Wrestlemania 28 is predicted to be the biggest PPV in WWE history, but I want more.
Wrestling fans young and old are heralding WrestleMania 28 to be the greatest of all time, despite the fact that we’re less than week away from the event taking place. For the first time in years, a WrestleMania card is almost entirely composed of superb main event matches. Triple H and the Undertaker are going to battle in a Hell in a Cell match with Shawn Michaels as the referee, CM Punk and Chris Jericho will fight for the WWE Championship, and Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus round out the card with their match for the World Heavyweight Championship. All three of these matches are sure to be prime examples of pro-wrestling athleticism and storytelling at its best.
In addition to these stellar bouts, The Rock will face John Cena in what many are considering to be the true main event of the night. The Rock versus John Cena was announced a year ago on Monday Night Raw. The WWE is building this match to be a legendary moment in wrestling history and many fans remain ecstatic. However, despite the hype surrounding The Rock versus John Cena, I think the WWE can and will do a lot better.
Stone Cold Steve Austin needs to fight CM Punk at WrestleMania 29 next year. Austin has said hat he’s open to one more match, but the storyline and opponent would have to be a right fit. Austin has praised CM Punk, suggested that he’d love a match with Punk, and even engaged in some verbal battles with Punk via Twitter. The more tension that builds between these two men on the Internet, the more eager fans are to see it spill over onto WWE programming. Steve Austin versus CM Punk is a storyline that entirely writes itself. Austin is a beer-drinking brawler, while Punk is the polar opposite with his straightedge lifestyle and mechanical wrestling skills. Austin represents a time when wrestling was crass and outlandish, while Punk’s new generation of wrestling is focused on reality. Austin versus CM Punk has the potential to make more money than WrestleMania 28 and rope in a more diverse audience than The Rock and John Cena will. But more importantly, Steve Austin versus CM Punk has the potential to bring in former wrestling fans and make them stay with the WWE.
Wrestling fans are still concerned with The Rock, no matter how much joy his return last year brought. When Rock stepped away from the WWE to become an actor, fans were reluctant to accept the fact that the man was officially done with wrestling. Many fans felt that Rock had come into the industry, garnered fame, and then abandoned the one vehicle that helped skyrocket him into public consciousness. When Rock returned last year and promised that he was never, ever leaving us again, fans felt a rush of relief. Maybe Rocky wasn’t so bad after-all? Was this a return to form that we fell in love with during the Attitude Era? However, quicker than you could say “candy ass,” Rock skipped town to work on his films again. Sure, nobody expected Rock to return full-time to the WWE, but his promo in 2011 seemed to imply that he would at least have a regular role in WWE programming.
Steve Austin on the other hand will always be loved by wrestling fans. No matter how many action movies Austin works on, he will always be seen as perhaps the greatest performer in the history of the WWE. While Rock tarnished his badass persona by doing family-friendly movies these past years, it’s hard to hold it against Austin for using his WWE character to profit in the action film genre.
There’s a big difference between working on Tooth Fairy and The Expendables. Austin brought about the Attitude Era and led the way for the WWE during its most successful period in the late 90s and early 00s. Rather than leaving the company to pursue other endeavors, Austin left on his own terms due to a neck injury. Since then, Austin has returned to referee matches (WM XX, WrestleMania 23, 27, among others), act as a commissioner/sheriff, and host the successful TV series Tough Enough. Unlike The Rock, Austin has remained a fixture in the WWE Universe, regardless of his non-wrestling pursuits.
Austin was and will always be the most recognizable WWE superstar, second only to perhaps Hulk Hogan. Austin 3:16 became synonymous with pro-wrestling in the late 90s and remains so today. It was Austin who became emblematic for the company as a whole and saved them from falling to WCW in the 1990s. While Rock certainly had high quality matches, Austin had more memorable moments than fans can count: the beer truck, the Zamboni, his feuds with Vince McMahon, the “what” chant, etc. Austin made wrestling what it was for nearly a decade, even when he was injured.
