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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Stone Cold "Saying No" Will Bode Well for WWE's Future
By The Doc
Sep 25, 2013 - 8:50:53 PM

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The biggest news of the week is that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin essentially shut down the rumors of his return match. One year ago, I strongly believed that the WWE had already signed him on for a comeback. I truly thought that Wrestlemania 29 was the best time for him to do it, if he had any intentions. The WWE produced the hype video for their video game featuring Stone Cold and CM Punk, narrated by Jim Ross, and it seemed as if the seeds had been planted. It did not happen. When it failed to come together, I more or less wrote it off as a possibility. Despite the continued chatter about it, I have not been further inclined to give it much mental attention. So, I am not surprised that Austin, in a recent interview, all but closed the door on coming out of retirement for a final match. "I tell you what, the longer and longer I wait, the more and more time goes down the road (the less likely it is)," he said. "On one hand, it may be fun to do, but on the other hand, what's on the other side of that? It took me three years to get the business out of my system. Withdrawal would be a good way to put it. I got through those three years, and hell, it's been eleven years since I've been in the ring...I'd say the chances are pretty damn slim, to be frank about it."

I think that this is good news. I stated earlier in the year that the WWE had a plan in place to build new stars. In that column from January, I detailed that the business model in the modern era is built on Wrestlemania. The first two financial quarters, featuring The (Road to Wrestlemania starting) Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania, itself, are so vastly superior to the rest of the year. On and leading up to those PPVs, the WWE patterns certain stars that they feel are going to be major contributors to future first and second fiscal quarters to have standout moments. The broader audience who tune in just for that period from January to April see these stars, remember their moments, and become conditioned to spend future dollars to see them once their time comes. Daniel Bryan, for instance, appears poised to be a headliner at Wrestlemania XXX coming off a victory at Wrestlemania 29 in the mid-card and a memorable loss at Wrestlemania 28 in the opening bout. I cited Alberto Del Rio's re-insertion into the Wrestlemania 29 World title scene as a prime example of the WWE's new model at work. He had been strongly introduced in defeat at Wrestlemania 27, at which his presentation was top notch.

The model needs, though, stars from the past to bridge the gap between the present and future. The WWE lost a lot of major Wrestlemania Era stars in rapid succession from 2010 to 2011, including Shawn Michaels and Batista to retirement and other entertainment avenues, Chris Jericho to part-time status, and Triple H and Undertaker to special attraction roles. Not in this generation had we previously seen a scenario in which the WWE had a roster so full of unproven draws. I think that is part of why the WWE adopted their new business model. The aforementioned roster reductions combined with the failures of the 2007-2009 group of new headliners to stick (Mr. Kennedy, Bobby Lashley, and Jeff Hardy for various reasons) forced the WWE's hand. Such things are not readily accounted for in the WWE fanbase because there's not a national, televised "Wrestling Media" to decipher it and point it out. Analysts exist for other sports to break down the details of matters such as the salary cap, bringing fans into the loop more than ever before to help them comprehend that their team cannot just bring in three All-Star players. The lack of a more visible media presence for WWE has been a missing link that creates for a legion of confused wrestling followers who do not grasp that CM Punk and Daniel Bryan types were not ready to be in the top Wrestlemania storylines without considerable time and planning. Their non-traditional status makes them harder to sell to a broader audience. That broader audience needs to be conditioned to accept them. It takes time for deep, wide ranging emotional connections to be established to wrestlers that do not fit the traditional mold of a "star" (especially in today's climate where domestic interest in pro wrestling has a one day per year shelf life - i.e. Wrestlemania).

The WWE was lucky to have The Rock and Brock Lesnar situations fall into their lap. The Rock wanted to come back. Brock Lesnar had no other option but to come back. The ventures have been financially successful, allowing the WWE to retool and establish the likes of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Sheamus and continue their search for other stars that both really want the responsibility of being a WWE "go-to guy" and can deal with all that comes with it. The 2007-2009 group proved that the WWE has to be careful about whom they choose. The changing world has created not for a hungry, scrappy young wrestler that will cut through the politics of business and seize the day, but rather an entitled, whiny wrestler that makes excuses when he could put his head down and power on. Such is the world we live in, but the WWE has to somewhat coddle their newer stars brought up in this new world or risk repeating the same 2007-2009 process that contributed to the WWE being in their current predicament. Relying on past stars in the short-term, the WWE can find their new headliners throughout the regular, non-Wrestlemania season and try them out in greater roles when the "playoffs" roll around.

