When you think of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the immediate image that likely comes to mind is of the former wrestler standing on a turnbuckle in a leather vest, pouring at least two cans of beer down his throat, celebrating after hitting his boss with a chair. Now, almost 15 years after retiring from the WWE, Steve Austin has continued to stay in the spotlight by successfully exploring other endeavors, from hosting television programs to brewing his own beer.
Currently, Austin is the host — and creator — of Country Music Television’s Broken Skull Challenge. In its third season, BSC is a grueling, entertaining, and addictive athletic competition like no other. Contestants compete bracket-style in a series of obstacles (Pulverizer, Pain Train, Ass Kicker) until only one person is left — but then they have to successfully make it through the Skullbuster in order to win $10,000. It’s an athletic competition made even for people with no interest in athletic competitions.
Men's Journal talked to Austin about what makes the series so watchable, how he ended up with his own IPA, and, yes, that time he performed the Stone Cold Stunner on Donald Trump.
Where did the idea for Broken Skull Challenge first come about? Was it born out of a love for athletic competitions?
CMT called me because I hosted one season of Tough Enough for WWE on the USA Network, and that went real well. CMT called my agents and said, "Hey, we got this show that we'd like Steve to do called Redneck Island." We signed on to do that because I was intrigued by the idea. Along with that, I said "OK, I'll do this show, but we'd like to pitch you another show."
I like heavy-duty hardcore competition. [Originally] it was probably not quite as serious as it ended up being currently, because I was thinking maybe they want some competition but something a little light-hearted. To CMT's credit, they said, "Why don't we make this all about hardcore competition?" It was great that CMT had that vision. When they said that, I was putting my hands together and saying, "Thank you, this is exactly what I wanted."
How do you come up with the obstacles in the series? Some of the challenges, it seems like you look around a room and think, “OK, there is some velcro. What can I do with that? How can I make someone struggle?”
It’s a think-tank. Everybody shoots in ideas. A lot of guys study obstacle-course racing. I have my ideas, they chip in their ideas, and ultimately we all come together. It's really just a team effort, coming up with stuff and adding stuff.
What I like about the show is there’s really nothing scientific about it. It’s just hard challenges. And to me, I [also] just love the setting. It’s a fun place to hang around — I actually live on set while we’re filming. I’ve got 400 acres at my disposal. I have the course. I have my gym. I do my podcast out there. It’s, like, a really relaxing place.
Were there any obstacles you wanted to use but they were just too hard?
When “Holding Pattern” first came out, it was so ridiculously hard. I was worried about the success rate of it, so we added a few more steps because we didn't want people timing out. We wanted to make it hard on them, but before [we added steps] it was just a little too severe. We made it more user-friendly — if you want to call it user-friendly.
What do you think separates Broken Skull Challenge from the other athletic competitions out there? Is it because it’s generally just more grueling, more hardcore?
There's a bunch of good shows out there, and there's a few that's coming out, team-oriented challenge shows and types like that. Before our show, we had American Ninja Warrior. It’s a great show. I love those athletes and I love that skillset. But the difference between us and them? Broken Skull Challenge has this bracket-style competition, three rounds. You're going into a challenge facing someone. You may be better on the Skullbuster than this person, but specifically, for the [current] task at hand, they might outmatch you. We've had some premier crossfit athletes, like on Season Two, and you can put them in the crossfit games or in the gym, and they will absolutely make your jaw drop with what they could do. But all of a sudden you put them in that pit, that circle of sandbags, and they'll just stand there straight-up and someone will just bull-rush them and push them right out because they don't understand wrestling or grappling or safety or low center of gravity. It's just amazing to see how people react to the number of situations they're put in. There's no other show that has that on television.
There are a whole slew of different contestants — athletes, mothers, scientists — and it’s just impossible to place bets on who you think will win.
Yeah, there has been, like, two mothers of four. … I still think it's the best-kept secret on television. We're still trying to keep spreading the word and growing it but more and more athletes from Spartan Race to Tough Mudder to Crossfit to amateur athletes to National Championship Wrestlers will come out. You’re getting the whole gamut of people who are just really involved in physical fitness. That’s their passion and their lifestyle. They can see the show on television and are like, "Hey, this seems fun. I want a challenge." And if you want a challenge? Come out, because we’ve got a whole bunch of them.
You’re so encouraging to the contestants as they go through the course. I want you to follow me around to make sure I hit writing deadlines.
You’ve got these national caliber or just badass athletes coming out here and giving it everything they’ve got. All I want to do is motivate, help, and inspire them. I’m not there to be a drill sergeant. I don’t run them into the ground. I don’t talk trash to them. I’ll mess around when we’re doing the introductions, but when the competition starts, I cheer equally for both competitions. When someone finally gets on the Skullbuster, I’m not there to chew up their ass. I’m there to support them. I’m setting the stage for them to be the star. I’m the host. I know my role.
I wanted to talk about beer, of course, since you have the Broken Skull IPA. How did you get to that point? You were once known for chugging “Steveweisers” in the ring, and now you’re into craft beer.
Way back in the day when I was doing WWE, we were going to come up with a Stone Cold beer. We were pretty far into the project and it imploded, so all these years later, I've always wanted to come out with my own beer. I drank light beer for 30 years of my life. It's good. I've got no problems with it, but I started drinking the craft beer because I [wanted to] try some of these things that I've been seeing laying around the store and experience what the craft beer movement is all about.
In the wrestling world, you had WWE, WCW, and smaller promotions that were like the independents. I look at it as craft beer being the independent beer makers. It's the indie scene. You could be as little as you want or as big as you want. I started drinking these beers, started off with the pale ales, and then graduated to the IPAs, and that's just what really resonated with me: the hops.
