The Texas Rattlesnake is likely lacing his boots up one more time. For the first time in 19 years, Stone Cold Steve Austin will hear glass shatter, walk out onto the entrance way to an ovation that would make Robert Plant jealous, and get his shtick to reverberate through a crowd like it’s 1998 for an official match, as opposed to his sporadic non-combative appearances.
For the first time since his WrestleMania 19 loss to The Rock in 2003, Austin’s advertisement as part of the first night of WrestleMania 38’s festivities from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on April 1, should turn from a run-of-the-mill Austin appearance with a couple “Hell Yeahs!” and “Whats?” mixed with numerous beers, middle fingers and Stunners, to wrestling in an official match for the company that he helped launch past Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling to win the Monday Night Wars.
In his home state of Texas, the 57-year-old Austin — now labeled on Google as an “American television host” — would grapple with Kevin Owens, as the Canadian has been on a tirade of his hatred for the Lone Star State, with his endgame being the call out of Austin on Monday’s edition of Raw. Austin is currently being advertised as a guest on the “KO Show” segment, which more resembles Jerry Springer than a wrestling match.
Provoking Austin at WWE’s Super Bowl likely turns into a match during the showcase. Austin’s legendary status places him as one of only a few at absolute top-tier quality, and WWE CEO Vince McMahon knows Austin’s ability to put butts in seats in Texas is unmatched. McMahon and company are producing the first WrestleMania without attendance restrictions in three years, since WrestleMania 35 was held nearly two months before All Elite Wrestling’s first official show. Now, AEW has clear momentum as a promotion that WWE hasn’t in a long time.
It’s a smart and sort-of desperate move for the WWE to bring in Austin for the event. Is McMahon not confident enough in his gaggle of full-timers to fill every seat in Jerry World? Then again, Austin is a needle-mover unlike anyone else in company history, bigger than John Cena or Hulk Hogan at their prime — arguably even bigger than The Rock. There’s precedent for the Rattlesnake’s services being wanted for previous Mania events taking place in Texas. The most recent Mania to emanate from the land of barbeque and George Bush was in 2016. Austin showed up alongside fellow Texan WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, as well as Mick Foley, to beat up four full-timers, only one of whom, Sheamus, is still employed with the company.
At WrestleMania 25 in 2009, Austin was the headliner for WWE’s Hall of Fame class, driving around the ring in an ATV and drinking beer after his introduction. His first Texas WrestleMania as a full-time wrestler was in 2001, winning in the main event of WM17 over The Rock, infamous for his heel turn, joining forces with McMahon, a long-time rival, and winning the match with 16 steel chair shots to The People’s Champ. A few other important events to Austin’s career have taken place in his home state, including his 1997 Royal Rumble victory at San Antonio’s Alamodome.
Austin’s admiration for Owens as a performer predates his WWE ring identity — gushing over Kevin Steen, his independent wrestling moniker and real-life name — since his run as Ring of Honor’s world champion in 2012-13. Austin said he appreciated his old-school style back in 2015 on a WWE Network appearance with McMahon. To put on wrestling trunks for the first time since he was 38, there’s no better option than Owens for Austin to wrestle.
We’ve seen WWE’s nonexistent senior division go horribly over the years. Triple H and Michaels vs. Undertaker and Kane? Gross. Undertaker vs. Goldberg? Awful. Getting Austin to work with a performer at his peak that wrestles hundreds of times a year is the perfect partner should he open that door for what I’m sure is a tremendous payday. If Floyd Mayweather earned $20 million in 2008 for his program with The Big Show, what kind of sum is Austin hauling in over the next month?
Every wrestling fan should go into Austin’s likely return to the ring with an open mind. The Super Bowl provided pure nostalgia for so many. This should evoke the same excitement. He’ll stomp a mudhole and walk it dry, do his signature swing and miss clothesline turned into a Thesz Press and the rest of his greatest hits. It’ll be a treat and a one-night fix to WWE’s problems of having fresh matchups and content. Maybe Owens could use a victory over Austin and advertise it much the same way old-rival Chris Jericho did with his wins over The Rock and Austin during the same show in 2001.