The Steve Austin Show – Unleashed!
Release Date: July 6, 2017
Recap by: Chris Gaspare
Top Newsworthy Items
– Kenny Omega was responsible for Don Callis getting the commentating job for New Japan.
– Callis was supposed to be in a tag team with Rick Martel in 1997 called The Supermodels.
– Callis was going to commentate Nitro if Bischoff had bought the company back in 2001.
– Austin feels Kenny Omega could be the biggest star in the United States.
00:00: Introduction to the show and some funny domestic stories
12:54: Sponsor Ad
16:16: Don Callis on his early career, injuries, and learning from old-timers
30:21: Don Callis on working with Rick Martel, his WWF career, and returning to college
49:24: Sponsor Ad
50:53: Don Callis on how he returned to the business after 13 years and getting over in the modern culture
58:54: Austin and Callis talk Kenny Omega and his future prospects
1:11:46: Austin and Callis discuss the future of New Japan, booking Omega/Okada, and the origins of Callis’ Twitter handle
1:27:40: Plugs and ads
1:29:33: Austin and Wade Keller talk Okada/Rhodes, Okada’s future, and possible NJPW/WWE heat
1:40:58: Austin and Keller talk the week in WWE including Nakamura, Roman, and Lesnar/Joe
2:00:51: Plugs and end of show
Introduction to the show and some funny domestic stories
Austin announced his guest this week is Don Callis, English commentator for New Japan Pro Wrestling and podcast partner with Lance Storm on Killing the Town. The interview is in two parts. The first part will air today and the second will air at some point when Austin is filming The Broken Skull Challenge. Austin’s wife, Kristin, told a couple stories about Austin and their household to start the episode. The first story was about how the painters and work crew at 316 Gimmick Street filling up their green trash can, which in Los Angeles is reserved for grass, leaves, and compost, with paint cans and electrical supplies. Austin was upset because he had to take everything out of the trash and put them in bags. The second story was about their puppy, Callie, bringing a Bud Light can into the house and chewing it up on the couch. Kristin wanted to know where the Bud Light can came from. Austin turned into a detective and eventually realized a painter stole a Bud Light out of a case of beer reserved for Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson before they cancelled on him.
Don Callis on his early career, injuries, and learning from old-timers
The conversation started in talking about neck injuries. Callis suffered the neck injury that plagues him while in South Africa doing a show. In South Africa, he said, the wrestlers couldn’t do “too much” in front of the audiences because the audiences there thought it was a shoot. For instance, Bad News Allen worked the main event in a steel cage against a local talent and let the local guy go over clean so that the fans wouldn’t riot. The fans still rioted anyway and lit the ring on fire. Because of this, the match Callis was in shouldn’t have been hard work. His opponent called for Callis to do a sunset flip, a move a heel doesn’t perform much, and Callis wasn’t used to performing, He ended up injuring himself on the move. When he went backstage after finishing the match, an old-timer, Gerry Morrow, who had also helped train him, commanded Callis to let him help fix his neck with an old towel trick. Austin interjected that Harley Race once tried to fix his neck with “a gimmick towel” as well. The trick didn’t work. A chiropractor, the first of many, was able to fix the pinched nerve, but the problems lingered.
Austin asked about Gerry Morrow because he has heard the name over and over during his years. Callis said he didn’t listen to Morrow at first because he thought, two years in, he was so good, but learned over time to trust him and listen to his advice. For example, he was supposed to go over to work for All-Japan on a trip, but Morrow warned him that he was “not ready for Baba” and told him he shouldn’t go. Callis didn’t listen, but the trip was cancelled, so he didn’t go. He recognized later that Morrow was probably right.
Callis said it’s important to listen to the older generation in the locker room and listen and acknowledge their advice. Austin lamented there was no one like that in WWE right now. Callis said Jericho is the last one there that has worked different places, and if he were a young kid, he would be paying rental car fees and doing whatever he had to just to get some “road time” with Jericho to learn from him. He said he learned more about the business from a one-hour car ride with Rick Martel and Bad News Allen than he ever did in the ring.
