Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Steve Austin Show Four-Play

Waltman is one of the Austin guests covered here
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 — Unleashed!
Episode: 350 (Aug. 11, 2016)
Run Time: 1:21:11
Guest: Sean Waltman (11:43)

Summary: Steve Austin has a chance to sit down again with Sean Waltman. The first focus is Waltman’s current and upcoming projects. After Austin asks about the Roman Reigns suspension, the topic turns to drug us in general. The bulk of the episode revolves around Chyna — Waltman’s relationship with her, their infamous sex tape, her work in Japan, emotions surrounding her death and whether she belongs in the WWE Hall of Fame. They also talk about fighting with wrestling crowds, Waltman’s experience in rehab and how long they each expect to live.

Quote of the week: “When it happened, Paul’s, — Hunter’s calling, you know, texting, cause he’s in Europe, and he’s, the first thing he’s thinking is, ’Fuckin’ worried about Kid,’ right? ‘Kid’s gonna fall off the deep end.’ And I get it man, legitimate concern, especially with my track record. But I didn’t go there, Steve. I had my dog, man, that was — that was — that’s, that’s why I love my dog so much, is shit like that, man, that dog saved my life. You know, maybe not — I may be getting overdramatic there, but that dog keeps me, like, from wanting to go get fucked up or do self harm. Yeah, man, so I didn’t go there, Steve. Not once. And, you know, sometimes, like, I’ll take, you know, Xanax and that for the flights, or, if I get really, you know, like a PTSD anxiety shit, but I wouldn’t even go there cause I didn’t want to self medicate too much, man, I wanted to sit with the shit I was feeling. It’s important to do that.”

Why you should listen: Austin conducting in-person interviews with one of his wrestling peers is the highest form of his podcast, and this episode is a pretty good testament to that philosophy. Anyone who’s heard Waltman’s previous appearances on the show is armed with the background necessary to fully appreciate this conversation, but even if it’s your first time hearing Waltman on any podcast — say you just tuned in to help with your Chyna mourning — you won’t be adrift in confusion. If anything, it’ll make you want to hear more from Waltman, who is a much more thoughtful and introspective character than most surface-level Attitude Era fans would expect.

Why you should skip it: Bluntly, if you don’t care much for Chyna or hearing about people who have battled with various addictions and abuses, you’re going to dislike this a great deal. It’s definitely a heavy chat, and Austin generally trends toward lightheartedness. Those who hit the download to get away from real life should be advised: on this episode, real life will stab you right in the middle of the forehead. Twice.

Final thoughts: It’s not raunchy — though Austin tries unsuccessfully to get some details on what it’s like to film a sex tape — but it is most definitely raw. I’m on the brink of assigning this episode “must listen” status, at least for anyone who wants to fully consider what it means for the performers we adore under the bright lights to be actual humans. It suffers from the weaknesses inherent in the semi-professional podcast format, but judged against either his peers or even just his own work, Austin really delivered here, with plenty of credit going to Waltman for his willingness to speak honestly about deeply affecting and troubling circumstances.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 351 (Aug. 16, 2016)
Run Time: 1:18:42
Guest: Dean Ambrose (11:06)

Summary: It’s the audio version of Austin’s WWE Network interview with the WWE World Champion. After some small talk about Ambrose’s taste in music, Austin asks the champ about his childhood and school days. Ambrose explains he can’t remember when wrestling wasn’t his favorite thing, then talks about his training, career struggles, idols and influences. He talks about the importance of Dusty Rhodes and cultivating his character’s speaking style, then walks Austin through the formation, peak and dissolution of the Shield. He clarifies why there’s not presently a chip on his shoulder, reflects on working with Brock Lesnar and Vince McMahon, says why he likes the brand split and then gets a dose of Stone Cold motivation.

Quote of the week: “I kinda made a decision with myself, you know, I went, ‘I love wrestling, it may not ever work out, I may never make, like, a million dollars, but, you know, I’m gonna put a hell of a body of work together, ’cause I’m really good at this. And I’m an awesome wrestler, I think, and I’m pretty good. And, like, maybe 50 years after I’m dead some people will go back and watch some stuff of mine and think it was really cool. Maybe I’ll die broke and poor and never make anything of myself and maybe I’ll never get famous. But I’m just gonna be the best me I can be.’ And, like, once I started doing that … all of a sudden I started taking off.”

Why you should listen: Like Austin’s last Network guest, AJ Styles, Ambrose is an odd fit for these shows given the majority of his career is outside the WWE realm, which adds a degree of difficulty to the interview for Austin in terms of walking the line between relevant questions and completely contradicting the intended corporate messaging. Especially insightful was Ambrose getting into a bit of detail about what it meant to be booked in FCW, Rhodes’ influence and the peculiarities of promo class.

Why you should skip it: Based on what I saw online before listening, the blogosphere severely overreacted to Ambrose’s comments about Lesnar, so don’t get all hyped up for that segment. What’s really uncomfortable is listening to Austin trying to get Ambrose to talk about his childhood like he lived some sort of after school special, but Ambrose simply wouldn’t align his personal worldview with Austin’s perceptions. When the dust settles, there’s not much here we didn’t get from a younger Ambrose in his “Art of Wrestling” appearance.

