Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dream Solution for a Nightmare Scenario

Could we see the Rattlesnake return? No, but it's fun to dream
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The four most popular wrestlers in WWE right now are a heel, a man who's said he's "never, ever" going back to work there, an injured wrestler who may never come back, and the guy who's been on top for the last decade. If that prospect wasn't frightening enough, the last one on the list has rumors swirling about him that 2015 may be his last year in the business. Not many people have ever thought that John Cena would ever leave WWE, let alone leave it for a movie career. Have you seen his movies? I haven't seen them, but they're not well-received. To wit, 12 Rounds has a 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and The Marine makes THAT look like fuckin' Die Hard. Critical acclaim doesn't always translate to monetary failure, but Cena's turns as a leading man have been paltry. Still, in 2014, Cena is still getting movie roles (albeit supporting ones instead of starring features), and as his peer Dave Batista has proven, you don't need to be at the front and center to get movie star treatment. Guardians of the Galaxy is looking more and more by the day the best non-Avengers flick that this current Marvel run has produced, and Batista's getting the rewards from it despite being the fifth lead and at best the fifth most-compelling character in it. No one will be able to take that away from him.

Still, as enticing as a steady career in Hollywood can seem compared to the everyday grind of being WWE's FRANCHISE, Cena isn't gone yet. Daniel Bryan hasn't been medically forced to retire either. CM Punk could come back (just like I could land a starring role in the next big Marvel feature). Bray Wyatt becoming a megastar also isn't exactly a curse although a true face turn in WWE might mean dilution of the character and eventual failure. Plus, the next two guys on the totem pole are Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, both guys who are legitimately over with the crowd, and Sami Zayn looks like he could be the next big underdog babyface to catch fire when he gets the call-up. WWE doesn't necessarily have an all-doom-and-gloom forecast ahead of it in terms of the providence of its roster, but no company has the luxury going forward without some kind of contingency plan. In fact, WWE really should have several contingency plans in place, because it is a company that has unprecedented resources and a roster that is perhaps the most talented in its history on a macroscopic scale.

However, if everything possible goes wrong that can go wrong, would it be too farfetched to suggest that WWE should look at backing a dump-truck full of money to the Broken Skull Ranch and seeing if Steve Austin would mind coming out of retirement for a year? The preceding hypothesis may sound an awful lot like one of BIG HEAT'S HOT TAKES, and I admit that some outrageous fantasy booking tendencies are coming home to roost here. However, among those who are cleared to wrestle and who have name cache in the history of wrestling, Austin remains the biggest and best option to salvage a wasted year and stay the course until someone else is built up to the point where that wrestler can navigate the waters as well as Cena and Batista did in the wake of Austin, Rock, and Mick Foley permanently leaving.

Of course, the most ideal solution to be bandied about would be "Well, maybe WWE should have prepared better with better booking." While that tsk-tsking definitely rings true, nothing can be done about lack of preparation in the past except for righting that wrong in the future. No amount of fantasy quarterbacking the past will amend what happened, nor will building Reigns or Ambrose as a true ace. Those things can only affect the present and future, but for a company that thrives on starpower, waiting for guys to be developed is not an option when Vince McMahon is as impatient for results as he's reported to be. Austin wouldn't be more than a stopgap solution, but if the guys in waiting are only a year away (or shorter), then having him step in as an interim replacement for Cena in theory wouldn't be the worst idea.

One would wonder if money is even an object to Austin at this point though. He has a steady job talking up a storm for a living, has some prominent television projects on cable, and tends to his ranch in his downtime. He hasn't wrestled in a decade, and even though he's had plenty of time to heal, he may not want to work the rigors of even the "Shawn Michaels" schedule. Austin also comes off as a perfectionist when talking about the mechanics of a match on his podcast as well, and the accumulated rust of ten years away from the ring may put him in a position where he doesn't feel he can give his best efforts. I don't know the man personally, but he gives off the vibe on his podcast that if he can't go out and perform the way he could in 1994, 1998, or even 2001, he wouldn't even want to try.

Then again, if every other option fails, then WWE should at least pick up the phone, right? The game has changed to the point where McMahon can't just pluck someone from WCW and insert them into the main event, because WCW doesn't exist. The closest competition that WWE has is New Japan Pro Wrestling, and as seen with Prince Devitt, no one, not even Shinsuke Nakamura or even Hiroshi Tanahashi, is going to come over and go right into a RAW main event. The times have changed, the styles are too different, and the fans at large (read, not the dorks like me writing this stuff) may not know who they are. Austin is one of WWE's most successful draws ever, and even today, he's an avatar for an era when wrestling was popular. He also seems to be one of the shrewdest performers, one who knows that what worked in 1997 may not work in 2014. Hell, he tried to change his game up in 2001, and even though the fans wanted 1997 Austin, he forged on. He's one of the most gifted performers ever, and he's in WWE's back pocket.

The odds are that he wouldn't even be needed anyway. The odds of Bryan AND Cena AND Wyatt all being gone from the company (or in Wyatt's case, rendered completely ineffective) by the end of 2015 are still pretty low. And either Reigns, Ambrose, or even Zayn could catch fire and become the next big thing in that time. It might just be my own affinity for the performer making grandiose fantasy booking plans passed off as sound business contingency. Still, the sight of Austin having one final run as caretaker of the main event scene between eras would not only be surreal to watch, but it might end up being a critical success. Austin has rarely if ever disappointed in his own actions in the ring (out of character is a completely different story). Maybe he has a grumpy old man run left in him. WWE wouldn't be insane to kick those tires.