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Rockin' at the 'Dome


Friday, September 11, 1998
By RYAN PYETTE -- Calgary Sun
  Some rasslin' fans call it the 'second coming.'

Others deem it the 'world gone wrong.'

But whatever you call it, 'Stone Cold' fever is the biggest thing to shake the World Wrestling Federation faithful since, well ... since Hulkamania ran wild in the mid-80s.

And tonight, as the WWF's 'Highway to Hell' Tour touches down at the Saddledome, 8 p.m., Calgarians get their first live look at the `Stone Cold' Steve Austin phenomenon at the height of the wrestler's immense popularity throughout North America.

Austin, a bald, hard-headed, former football-playing Texan, defends his WWF World Title belt tonight in a four corner, anything-goes tilt against The Undertaker, Kane, and the unusual Mankind. The tough-talking Austin, nicknamed the 'Rattlesnake', has created the biggest stir since a muscle-bound, bleach-blond Californian named Hulk Hogan began ripping off his T-shirt and posing to the beat of rock music in 1983.

Fifteen years later, Austin is the anti-Hulk Hogan. He's less a comic book hero, and more the guy in your local pub down the street. Austin's approach is coarse, harsh, and deadly compared to Hogan's well-scripted poses and verbal shots.

Even Austin's patented finishing move, the punishing 'Stone Cold' Stunner, packs a more real-life wallop than Hogan's old, lamb-like Leg Drop.

But some things -- like marketing -- still stay the same for North America's favorite superheroes. The air is still electric when it's main event time, and the people still loosen their wallets for their favourite star.

Just like Hogan did, Austin sells T-shirts. He sells out arenas. He sells pay-per-views, videos, magazines, and miniature figurines.

He still appears on talk shows. He's a valuable commodity, the new age of in-yo'-face grappling. Austin's what the people want.

The Rock, the never-at-a-loss-for-words leader of the unpopular black separatist 'Nation of Domination,' underlined this change in WWF fan attitude.

"It's a new era. Wrestling fans used to cheer for Superman," said The Rock. "Now, they'd rather cheer for Lex Luthor."

And the wrestlers, no longer classified simply as 'good' and `bad' guys, grapple for popularity in an increasingly grey area. You can't trust anyone. And to succeed in the squared circle, you don't necessarily have to do the right thing. Just like real life, some might say.

"With Hogan, the message was 'eat your vitamins, say your prayers, kiss a baby, and help an old lady across the street,' " said The Rock, who grew up appreciating the `Real American' antics of the Hulkster. "But take The Rock for instance. I still eat my vitamins and say my prayers, but I'm more likely to smack a little baby and push an old lady down."

Now that's dastardly. But, as Calgary rassling superstar Owen Hart claims, Austin is a blue-collar sort of hero. A rough, unclassy tough guy conquering people's biggest fears.

"Austin's this average guy who the fans can identify with," said Hart. "His boss hates him, so Austin beats him up. I guess everybody likes to see stuff like that. But let me tell you. I think Austin's huge, bigger than Hulk Hogan was in his prime."

The Rock, however, offers the white collar skinny on the heavyweight champ.

"Austin's a piece of trash," said The Rock. "Anybody can go out there, give the middle finger, swear, drink beer, and hit someone with a chair."

But the fans love it. And as opponents are 'Stunned' all over North America, everyone's buying the hype.

'Stone Cold' fever is bigger than Hulkamania.