Tough guy Stone Cold Steve Austin's warm side

Retired wrestler Steve Austin is back with a new season of Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge. -- PHOTO: KIX & KIX HD
Retired wrestler Steve Austin is back with a new season of Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge. -- PHOTO: KIX & KIX HD

Stone Cold Steve Austin, once the biggest star in wrestling history, also likes to laugh

Steve Austin has gone by many names. The retired professional wrestler, 51, was known during his debut years at the United States Wrestling Organisation as Damn Good Steve Austin and later on as The Ringmaster and The Texan Rattlesnake.

Yet, for all these personas, his most lasting and certainly most famous was Stone Cold Steve Austin, the mouthy, irreverent wrestler who destroyed opponents with a beer can in each hand.

Born Steven James Anderson in Austin, Texas, the married father of three has held 21 championship titles throughout his wrestling career, including six World Wrestling Federation titles.

Industry veterans, from retired wrestler Richard Morgan "Ric" Fliehr to World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon, have remarked that at the height of his career, Austin was the biggest star in wrestling history.

Many fans remember the image of Austin wrapping his right arm around an opponent, pulling the offending neck over his shoulder and slamming the body to a sitting position - a perfect delivery of the Stone Cold Stunner, as his trademark move is known.

However, since retiring from the sport in 2003, Austin has found a new audience for himself in Hollywood. He has acted in a number of blockbusters such as The Expendables (2010) and The Echo Effect (2015).

He has also ventured into reality television, launching his own show, Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge, last year.

In the show, now back for its second season, he invites eight athletes of varying backgrounds to compete in physical challenges. The last one standing attempts an obstacle course, the Skullbuster, for a chance to win US$10,000 (S$13,300).

1 Have you always been athletic?

When I was younger, I played every sport I could get my hands on. From 1986 to 1987, I went to North Texas State University in Denton, Texas, on a football scholarship. I dropped out of college with about 17 hours left to graduation, which my parents were not too pleased about, but I felt it was the right thing.

I was working at a freight dock at that time and found that I enjoyed manual labour. I felt burnt out from writing all these research papers and just preferred it when I was working with my hands. So, yes, being athletic has always been a big part of not just what I do, but also who I am.

2 What was the greatest moment of your wrestling career?

Maybe Wrestlemania 13, when I went against Bret Hart. Or maybe the match with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at Wrestlemania 17. We fought to a sell-out crowd at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and the adrenaline was crazy.

Getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 was special as well.

When I was wrestling full-time, I was so busy that I did not have time to stop and think about what I was accomplishing.

It was only when it was all over that I realised what had been done.

3 What was the motivation behind Broken Skull Challenge?

In 2012, Country Music Television asked me to host Redneck Island, which I enjoyed. It inspired me to come up with my own show, which I wanted to be based on simple and straightforward competition.

From the time I did track and field in high school to the time I did professional wrestling, I have always loved competition and that is what Broken Skull is all about.

It is not rocket science. It is just tough people coming to a tough place to do tough things.

I named my ranch Broken Skull because I literally had to break my skull to buy it.

The show took the same name, serving as a homage to the body of work I have done.

4How has it been like going from wrestling to show business?

It was quite an unnatural transition initially. In 2003, I did not feel ready to leave the world of pro-wrestling, so what I did was invest myself in something else entirely. I moved to Los Angeles, did a few movies, then started hosting reality television.

5 Do you prefer acting or hosting?

I prefer hosting simply because I like being myself. I find it more enjoyable to be Steve Austin than to dramatise another character.

Also, I enjoy the atmosphere when I host reality television. The days are long, but I get to be in the outdoors and have my dogs with me.

6 Wrestling has a reputation for being staged - is this true?

What I can say is that the laws of gravity are real. When a 136kg man picks up another 136kg man and throws him on the floor, the sound of him hitting the ground is real.

Every man and woman who enters the ring gives something up. It is a rough, tough life and I loved every moment of it.

7 Have you ever felt pressured to present a particular image?

When I was wrestling, I became known for being this loud, bold character that was always out to challenge authority. That tough guy image is real, but it is not all there is to me.

Since retiring and becoming a so-called "civilian", I have tried to show that Stone Cold Steve Austin actually likes to laugh and has a sense of humour.

Sometimes on the show, I yell at the contestants, but this is just to motivate them. When you have to go through something such as the Skullbuster, you need emotional reinforcement and, sometimes, that reinforcement has to be loud.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I have had fans tell me they were able to work through problems in their life by drawing on the strength of Stone Cold, which is all that I could ask for.

As an entertainer, what I want is to inspire people to work through their challenges while momentarily transporting them away from whatever harm they are experiencing.

rebeccat@sph.com.sg

Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge airs on KIX (StarHub TV Channel 518) and KIX HD (Singtel TV Channel 309) on Wednesday at 9pm.