Don Callis on working with Rick Martel, his WWF career, and returning to college
Callis took a stab at getting a WWF tryout by sending in tapes of his promos. The tapes didn’t have any of his matches because he felt he was a mediocre worker but a fantastic talker. Chief Jay Strongbow watched the tapes and told him how great they were, that he was like Roddy Piper on the mic. Callis got his dark match, but it was just a match, no talking. Callis didn’t get in, and one of his biggest regrets is not grabbing a mic and making sure he cut a promo before the match. He feels that would have helped his chances. He feels it’s important to take risks at times, as exemplified by how he ended up in the WWF and how he broke out of a “s**t gimmick” with the Truth Commission.
The way he got into WWF eventually was a little unexpected. After his first tryout, he had returned to wrestle in Canada, mainly for International Championship Wrestling. He didn’t feel confident about ever getting into WWF especially after Carl Demarco told him if he wanted to make it he should try to look like The Ultimate Warrior because that’s what “they wanted” in WWF. However, the next few weeks, a number of things happened. First, Bret Hart had seen a tape of his and Hart said he could get him booked more in Canada and the United States for different promotions. Second, Demarco wanted to pair him up in a tag team with Adam Copeland, who later gained fame as Edge. The third call he received was from Rick Martel.
After Martel had left WWE in the early 1990s and took some independent bookings, he had wrestled Callis in ICW. The two got along, so they ended up having a two-year long feud for the title there. Martel’s call this time was to tell Callis he wanted to return to WWF but in a tag team, and he wanted Callis to be his partner. After some conversation, they settled on their gimmick being The Supermodels, which Callis is convinced would have drawn major heat in the ‘90s. They met with Vince McMahon, and Vince immediately loved the idea. He wanted to film a vignette the next week with them walking on the beach in thong bikinis. Martel didn’t like the idea of thong bikinis at all, but he was more upset over the fact that Vince wouldn’t offer a guaranteed contract, something McMahon simply wasn’t doing at the time. Martel decided to walk without a guarantee, but Callis saw this as his opportunity and stayed.
He eventually got put together with Kurgan and the Truth Commission as a “bumping manager,” which he said was “the kiss of death.” As a heel manager, he said that taking bumps kills your heat because the fans only want to see the manager get his comeuppance. As a wrestler, nobody wants the label of manager because then no other wrestler will sell for them. He said he was uncomfortable as a manager.
Historically, when one would come into a territory, whether he liked the territory or the people, a certain respect was formed by their ring work. Being a manager, that couldn’t happen. He asked Jim Cornette how to get over as a manager, and Cornette laughed at him and said, “They don’t let managers get over here.” He was called the “sergeant-at-arms” of The Truth Commission and wore a beret and Army fatigues, which he hated. One night in Hershey, PA, they told him to go cut a promo. He decided on his own to ditch The Truth Commission look, put on jeans, a leather jacket, and let his hair down. It worked, and they let him keep the look. He also started to study cult leaders and their tactics because he wanted to realistically act as if he could control the three larger members of The Truth Commission.
Eventually, the role petered out, and he ended up in ECW. The end came all at once. ECW folded. He was lined up to do commentary for Monday Nitro if Eric Bischoff bought the company from Time Warner/AOL, but of course, that fell through. Chris Jericho, a friend, said he could get him in WWF, but Callis said he felt he had “no leverage” in returning. At that point, he left the business and returned to college to attain his MBA. He had to take some undergraduate classes with teenagers that knew him from wrestling, which was a “humbling” experience for him. Wrestling, however, helped him with college and business ventures, he said. Besides being recognized at times as a wrestler, which he said is never a bad thing, the number one rule of business is the same idea in wrestling of working and getting yourself over. He was able to take that skill and apply it to something different.
