From Bay City to WWE Hall of Fame, Scott Steiner never stopped flexing
In town for this weekend's Astronomicon, the Steiner Brother and University of Michigan alum reflects on life inside a pro wrestling ring.
When Scott Rechsteiner was growing up in Bay City, he never saw professional wrestling on TV.
It wasn't until he was wrestling at the University of Michigan and he had cable TV for the first time that he finally laid eyes on it, and he connected the dots and envisioned a place for himself and his brother inside the scripted world of suplexes and body slams.
"After watching it for two, three months — and not knowing anything about professional wrestling — I said to my brother, 'we can beat those guys.' And that's where it started," he says.
He was right. Rechsteiner and his brother Robert, who wrestled as Rick, dropped the Rech- and then dropped a ton of opponents on their way to becoming one of the most popular, famous and decorated tag teams of all-time.
The Steiner Brothers — who will meet, greet and take photos with fans at this weekend's Astronomicon fan convention in Livonia, alongside figures from the worlds of horror movies, comic books and professional wrestling — were inducted into World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Fame earlier this month, cementing their legacy as two of the best to ever step inside the squared circle.
He only ever wanted to be a tag team star. But when he split from his brother, cut his mullet and dyed his hair blonde, Scott Steiner went on to a hugely successful singles run and found a whole new facet to his personality, playing the bad guy — and playing him well.
"I actually appreciated the boos more than I enjoyed the cheers," says Steiner, on the phone earlier this week from his home in suburban Atlanta. "It was a lot more fun, and it just fit my personality then. It was a lot easier for me to piss people off."
Tag team dreams
Scott Steiner always looked up to his older brother, from whom he was separated by 16 months on the calendar but two years in school time. They both got into amateur wrestling around 1975, when Scott was in seventh grade and Rob was a freshman in high school. They were climbing the ranks in their sport, but a few years later a school millage was rejected and sports were eliminated from their district for a year.
"It was devastating," says Scott, who was wrestling and playing football at Bay City Western High School at the time. "When you're young and something like that is taken away from you, it's something you never forget."
Scott spent the year training and was able to regroup and compete his junior year, where as a wrestler he was undefeated and became a state champion. Rob, however, missed out on his senior year of competition, and ended up attending junior college in Grand Rapids before transferring to University of Michigan a year later.
He was eventually joined at UM by Scott, who became a three-time Big Ten runner-up and an NCAA Division I All-American, and who in his adult years always votes to approve school millages when they come up on the ballot.
After college, Scott immediately went to pro wrestling school in Toledo. "I never had a plan B," says Scott, who turns 60 this summer. "I wanted to wrestle and take it as far as I could. And it was always with my brother: I never had a single thought about being a world champion on my own. It was always wanting to be the best tag team wrestling champions ever."
After wrestling individually in various independent federations, the Steiners teamed up in Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling in 1989. The pair plowed through the competition with a mix of brute force and offensive innovation, mixing things up with moves including Scott's "Frankensteiner" (wrapping one's legs around an opponent's neck in mid-air and flinging them forward) and the vicious "Steiner screwdriver" (a suplex into a piledriver). They had gold around their waists within a year.
Scott remembers the time when he first felt like he had truly made it. "It was probably when I became a millionaire," he says. That was in 1992, just before the Steiners parted ways with WCW and joined the then-World Wrestling Federation, where they wore maize-and-blue UM varsity jackets to the ring ("my buddies from college loved it," he says of the Michigan attire) and came down to the ring to "The Victors." They appeared on the first episode of "Monday Night Raw" in 1993 and became two-time tag champs, winning their first belts in enemy territory, in Columbus, Ohio. They were cheered nonetheless.
The Steiners parted ways with WWF in 1994 and wrestled in Japan and for upstart Philadelphia promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling before returning to WCW in 1996, where they embarked on several more championship runs. It was time for a change though, and that's when Scott reached for a pair of scissors and a bottle of peroxide.
Big Poppa Pump
It wasn't just his look that changed with the modern makeover, which included a gear switch to accentuate his hulking physique. Scott had always been the quiet one in the Steiner Brothers, playing second fiddle to fan favorite Rick, who was known for his signature bushy goatee, amateur wrestling headgear and his barking call-and-response chant with the crowd.
So few expected the personality that emerged when Scott adopted his alter ego Big Poppa Pump, a loudmouth, trash-talking "genetic freak" who took digs at everyone around him and was always surrounded by a phalanx of scantily clad women. Where had this guy been all along?
"I knew I had to go in a totally different direction," he says, "so I just totally flipped the switch."
The new character was a mix of what he had been keeping bottled up and what a decade in professional wrestling business had done to his mentality.
"In amateur wrestling, you really didn't talk too much trash. Wrestling is a humbling experience: if you get too big, you'll get beat. So I had always had that mindset," Scott says. "But after awhile, once I saw everything in the business, the politics, I had a totally different mindset than when I broke in. I had a whole different attitude, it was more of a rage. And that's what came out."
Scott joined the popular nWo faction of bad guys and eventually became WCW's world champion. At one point he started wearing chainmail on his head, like a warrior in the middle ages. "I saw it one day, I liked it, and I wore it out to the ring," he says. "It was really that simple."
Scott returned to WWE as a singles competitor after WCW folded in 2001, and he was paired on-screen with ring valet Stacy Keibler ("she was great; unfortunately for her, after she left she went to George Clooney and she married a billionaire, so it was a step down for her," he says with a laugh) before he left the company in 2004.
It wasn't necessarily an acrimonious split, and there were bad feelings over internal politics that festered for years, which he eventually had to get over.
"You've gotta let it go, you can't harbor all the bad feelings. You've gotta grow up," he says. A big part of that lesson is seeing Scott's nephew (Rick's son) Bronson Rechsteiner, an up-and-comer in WWE who wrestles as Bron Breakker, carry on the family legacy.
Bronson — who used to ride his big wheel over to the house and cut promos in the driveway on his uncle, using Scott's own words from TV against him — is the one who inducted the Steiners into the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend, and Scott sees him as a big part of why they got the call to join this year's Hall of Fame class.
Today, Scott is a father of two who has been married for 21 years to his wife, Christa. His son Brock plays tight end for Jacksonville State (he's coached by former UM coach Rich Rodriguez), and his other son Brandon is a junior in high school who is looking to play college basketball, possibly for UM.
He still has family scattered throughout Michigan and he says he's looking forward to meeting up with some college friends when he's in town for Astronomicon.
Scott says events like Astro, where fans quote back his old promos back to him and talk about their favorite matches or interview segments over the years, are fun experiences which reinforce the strong bond between wrestlers and wrestling fans.
He already was a Hall of Famer before WWE came calling — he was previously inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (as a tag team) and the Memphis Wrestling Hall of Fame (as a singles competitor) — and Scott says he'd like his legacy to be mixing things up, both in his offense and as a character in the ring.
Says Scott, "It's great to be remembered for being different."
Who: The Steiner Brothers, Corey Taylor, Judge Reinhold, Kevin Nash, Danielle Harris, Bill Moseley, Twiztid, Danhausen, Darren McCarty and more
When: 5-10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Burton Manor, 27777 Schoolcraft Road, Livonia
Tickets: $70 for weekend or $30-$40 daily (children 5 and younger get in free, ages 6-12 $15/ weekend); Astronomicon.com for tickets, schedules and more