WWE legend and Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin won his third career Royal Rumble 16 years ago in 2001, but according to the man himself, the Rumble can have a serious impact on the careers of all 30 men involved, even if they don't win.
Austin, who retired from in-ring competition more than a decade ago, is now a podcaster and the host of CMT's Broken Skull Challenge, and athletic competition show that debuted in 2014.
Ahead of the Season 4 finale of Broken Skull Challenge Sunday at 10:00 p.m. ET on CMT, Austin spoke to Fox Sports about his show, which WWE stars could make it through the Skullbuster, and the Royal Rumble.
Fox Sports: We’re just a couple days away from the Royal Rumble. You’re the only guy to ever win three Royal Rumbles. Obviously you accomplished it all, but how important was the Rumble to your career?
Steve Austin: Well you know it always gives you that platform to get you into the WrestleMania main event. One time I didn’t get to the main event, but I won it in San Antonio in ’97 [Austin went on to face Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13].
It meant everything to my career, and the timing always just happened to line up right for where I was as a character of Stone Cold or what storyline or whatever was going on… that winning another one just seemed to be the thing. So the fact that I won three was kind of, it certainly wasn’t a long-range plan where Vince [McMahon] sat back and said ‘OK, we’re gonna have Austin win three of these things.’ It was just an opportunistic time.
Steve Austin’s career advice for WWE stars entering the Royal Rumble:
Steve Austin: “It’s like I tell everybody, if you get a chance to win the Royal Rumble or the King of the Ring back when they had it, that means you’re gonna get a push. You getting an opportunity at something big, and it can really set up your future for you. So if you’re that guy, boy, it’s pressure. You know you’ve got to perform, and you know you’re given a chance, they’re gambling on you, and they’re betting on you. Same thing with the King of the Ring back in the day.
So obviously it was very important to my career, but you can be from the first guy to the 30th guy, and however long you last - not do a Santino Marella and walk out and get eliminated in one second, that’s a comedic spot. If you can go out there and within the time frame have an impressive showing, by having an impressive showing you can open up some eyes and create a window of opportunity for yourself, because of how you performed or what you did, how the crowd reacted to you.
Winning it is the key thing, but just performing in it and having a noteworthy appearance and performance can really help you down the road. A lot of people lose sight of that. They think ‘OK, I’m going in at No. 15 and I’m getting eliminated.’ Hey, man, look at what you can do in the time you’ve got there, and try to pop the crowd. Do something to try to get yourself over.”
Fox Sports: If you could put the WWE roster through the Broken Skull Challenge, who do you think would win?
Steve Austin: Well you always hear about Seth Rollins, who’s a crossfit guy. Cesaro does a lot of the Olympic lifts, he’s really, really strong. Seth might be suited for it a little bit better. Kind of the sweet spot for the Skullbuster from what I’ve seen in the past is you’ve got to be 185 pounds or more… but once you start getting over 215, then you’re probably going to be carrying too much muscle mass. So, Cesaro, with as good a technical hand as he is in the ring, with his feats of strength, I wonder if he would gas too soon? Does he have that kind of a gas tank to weather that storm? Seth Rollins doesn’t carry too much muscle mass… might be able to get through it.
It’s one thing to think about the Skullbuster, but just putting these guys head-to-head, down in the trench, putting them through different things… that would be the fun part. Those two guys jump right off the page at me. Other than that, I don’t know. Am I missing somebody?
Fox Sports: Neville is an athlete who kind of fits that mold.
Steve Austin: Yeah, I love Neville in the ring. He’s not the tallest guy in the world and he’s carrying so much muscle that he might gas. That 75-pound log coming down that quarter-mile road going into the mud bath…
That guy looks like he comes from a gymnastics background. Got plenty of power. He might do exceptionally well. His muscles might get to him, but that would be another guy I could strongly consider.
Fox Sports: A lot of viewers tweet you every week and say stuff like “I can’t believe how tough this show is.” Was that the whole point for you, to make the toughest show on TV?
Steve Austin: Well when we first came up with the idea, me and a friend of mine did, it was just to have a true, badass, hardcore competition show with a lot of physicality. I hadn’t seen that in a long time. So the fact that it’s actually turned out to be that and we’re drawing the caliber of athletes that we are, has been amazing.
… I didn’t know that it was going to reach the level that it has. But we shoot for the best athletes. We try to recruit the best athletes. And they come out there and we give them a platform to throw down and show what kind of people they are. I always had aspirations for it but the fact that it’s turned into what it has… it’s been amazing.
Fox Sports: And you have a hand in designing the challenges and obstacles yourself, right?
Steve Austin: Well I have a hand in designing all of it. I certainly have my input, but there’s a lot of people a lot smarter than me from different backgrounds - Spartan [racers], and some military people as well - that contribute to the Skullbuster and the challenges. So I would say it’s a team effort.
Fox Sports: Have you ever designed stuff that turned out to be too hard for the athletes to do?
Steve Austin: There’s been some stuff that’s turned out to be too brutal. The maximum we’d get out of it, they wouldn’t really be suited for anything else, maybe a certain challenge was going to take a toll on their grip strength or just beat the hell out of them. We try to be… we always try to pick a body part. The Skullbuster picks away at every piece of you, from a muscular standpoint and a mental standpoint. The [head-to-head] challenges are grueling… every now and then we’ll come up with one where maybe the weight is too much, or the height too much. So there’s always things that we have to dial in.
Fox Sports: If I had to describe the show to a friend I’d say it’s like the most extreme version of American Gladiators I’ve seen. Do you take any inspiration from other shows?
Steve Austin: A lot of people say it kind of reminds them of Gladiators, and of course I was a big fan of that show way back when. It doesn’t remind me of Gladiators, other than the fact that you had the Gladiators trying to keep you from completing the task. Our stuff is head-to-head with other athletes who are fighting for the same goal as you, to reach the Skullbuster.
Every now and then I’ll hear someone say it’s like a simplified American Ninja Warrior, which I don’t think that’s a great comparison. I think we draw a different kind of athlete than they draw. I think they’re a little more of a parkour athlete that goes there. The thing that’s so tough about Broken Skull Challenge is: You’re going head-to-head with another human being who may or may not be stronger than you, and may or may not want it more than you.