Austin brought up briefly about losing hair. Austin said his hair started to go at age 24, and he called up his mentor and trainer, “Gentleman” Chris Adams, because everyone thinks their trainer has all the answers. He asked Adams what he should do, and Adams replied, “Well, f**k, Steve, I don’t know.” Callis noticed he was losing his hair in a mirrored elevator with Booker T once and realized he’d have to make a decision at some point. His girlfriend at the time told him his head was too big to shave his hair off. His hair loss has gotten worse over the past five years because he’s been working so hard.
Don Callis on how he returned to the business after 13 years and getting over in the modern culture
Callis and his close friend, Lance Storm, were invited to Chris Jericho’s 25th anniversary in wrestling celebration at Madison Square Garden a couple years ago. Callis had been out of the business for thirteen years at this point. Jericho told Callis that Storm was going to do a podcast for PodcastOne, and he thought Callis would work well with Storm on the show. Callis said that he and Storm already talked on the phone like they were on a podcast, so he agreed. He doesn’t prepare or write for the podcast at all. Storm comes up with the topics; Callis feels more comfortable “winging it.” They are never in the same location when they record the podcast. Callis admitted to once even falling asleep and Storm was cutting a promo and didn’t know it. He enjoys the podcast, though, and thinks the two of them work well together.
He doesn’t have time with all his commitments to watch all the WWE product, so he DVR and fast forwards or watches clips often. He also has been spending some time with watching the TNA product because he and Storm have been trying to review it more since Scott D’Amore and Jeff Jarrett are friends. His own personal policy is that he will criticize writing and business decisions, but he’ll never criticize “the boys.” He and Austin delve into how tough it is to get over for the wrestlers in today’s culture. Austin thinks he might not have made it in this scripted, controlled environment. Callis agrees that the old system is better. He said in 1997, the attitude was “go get over.” Now, they would script and stifle the creativity of trying to get over. He drew the analogy of Mick Jagger trying to succeed in music during the American Idol-era and how he would be eliminated in the first round.
Austin and Callis talk Kenny Omega and his future prospects
Austin brought up Kenny Omega next. Callis called Omega the “Mozart” of wrestling right now. He then changed the comparison to one of his favorite artists, Prince. Prince wasn’t about making number one hits, he was about making art, and that’s what Omega is trying to do. Callis said that within two months of starting the podcast, he was offered the commentary job with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and it was Kenny Omega’s doing. Omega called him up to ask him to speak at his uncle’s funeral. Callis didn’t know who is uncle was or who he was referring to. His uncle was The Golden Sheik, who had helped train and manage Callis early in his career, but Callis had no idea that Omega was his nephew.
He spoke at the Sheik’s funeral, and during that time, he joked with Omega, “Get me booked, kid.” Omega said that he had tried. New Japan had run some names for commentary past him, and he didn’t know any of them, so he had offered up Callis’ name. Callis told him he would be interested. A week later, due to some confusion on New Japan’s end, they called up Lance Storm and offered him the commentary position, which Callis jokingly likened Storm doing to commentary to William “Refrigerator” Perry, a legendary defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears and all-around large man, running a 100-yard dash. Eventually, the confusion was settled, and New Japan offered the commentary job to him and offered Storm the chance to come train some young lions at the dojo.
Callis said working for New Japan has been great as it’s “the least amount of bulls**t I’ve had in a wrestling company anywhere. They do what they say when they say they are gonna do it.” Besides some language barrier issues, which are always resolved, and the transportation, which he doesn’t mind as it keeps him away from electronics and allows him to relax, it’s a perfect job.
The two moved on to praising Omega. Callis said he’s the “best performer in the world” right now. He likened him to Shawn Michaels in the ‘90s. He said that lots of guys could do what Michaels was doing, but they didn’t have that specialness that Michaels did. Austin wondered about his prospects in WWE if he chose to come in. Callis said he could succeed if he weren’t “overbooked,” and he could see Vince wanting him, if for nothing else, the merchandising opportunities. Austin claimed Omega could be “the next big thing in the United States,” and if WWE pushed him, he could be the guy. However, he said that WWE could have to give him a “green light push,” which means that “all the walls” would have to come down – no scripting, no overbooking, he gets more power as a performer. Callis said Omega would have to remain who he is right now. WWE, he said, is better at “strapping a rocket” on someone than creating that someone. Austin praised Omega’s promo abilities as well. He said they would have to “turn him loose on the microphone.”
