Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Steve Austin Eps. 337 and 339

Styles' podcast interview with Austin is recapped this week
Photo Credit: WWE.com
If you’re new, here’s the rundown. We listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are many wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but this feature largely hews to the regular rotation we feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If we can save other folks some time, we’re happy to do so.

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 337 (June 28, 2016)
Run Time: 1:14:35
Guest: AJ Styles (15:17)

Summary: It’s the audio version of Austin’s WWE Network interview with AJ Styles. They open with Styles’ thoughts on how he fits in to WWE, then they take a lengthy look at his childhood, the influence of his father, a Marine and alcoholic, and the importance of his sports and amateur background. That bleeds into talk about Styles’ training and his early work under a mask, thoughts of professional influences and an unpacking of what happened when WCW ended, why he didn’t end up with WWE then and how he came to be a TNA headliner. In the final segment, the guys get into the Bullet Club, Styles’ reputation for working stiff, his memorable Royal Rumble debut and how he felt about losing at WrestleMania.

Quote of the week: “I feel like when you work hard, you should get paid for that. And I worked hard, I never, you know, got in trouble, never did anything to embarrass the company, and yet they — I was taking a pay cut, at least that’s what they wanted me to. I didn’t think that was right … I bet myself, on myself, that I could go to Ring of Honor, and then somehow get into New Japan. And everything worked out, and that bet worked, you know? I believe in myself, and I bet on it, and it worked out.”

Why you should listen: Unlike most recent WWE Network “podcast” productions enhanced greatly by archival images and WWE production values, this one holds up remarkably well in audio only form. While there’s no reason to believe anything was edited out of the hourlong talk, it’s not debatable that Austin is a much better and more focused interviewer when on the clock. As for the content itself, it’s just wild to hear so much talk about TNA and names like Dixie Carter being thrown around a WWE joint. Fans who really don’t have exposure to Styles before his WWE run could do worse than this quick sitdown as a means of learning about the man behind the character.

Why you should skip it: Real talk? As soon as Styles started talking about his drunken dad throwing out beatings, Austin (for numerous reasons) took the path of least resistance on his follow-up questioning. Also, if you come around looking for Styles to take heavy shots at his former employers, you’ll be sorely disappointed. He’s relentlessly positive, at least in this context where it’s clear he and Austin have been given a little leash but are well aware of the larger stakes.

Final thoughts: While it’s great to have the conversation packed into an hour, it’s also frustrating to have the interview cut short compared to Austin’s conventional podcasts. If he could bring this kind of energy and focus without the bright lights of the Network cameras, each of his offerings has the potential to be must-listen affairs. That’s not to say this chat with Styles is some of his best work, but it’s proof there’s latent skill within Austin he doesn’t always tap because sometimes it’s just easier to shake up a few margaritas and tell dick jokes with Ted Fowler.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 339 (July 5, 2016)
Run Time: 1:37:00
Guest: Ricochet (14:44)

Summary: Joining Austin at 316 Gimmick Street is the man who portrays both Prince Puma and Ricochet. After sharing brief thoughts about violence in Orlando and his relationship with Tessa Blanchard, Mann recalls his exposure to different wrestling styles, revisits his athletic background and tries to define the difference between his two characters. He revisits his training days and journey through the independent scene, then Austin brings up the match with Will Ospreay, the reaction from Vader and others, which leads into thoughts about working in Japan. Mann explains his initial reluctance to joining Lucha Underground recounts some injuries and looks ahead to his career goals. The guys discuss the importance of promos and connecting with an audience, then Mann talks about various working styles and lists some of his favorite matches.

Quote of the week: “I think that match just kind of — it blew up so much ’cause I think it sparked a conversation that, I guess, people have been wanting to have and never really had a way to have the conversation, and this just kind of gave someone like an outlet to, like, voice their opinion on what they think wrestling is. And I think that’s kind of why it blew up so much, because I think people have been wanting to have this conversation for a while, but this kind of gave ’em the way to do it.”

Why you should listen: This might well be the first time I’ve ever heard Austin say the word "Chikara." The roles kind of reversed a bit with Mann explaining the variety of styles in various promotions and classifications of wrestlers. Austin was genuinely open-minded about learning what it means to be a junior, or the Dragon Gate ethos, how AAA and EMLL approach the lucha style and so on. For someone who seems to lack confidence in his ability on a microphone, Mann comported himself quite well in this forum, coming off as both a great fan and a deeply considerate worker. Austin guided the conversation in a way such that listeners get a real sense of the breadth of Mann’s experience, and ultimately it’s just plain fun to hear an icon come off as a fan while simultaneously hearing a fan being thrilled to encounter the icon.

Why you should skip it: Perhaps the only argument against this episode is that even coming from the mouth of one of the horses, further discussion of the Ricochet/Ospreay match is about as needed at this point as a fresh take on the Battle of Gettysburg. Also there are some light Lucha Undergound spoilers, so if you’re like me and behind on your DVR viewing, uh, heads up on that one.

Final thoughts: This wasn’t quite “Steve Austin hosts Art Of Wrestling,” but it was in the same area code, and I kind of liked the result. When Jim Ross had Kenny Omega as a guest, the entire hour came off like a job interview that occasionally felt like a lecture, and listeners ended up waiting for Ross to undercut each compliment he paid his guest. In contrast, Austin prepared his own questions, actually listened to the answers and engaged in an honest conversation. I cam away with a much better appreciation of Ricochet as a person and professional, and Austin got a little rub, too. This is how it’s supposed to work, people.