Jobbers are usually use to making others look good in the ring. They are the ones that are always on the losing end of a match. Today’s piece looks at how one jobber fight against the mighty World Wrestling Federation. This is the story of Chuck Austin and how he took on the WWF in the courts and won! His story changed the landscape of the WWF forever.
The Date: December 11th, 1990
The Venue: The Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida
The Show: WWF Superstars
The Match: The Rockers Vs. Lanny Poffo and Chuck Austin
Chuck Austin was a natural born athlete having played football at the collegiate level. He lifted weights regularly and had an athletic build. He was also a big pro wrestling fan, who had aspirations of making it in the industry. After only 6 months of training and only a handful of matches under his belt…Austin, along with a few friends traveled to the Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida where the WWF was holding a television taping.
Austin met some of the WWF’s hierarchy backstage and somehow convinced WWF management to put him on the card. According to Austin, it didn’t take that much coaxing on his part to get a spot on their show. Despite little training, he was paired up with Lanny Poffo a second generation ring veteran…who would take the brunt of the bumps in the match. Chuck Austin claims that during the pre match meeting with himself, Poffo and the Rockers (Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels) never once did anyone ask him what he could or couldn’t do inside the ring.
All he remembered, was that Jannetty assured him that he was a professional and would make sure Austin was protected. When the match took place that night, everything went as discussed earlier by the four wrestlers. Everything, but the actual finish of the match.
The ending was to have Jannetty perform the maneuver on Austin called “the Rocker Dropper” which was a form of a standing leg drop. Jannetty had discussed doing the move with Austin prior to the match and how to properly sell it…but Austin had allegedly felt nervous getting that done to him because of his inexperience.
Regardless, the move was executed during the actual match and instead of Austin pancaking himself flat on the mat, he landed head first directly into the canvas. The move broke his neck and Austin was instantly paralyzed from his shoulders down. Without being able to move and basically lying motionless on the mat…Jannetty instructed Austin to roll over. Austin claims at that point he told Marty he thought his neck was broken and he couldn’t move.
Despite that, Jannetty continued the match by rolling him over anyway and tagging Shawn Michaels who climbed the top rope and jumped onto Austin and getting the pin fall victory. After the match, the referee and Lanny Poffo quickly went to the aide of Austin who was continued to lay motionless in the middle of the ring.
Chuck Austin said that it took over 20 minutes for paramedics to get to him because he claimed that the WWF didn’t have any doctors or trainers on staff. The end result was Chuck Austin suffering damage to the C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae…as well as extensive damage to his nervous system. Through rigorous rehabilitation, Austin was able to have limited mobility, but still suffered immense pain and uncontrollable spasms throughout his body.
Chuck Austin decided to sue the WWF’s parent company Titan Sports and the Rockers for damages and was seeking 3 million dollars total. A judge dismissed the lawsuit against Shawn Michaels but included Marty Jannetty in the suit. The WWF contended that Chuck Austin was warned ahead of time about the risks involved and was negligent by botching the move that crippled him. Former WWF legend Bruno Sammartino and fellow WWF jobber Rusty Brooks testified on Austin’s behalf.
The WWF countered by actually bring wrestling mats inside the courtroom and having Jannetty perform the exact same Rocker Dropper move on none other than Dean Malenko. Malenko, at that time, was being utilized by the WWF as a referee while in the Tampa area. The jury sympathized with Chuck Austin and felt that the WWF were both careless and callous towards Austin’s pain and suffering.
The jury found the WWF liable and awarded Austin over 27 million dollars. The award was…at the time…the largest in Tampa history and one of the largest in sports. The WWF would appeal the decision, but eventually settled the matter out of court by coughing up 10 million dollars. Marty Jannetty was ordered to pay 1.5 million dollars.
The court’s decision was a huge, landmark ruling not only for the Austin family…but for the way the World Wrestling Federation did does business moving forward. Since that ruling, the WWF only hired preliminary wrestlers aka jobbers with a lengthy background in the business and also hired a full medical staff that are at ringside.
As for Chuck Austin, he has relied more and more on the use of a motorized wheelchair and lives in constant pain with a medical dependency to pain killers. His son Matt Austin is now a TV news anchor who has worked in places like Oklahoma and Orlando, Florida.