Austin and Callis discuss the future of New Japan, booking Omega/Okada, and the origins of Callis’s Twitter handle
The conversation continued with Omega’s age. He’s 33 right now, which Callis said is young for today’s wrestlers. Austin noted, however, that working the New Japan style can cause wrestlers to “age in dog years.” Callis said that the big question coming out of this G1 Special – this podcast was recorded the day before the show – will be, if there is success in America, then does that change Omega’s decision about staying in NJPW or going to WWE. Callis said Omega will get “the smart marks” to view New Japan, but they also need to get the “casual” fans as well. He said fans care less if someone is Japanese or not now, providing Nakamura as an example, so New Japan should leverage someone like Hiroshi Tanahashi who might not be able to speak English well but is as charismatic as anyone. He said that he’s heard seventy-five percent of the Long Beach audience is fly-ins, so the question will be ultimately: “what’s the follow-up” to Long Beach?
Austin asked Callis to explain the logic behind the booking and format of New Japan. Callis said the biggest difference is their “old school” and “conservative” booking of having a lot of multi-person tag matches on shows. He said during the big events, the culture insists that everyone try to have the best match on the card and that it can be grueling, especially during something like the upcoming G1 Climax. The fact that they still travel on buses is also a grind on the wrestlers. He said that the tag matches allow the wrestlers to rest and still entertain.
Some fans complain about Omega doing comedy in his tag matches, but he said that every match can’t be like a match with Okada as his body couldn’t withstand it. Therefore, he said it’s better to be “super entertaining” and take one or two bumps in a match in order to preserve his body. Austin moved on to talking about the booking of the Omega/Okada matches. Callis likened the series to the famous Ric Flair/Ricky Steamboat series in 1989. He said they couldn’t top the Wrestle Kingdom match, so a broadway was the logical way to go. He said Omega is too “intellectual” to not know that giving him the title is out of his hands. Austin said there are some people who don’t need a belt to get over – for instance, Goldust or Jake Roberts – and that Omega is one of those people. However, he said, with the way they’ve booked these matches, it feels a part of Kenny’s journey now is to beat Okada and win the title. Callis agreed and thinks if they don’t do that the Japanese fans could turn on Okada.
Austin ended part one of the interview by asking Callis about his Twitter handle – Halliburton Cowboy. Callis said that he loved the business back in the day to the point where he had a Halliburton carry-on suitcase that he carried around, like a lot of the stars at the time, as he traveled from town-to-town like a drifter, a cowboy. He even had his Halliburton a gaudy gold color. In short, he said, he was a Ric Flair mark. He stopped using the briefcase when he went to WWF in 1997 because he knew Vince and the boys would see him as a mark and rib him.
Austin and Wade Keller talk Okada/Rhodes, Okada’s future, and possible NJPW/WWE heat
Austin and Keller start by talking about the Kazuchika Okada/Cody Rhodes match from Saturday night’s G1 Special. Keller thought Rhodes “really delivered well” and Austin thought he did “a damn good job.” Austin called Okada “a helluva worker,” and Keller said Okada played well off Cody, particularly with his facials. He thought it was a good match that the crowd was into.
Austin asked him about Okada being at Raw and Smackdown this week. Keller said the question is whether it’s “aggressive recruiting” by WWE or simply the typical feeling out process where Okada received an invite while he was in town and the two sides take a look at each other. Keller wanted to know what Austin thinks they would do with Okada if somehow he did jump ship, and Austin said he wasn’t sure especially given Shinsuke Nakamura’s “confusing” booking.
