When “Stone Cold” Steve Austin first began his professional wrestling career in the late 1980s, the industry had yet to admit to the public that its fights were staged, even if many of its fans had by then caught on to the act.
The World Wrestling Federation’s “Dr. D.” David Schultz famously slapped reporter John Stossel when he asked him if wrestling was “fake” during a 1984 interview for ABC’s “20/20” news program, and Austin himself went through his entire training without being told that the winner of his matches would be decided before either wrestler set foot in the ring.
Today, things are much different. The WWF is now World Wrestling Entertainment, and the company has for decades referred to its shows as “sports entertainment” in a nod to the fact that they are not competitive athletic events like the amateur wrestling bouts that are on display at the Olympics.
But perhaps nothing is as indicative of how much the wrestling business has changed as a new set of special episodes Austin has recently been doing for his podcast, which debuted last year.
In them, Austin does a running commentary fans can listen to while watching his classic matches with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bret “The Hitman” Hart, during which six-time WWF champion reveals some of the tricks he used to create the illusion of an actual fight.
For instance, Austin explains the technique he used to draw the camera’s focus away from The Rock while he was surreptitiously cutting his own forehead open with a razor blade. This way, it looked to fans watching at home as if The Rock’s bleeding was caused by Austin hitting him with a metal bell.
“If you’d have told me that I’d be doing this back in 1990 when I won rookie of the year [from the prestigious Wrestling Observer Newsletter], I’d have said you were full of crap,” Austin tells Business Insider. “That’s how far things have changed.”
Austin says that what he’s trying to do in these episodes is strike a balance that allows fans to get an insider’s perspective on professional wrestling without revealing too many of the genre’s tricks.
In his mind, wrestling is just like a movie in that both art forms rely on an audience that is willing to suspend its disbelief.
And just like “Inside the Actors Studio” hasn’t ruined cinema for film nuts, Austin says his insights won’t stop wrestling fans from being able to buy into the action they watch on Monday nights.
“When you watch Leonardo DiCaprio or Daniel Day-Lewis, or somebody in a badass action movie, you know you’re watching a movie and you want to suspend your disbelief. The same thing still is true with pro wrestling or sports entertainment,” he says. “I was just able to lift up the veil a little bit and let you see what was going through my head when these matches were going on.”
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