Through hard work and determination, Stone Cold Steve Austin clawed his way to the top of WWE. Since retiring from the ring, the WWE Hall of Famer has parlayed his success into other avenues of entertainment, but his love of competition remains.
After hosting three seasons of “Redneck Island” on CMT, Austin had the idea of pitting the physically elite in the ultimate test of strength, stamina and wit. The result is “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge”, premiering 8 p.m. EST Sunday, July 6 on the same network.
“I loved doing ‘Redneck Island,’ but there is a lot of drama on the show and how you get voted off the island is actually a vote,” Austin said. “I wanted a competition show that involved challenges, and when you leave the ranch, it’s because you lose something. So that’s how the original concept was born. Through my body of work as the ‘Toughest S.O.B. in WWF’ and the Broken Skull Ranch, one of the toughest places in Texas, the ultimate thing was to have a competition show on my ranch with the baddest and toughest athletes in the United States.
“We came up with the concept of three rounds of competition with eight people and end up with one. Next day that one takes on my obstacle course called the “Skullbuster”. We drew from the world of CrossFit, Spartan racers, Tough Mudder, MMA (mixed martial arts) and pro wrestling. We’ve got some of the best athletes in the United States doing head-to-head competition at my place, and that’s what I like, a tough, no BS competition. No frills. Nothing fancy.
The multi-time WWE champion went through the various stages of his “Skullbuster,” but not at the pace the competitors had to endure. The Backbreaker, Shredder, Spiderweb and Commando Crawl aren’t wrestling holds, but the names of different parts of the course. Then there is the Heartbreak Hill, which is 100-feet tall with a 40-degree incline and the Ropeburn, a 17-foot vertical rope climb to a bell.
“They didn’t have any idea what they were getting themselves into,” Austin said. “It’s funny that these challenges play to the strengths of a CrossFit athlete, but you can’t train what I’m throwing at these people. Then when you look at the 10 obstacles in the over a half-mile course, each one is designed to chip away at a different part of the body. So I started attacking the body. After you attack somebody’s body for a while and different parts strategically, doubt comes into the mind.
“Your mind starts playing games with you. ‘Hey, am I tough enough to do this?’ or ‘Why did I even show up because this is kicking my ass.’ I had some of the best athletes in the nation, but when they were done whether they were laying on the ground or standing up talking to me, they said it was one of the toughest things they had ever done in their life.”
The one who can survive with the best time walks away with $10,000 and the respect of one the “Texas Rattlesnake” himself. Austin says there is drama that builds organically through the 10 episodes of the season.
“All kinds of things happen,” Austin said. “There are times when an ambulance is called out, and people go down and get smoked by the competition. So there are highs and lows, but there is lots of adrenaline and excitement.”
Going back to his time hosting WWE’s reality show competition “Tough Enough,” the wrestling legend has enjoyed hosting. He can see many on this show who share a similar drive to push their body to the limit and then some.
“I come from this background through my days playing high school football, track and field, baseball,” Austin said. “Then to my college days playing football and competing in pro wrestling to get to the top. So I’m in my environment. I’ve done movies in Hollywood and all kinds of stuff out here, but I consider myself first and foremost an athlete. So I’m very at home out here on the Broken Skull Ranch taking these athletes through the paces.
“What I’m doing is setting the table for these athletes to be the stars. I wanted them to draw off all their training and dedication to whatever they are training for to come to my place to put on the performance of a lifetime. I get loud with them, but it’s only to motivate them. They are the stars. I set the table, and it’s exciting.”
When looking at the WWE roster today, he can see a few who might stand a chance running the course.
“I think Seth Rollins because of his background,” Austin said. “Cesaro is another. Those are two guys who would do well in the Broken Skull Challenge or seemingly could do well. We don’t know for sure. That’s speculation. They’d have to come to the ranch and give it a shot.”
Speaking of today’s superstars, Austin is very optimistic about the future. He believes it’s an exciting time to be a WWE fan.
“For a period there was a pretty good gap of great new talent that was going to be able to sell tickets,” he said. “With The Shield and the Wyatt’s, Cesaro and a couple of other guys, they’re going to move the needle. It’s refreshing. I remember back in the day when I was still around.
