I was hooked on that business, and I loved it. As many years as I've been away from the business, I have fond memories. Whereas, when I was forced to take myself out of the equation, I had a hard time dealing with it. So why go back and get so immersed in that world, knowing that it would be a short road? And the build up and then the match. I just think when it was all said and done, it would be anticlimactic for me. I don't have anything to prove. People can judge me on the career that I had. So, I'd rather leave well enough alone is the simple answer.
ESPN: Speaking of returns, CM Punk returned to wrestling last week on WWE Backstage. Do you think we'll see CM Punk back in the WWE ring?
SA: Pure speculation, but he's certainly young enough and in good enough shape to do it. I know that he's still doing his MMA training, so I know that means he's in shape. I don't know, that's completely up to CM Punk. But I'm just excited that he's back with the WWE. Some things have been mended. I know there was hard feelings on either side, so the fact that he's back in the fold, I know he loves the business of professional wrestling or sports entertainment. He's very opinionated, has a very knowledgeable opinion of the business, because of the roads that he's traveled and the level of success that he's had. And he's a really smart guy and he's a great promo and a great analytical mind. So, I'm glad that he's back. I hope that he enjoys his ride. It's good to see him and WWE have mended whatever happened back in the day.
I'm excited for him, because I'm a CM Punk fan and I always have been. I'm happy for the guy.
ESPN: I know you're a big fan of MMA. Do you think there's anyone else in the UFC that would do well in WWE and pro wrestling?
SA: Well, Francis Ngannou. Derrick Lewis. I think Ngannou would scare everybody to death. Derrick Lewis is so funny and likeable. And he's such a personality. He's just this gigantic guy. I think there's a couple guys there, and I'm not even thinking about the lighter guys. But those guys jump into mind immediately.
ESPN: What Colby Covington is doing is very much like pro wrestling, with the way he talks trash and how he has developed his character. Have you followed that at all?
SA: Oh, absolutely. I've been watching that guy talk trash for a while. He's had some pretty damn good fights. That guy is tough as nails. He's a good fighter. He talks a lot of trash, and he can back it up. I wouldn't see him having a hard time learning some of the workset of what it takes to be in the WWE ring. As far as putting him behind the mic, lights out.
ESPN: Do you have any favorite Survivor Series memories?
SA: Specifically, no. But it is kind of a springboard, and it is kind of that Thanksgiving tradition. It goes back to the old Survivor Series, which they kind of don't do anymore. As a matter of fact, I covered one of Taker's first matches as The Undertaker at Survivor Series in 1990 on the show. Dusty Rhodes and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine were in that match. We talked specifically about that and what happened during that match. Going back to memories, that was one of the matches I remember the most.
ESPN: Did you enjoy the five-on-five aspect of Survivor Series?
SA: Yeah, I did. But man, I was such a singles guy after they broke Brian Pillman and I up. I loved watching tag team wrestling, and I loved participating in it if I was in a dedicated team -- but I was so solo oriented, especially in the WWE. If you put me in a tag or God forbid a triple threat, I did not like that. I liked working singles -- period.
ESPN: If you could change one thing about pro wrestling today, what would it be?
SA: I always think the work could improve -- the in-ring product, not being able to see the gaps, the tells. To make the in-ring product even better than it is now. With respect to athleticism, it's about as high as it can get. But just everything tightened up and everything looks like a complete shoot. And wins and losses do matter. It's always about the in-ring product.
And the bottom line is when you're watching it, it needs to appear as real as possible. That's not a critique or an indictment. That's just you asked me what could be better -- that could be better.
ESPN: Wednesday night is a very hot night in professional wrestling with NXT and AEW. Have you been following along with that new generation of wrestling war?
SA: I DVR everything, and I watch specific matches that people tell me to go check out. AEW is doing AEW and WWE continues to do WWE. I'm seeing so much wrestling on television, along with the Backstage show, which I think is great. I love SmackDown on Fridays and I love NWA Power on YouTube. I'm just glad there's been a resurgence in the business and it's coming back on television with the volume that it is. I'm hoping with all the wrestling there is that people are digging it and it grows the audience. I don't know if it'll grow it back to what it was during the Monday Night Wars, but I hope it grows the business and it continues to provide a great living for the guys and gals that get in this business and need a place to work.