For all of its faults during its existence, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was for many wrestlers…a last chance to redeem a fallen career. Many referred to ECW as “the land of misfit toys,” a place where wrestlers who were mostly considered used up and/or unwanted to continue to ply their trade. Such was the case for Steve Austin, who in 1995, was all but tossed aside by WCW because he was injured.
How could it be that this veteran of 6 years and a former Rookie of the Year award winner was suddenly irrelevant? There were no guarantees that Austin would get another opportunity in the big spotlight again. Austin readily admitted that there was a lot of uncertainty with where his wrestling career was headed at the time. Then ECW and Paul Heyman came calling. Heyman was always known for having a keen eye for untapped potential in wrestlers and helped make stars out of the least likeliest of wrestlers in the past. It was Heyman who saw that very same thing with Steve Austin.
Heyman and Austin did have a prior history with one another. It was Heyman who under the stage name of Paul E. Dangerously managed Austin as a part of a faction known as the Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Paul knew first hand what kind of abilities Austin had and truly believed he found a diamond in the rough once Eric Bischoff and WCW released him.
When Heyman brought Austin into ECW, Austin was still nursing an injury. Despite his limitations in the ring, Heyman knew Austin could talk with the best of the best. He also knew that Austin had a serious chip on his shoulder after being unceremoniously fired by WCW. Heyman was able to tap into Austin’s anger and allowed him free reign to cut a series of promos. It wasn’t so much the matches that helped Austin get over in ECW…it was his promos on his ex employers.
Austin had a field day ripping apart Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan and WCW in general….calling Monday Nitro…Monday Nyquil. The creative freedom Heyman allowed Austin reignited a fire inside of him. On days that all promos were shot, Austin reportedly asked to always go on last. The reasoning was to watch and study everyone else’s promos and made sure when it was his turn in front of the camera and did better than anyone else. At that time, he always did too.
Paul Heyman had really big plans for Steve Austin when he returned to the ring. His new nickname was ‘Superstar’ Steve Austin and was immediately catapulted into the ECW world title picture. Heyman wanted to make Austin the ECW champion and top guy for the promotion. The issue was, Austin didn’t want the title….at least not right away. According to Austin, he rejected plans to beat then ECW champion Mikey Whipwreck for the title citing that he wanted to earn his way to the top of the card. Steve Austin felt that coming in and having his first match winning the company’s top prize was disrespectful to both the wrestlers in the locker room and the hardcore ECW fans.
Austin would only wrestle two matches during his short stay with ECW. Both were for the ECW world title and both had Mikey Whipwreck involved. Ultimately, Heyman wanted Austin to beat Whipwreck for the belt and then go into a program with the Sandman for the championship. Because of Austin’s reluctance to win the belt and because the WWF took notice of this new and improved Superstar Steve Austin….the feud never fully came to fruition.
As we said, the WWF liked what they saw from Austin ECW. They subsequently offered him a bigger contract than the $500 per appearance Heyman was offering him. Steve Austin made the decision to jump ship to the World Wrestling Federation and well…we all know how that turned out for him. Steve Austin became the Ringmaster and eventually turned into the persona he got started in ECW as Stone Cold Steve Austin. A true megastar during the Attitude era for the WWF.
If nothing else, Austin’s brief time in ECW from September to December of 1995 changed the trajectory of Austin’s career. Austin said himself that he credits Paul Heyman as a “lifesaver” even though Austin didn’t realize it at that time.