Many people look at WWE programming and can’t see past the pageantry and the flashy costumes. What they don’t realize is that for every Superstar and Diva that makes it to the big time, there are thousands who don’t have the athleticism, the look, or the passion to capture their dreams.
That’s what WWE’s returning reality series “Tough Enough” is all about.
Fourteen potential Superstars and Divas will be put through the rigors of life in the ring by former WWE Women’s Champion Trish Stratus, former World Heavyweight Champion Booker T, Bill DeMott, and arguably the most successful Superstar the WWE has ever produced, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
I had a chance to speak with Steve Austin in the days leading up to the show’s premiere to ask him about the “Tough Enough” process, his role in this Sunday’s Wrestlemania XXVII, and if we would ever see the Texas Rattlesnake compete in the ring again…
Gordon Holmes: Is it alright if I call you Steve?
Steve Austin: Absolutely.
Holmes: I just wanted to be sure. I was always told to respect those who could kick my ass.
Austin: (Laughs) I’ve been called much worse.
Holmes: So, in your new show “Tough Enough” we’re going to see who has what it takes to become a WWE Superstar. What can we look forward to in Monday’s premiere episode?
Austin: There’s some good hard training. We’re going to put these kids through the paces; we’re going to make some evaluations on a wide range of contestants. They go from being as green as grass like Miss USA Rima (Fakih) to people with nine to eleven years of experience. We’re going to eyeball them all and see what they’ve got. There’s some good training, a lot of chemistry between myself, Bill DeMott, Booker T, and Trish Stratus. We all had a lot of fun doing it, I had a blast.
Holmes: If some of the talent already has some professional experience, was it tough to compare them to somebody who’s just learning the ropes? No pun intended.
Austin: You’ve just got to teach them the basics. They’re going to have to come up to speed or the curriculum might pass them. We’re taking all of that into consideration. As you’ll see, we have some people who do very well who basically have no experience.
Holmes: Can we look forward to any cameos throughout the season from other WWE Superstars?
Austin: Absolutely, the Rock came by, several of the guys came by. I think we had a WWE Superstar come by every week and talk to the kids about a different subject. We were fortunate to have a lot of visitors from the WWE roster.
Holmes: If I remember correctly, John Morrison came from the original “Tough Enough” series. Does anyone in this cast have that kind of potential?
Austin: There’s a couple of guys who caught my eye; a big kid named Erik (Watts), big Andy (Leavine) another guy 6’5”, 275 lbs. There was Luke (Robinson), a good looking kid. A kid named Martin (Casaus). Christina (Crawford), a young lady who’s absolutely beautiful, a lot of athletic ability who’s been working for five or six years out of Puerto Rico. All of them brought something to the game, they’re all good looking kids and they all have something to offer.
Holmes: Your last official WWE match was against the Rock at Wrestlemania 19. That was quite a while ago. Did you take this opportunity to get in the ring and rough up these kids?
Austin: One of the kids was pretty mechanically inclined, so I got in there with him…and shoot, I guess that means I haven’t been in the ring in seven or eight years…but I took a few bumps from him, gave him a few bumps, it was a lot of fun. I think if we do it again, I think I’ll be even more active and get in the ring a lot more.
Holmes: Now, I know you trained to wrestle with Chris Adams back in the World Class days. I trained in a strip mall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Are you at all envious that these kids get such a top-notch training experience with nice facilities and trainers who have traveled the world and held multiples titles? Cause I am.
Austin: No, I’m happy for them. I want the best for these kids. And you’ve been in the business and trained, you know how hard it is. Only a few can really make it in this business and fewer can make it to the top. I certainly have my advice that I give these kids. I want them to pay some dues, I want them to understand the business the way I see it. I want them to respect it and protect it.
Holmes: Do you think that message about respecting the business came through?
Holmes: Any big plans for this weekend?
Austin: This weekend…jeez, I almost forgot…I’m flying out to Atlanta tomorrow night. I’m going to the Hall of Fame Saturday night and then I’m going to referee the Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole match at Wrestlemania.
Holmes: Good thing I reminded you.
Austin: (Laughs) That would’ve been a damn thing if I had missed my flight.
Holmes: That would have been an issue. Now Steve, I’ve seen you referee before, and I don’t mean to call you out here, but you don’t always call it right down the middle.
Austin: I’m gonna call it right down the middle. I’m going to make sure that Jack Swagger doesn’t stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. But I try to wait till after the match, I delay my physicality until then.
Holmes: Quite a line-up this year with all of the big returns.
Austin: This is a special Wrestlemania. I thought it was going to be a weak effort this year, but they’ve put together a monster card. Undertaker and Triple H, Undertaker trying to extend his streak. I’m coming in, Rock’s coming in to host. We’ve got some other great matches, it’s a loaded card, it’s a great event. I love Atlanta and I’m coming to raise hell.
Holmes: What made you worry that this year’s event was going to be weak?
