If WWE wasn’t getting desperate before, they’ve definitely crossed that line now.
That’s not to say their latest move is senseless. There’s arguably no bigger star in the history of the wrestling business than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
His feuds with Vince McMahon, the Rock, and the Undertaker in the late 90s helped WWE reinvent itself and defeat WCW in the Monday Night Wars. Had it not been for the Austin 3:16 era, WWE may not even be in business at all today.
However, times have changed. While WWE is still going and making plenty of money, they’re having serious trouble with their key revenue streams – namely TV ratings and ticket sales. The company isn’t the same as it was years back, and not just because of their PG rating.
WWE hasn’t created a ton of new stars. Over the years, only the likes of John Cena and Brock Lesnar have been positioned as top stars, but even they’ve never had the kind of buzz Austin had. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that WWE is bringing Austin back for a September episode of Raw in Madison Square Garden.
While the show is only a week away, it has yet to sell out. Though it is expected to, the fact that so many tickets are still available for a WWE show right in the promotion’s own backyard of New York is concerning. There are also rumors WWE is trying to keep their competition, AEW, from having success in that market.
Austin cut the best promo of the night weeks back when he returned for the Raw Anniversary show. He didn’t hit a Stunner on anyone, but he did ignite the crowd as only he can. Austin didn’t wrestle then and isn’t expected to now, either. He retired after WrestleMania 19, as a neck injury he suffered years prior slowly worsened over time.
Austin’s return shows WWE’s desperation. They need to bring in a big name to sell out the arena because they have so few big names of their own. One could argue this is part of the company’s strategy, as they are worried about creating a talent that is bigger than their own brand for fear said talents will go to the competition.
This is arguably one reason why they suffered so much prior to the Attitude Era. When WCW snatched up stars like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall, WWE saw the time and money it had invested in creating stars be used to grow their competition. The company likely vowed to never let that happen again, but it could’ve been a pyrrhic victory.
It’d be nice to see Austin around a little more, but WWE still needs talent that can compel fans from within the ring. They have it, but unless they cultivate that talent and let them be themselves, they won’t solve their problems.
Will Austin help the show sell out? How long will the buzz from his return last?