“John Cena is a very good friend of mind and has been a top guy for 10 years. I have so much respect for him, but their houses have kind of fallen off. I want the business to go back to the way it was when we were selling out every night. I think with this new depth of talent they have rising out of the ranks of NXT, developing these new stars. They continue to gain more momentum and get the business where it was back in the day.”
The veteran performer enjoys watching Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Rollins each week. He is split on if it was a good decision to break up the impressive trio.
“I wanted them to remain together for a little bit longer,” Austin said. “So at some point they would have had to fly on their own, and they chose the time to do that. I don’t know if it’s a lack of depth. I know they have a lot of guys on the roster, but guys that are going to be these potential superstars are few and far between. They are the ones booking it, so we will see how it unfolds. Was it premature or not? I would have liked to see them stay together longer, maybe about three to six months.”
Being one of the most recognizable faces around, Austin’s schedule is jam-packed with appearances, countless projects and his biweekly podcast “The Steve Austin Show”. However, he still likes to sit back open up a Steveweiser and watch some pro wrestling.
“Looking at the product I believe they should slow down in the ring, selling a little bit more and have more simple storylines that aren’t so convoluted,” Austin said. “To me, pro wrestling, and that’s what it is to me, is about championship belts. Make the belts mean something. Don’t give guys 15 minutes to go back there and have a debate back-and-forth on the microphone. Short and sweet, make the promos personal or introduce a personal issue. Then get in the ring. To me, the be-all end-all that will sell tickets and generate money is the product that happens when you ring the bell in that ring.”
Unfortunately, two of his favorites to watch aren’t wrestling for different reasons.
“I was really enjoying the energy Daniel Bryan was bringing,” Austin said. “Everyone was behind him and doing the whole Yes! Yes! Yes! thing. Now he went down with a neck injury. I’m hoping that he comes back at 100 percent or as close to 100 percent that he could get.
“We will see if he has to change his work style, but just to see the crowd that engaged with a guy who isn’t that big of a guy. He is a great worker, and they bought into him. I’d like to see him get back on top. CM Punk, who rode off into the sunset, I really liked what he was doing, but he’s not there anymore. I would like to see more of Brock Lesnar, but I don’t know if he will sign on for more dates.”
WWE has its own competition 8 p.m. EST Sunday, June 29 in Money in the Bank, which will see two matches where combatants battle through their opponents to climb a ladder to win. At stake in the main event of the show broadcasted on pay-per-view and WWE Network is Bryan’s vacated WWE world championship with Sheamus, Randy Orton, Kane, Alberto Del Rio, Wyatt, Cesaro, Cena and Reigns.
Austin says he was on the computer the other day where there was an image of Lesnar and Cena advertised for SummerSlam. He doesn’t know if they let the cat out of the bag or not, but he wouldn’t mind if someone new became champion.
“Triple H has had it enough. Cena has had it enough,” Austin said. “You need a fresh face, so you might as well take advantage of a bad situation, which is Daniel Bryan’s neck and make a new superstar. With Cesaro having [Paul] Heyman in his corner, he would be a great choice because of Heyman’s advice. His credibility, Cesaro’s in-ring ability speaks for itself. He is going to be a badass.
“Bray Wyatt I like as a heel even though the crowd is trying to switch him to babyface. Really, I don’t know. Maybe Roman Reigns is my favorite to take that belt. I think the crowd is ready to get behind him. He’s missing a little bit of his game, but he is going to be a mega star very quickly. So either way you go with that, I think it’s going to be fine. It’s put up or shut up, and you have to take the football and run with it. I think whichever guy gets that belt, he will do that….
“I’m just wondering if Brock Lesnar is going to come in there and smoke whoever has the belt and then have a monster run until WrestleMania next year. Then drop the belt to somebody who is really good at carrying it. So will this guy be a sacrificial lamb or will they give them a run with the belt? I just want Daniel Bryan to get well because he was coming into some good money working on top and worked his ass to get there. He has been around a long time at the lower level. Now he is at the top of WWE. I just want his neck to get well, so he can continue making money and be the top guy because he earned it.”
• Watch the premiere of “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge” 8 p.m. EST Sunday, July 6 on CMT.
For information and exclusive “Broken Skull Challenge: content, visit CMT.com and download the CMT App.
Fans can also join the conversation on the series’ official Facebook page and follow @CMT on Twitter and Instagram using hashtag #BrokenSkullChallenge.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.