Vince McMahon is so lucky. If Shaquille’s wife called the cops and said he beat her, the Lakers would be front page news in every paper in this country. The same thing happens to Steve Austin, and as of 6/18/02, you’d have to be a private investigator to find one news story reporting it.
That, my friends, is the beauty of pro wrestling. Yes, it gets a bad rap and the media ignores it. But when major scandals are going down, the media also ignores it. And if they don’t, they at least take several days to catch on to it. Most media moguls don’t have the luxuries Vince does.
But even though the media reaction to Austin’s actions has been largely quiet, Vince isn’t so lucky this time. Austin really IS gone. At first, most fans didn’t buy it. That was evident when Vince did his Raw speech last night and the audience chanted, “What” at every pause. To them, this is just another angle. Apparently, none of them watched Confidential, and if they did, they didn’t believe it.
Steve Austin is past his peak of popularity, but is still the top dog. Rock isn’t a full-timer. Undertaker is old and injured. HHH is injury-prone and playing with fire by dating Steph. Jericho isn’t being given the chance fairly. Edge is still a question mark. Angle is being portrayed as a goof and is most effective as a heel. Hogan is, well, you know. Clearly, Austin’s loss is a major blow.
This whole episode also sucks because it’s just more bad publicity for the image of pro wrestling. Sometimes controversy can be a real boost to business. Just ask the producers of “Married… with Children.” But when it comes to news of spousal abuse, there are no positives. Just ask Tommy Lee or Mike Tyson.
There is also the subject of respect. As it easy as it is for critics to jump on successful people, Steve Austin had the respect of almost everyone in the wrestling business. As huge as he became, he never let his work or effort slide, and his string of ****+ matches over the past 4 years is endless. He could wrestle, brawl, talk, act, and do it all. And outside the ring and in media appearances, he seemed like a very nice guy. But not one person can condone Austin’s recent actions.
Look, I don’t know what happened in the Austin household that night. I don’t doubt there might have been tension between Steve and Debra. After all, the guy just walked out on the gig every wrestler dreams about. For a married couple, something like that is bound to cause some sparks. I wasn’t there and don’t want to guess what might have happened. What I do know is that Steve has some major issues to address with his wife, his ex-boss, his fans, and himself.
Even in the wacky world of wrestling, I doubt I’ll be seeing Austin on WWE TV anytime soon. If we go on that assumption, let’s take a look at WWE business.
WWE is in dire need of new stars. Well, they have them, they’re just in dire need of using them correctly. So let me make a statement here:
Vince McMahon doesn’t do anything major unless he HAS to.
Examples, you ask? Here are just a few:
- STEROIDS. After months of lip service and lies, Vince faced indictments and raids from the DEA and federal government. Even before that, he knew this was serious business. He was forced to clean up his organization, and if you don’t believe that he was serious, dig up your newsletter and magazine archives to see who was fired or suspended in the early 90s. There was a point, and granted, business was in the toilet, when the WWF was close to 75% steroid free.
- LEX LUGER. With Hogan leaving for good and with Bret having not drawn well as champ, Vince NEEDED to make a new star. He had no choice but to give someone the super push. He chose Lex Luger, and pushed him to the moon. As much a bomb as the Lex Express was, business was going to bomb with or without Lex. That doesn’t change the fact that when faced with reality, Vince took a chance. The wrong choice for a push? Yes. But his methods of pushing him? Extremely well done.
- STEVE AUSTIN. With Bret Hart gone for WCW and Shawn Michaels injured beyond repair, Vince had no choice but to give the ball to Austin. In addition to Austin, lots of guys were given the chance to shine in WWF. Also given TV time and pushes were new WWF’ers like the Hardys, Christian, Edge, Rock, Bradshaw, Val Venis, Road Dogg, Gunn, Sable, HHH, Chyna, etc. The key thing to remember is that during this rebuilding period of ’97-’98, WCW was still winning the war. But it didn’t matter, because they were building for the future. I don’t know a lot about football history, but I do know that Dallas sucked for years because they had a bunch of rookies. But once those rookies improved, Dallas started kickin’ ass. The same thing happened to WWF, and they enjoyed a record breaking run from late ’98 through early ’01.
It’s now 2002 and Vince finds himself against the wall again. In ’01 and earlier this year, Vince didn’t feel the need to push young talent. He had Austin. He had Rock. He had HHH. Then he had Hogan, Hall, and Nash. While us casual observers studied history and knew the end result of that glass ceiling, Vince apparently did not. He had so many chances to break new stars, but missed the boat.
Well, reality has hit. Austin is gone. Rock is Hollywood. Hall is gone. Hogan’s act has run its course. Nash is injured and more limited than ever. HHH is there, but he is not enough to carry two brands.
THIS is the swift kick in the ass Vince needs to create new stars. NOW is the time to act. And he will. TRUST me, he will. HHH and Undertaker and Nash may try their best to keep their spots, but even they know they are useless without strong foes to work with.
The good news is that there are plenty of people ready for the push. Angle, Edge, RVD, Eddy, Benoit, Jericho, Brock, Christian, Storm, Venis, et al are all ready, willing, and able to make the next big step. Business will be down, but Vince needs to accept that. It was down in ’97 and it paid off at the end. Now is his chance to do it again.
If Vince does do the right things and turn this thing around, and believe me that is one HUGE if, then I hope this time he doesn’t let it collapse again. While Vince refuses to learn from WCW’s mistakes, maybe he will learn from his own.
In the meantime, I sure hope he gets some competition. That will force the Vin-man to step it up even further.
And if someone ever does compete, that’s where you’ll see Austin. Ahh, a new wrestling war for the 21st century. It’s nice to dream.