Austin: They’re pretty thin on talent, they’ve had some injuries. They’ve brought the Rock in to host it. They brought me back. I didn’t know if the Undertaker was going to make it, he’s had some injuries. Triple H is getting back in the ring. Until they brought all those players out they had a lot of green guys.
Holmes: Did you catch the Rock in the ring Monday?
Austin: Oh yeah.
Holmes: How about that? Think we’ll ever see him wrestle a full match again?
Austin: That’ll be interesting to see. I know he had fun, I know John Cena had fun, and the Miz did. And of course the WWE Universe loved it. I think everybody was excited about it.
Holmes: You’ve been hearing chants of “One More Match” ever since you retired. And, I know you’ve addressed that prospect before and I know you’ve had a lot of injuries. The question I’m asking is; if you had that match and could perform at the top of your abilities, who would you want to go against?
Austin: That’d be an interesting scenario. That dream match that never happened in a lot of people’s mind is Austin/(Hulk) Hogan. But, in the current crop? I don’t really know. It would have been neat to work against a John Cena. Or the Rock or Undertaker or Triple H again. But that one dream match that never happened was Austin/Hogan. I could still, you know if I was in a bad situation, I could still get two years out of my carcass on a full-time basis.
Holmes: Oh yeah?
Austin: At about 90, 95% of what I used to do.
Holmes: Well, I’d hate for you to fall on bad times, but I know people would love to see you back in the ring.
Austin: Oh, I know. But I’m happy where I’m at. And in ten or twenty years I still want to be doing the things I’m doing with my hunting and fishing. I want to continue to do that in a pain-free fashion. And right now I’m living a pretty pain-free lifestyle.
Holmes: That’s great to hear, I know a lot of former athletes don’t have that luxury. I noticed you and C.M. Punk had a bit of fun over Twitter discussing the new “WWE All Stars” video game. That feud seems like a natural between the two lifestyles.
Austin: I really like C.M. Punk. I think he’s one of the top workers in the ring. I love his promos. I love his style. There’s no smoke and mirrors. I like the straight-edge lifestyle stuff he does. You want to start pairing that against the beer-guzzling “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, I think you’d have an interesting feud to say the least. He would push me to the limits, I would teach that kid a thing or two, and there would be some wonderful promos going back and forth. I like him a lot.
Holmes: Who else do you like from this new crop of guys?
Austin: Randy Orton continues to get better, I like what he’s doing. A lot of comparisons of him to me, I don’t think he’s at that level yet. We’ll see if he ever gets there. Cena’s done a wonderful job. Miz, he was on “Tough Enough,” he didn’t even win and now he’s the World Champion. That guy has worked his ass off, he’s more physical in the ring, and he’s got a great promo. He’s done extremely well. It’s good to see Christian come back from that injury. The crowd likes him, he’s got a good in-ring product. We’ll see how much longer Edge can hold on. I like a lot of what Edge does. They’ve got some interesting newcomers, guys who are still green like Wade Barrett. But, I think they can expect big things from them in the next couple years.
Holmes: The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony is this Saturday. How are you feeling about this year’s induction class?
Austin: I love it. Shawn Michaels is probably the greatest in-ring performer I’ve ever seen. He would have to be, in my opinion, in everybody’s top three. The Legion of Doom, I’ve always been a huge Road Warriors fan, and I wish Hawk was still with us. But dang, the way those guys blazed a trail. They were the shape of things to come. They were total devastation and great guys. Sunny, the first Diva. Man, she was the hottest thing on two feet for a while there. So, it’s fun to see her go in. And Abby (Abdullah the Butcher), that guy’s been in so many bloodbaths. All the stuff in Japan with (Bruiser) Brody. I’m glad to see him go in. “Bullet” Bob was a damn good hand in the ring. Tough, gritty, he paved the way for a lot of cats.
Holmes: Whenever people talk about the biggest names, it’s always you, Hogan, and the Rock…and Cena’s starting to approach that plateau. The one difference I’ve noticed is the fact that the fans turned on good guy Hogan, they’ve turned on good guy Rock, and they’ve always given John Cena a hard time. Why didn’t the fans ever turn on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
Austin: I don’t know. I think whether I was a heel or a babyface, I was always in that Oakland Raiders mode. I brought a gray area to a black-and-white world. My work ethic, my style, you could never see through it. I was very physical, I was very aggressive, unpredictable and very entertaining. And I loved my fans. They’re the best fans in the world. I worked my ass off for them and I earned their respect. I gave them everything I had.
Holmes: I’m gonna finish this with the most important question I have; are we ever going to see another Steve Austin vs. The Rock sing off?
Austin: (Laughs) You can never say never…but you probably won’t.
‘Wrestlemania XXVII’ airs Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 7 p.m. ET on Pay Per View.
‘WWE Hall of Fame Induction’ airs Monday, April 4, 2011 at 8 p.m. ET on USA.
‘WWE Tough Enough’ premieres Monday, April 4, 2011 at 11 p.m. ET on USA.
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