Paul Heyman remembers the night the young, down-on-his-luck Steve Austin composed one of the greatest promos of all time.
Steve Austin and the 4 AM Promo That Changed His Career
"It was about 1 am, or a half-hour after we started taping interviews when he leaned into semi-whisper with that unmistakable gravelly voice.
"His thick right hand pulled me by the arm even closer so that no one else could hear him.
"‘Goddamn kid…no limits here, huh?’
"It was September 1995, and Steve Austin had just been fired from World Championship Wrestling.
"Steve and I had worked together in 1991 and 1992 when he was the WCW World Television Champion and part of The Dangerous Alliance.
"While the Alliance was supposed to be WCW’s new version of a Four Horsemen-type group built around Rick Rude, it was obvious from day one that Austin was the future of the industry.
"I remember how upset the then-head of WCW Jim Herd was at me because I had written an article for the WCW Magazine proclaiming that Austin would be the biggest star in the business.
"‘He’s good, but he’s not great,’ Herd screamed. ‘You’re a terrible judge of talent!’
"ECW was built on the premise of being the anti-WCW. The word ‘Extreme’ was not just about barbed wire, tables, and blood… it was a work ethic… a desire to partake and thrive in an uninhibited creative environment where a performer was challenged and indeed encouraged to push through their limits, take chances, and not be constrained by pre-set parameters imposed by people who didn’t share their vision of themselves.
"As a courtesy, I offered Austin the opportunity to do his promos early. I always thought Steve was a first-class promo guy who was just never given the opportunity to let his real persona come out.
"But Austin didn’t want that courtesy. He wanted to be competitive. ‘If it’s all right with you,’ he said, ‘I’ll go last!’
"I told him: ‘LAST??? Last is around 4 in the morning!’
"‘I ain’t got nothing to do before I catch my plane. I’ll sleep tomorrow,’ he replied, as serious as I’ve ever seen him. ‘I wanna see what everyone else does, so I know who and what I have to top!’
"It’s that main eventer’s attitude, by the way, that drove Steve to become the biggest star in the industry.
"It’s that desire, that competitive spirit, that insatiable craving to be number one, that propelled him above guys like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, and everyone else in the business to become recognized as the one star that Vince McMahon would bet his entire future on when WCW was mopping the floor with WWE.
"On this September night in Philadelphia, Austin could not be distracted. He watched everyone’s interview with an intensity that most people only reach during the height of a match. Austin wasn’t just determined to do the best interview of the night; he was driven.
"And then, it was time. Everyone had done their interviews. It was, as predicted, around 4 am. Steve turned to me and asked, ‘What do you want me to say?’ The answer was easy. ‘Tell everyone the truth. Tell them you’re going to be the biggest superstar this industry has ever seen. Tell them what’s in your heart; just let your character carry the message that you yourself believe in.’
"He got up, walked around, and got in ‘the zone.’ Steve knew it was true. He knew his talent was matched only by his need to be the best. He knew he could do it. He just never had the platform to prove it.
"He sat down and said: ‘Alright, I’m ready…’
"What happened next is just one of those moments in time that you never forget. Steve EXPLODED on camera. The energy, the force, the passion that was compelled to charge out of his being was so powerful; it left everyone in the room speechless."
Paul Heyman on the Steve Austin promo in ECW that made him a star: "It is just one of those moments in time that you never forget." Watch below:
"I turned to Ron Buffone, who has shot some of the greatest interviews in ECW history, and begged, ‘Please tell me you got every moment of that on tape.’ Ron could barely answer. ‘I got it,’ he said, not being able to take his eyes off Austin, ‘Holy shit, I got it!’
"Steve found himself. It didn’t take long. He just needed that one chance, that one time, that one moment to be himself. No scripts from other people’s screwed up vision of what he should be. No limitations. No preconceived notions of who he was or what he was capable of.
"When he was given that very same chance to be himself just nine months later in WWE when he was allowed to break free of the limited ‘Ringmaster’ character and was given the freedom to explore the limitless potential of ‘Stone Cold,’ Austin did it again.
"He broke barriers. He didn’t settle for ‘OK,’ he challenged himself to do more. To be better. To be the absolute best. It’s never been a matter of ‘can I do it?’ with Steve.
"It’s only been a matter of ‘give me the chance, and stand the F back!’ He didn’t think he could pull it off. He knew he could. There was never a doubt in his mind because Steve Austin loves to exceed everyone’s expectations.
"And that’s the bottom line, because time and time again, Stone Cold made it so!"
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