I’m not trying to discredit The Rock, who certainly remains one of the most popular wrestlers in history, but Austin helped explain what it meant to be a modern wrestler. In my eyes, Austin opened the door for a new era of wrestling, while Rock helped carry the weight during that period. You can’t say that The Rock wasn’t a memorable superstar, but it is Austin who remains to be seen as a pro-wrestler, not an actor, first unlike the Rock.
If Austin were to come back to fight against CM Punk, it would be seen as a legend coming to reclaim the industry that he created. While WWE has tried very hard to create a contrast between Rock and Cena (albeit poorly as of late), the striking differences between Punk and Austin would be a far more compelling storyline. Austin made it acceptable to be both controversial and accepted by WWE fans, which is something Punk has built a career around. Punk is the perfect opponent for Austin, since in 2012 he stands for many of the same issues that Stone Cold popularized: doing anything, by any means necessary, to be the best in the company. However, Punk’s personal vices are a stark contrast to Austin, which would make their feud not only about wrestling but also about who they are as people.
Steve Austin versus CM Punk is sure to garner substantial pay-per-view buys and ticket sales. The mere marketing alone would invigorate the Austin 3:16 revolution and pit it directly against CM Punk’s “Best in the World” phenomenon. Wrestling fans that have not tuned in since the Attitude Era or even the Monday Night Wars are sure to be excited to see Steve Austin wrestle again. Fans who the WWE lost when WCW folded would show an interest in seeing Austin fight Punk, if nothing else than nostalgia for the Stunning Steve Williams days. Furthermore, independent wrestling fans who loved CM Punk since his early days would certainly be excited to see “their guy” work against the most popular superstar in WWE history. In that sense, it would feel as if Punk was fighting for every indie wrestler who wasn’t supposed to make it; the purest David vs. Goliath storyline in WWE history. In many ways, Austin versus Punk would force fans to take allegiance: do they side with the superstar of their youth or the voice of the voiceless?
Fans buying the pay-per-view solely for Rock versus Cena want to see if the Rock can still wrestle given his toned-down, family-friendly image as of late. Most of these fans have not watched wrestling in awhile and may not watch it again. However, fans buying WrestleMania to see Punk fight Austin are of a more dedicated variety and will be more inclined to remain with the product afterwards. Austin alone will garner more diverse old-school wrestling fans than the Rock, while Punk will bring in indie wrestling fans eager to see “their guy” fight Austin. Fans are sure to see a superb match between Austin and Punk which may remind former WWE fans why the product was so compelling in the past.
Furthermore, older fans ordering WrestleMania 29 to see Austin fight Punk will bear witness to a fresh crop of talented superstars like Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, and Sheamus who are sure to make them curious about the current product. Unlike the Rock, Steve Austin was always a superstar beloved by hardcore fans of every age. Fans from the early WCW and ECW era fell in love with Austin’s brawler style, while WWF fans were enamored by his brash personality and unique promos. WWE could use an Austin and Punk match as a vehicle to remind old fans that pure wrestling still exists in the company, which is evident by Punk’s exquisite style. Unfortunately, Rock and Cena is sure to be more reminiscent of WrestleMania 18’s Rock versus Hogan, which is less of an athletic matchup and more of an entertainment-based moment.
CM Punk is responsible for moving a tremendous amount of merchandise in the WWE and making wrestling relevant again. CM Punk, on a weekly basis, reminds me of why I love pro-wrestling. Unfortunately, he’s still not at the height that Austin, The Rock, or even Triple H were during their prime. I would argue that fighting Steve Austin would be the final puzzle piece in making CM Punk the man in the WWE. John Cena has been the reigning king of the WWE for nearly a decade. He doesn’t need to beat The Rock to prove that he’s the best wrestler in the company. CM Punk on the other hand would benefit tremendously by taking down the biggest icon in wrestling history.
By proving that he can stand toe-to-toe with Austin, Punk would elevate and legitimize his image as the new leader of the WWE.