The fact that Steve Austin, in a presumed talking segment, is closing WrestleMania in 2022, is one of the most baffling decisions the company has made in recent years, which is covering a lot of ground.
WWE has leaned on aging star power for a long time when it comes to anchoring WrestleMania; often calling in The Undertaker, Bill Goldberg or Triple H to wrestle a rare match to make the show seem more important. They have also always used retired wrestlers, such as Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, to make appearances during the show. Never have they used a retired wrestler to main event and close the show before, in not a wrestling match, but a talking segment.
As baffling as it seems, this decision does coordinate with WWE’s overall strategy of creating artificial moments that will capture the brief attention spans of people scrolling along social media. Austin giving Kevin Owens a stunner following a few of his catchphrases will surely get the most social media attention following the first night of WrestleMania on Saturday; so in WWE’s mind, it should close the show in the main event spot.
Austin in this instance exists to get mainstream media attention and for television, podcast and web series hosts who haven’t followed wrestling in decades to chuckle along at how entertaining the WWE product is when Austin, one of the few wrestlers they could name, drinks some beers and gives Owens a stunner. In WWE’s mind, that is what the product is really about. It’s not about characters, it’s not about drama, it’s not about storylines, it’s not about matches; it’s only about the vague pursuit of creating “moments” that can be shown on a highlight reel in the future.
The typical wrestling fan, who wants all of those things, is left out in the cold. Sure, some fans desperately clinging on to their Attitude Era fandom will be very excited to see Austin do his traditional schtick, but for any fan who desires anything more out of WWE will probably leave WrestleMania disappointed. The show isn’t closing with a hot match, or a major title victory, or the culmination of a dramatic storyline that was months in the making; the show is likely to close with a 57 year old man doing an impression of what he did 25 years ago.
I like Steve Austin. I think his act is awesome and he is the biggest drawing star in the history of the business, all things considered. I’d be down to see him stun somebody at WrestleMania; it will be one of the liveliest moments of the show. The fact though, that he will be in the main event segment, and the fact that Kevin Owens has basically been feuding with himself as Austin makes zero effort to do anything in the feud, is just embarrassing for WWE.
While the clips of Steve Austin at WrestleMania may get the attention of casual or lapsed fans, it also can have a potentially negative impact in the sense that while the familiarity of seeing a star that they know be featured at WrestleMania is a positive; many fans are not going to be rushing back to WWE to see the same thing they were watching 25 years ago.
There is a negative message that is being sent to the rest of the world in that WWE doesn’t feel confident in having any of their current stars anchor WrestleMania, instead relying on an old name to make things happen. It is like going back to an old job that you left years ago and seeing the same people all work there; it might be fun to see some old familiar faces, but it’s also kind of sad that nothing ever really changed.
The build for the match has been incredibly lazy and demeaning. Owens has essentially spent a few months making fun of Steve Austin’s home state of Texas, and lured Austin out for a talking segment at WrestleMania. Austin has yet to appear on WWE television in person, only showing up in a pre-taped video package where he accepted Owen’s offer to appear at WrestleMania.
Despite the fact that Austin is such an incredible star and Owens grew up idolizing Austin, very little of this has been brought up in the feud; instead it has focused on cheap heat and lazy writing; not making the feud personal but more of a farce. This is the kind of build one would do for a match involving The Miz, not Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The angle also firmly showcases WWE’s internal belief (a belief that strongly exists outside of the company among fans and former fans) that the current wrestlers are nothing compared to the wrestlers of the past. Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins, two of the more established names on the active roster, were feuding earlier over the right to interview a REAL star in Steve Austin. That was what they wanted; a chance to rub elbows with a real star; not a chance to become the world champion, or to beat another man as part of a deeply personal feud. It was all just for a chance to do basically a meet-and-greet with a star from the Attitude Era.
Perhaps, this is all just an angle to set up a major future match between Owens and Austin; perhaps on the second night of WrestleMania. That would be a significant development beyond Austin just playing the hits. Even if that does happen however, and I’m really doubtful it will, that still doesn’t justify that the main event of WrestleMania is going to be a talking segment. Everything about it just feels wrong, even if it makes logical sense if you are aware of WWE’s strategy on how to present its product.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings and Jason Ounpraseuth go over some slightly random WrestleMania matches from the past. In it they give their thoughts and some background info on the following matches:
Hulk Hogan vs Sid at WrestleMania 8
Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg at WrestleMania 20
Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 21
Randy Orton vs Cody Rhodes vs Ted DiBiase at WrestleMania 26