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“Stone Cold” Steve Austin returned to the ring for one last hurrah on WrestleMania 38: Saturday, to finally get his closure on a career that ended before he or any of his millions of fans were ready. This past weekend, as the headline attraction of WrestleMania night one, the “Rattlesnake” was finally able to bookend a career that history will show started and ended triumphantly in Dallas, TX. Incredibly, almost 20-years since his last match at WrestleMania 19 against The Rock, Austin didn’t just return for a nostalgic celebration, but instead gave the WWE’s fans, and the superstars backstage, a masterclass in working both the crowd, and his opponent Keven Owens. Austin reminded us why we all loved “Stone Cold” in the first place, as the icon did more than provide a simple, safe, trip down memory lane, instead performing with his trademark white-hot intensity, and setting a standard that will send other legends that may be seeking a return, running scared. Of course, Austin was back on WrestleMania: Sunday for fun and games with his 76-year-old boss of WWE, Vince McMahon, but it was his showdown with Kevin Owen’s that left his legacy well and truly intact.
Before “Stone Cold” sold out stadiums and moved the TV ratings needle skyward during the trailblazing days of WWE’s “Attitude Era,” Steve Austin had to find a connection with the crowd. There was “Stunning” Steve and then “The Ringmaster,” but it wasn’t until he started exaggerating his own personality as “Stone Cold,” that fans really became hooked. At WrestleMania 38, Austin showed that a connection with the audience is more important than any single wrestling move when it comes to being remembered as one of the most popular wrestlers of all-time.
“You just love the crowd, you love the crowd,” said Austin in a backstage interview with WWE.com, immediately following his victory over Kevin Owens. “And the guys and gals before me had so many great matches, it’s really hard to follow that but you live and die by that crowd, and his crowd is so faithful, so loyal, so rambunctious they’re behind everything you do … But I give the biggest shoutout to the crowd because, you know, I never expected to be able to headline a WrestleMania at this day and time, so it’s all about the WWE Universe.”
Audiences all around the world have always adored Austin because they know that wrestling is more than just a paycheck for “The Rattlesnake.” This is a mutual love affair.
“This is where I started,” Austin told WWE.com, who made his debut in Dallas more than 30 years ago. “I was lucky enough to finish here. K.O. is outstanding, but he ran his mouth a little too much and it finally caught up with him, but it was really an honor to be here on such a great card, with so many great matches.”
When a catalog of injuries forced Austin to walk away from his wrestling career in 2003, he gave The Rock an incredible war in what he thought would be his final match, to help pass the torch to Dwayne Johnson as one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars, thus ending one of WWE’s most storied rivalries. So, with Austin set to return this past weekend for his final day in the sun, few would have blamed him for completely stealing the spotlight for himself. Instead, such is “Stone Cold’s” appreciation for his opponents, the Hall of Famer made sure that Kevin Owen’s looked like a million bucks, giving Owens plenty of space to mount his own offence instead of being made to look silly. Austin’s performance helped to elevate 33-year-old K.O. in a main event where both men gave it everything that they had and in return, the ultra-talented Owens bounced around AT&T Stadium like a crash test dummy to make sure that the fans got what they had paid to see. This kind of chemistry can only take place in a pro wrestling ring when both grapplers have an appreciation for each other.
“You still got it!” shouted more than 70,000 wrestling fans as Austin seemed to become more comfortable in the ring with every passing minute of his sensational swan song. Austin’s performance at WrestleMania was such that he potentially put a lot of other legends off the idea or returning, and for good reason. When “Stone Cold” laces up the boots, he gives it his all, and age or status played no part in Austin’s selfless performance at WrestleMania. Sure, he got the victory over a younger superstar, but fans in Dallas would have rioted if their hero hadn’t picked up one last win. But, from the believable style that he still displays when delivering an attack, through to the way he went above and beyond to risk his own body and give Owen’s a chance to shine, including his taking of a vicious suplex outside of the ring, the bottom line is that Austin didn’t return for an easy payday, and it showed.
There are so many aspects of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s presentation that command close attention. From his exciting ring entrances, such as Saturday on his ATV, to his aurotory timing, through to training his butt off for one last WrestleMania match, perhaps the biggest lessons that future superstars can learn from the career of Steve Austin is that respect for your fans and fellow opponents, combined with a desire to give it your all, could lead to greatness. Austin was concerned about going on last at Wrestlemania 38: Saturday, but he may have done his friends in the locker room one last favor in doing so!
You can re-live all the excitement of WrestleMania by streaming Peacock in the United States, and WWE Network elsewhere.