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Stone Cold Steve Austin

When 'The Texas Rattlesnake' hung up his worldwide wrestling belt, he retired to action movies and a ranch in South Texas.

Photography by Rodney Bursiel

In the arena, he once aimed a fire hose tethered to a beer truck at his boss, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, and unleashed a torrent of suds. In the ring, he brought to bear the “Stone Cold Stunner” — his signature wrestling move — on the likes of Donald Trump, Santa Claus, and Linda McMahon, 2010 U.S. Republican Senate candidate (Connecticut) and wife of Vince.

As an action actor, he played malicious bodyguard Dan Paine in The Expendables, going bare knuckle to bare knuckle with Sylvester Stallone (during a sequence featuring sustained fisticuffs with Austin, Stallone — the film’s writer, director, and star — suffered a hairline neck fracture). No question: Stone Cold Steve Austin, aka The Texas Rattlesnake, is one mean brawler.

So what does this scrap-hardened gladiator do for R & R? He unwinds on a 2,100-acre Texas ranch — dubbed Broken Skull — located some 90 miles south of San Antonio near Tilden, Texas. Here, Austin grapples with the unforgiving Southwestern terrain as he shepherds a herd of roughly 180 native South Texas deer. “I live in South Texas brush country, where everything that grows will cut ya, stick ya, or hurt ya,” says the WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) Hall of Famer. “It’s not as pretty as the [Texas] Hill Country, but it’s effective for raising big deer.”

When he bought his spread in 2007, it was home to elk, red stag, and a single cow. He dispatched the elk and the red stag and the cow broke through the fence, though it still roams his ranch. “It’s a hunting ranch. That’s what I bought it for,” Austin insists.

Yet he doesn’t just stalk deer on his Texas land. Because his ranch is infested with feral hogs, he culls their numbers and blends the proceeds into his deer sausage to round out the flavors. “[The pigs] tear up our roads and make holes and stuff like that. It’s not their fault. They’re pigs. It’s what they do. But from a ranching standpoint, you’ve got to take them out.”

“I live in South Texas brush country, where everything that grows  will cut ya, stick ya, or hurt ya.”

Austin doesn’t easily fit the traditional rancher mold; he’s not the picture of the hard and serious lone cowboy. Instead of horses, he rides Polaris Ranger ATVs and a Kubota 95-horsepower air-conditioned tractor with a 15-foot batwing mower. With this motorized beast he manicures the ranch and has laid more than eight miles of PVC pipe to supply his herd of deer with clean water. He also uses the ranch to store and display an expanding collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, antique clocks, and all sorts of signs, including gas station, neon, and marble road signs from the 1920s and ’30s.

Not exactly the downtime you imagine when you picture the hulking guy who wrestled professionally for almost 15 years. In those days, Austin’s MO was “Arrive. Raise Hell. Leave.” His shtick was to outrageously flaunt rude and defiant beer-guzzling behavior, engaging packed, rowdy arenas as the foul-mouthed, bird-flipping “Stone Cold.” He perfected his fierce antihero persona with the Stone Cold Stunner, a trademark headlock-and-drop finishing move. With it he grappled and slammed his way to the top of the wrestling heap through a combination of signature moves and a laser-sharp wit.

It’s that sense of humor that takes people by surprise. “You never think that by looking at him because he looks like a monster, actually,” Expendables costar Eric Roberts told USA Today. “But he’s not. He’s a total sweetie pie. I just love him like I love family.”

How keen is the Stone Cold wit? In 1996, Austin won the WWE King of the Ring tournament by defeating Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts’ ring persona portrayed a Bible-preaching born-again Christian, which Austin shrewdly leveraged, quickly cutting a now-famous promo during his tournament coronation. With characteristic irreverence, the spot invoked the mock verse Austin 3:16. “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” he blared.

The catchphrase became one of the most popular in wrestling history with T-shirts that broke WWE merchandise sales records, and Austin went on to become a superstar in the world of professional wrestling.

“I thought I was going to sell insurance with my dad,” he says of his unlikely career trajectory. 

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