A few years prior to Steve Austin becoming “Stone Cold” and Brian Pillman turning into a “Loose Cannon,” these two talented performers’ paths would cross in WCW in the early ’90s. Despite both enjoying varying levels of success as singles competitors, some of the most memorable exploits the pair would participate in would be as a short-lived tag team. Seemingly thrown together almost at random and then split again less than a year later, the coupling of Steve Austin and Brian Pillman is still memorable for many to this day. They were known collectively as “The Hollywood Blonds,” and this is their story.
“We need a finish!” – Steve Austin, Brian Pillman, and the Formation of The Hollywood Blonds
World Championship Wrestling in the early 1990s was quite a crazy mix. For each Ricky Steamboat, Arn Anderson, and Bobby Eaton, you had a Shockmaster, El Gigante, and Paul Roma. For every wonderful in-ring moment, there was also an odd interview with Missy Hyatt, or a weird match stipulation to almost balance this out (Chamber of Horrors anyone?).
However, it was clear that many of the younger performers on the roster were not being utilized productively despite their undeniable talent. One of these said performers was a pre “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Going by the moniker of “Stunning” Steve at this point, Austin found himself in a slight career rut at the end of 1992. The excellent Dangerous Alliance group had disbanded and left the future “Rattlesnake” treading water somewhat in the mid-card, and WCW would ironically have Steve Austin and Brian Pillman team together in throw-away tag matches. During the same period, Pillman was paired with Barry Windham where he pursued the WCW/NWA tag team titles, and Austin was promised by the WCW booking team that he would soon be receiving a prominent singles push and potential United States title win.
However, in true WCW fashion, plans changed. With Windham and Pillman unsuccessful in their attempts to capture tag team gold from the team of Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas, Windham moved his focus to the NWA World singles title, leaving Pillman at a loose end. Austin, still thinking of his upcoming singles run, was surprised when greeted by Flyin’ Brian at a TV taping and told that they had better think of a finish together. When a puzzled Austin asked, “Why?” Pillman responded that the plans were for the pair to be made a full-time tag team going forward. “Stunning” Steve soon later had this confirmed by WCW booker Dusty Rhodes after confronting “The American Dream” over this new information and was told by Rhodes that “this team has legs.”
Billed initially as their individual personas, Pillman decided that if this was to work, they should have matching ring gear and a real tag team name. The pair were traveling with Scotty “Flamingo” Levy (later Raven) at this time, and the three would discuss options on the road together, eventually with Levy suggesting the “Hollywood Blonds” moniker previously used by Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown in the ’70s, and this stuck.
Tag Team Gold for Steve Austin and Brian Pillman
Now with matching ring gear and waistcoats and a collective name, The Hollywood Blonds were very quickly pushed into a series of matches with the team of Steamboat and Douglas. Adopting an old-style movie camera hand gesture after particular offensive moves and citing that beaten opponents had just had a “brush with greatness,” the pair gelled very quickly. The title matches between the Blonds and the champions were excellent to watch and quite often were highlights of the WCW product in early ’93.
One perfect and obvious example of this was the match taped for television between the two teams that aired on March 27th, 1993. Austin and Pillman were working brilliantly together as the heel counterparts to the popular Steamboat and Douglas pairing, using ref distractions and a towel to choke their opponents whenever possible. Eventually, after another diversion of the official, Austin would hit Steamboat with one of the title belts and place his partner on top of his unconscious foe just in time for the referee to turn around and count to three. After only a few short months together, Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were now holders of the unified NWA and WCW World Tag Team Championships.
A few rematches took place with The Hollywood Blonds always able to escape with their championships. This then led to an unusual angle involving “Dos Hombres” and a title match at Slamboree 1993. Still chasing Austin and Pillman for the tag-team titles, Steamboat and Douglas faced the champions in a non-title match on an episode of Main Event, under masks, disguised as a pair of luchador wrestlers from Mexico and billed as underdogs. The masked couple would go on to beat The Hollywood Blonds and face the champions for the titles at Slamboree ’93 a short time later. However, all was not as it seemed or as WCW would have you believe. Douglas, who was in a contract dispute with WCW at the time and would eventually leave the company, was not, in fact, under one of the red and green disguises. As the “Dos Hombres” team scored the upset, the role of Steamboat’s partner is widely thought to have been filled by Brad Armstrong. Perhaps concerned about not having Shane Douglas appear in their World tag-team title match inside a steel cage as advertised on the pay-per-view would harm already poor ticket sales and buy rates, WCW went on to substitute Douglas once again. With Tom Zenk wrestling under the mask alongside Steamboat at Slamboree and the WCW commentary team referring to Zenk as Douglas throughout, The Hollywood Blonds had yet another entertaining match. The contest is perhaps highlighted by an impressive cross-body from the top of the cage by Steamboat shortly before Austin pinned “The Dragons” masked partner, and is a match worth revisiting.
With Ricky Steamboat and the now-departed Shane Douglas in the rearview mirror, Steve Austin and Brian Pillman needed new opponents, and some legendary names would emerge as potential challengers.
The Four Horsemen, and “A Flare for the Old”
Around this time, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair had returned to WCW after a short but eventful run in the WWF. With restrictions on when he could wrestle for the Atlanta promotion in place after his WWF release, Flair started hosting a TV interview segment entitled A Flair for the Gold to give him time on screen before an eventual return to action. On the May 15th, 1993 edition of his “chat show,” Flair’s guests were the Hollywood Blonds.