Final thoughts: I’ll be honest — I’d largely forgotten this was looing in my queue until last week’s Ross Report when JR told Bryan Alvarez he didn’t really care for this interview. While I agree with Ross there was clearly an issue of missing chemistry between host and guest, I was expecting much worse given Ross’ pan. That said, if you don’t have the context of listening to Austin week in and week out to know where he stands on Ambrose (and plenty of other prominent WWE figures), it certainly would seem pretty awkward at parts — especially the end when Austin seems to attempt to shame Ambrose into giving a damn about the proceedings. But as a regular listener, I certainly give Austin the “heart in the right place” benefit of the doubt. He’d admit this wasn’t his most successful podcast interview, and surely he knows what degree of the blame falls on his shoulders, but ultimately Austin has to respect a guy like Ambrose who simply follows his own heart if he believes he’s in the right. In whole, this didn’t come off as the kind of star turn WWE probably was hoping might result, but in reality, it was the essence of Ambrose’s “take me as I am” attitude, and if positioned properaly, it could be a bigger success than WWE understands.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show — Unleashed!
Episode: 352 (Aug. 18, 2016)
Run Time: 1:22:26
Guest: Mark Bell (13:06)

Summary: Powerlifter Mike Bell stops by 316 Gimmick Street to chat with Steve Austin about his passion. They open by trading tales about peers like CT Fletcher and Mike O’Hearn, as well as bench-pressing records and other super strong pro wrestlers and legendary lifters. After a sidetrack into talking about firearms, Bell goes deep into his diet and training goals as he plans to attempt a 600-pound bench press. They talk a lot about performance-enhancing drugs, then segue into the way women are getting into weight training and the importance of having fun in the gym, but also understanding real success will only come with a full-life approach to the sport.

Quote of the week: “The 500-pound squat doesn’t just come from you coming in here twice a week working on your squat. It’s a process. It’s something that has to be worked on all the time. If you’re coming in here the day after you told me that you wanna do a 500-pound squat and it’s 4 p.m. and you only had one meal in you, then you’re a sucker. And you’re not — you’re not committing to it all the way. You’re trying to kid yourself and you’re trying to kid me and it’s not gonna work, because you can’t fool the weights. There’s no tricks. You have to commit to it all the way.”

Why you should listen: Of the weightlifting guests in Austin’s arsenal, Bell is by far the most broadly accessible. He’s able to navigate the conversation in a way that lets listeners appreciate his credibility without getting bogged down in arcane details, and he relates his observation far beyond the narrow word of the very strong who hoist very heavy things. If you need any sort of motivation to get serious about fitness — including understanding the commitment required — there’s a decent chance this will be plant a few seeds of inspiration. Also it’s on the shorter side, which is much appreciated.

Why you should skip it: I meant all the nice things I said, but it’s still a weightlifter talking about throwing iron around, and it’s kind of disappointing this is the show Austin released just before SummerSlam weekend. It’s entirely possible to listen to an entire episode like this and not retain anything. Being into fitness is one thing, but training for the specific purpose of breaking world lifting records is so insanely specific there’s not a ton of crossover appeal, no matter how good a conversationalist the guest happens to be.

Final thoughts: Take a pass, unless you’re hardcore into lifting or really want to go deep on PEDs. Other than that, it’s just not that interesting and there are better ways to invest your limited podcast capital.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 353 (Aug. 23, 2016)
Run Time: 1:49:41
Guest: Wade Keller (3:47)

Summary: There’s no monologue this week as Steve Austin gets on the phone with Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch. After Keller reviews the highlights of the Brooklyn Takeover and speculates about Shawn Michaels’ future at the WWE Performance Center, the guys dig deep on SummerSlam, breaking down the big card match by match without holding back from panning or praise.

Quote of the week: Keller: “These women do not — they need to be told you’d don’t need to prove anything by putting your body at risk like this. It’s not fair to the fans, to put them through that, it didn’t make the show better that Sasha took those chances, those big spots are not necessary. And Sasha’s going to have, very likely, a shorter career because of this match. … It really took me out of it. I really feel strongly that they just shouldn’t be doing that.”

Why you should listen: Finally, Stone Cold is back and ready to talk about some real live WWE programming. The intensity here rivals his approach during WrestleMania season, and the weekend’s events warrant that attention. While Keller and Austin are about as insider as it gets, there’s a lot of opinions expressed herein that are quite likely to supply validation to the type of people who rants (and, to be fair, rave) about wrestling to anyone who will listen. If you loved the NXT Tag Team Title match and hated the Jon Stewart appearance, this is the show for you.

Why you should skip it: The two biggest drawbacks: Austin didn’t watch TakeOver and so we have to settle for Keller’s praise, and the guys recorded before either knew about the Finn Balor injury, which frames their conversation of his victory over Seth Rollins in a long-since evaporated window and further robs us of the chance to hear either guy weigh in on RAW’s leading men the way they did with full knowledge when going in on the same show’s leading women. Also, if you were hoping either guy could explain the choice to end SummerSlam with those last two matches booked the way they were, you’re going to come up empty.

Final thoughts: Short story here: This is for the people who care a lot about WWE’s daily product, and especially a busy SummerSlam weekend. I’m always happy to have Austin talking wrestling, especially to see how he views the same show I just watched. Aside from a few references from Keller, there’s barely any nostalgia in here. So if you only really like late ’90s Austin, you can catch his ass down the road.