Steve Austin on why Mark Calaway had to be the first guest on his new WWE show: 'Undertaker is the best character in the history of the business'

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is synonymous with professional wrestling. The six-time WWE champion is considered one of the — if not the — greatest grapplers ever to perform.

Austin, now 54 and more than a decade removed from his last match in WWE, was forced into early retirement due to a series of injuries. Despite this, Austin has remained one of the company’s signature acts, returning sporadically to the flagship Raw and Smackdown shows as well as picking up several special projects on the WWE Network.

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is seen on an episode of Monday Night Raw at Madison Square Garden. (Photo: WWE)

“One of the things in my life that I love more than anything is the business of professional wrestling,” Austin tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I had to ride off into the sunset a little earlier than I wanted to, but just being associated with the company is very satisfying for me.”

Austin’s latest endeavor, The Broken Skull Sessions, is a more formal version of the podcast he launched six years ago. More than 20 years since his peak in WWE, Austin’s charisma is still there and that —  combined with his passion and insight into the industry — make him a perfect fit for not only this project, but an earlier iteration back in the nascent days of the WWE Network.

“I had the Stone Cold Podcast [on the WWE Network] back in the day and I was flying all over trying to accommodate some of those talks,” Austin says. “I have a place right next door to my house where I record my own podcast and WWE said they’d like to revisit the concept of me talking to guys from the company, sharing stories and talking about the business. I said I would love to do it and in a much looser setting. We’re not live, we’re just shooting the breeze.”

Much like his career in professional wrestling, Austin’s road to podcast and media stardom was not a direct one. When Austin first came to WWE as “The Ringmaster” there was no telling he would become the driving force in an industry-wide revolution. Austin’s rise to stardom as the “Stone Cold” character came about somewhat unexpectedly, due to a combination of his microphone skills and an all-time great feud with Vince McMahon.

In similar fashion, Austin admits he was somewhat aimless after his retirement in 2003. It wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles that he began a new chapter of his life and career.

“The reason I came out to Los Angeles is because I had filmed some episodes of Nash Bridges during the ’90s when I was white hot and we did good ratings,” Austin says. “When I was forced to pull the plug on my career and get out of the business, I had a hard time dealing with that. After dealing with that by doing nothing, I knew I had to get out to Los Angeles or somewhere where I could build off of the name that I created. I started doing some low-budget movies, but those were just a means to an end.”

Unlike Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dave Bautista or John Cena, Austin never became enamored with becoming a blockbuster movie star. Despite having major Hollywood releases on his résumé — 2005’s The Longest Yard and 2007’s The Condemned — the allure of the industry he made his name in proved to be too much.

“Back when they rebooted Tough Enough, I enjoyed that because I like helping people in the business,” Austin explains. “I fell in love with reality television. I don’t like to memorize things, I don’t like being on sets and going through the motions over and over again. It’s not my thing.”

After Tough Enough, Austin would go on to host and executive produce CMT reality competition shows, Redneck Island and The Broken Skull Challenge. Earlier this year, Austin’s latest cable television show, Straight Up Steve Austin, had a seven-episode run on USA Network.

Throughout all of this, Austin was learning on the fly, continuing his podcast and further developing his voice and presence in the media industry.

“I don’t look at myself as being a scientific interviewer like some of the classic journalists out there,” Austin says. “For me, it’s kind of a B.S. session. When I’m doing an audio podcast, it’s just myself and my guest, sitting across from each other over a 4-by-4 table. I try and listen. We’re trading stories, sometimes I will throw one in there, but it’s really about the guest. If you’re trying to listen and not think about the next question — maybe you’ve got one in your notes —  but listening allows for some good follow up.”

Undertaker and Kane during Wrestle Mania XX at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo: KMazur/WireImage)

For the launch of The Broken Skull Sessions, Austin is tasked with interviewing Mark Calaway. Calaway has played his Undertaker character in WWE for the better part of the past 30 years. In an industry that has changed rapidly over the years, Calaway was a throwback star, one who was so dedicated to kayfabe — wrestling storyline — that he rarely has conducted interviews out of character.

For wrestling fans, casual and hardcore, this discussion promises to be nothing short of a stunner — pun intended.

“When we signed on, WWE wanted to come out with a bang, get a huge guest. Undertaker has been doing the Undertaker character for 30 years,” says Austin. “In my estimate he’s the best character in the history of the business. To be able to ride that lightning bolt for as long as he did, to make the changes he needed to to stay relevant and fresh, he was our first guest to go after.”

Even for Austin, one of Calaway’s peers, the task was daunting. As much as fans will get to see behind the character, the two-hour discussion was eye-opening for the Texas Rattlesnake himself.

“It was very interesting,” Austin reveals. “Some guys I call by their work name. Undertaker, I always called him just Taker. In this interview, I’m sitting down with Mark, the guy who played Undertaker. For as long as I was with WWE, I ran with a different crowd. I kind of ran solo while Undertaker ran with his clique, so I didn’t really know the man that well personally. We’ve done a lot of business together, we’ve worked angles and matches together, but he’s not a guy who I sat down and shot the breeze with a lot. It was real interesting to get to know Mark Calaway.”

Professional wrestling is a unique industry that often leans on nostalgia as one of its main selling points. While Austin hasn’t competed in the ring in 16 years, Calaway has continued to wrestle, albeit on a reduced schedule. It would be easy to assume two former stars trading tales about the good ol’ days would get Austin’s competitive juices flowing.

Despite the repeated inquiries from fans for “one more match,” Austin insists this is all he wants.

“I don’t want to come out too often,” Austin says. “The time is for the current superstars so they can get their storylines and characters across and over. [WWE has] so many kids coming out. Seth [Rollins]’s doing great. I still like A.J. Styles a lot. Becky [Lynch] is doing her thing, she’s next level with her promos and her presence. She’s amazing. Charlotte [Flair] from the complete ring general perspective, she’s incredible.”

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is seen on an episode of Monday Night Raw alongside Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman at Madison Square Garden. (Photo: WWE)

Of course there’s a benefit to all of this, seeing as interviewing is a lot less taxing on Austin’s body. Happy to no longer be taking bumps in the ring, the WWE Hall of Famer can humbly focus on his new endeavors.

“I don’t look at myself as being anything more than Steve Austin, or the guy who used to be ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin,” says Austin. “I’ve had some great opportunities to host some cool shows. I just look at these as things that I do to keep myself productive, out there and paying my bills.”

The Broken Skull Sessions debuts on Nov. 24 after the Survivor Series pay-per-view on the WWE Network.

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