We went down to Texas to look for some breweries because that's where I'm from, but everyone was at capacity or had their own plan going on. So we hooked up with El Segundo Brewing Company, which is just right down the road from where I live. We went in there and had a meeting with Rob Croxall, the owner and founder. We talked about doing a collaboration thing. I liked him. He liked me. I said, "Hey, let's do this project. Let's come up with an IPA.”
He concocted this formula. He presented it to me. We went down and we brewed that batch of beer — I poured all the ingredients in — and a month later I came back and we tasted the beer. I was real nervous when we were about to drink this beer because we're trying to come up with a really, really good IPA that I'm going to put my name on. Who knows how long it's going to take to do this? We're sitting at the bar, and he pours us both a glass. I hesitated for about five or six seconds and I said, "That's a good fuckin' beer."
I took another swig. I had to confirm what I'd just tasted: "Man, that's a good fuckin' beer."
Was it a limited run? I’ve been trying to find it in New York.
It’s continuing. It’s one of their most popular beers. It’s all over California, which is cool, and we’re going to grow it as much as we can. If I come to New York, I’ll bring you a couple. Do you drink beer?
Oh, definitely. But I’m not too into IPAs — I’m trying more of them but I never grew out of that college phase of drinking PBR.
Oh, PBR. PBR has like this cult following. People have different connotations about PBR, but I have to give PBR a lot of credit. A lot is said about a person by what kind of beer they’re holding in their hands. People like to be identified with the beer that they drink, and so PBR has kind of become an American classic.
There is a whole image associated with PBR now, and I always have to explain that I just drank it because it was so cheap.
I’ve done my share of Keystone Lights. I’ve drank all that stuff.
Growing up, I was a huge fan of you and the whole WWE Attitude Era.
I stopped wrestling in ‘03, so that was, what, 13 years ago? You still remember that?
Yeah! My favorite memory is you driving the beer truck.
Man, that was so fun. They said, “We've got this idea. You're going to drive this beer truck in, Vince and The Rock will be there, and you'll squirt them down with beer.” They purposely left that [Titantron] screen a little bit low 'cause you can see when the top of that truck crushes that screen when I first come out. It was pretty dramatic. The first 30 gallons were actual beer, and then it shifted into water.
Gags like that, or crushing The Rock's [car with a] monster truck, or the zamboni, or the cement truck in Nassau Coliseum — I had 10 minutes to learn how to drive that truck. I didn't even have a mark on the ground to land on. It just turns out I can drive pretty much everything on wheels or with a steering wheel. I show up, and it's like, “You're going to crush The Rock's car.” Vince [McMahon] had just purchased that Lincoln Continental for $30,000 on the showroom floor. That wasn't a fake. It was amazing. I used to tell people going to Monday Night Raw was like therapy. I could just go there, show up, tear shit up, and have fun.
That’s one of the reasons why your character resonated so much. Everyone has that day where they want to go into the office and hit their boss with a chair.
Vince was classic. He's such an entertainer and he's so intense himself. I just loved working with him. It's some of the most fun years of my life. I look back these days with a lot of great memories. I don't miss the business anymore — I've been out of it too long — but I certainly have a bunch of deep memories about working with Vince — and working with guys like Bret, The Rock, Mick, Taker, Triple H. I could go on. We had such a roster back then. Basically anybody you worked with was a superstar, but that feud with Vince just transcended wrestling. If you were a quote-un-quote wrestling fan, you were going to watch just because you wanted to watch what was gonna happen between Stone Cold and Vince. You just gotta gut bully your boss and finally be able to hand him his ass. And anytime you can drink beer at work is a good day.
Do you still watch the current product? You mention it sometimes on your podcast.
I try to. They made a three-hour Raw, but two hours is about my time limit. I ain't got that kind of attention span. The roster has been decimated with injuries. the temperature of the product has changed.
I like pure pro-wrestling, when it's serious in its orientation and presentation — like it's a legit sport with Jim Ross calling the action. Sometimes they kind of make it a little more lighthearted and too sugarcoated for me.
It also just felt more spontaneous back in the day. With the Monday Night Wars, it was almost a pay-per-view every single Monday between the two factions because they were trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink to win the ratings war. Even if you take the Monday Night Wars out of it and just look at the product, it was presented as UFC is presented, except as professional wrestling. I thought the in-ring work was a little better. I think today's generation are better athletes, but I think the work inside the ring was a little better at the time. Specifically, it was better in the mid-'80s when Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, the Four Horsemen, and all those guys were in their prime. That's the era that I enjoyed so much. If I think of pro-wrestling, of that gold belt? It’s real to me.
Recently, that clip of you performing the Stone Cold Stunner on Donald Trump has been making the rounds on the Internet. Did you ever think he would end up a presidential candidate?
Oh, hell no! I'll say this: I showed up in Detroit for that, and Vince had talked to me a little bit earlier in the day and said "Hey, I'm going to go see if Donald will take a Stone Cold Stunner." I was right there when he asked him. He goes, "Hey, Donald, I was wondering if in the end, do you mind taking Steve's finisher?” We had to explain to him what a Stone Cold Stunner was, and Donald’s right-hand guy — I don't remember his name, but everybody that high up has a right-hand guy or a posse or whatever — was giving him a million reasons why not to take the stunner, and what could go wrong, [how] it’s not going to look good. Donald and Vince had a relationship — I believe they're friends — and Donald said, "Sure Vince, I'll take it." I briefly explained to him in literally five seconds how to take it. We went to the ring, we did the match, and at the end we did the Stunner, and it wasn't the greatest Stunner in the world, but I give Donald Trump a lot of credit and respect for doing something like that that he didn't have to do. But to answer your question: I had no idea back then so many years ago that he would be a candidate to be President of the United States.