Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history, not so secretly doubles as an MMA aficionado, and gives his thoughts on every UFC champion, as well as what he sees as the realities of the pro sports world in 2014 as it relates to Chael Sonnen.
Within the UFC, when the question comes up regarding what celebrity outside the sport itself is the most knowledgeable, a name that comes up high on most lists is retired pro wrestler turned reality show personality and podcast host Steve Austin.
Austin, along with another retired pro wrestler, C.M. Punk, are far more than casual fans.
While not the level of hardcore fan who lives and dies with each bit of news and trivia, Austin combines a love for watching the product with a business background. While pro wrestling may not be a sport, Austin was a former college football player at North Texas State who understand the mentality of a highly competitive athlete, which as hard as it is for some to understand, he was in his wrestling days, and that of a fan.
He even admits to enjoy watching MMA to pro wrestling, a love from his childhood when he grew up in South Texas watching "Houston Wrestling" in the 70s.
He watches both for the fights, but also with his background, notices how the personalities interact and can't help but think about the box office. In his prior job, like a UFC champion, he was paid based on the box office, so understanding what gets people to spend ticket money is at this point inbred in him, a subject he's had four plus decades to study.
And when it comes to Jon Jones, a sometimes polarizing figure in MMA, Austin noted that he greatly respects him as a fighter, but in other ways Jones rubs him the wrong way.
"You hear a little stuff on the side about his lifestyle, I mean, his lifestyle is a little bit different than what he preaches," said Austin as a special live guest on this week's MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. "But as a fighter, he's premiere. . . And (Alexander) Gustafsson really handed him his ass, and took him in the deepest waters he's ever been in. So that's going to be a hell of a rematch. Anyway, he kind of gets on my nerves because I think he's living two lives."
When asked if he considered Jones a hypocrite, he said, "To a degree, yes."
"I would love to see him get his ass kicked because it'll take a hell of a man to do that."
Austin was in New York to promote the debut of "Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge," a reality show competition involving superbly conditioned athletes competing in a series of challenges. The show debuts Sunday on CMT.
"I come from pro wrestling. I'm not a judge, but I think he (Gustafsson) did enough in the last time to get that victory," said Austin of their Sept. 21 fight in Toronto that Jones won in what is generally considered the greatest light heavyweight title match in UFC history. "Some people agree, some don't. Nonetheless, it was a hell of a fight. And we knew Gustafsson was on his way up to be a superstar. That match made him a superstar. But, what that match proved to me about Jon Jones was that when he's in deep waters, he had the heart of a champion. So, when I say some things about Jon Jones irritate me, I respect who and what he is inside that Octagon, make no mistake about it."
Due to his background, Austin can't help but look at both the fighter, the fight business, and his emotional reaction to the fighters when talking UFC.
"With regard to the people that UFC is putting in the Octagon, the bigger the star, the bigger the gates," he said. "That's just the way it is. If you look at all the champs in all the divisions, all the champs are premiere fighters, but is the star power what it was two to four years ago? I don't know."
Austin also gave his thoughts on the other UFC champions. Cain Velasquez doesn't have the outgoing personality that usually would get Austin's attention, and is not the level of draw as prior champions like Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture. But in his case, a Velasquez fight it a can't-miss night for Austin.
"Let's start at heavyweight, Cain Velasquez, to me, yes, anytime time he's gonna fight, I'm gonna watch because he's a badass," said Austin. "He doesn't talk trash. He's got the brown pride on his chest that he has to live up to. I don't need him to talk me into the building (wrestler speak for doing strong interviews that make you want to see a fight).
Austin called Chris Weidman, "A star in the making," and not at the level of Anderson Silva, who Austin also listed as a guy he would purchase shows specifically to see.
He had similar thoughts, but maybe not even as strong, on welterweight champion Johny Hendricks.
"I like Johny, but he's not GSP. He's got a ways to go. I'm not extra excited (when Hendricks headlines)."
He sees Anthony Pettis the same way. While Austin buys every pay-per-view and watches almost every show he can, he even purchased UFC 174, which puts him in the category of those who try to watch every show, he notes he's going to buy a Pettis fight but he doesn't see him as a top star.
"I like to watch him fight," he said. "I'm not going out of my way."
Jose Aldo to him is different, and he specifically brought up the Urijah Faber fight, where Aldo retained his then-WEC featherweight title, as part of the reason.
"I'll buy because he's so dynamic and so athletic. There was Faber, and look at Aldo."
T.J. Dillashaw's performance with Renan Barao in winning the bantamweight title was a big step in winning Austin over.
"It was a great fight, incredible," he said about the May 24 title change. "If he can perform like that on a night-in and night-out basis, what a story that was."
He's also impressed with Demetrious Johnson, and felt that fans walking out during the Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov title fight in Vancouver was because of the difference in class of fighters, and not because of the size of the fighters or a rejection of Johnson.
"I don't have a problem with smaller guys," he said. "He outclassed that guy so bad, that's why people walked out. I really enjoy watching that guy fight."
He lit up when talking about Ronda Rousey. The last live UFC show Austin was at was UFC 170 on Feb. 22, to see Rousey vs. Sara McMann in Las Vegas.
"When she went to the Octagon against Sara McMann, she's got that BMF (the slang term that Austin himself used for his own character's T-shirts in his wrestling heyday) walk. She comes out to do business. She sets the tone. When you walk to the ring you send out a message. She's got a mean streak three feet wide and a mile long."
"Rousey will win this fight," he predicted about Saturday night's clash with Alexis Davis.
"Every dog has his day. You can be the best in the world and still get beat. That can happen with Ronda Rousey and Alexis Davis."
Austin, who said that he's friendly with Chael Sonnen, said that Sonnen's recent drug test failures don't change his opinion of him at all.
"We're living in 2014," he said. "Everybody is taking something at some level.
"Across the board in any professional athletic endeavor, you're going to find people who are taking performance enhancers. I've been around the horn and see what everyone is doing. That's the time we're living in right now. Am I saying I condone it or saying, `let everyone do drugs,' I'm not saying that."
The wrestling world he came from was rampant with performance enhancing drugs over the last 30 years, and to a lesser degree even a quarter-century before that. The WWE had two periods of significant steroid testing, from 1992 to 1995, before Austin arrived. They stopped testing at that point and didn't pick up until 2006. That was three years after Austin's last match. The second run of steroid testing came after the death of one of the company's most popular wrestlers, Eddy Guerrero, whose autopsy report listed longtime use of steroids and narcotics as a contributing cause of a fatal heart attack at the age of 38.
Austin thought he may have taken one or two drug tests during his entire WWE tenure, but couldn't remember.
"I was in the sweet spot where there wasn't too much (drug testing) going around."
"You didn't hear of HGH," he said about PED use during his wrestling career.
"Testosterone, basic stuff," he said was the most prominent PED.
"It wasn't 100 percent. You're going to have your guys (using). You can watch TV and pick those guys out pretty much. The writing is on the wall."