Before Steven Austin had to modify his in-ring ability due to his neck injury, he was a brilliant mat wrestler. The first match that springs to mind is his epic contest against Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1996. Those who watched him during the Attitude Era (see my review, for example, of his match against Dude Love, number in the Top 100 list-click here) will know Austin for his amazing brawling ability. But in this match against Ricky Steamboat, he puts on a wrestling clinic. Yeah, I know, it’s a cliché! But both wrestlers were at their best for the match. It’s a back and forth, gruelling contest that is mesmerising to watch.
Austin plays an excellent heel during the match, low-blowing Steamboat when the referee isn’t looking, taunting the crowd, and disrespecting the legendary Dragon. Even at that point, you can tell he loves the business and that there is a mass of potential for him to rise to the top. He attacks Steamboat before the bells rings, focusing on Steamboat’s knee. Steamboat reverses a Figure-Four leglock by launching Austin shoulder-first into the ring-post. Steamboat then attacks Austin’s arm and shoulder. That’s the story for the first five minutes of the match.
The technical wrestling falls to the wayside a little after that, but much to the benefit of the match. After said lowblow by Austin, it becomes a one-sided affair. Austin beats down Steamboat with move after move, but Steamboast refuses to stay down. His comebacks are timed to perfection. A consummate performer and babyface, Steamboat knew that the heel had to be in charge for most of the match. Steamboat’s refusal to stay down does reach overkill towards the end, but never steps over the limits of believability.
It’s interesting to watch Austin at that point in his career. He’s literally just a man in black trunks, but there’s more than meets the eye. It’s obvious he understands pro wrestling. He knows what works, and what doesn’t work. He doesn’t need a gimmick to impress the audience; his in-ring ability and personality is enough. Of course, Steamboat as the veteran knows a lot more than Austin, but the two coalesce to construct a brilliant bout. It’s the story of a good man who won’t stay down, and a bad man who will get a victory by any means necessary. Who wins? Watch and see!
VERDICT: 8/10. A great example of how a babyface and heel bout should work. The babyface never gives up, and the heel who’ll do anything to win. A wrestling clinic that show an inkling of the star Austin would become!
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(Click here for my review of #75 Inaugural Money In The Bank Ladder Match)