Having an all-time great like Austin state that he will not be the next star from the past to return will provide the WWE with a sense of urgency often missing due to lack of competition from any other viable wrestling entity. That, as they have been pushing so hard as a catchphrase recently, is what is "best for business." It does not force their hand, but it should make them smarter. Using John Cena, increasingly, as a special attraction at that time of year and allowing two of the three top matches both in 2014 and 2015 to feature other current roster members in an elevated position, would be a good starting point. Cena is the one truly huge star that has been created in the last decade and he will still only be 36 years old at Wrestlemania XXX. They can get several more huge years out of him using their current business model if they phase him out of having to be the every day, all year workhorse. I do not personally believe that Brock Lesnar is going to be around for too much longer. The numbers are dropping, but his notoriously big ego probably cannot handle being offered a lesser contract. Undertaker is wrestling on borrowed time and I think we would all be lucky to get more than one more Wrestlemania out of him. Triple H would then be the only current special attraction left that they could readily turn to unless they move Cena into that category. Trips is not going anywhere, clearly. Being around the business, creatively, will continue to give him the itch to wrestle. Some may view that as a bad thing, but his presence could add depth to future big cards if he is used correctly (so as not to overshadow guys that are truly ready to take top Wrestlemania spots).

I remain steadfast in my beliefs that CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are not long-term, face of the company-caliber contributors of the John Cena, Rock, Austin, Hogan (or Triple H) variety. I view them as Edge, Randy Savage, Kurt Angle types that will - for as long as they remain motivated, healthy, and over - find themselves in headlining Wrestlemania matches that people will pay to see. However, I think that the WWE is going to soon be moving into a strong and aggressive search for the eventual Cena successor; someone who looks and acts more like a Cena or a Dave Batista. It may take a few years, ushering in the modern equivalent of the HBK and Bret Hart period in the WWE with a Rock/Brock/Taker support system that the New Generation did not have. There are so many talented, unique people in the WWE right now to compete for those secondary roles. We could well be preparing for a very competitive period in the WWE that will see a lot of opportunities seized as we more clearly approach the days when The Rock, Brock, and Taker are no longer around to be their security blanket. Once the training wheels come off, the WWE will have to sink or swim - and maybe suffer through a down year or two (with hopefully no worse then Wrestlemania 26 numbers) - with their newest batch of top talents.

Wrestlemania XXX is going to be an interesting show. The novelty of The Rock's return has worn off and, in all likelihood, The Great One knows it. I suspect he will be back for another big match some day, but keep your eye on the locations for Wrestlemanias 31 and 32 in determining when the WWE would most aggressively seek to bring him back. I suspect that it will not be until Dallas that the WWE and Rock renew their on-again, off-again relationship. The WWE has run out of era-specific heavyweight showdowns. The well has run dry of HBK, Taker, and Triple H types that can be positioned opposite the WWE title and/or a returning icon and be expected to draw the standard Wrestlemania figure of 1 million buys. The only match remaining between long-time WWE legends that could likely ram home a huge buyrate is Undertaker vs. John Cena. I expect that to be a top candidate for Mania XXX's main-event. For the last two years, part-timers have occupied four of the six top spots. With the likely changes ahead, a third top spot will likely be taken by a current roster member, with Triple H, Taker, and Brock being in the other three.

Rumors have begun circulating as to the prominent matches being considered for Wrestlemania XXX. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is to follow the obvious signs. Last year, it was readily apparent that Triple H, Brock, Taker, Rock, Punk, and Cena would be in the money matches. The pairings were up for debate, to a degree, but we knew that those would be the primary players. As we approach 2013's end, it seems likely that Triple H, Brock, Taker, Punk, Cena, and Bryan will be in the money matches. In my opinion, the most financially profitable combination would be for Cena to challenge Taker's Streak, Bryan to come to blows with Triple H, and Punk to have a rematch against Brock from Summerslam. The alternate would be for Punk and Cena to switch places, facing each other and clearing the way for Taker vs. Brock. I do not personally believe that to be a match capable of outdrawing Cena vs. Taker circa 2014.

The "Bottom Line" is that Stone Cold "saying so" that he will likely not come back will be good for business in the long-term.

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