Austin asked Keller if there was heat between WWE and New Japan. Keller offered up a hesitant yes. He said he once interviewed Hulk Hogan, who said he had to try to keep his spot at the top because others would try to take it. He said that mentality is in WWE’s DNA, which is a major part of why they grabbed Nakamura. However, it’s also WWE trying to adapt and incorporate these other elements that fans like. He said the notion that McMahon can’t adapt is a “fallacy.” He provided the example of A.J. Styles who five years ago would not be a top guy in WWE, so he shows Vince can change. He said that from New Japan’s side, there is a little more heat, although they would have run the United States at some point even if WWE hadn’t signed Nakamura simply because “the world is getting smaller” with streaming services, and it would have been the right business decision.
Austin and Keller talk the week in WWE including Nakamura, Roman, and Lesnar/Joe
Austin didn’t watch Raw or Smackdown for the second week in a row, so he relied more on Keller’s takes on the shows and simply asked questions. Keller liked the Nakamura segment with him roughly elbowing Baron Corbin because it could be an indication that WWE recognizes he needs to be more vicious. He said that Cena didn’t clearly address his free agent status in his Smackdown promo, but he thinks the hint is that he will move back and forth freely between Raw and Smackdown. Cena’s list of opponents he is ready for included Nakamura, and Keller felt that match would be the thing Nakamura needs to establish himself as “a top top guy.” Keller also liked seeing Daniel Bryan suspending and fining James Ellsworth this week because it added “consequences” for cheating and that wrestling in general needs “a moral voice.”
Keller also thought Raw did a “nice job at promoting the pay-per-view.” He said Samoa Joe “turned it up” in the go-home segment for the Brock Lesnar match, but he would have liked to have seen “less class clown” from Lesnar and a hint that Lesnar was taking this match and opponent more seriously, although he did say he needs to reserve judgement until after the match because that could be part of the story. Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman were made “a big deal” at the end of the show, and he also praised Michael Cole’s performance during the segment, noting he thinks Cole is “having his best year yet.”
Austin asked what the reaction to Reigns was. Keller thought it was “typical,” but it showed that fans were “into seeing the fight more than [into] booing Reigns.” Keller thinks he’s a tweener in a traditional sense and a 100% superstar, and if things carry on like this, then “it’s fine.” He wonders what needs to be done to make the most money with Reigns though. He thinks McMahon is waiting to get Reigns past Lesnar and then seeing where Roman stands with his development and crowd reaction. If he’s not a babyface by then, his alignment might be left up to the strength of his opponents. If there are not a lot of strong heels, then he could turn heel for a couple years. Keller did note that once again Reigns didn’t talk on the go-home, which he doesn’t feel is “sustainable” for the future.
Score and Review (9/10)
Don Callis ended up being one of Austin’s best interviews in quite a while. Callis has a fascinating journey he tells of his early years in the business and his time in WWF in the 1990s. Even more incredible is his story about his unexpected return to the business after thirteen years. Callis is insightful, articulate, and extremely sharp throughout the interview. He can even talk carny on Austin’s level. Their discussion on New Japan is worth listening to as well. The segment this week with Wade Keller wasn’t quite up to par as Austin hadn’t watched the WWE shows enough to discuss them. While Keller always has intriguing insights, he’s talking in a vacuum if Austin isn’t up on the product. The only complaint with the show is that segment added on thirty minutes to any already dense Callis interview, which made the episode feel far too long, and it places the listener in an awkward position of dedicating two hours to a podcast when the host can’t dedicate two hours to watching RAW. The Callis interview really delivers though.
Chris Gaspare is a teacher from Maryland who has been watching wrestling since 1989 when he saw his first WCW SaturdayNight episode and quickly rented as many NWA and WWF VHS tapes he could find in local stores. He also attended Tri-State Wrestling Alliance and early ECW shows in Philadelphia, which really kicked his fandom into high gear. He lapsed in the mid-2000s, but returned to the wrestling fold a few years ago.
For more, check out last week’s recap of Steve Austin Unleashed!