Stone Cold Steve Austin helps WWE break out the nostalgia

The WWE can make a throwback work when it wants to

Screenshot: Screenshot: WWE

There may not be a promise I’ve damaged greater than saying I gained’t point out AEW when discussing WWE, and vice versa. I’m undecided I’ve ever gotten it proper. It’s not really easy when that’s the principle narrative of the wrestling business today. And it’s additionally laborious to keep away from when WWE, on their greatest evening, is doing stuff like this:

So it’s clear that WWE felt the necessity to needle their new opponents, even when they’ll by no means admit that they’re opponents. I’ll get to Cody himself tomorrow, however WrestleMania is meant to be the grandest exhibition of what WWE has over the remainder of the enterprise. The scale, the bombast, the sheer enormity of every little thing round and in Mania is solely not something anybody might dream of matching. The pop Cody received when getting into final evening might solely be present in one place, which is an enormous motive he got here again to New York.

The match of the evening belonged to Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair, because it was all the time going to. If WWE was attempting to showcase what it has that nobody else does, the sorts of stars that they’ve made Lynch and Belair into is an effective place to begin. Their dealing with of the ladies’s division solely is healthier than AEW’s as a result of generally they take note of it fairly than virtually by no means, and solely on the high, however the degree of anticipation after which supply from these two final evening definitely proves that when WWE desires to they will get it gloriously proper.

But what WWE has over everybody, and by an quantity that’s merely incomprehensible, is its historical past. What makes Mania “MANIA” is what’s come earlier than. What it’s been constructed for over 38 years. It’s not simply the most important occasion on the calendar for wrestling followers. It’s the present the place Macho Man and Steamboat redefined the time period “classic.” Or Stone Cold and Bret Hart. Undertaker and Michaels. The Rock and Stone Cold. Hulk and Warrior. When you attend or watch Mania, the echoes of these matches and so many others are sitting subsequent to you.

So whereas the cynical can, rightly, level to Steve Austin’s return final evening as only a ploy to promote tickets in Dallas when gross sales had been flagging, WWE can get away with it due to what Austin’s return means. They can name on that. There could come a time when AEW can do the identical, 10 or 15 years down the road. For now they only attempt to wring reminiscences of ROH and NJPW and different firms around the globe that aren’t nostalgia a lot as simply inside-baseball winking. And that works for his or her viewers.

It’s that base of history that made Austin’s match with Kevin Owens so good for everyone. It wasn’t just Austin’s return or that he was more ambulatory than a cadaver holding out a collection plate for Vince like Undertaker was in his last couple years, or Goldberg and his malfunctioning forklift way of doing everything. It was more than Owens working his ass off to make Austin look good and credible, though that had a lot to do with it.

It was the fact that through the build, through his role as playing the taunter and asshole, baiting the entire state of Texas into this through Austin, Owens didn’t do much to hide that this was the ultimate dream come true for him. Every fan was living through Owens, who probably never believed he would get to work a match with Stone Cold until it was upon him. We all got to experience it. Through Owens’s work we could feel his utter joy.

Which is what makes Owens by far the best candidate to lead Austin through a match like this. Owens’s appeal is multifaceted. He’s perhaps the best talker in the company. Despite his bouncer-like physique he’s among the best workers too. But it’s his reverence for wrestling as a whole, its many approaches to telling a story and its history and its tropes, that always shines through the most. It’s why he’s not afraid to call upon his encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling’s past to influence a match, whether it is his history or someone else’s. KO just loves it so much that we can’t help but do so along with him. He must wonder how he is going to top last night.

It’s easy to scoff at WWE going through the storage facility to pull out some aged star when it needs more tickets bought or eyeballs on Peacock. And it has gone wrong in so many cases. The difference between when it goes right and when it goes wrong is when it’s merely just tossing some very sore and very achy guys in their 50s out to the ring for no reason, and when it’s actually building on its history. Austin at Mania still means something, in a way that Goldberg and Undertaker in Saudi Arabia can’t. Sure, Owens and Austin hit all the notes you’d have expected. But so do the Rolling Stones when they play “Jumping Jack Flash.” Doesn’t make it any less fulfilling.

That doesn’t mean WWE should be pulling out some legend for every PPV or every other Raw. This is the time and place for it, because Mania is a celebration of WWE’s history as much as anything else, a history only they have. And they’re likely to be the only ones to ever have such a thing. And the buzz they’ll get from last night’s main event will last weeks, even when they eventually (and disappointingly) squander it. It’s the trigger they, and only they, can pull. And when they get it right, they remind you why they have it.

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