Eighteen years ago almost to the day, Stone Cold Steve Austin made his final appearance as a wrestler at Wrestlemania XIX where he faced off against Dwayne Johnson — known then as the Rock — in Seattle. The retired WWE superstar still gets emotional talking about that fateful day in an exclusive video from his upcoming A&E/WWE documentary Biography: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin debuting on April 18.
Austin says he’d never experienced anything like that before, his heart beating “about 160 or 180 beats per minute.” As he walked out of the lift, he spotted longtime WWE employee Liz Difabio whom he immediately asked for help.
The Texas native was rushed to the hospital in secrecy where a multitude of tests were run.
“The bottom line was I was drinking too much alcohol and caffeine and I wasn’t getting enough rest,” he shares. “I wasn’t cleared to leave the hospital but I left because I was going to wrestle the Rock.”
Austin went into his wrestling career with multiple knee injuries from playing football at North Texas State University, which were further aggravated in the ring. He also suffered from a broken neck (Summerslam 1997) that almost left him paralyzed, which he believes played a role in the shortening of his career.
“Almost nobody on the roster that day knew that was going to be my last match. My nerves were acting up from my previous spinal injury that I knew it was going to be my last one,” Austin recalls. “As you can see, I still get emotional as I’m even talking about the story and going back there. I damn near started crying [in the documentary]. My love for the business is so much, it’s the only thing I really wanted to do in my life for a living. Deciding to retire from that dream at 38 was extremely hard.”
But what a way to go for the wrestler many consider the greatest of all time — for the record, his vote goes to Rick Flair. Even though he lost, he had his moment to shine one last time thanks to a kind gesture from Johnson.
“Normally when somebody wins a match, they stay in the ring,” he explains. “Rock won but because I was leaving, he let me have the ring so I could do my final farewell. He gave me that moment and it was really cool.”
From a moment of bittersweet finality to a more hilarious beginning, the documentary features a video of Austin’s debut in the ring prior to his WWE contract. He had long hair and a booger was prominently displayed unbeknownst to him but captured by cameras.
“Man, that wasn’t funny at the time,” he exclaims while laughing. “I was walking down to the ring and I hear, ‘From Hollywood, California,” and I remember wondering who they were talking about. I’m from Texas. They hadn’t cleared with me they’d be billing me from Hollywood so that’s what was on my mind. There I am with Missy Hyatt, who I was a big fan of, who was interviewing me and there I was with a booger hanging out of my nose. Somebody could’ve let me know before I went out on national TV but it turned out okay.”
As shocking as that flub was, he says more people are shocked to see him with natural, bleach blond hair since he’s been sporting a bald head for so many years. He chuckles when told he would’ve fit right in with Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty who tag-teamed as the Rockers in the ’80s.
“Oh yeah, what could’ve been…” he says with a sly smirk.