Steve Austin and Brian Pillman started to poke fun at Flair and his long term ally Arn Anderson, who was also present. Starting by calling “Slic” Ric an old man and stating that their great grandmothers were big fans seemed almost lighthearted at first. This led to pointing at Anderson and asking how much the antique statue of Arn cost before escalating into a verbal disagreement between the Blonds and the legendary pair before Pillman and Austin retreated off-screen laughing.
This was not all, however, as things gathered speed as the weeks progressed. The tag team champions sent more jibes and taunts the way of Anderson and Flair before they hosted their own mock interview segment on the June 5th, 1993 episode of Saturday Night. Calling it “A Flare for the Old,” complete with Pillman sporting a grey wig, robe, and cane impersonating Flair, the attempts to embarrass and anger their counterparts succeeded with the four brawling as the show went off the air.
These moments of comedy to further the impending confrontation at Clash of the Champions XXIII are a great example of the chemistry Steve Austin and Brian Pillman possessed. Whereas the aim was more to garner themselves heat and excite crowds for a Flair in-ring return, they also made the Hollywood Blonds reasonably popular in some circles, and the charismatic pair started to receive some positive crowd reactions.
All of this build-up led to the aforementioned match between the Blonds and Flair/Anderson in August 1993. Competing in two-out-of-three falls rules, the match main evented Clash XXIII despite an NWA World title defense being on the same show. In an excellent match worth 25 minutes of anyone’s time, The Blonds retained their titles despite losing two falls to zero, when World Champion Barry Windham attacked Flair and caused a disqualification. This very odd finish led to Flair moving his focus to Windham, and Anderson continuing the program with The Hollywood Blonds with the newest Horseman, Paul Roma.
Dropping the titles and the end of The Hollywood Blonds
Paul Roma and Arn Anderson would challenge Steve Austin and Brian Pillman at the ’93 edition of Beach Blast in July but would be unsuccessful as The Blonds would cheat to retain. A rematch was scheduled for Clash of the Champions XXIV, but Brian Pillman would suffer an ankle injury not long after the first match. This would cause an issue as WCW had already pre-recorded future TV content showing Anderson and Roma having won the belts at the live Clash event. One being injured or not, WCW still had to get the straps off Pillman and Austin.
WCW substituted the injured Flyin’ Brian with Lord Steven Regal (no luchador masks required on this occasion), and The Horsemen duo won the titles as scheduled in a very anticlimactic end to the sole world title reign of the Hollywood Blonds. Once the titles were moved onto Roma and Anderson, the Blonds were virtually finished as a team. Austin went on to challenge for the U.S. Title while Pillman recovered from his injury, and once he returned, a few matches as a pairing did again happen. However, these were just set up to split the team once and for all.
During Pillman’s absence and for a period after his return, Steve Austin was being managed by Col. Robert Parker. After a successful contest on the October 30th episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Parker would come to the ring to congratulate Austin but ignore his partner. When Pillman would angrily point this out, Parker would explain Pillman has a bad leg, and he would have him put down if he were a racehorse. This led to Flyin’ Brian attacking Parker to cheers from the crowd before Austin would come to his new managers’ aid, officially ending their tag team alliance.
The potential Steve Austin and Brian Pillman feud should have been fantastic, yet with WCW being managed and booked in the poor way it was during this time, the opportunity for something special was missed. The involvement of Col. Parker and chicken suit stipulations sadly lent more towards wrestling comedy than intense rivalry.
When discussing the topic of splitting up the Hollywood Blonds tag team on his 83 Weeks podcast, Eric Bischoff would say it was mainly for financial reasons. Bischoff stated that while he enjoyed tag team wrestling, he was not a fan from an “economic point of view.” “Ease-E” explained, “I can have two separate stories here at two separate segments to fill my content requirements for the same amount of money that I am spending on one.”
Once the Blonds moved on from the teams’ split, their paths would cross again in the WWF. Starting with the infamous “Pillman’s got a gun” angle in 1996, both would be involved in the extraordinary ten-man main event at Canadian Stampede in 1997.
Sadly later that year, Brian Pillman passed away. He was just 35 years of age. Steve Austin would go on to become one of the biggest stars the industry had ever bared witness to with his “Stone Cold” persona. Quite often in this period, Austin could be seen on WWF television wearing a gold chain. The chain was a present from Pillman purchased around the same time the Hollywood Blonds were looking at having matching ring gear. Austin has said he still wears this, and it is one of his prized possessions, as it makes him feel Pillman is always near him.
In the big picture of wrestling history, it is evident that the Hollywood Blonds were not around very long. However, the matches they had with Steamboat and Douglas, the Clash’s main event against Flair and Anderson, and the brilliant talk show angles with the Horsemen live long into the memory. Perhaps splitting too soon sometimes has fans wondering what could have been. However, with this charismatic tag team, what was is always worth remembering.
Hear our episode on Brian Pillman on The Pro Wrestling Stories Podcast below:
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on our site:
- Steve Austin – From The Ringmaster to Stone Cold
- Brian Pillman: How ‘The Loose Cannon’ Worked the Workers and Made Himself a Superstar
- Eric Bischoff Firing Steve Austin: ‘Totally Disrespectful’ How It Went Down