"Stone Cold" Steve Austin hasn't competed in a WWE ring since WrestleMania XIX against The Rock in early 2003, but rumors persist that he could return sooner rather than later for one more match. While there are obvious benefits to Austin going another round, there could be some pitfalls as well.
Nobody knows for sure if or when Austin will return, but the most obvious situation for him to come back to is a WrestleMania match against CM Punk. The two of them have had some squabbles on WWE television as well as over social media, so the groundwork is already laid. Also, the two of them have gimmicks that practically beg to be pitted against each other.
Punk is a straight-edge superstar who believes his lifestyle makes him better than everyone else. Austin, on the other hand, is a swashbuckling, beer-drinking rattlesnake who doesn't care what others think of him. On top of all that, Punk is currently managed by Paul Heyman, while Austin has been pegged as a Heyman guy due to their relationship in WCW and ECW.
All the pieces are in place for a match to happen, and if it doesn't happen at the upcoming WrestleMania XXIX in East Rutherford, N.J., I have to believe that WrestleMania XXX is the target. There are a lot of things to consider, however, not the least of which is Austin's health. He had major knee surgery several months ago and has long had issues with his knees, so there is inherent risk in letting him compete.
Not only could Austin possibly re-injure himself and harm his quality of life, but there's no telling whether or not he'll be able to go in the ring. He is 47 years old and has been out of the ring for nearly a decade, and although he appears to be in really good shape, he's well past his prime. When you combine that with the injuries and possible ring rust, Austin could potentially be a disappointment.
Going against a ring general like Punk would be ideal since the younger Punk could control the pace of the match, but the fact of the matter is that Austin would probably have to compete in a match that lasts at least 25 or 30 minutes. The Rock was in peak physical condition for his match against John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII and even he was laboring noticeably.
At the same time, Austin was never known as a technician by any means. He was always a brawler who had a style all his own, and the aging process may not have much of an effect on him. As long as he paces himself well and is prepared to go at it for an extended period of time, then he can likely have a highly entertaining match against Punk.
Also, the revenue that it would create for the WWE is obvious. WrestleMania is the hottest ticket in wrestling each and every year, but an Austin return match would probably set new records across the board. Not only would it be his first match back in a decade, but it could potentially be the last match of his career, so every big-time wrestling fan would want the opportunity to witness that live.
The entire WWE calendar revolves around WrestleMania, so Vince McMahon is going to do whatever he has to in order to ensure that it's a success. Utilizing part-time stars like The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar and others appears to be the norm at this point, and Austin would be the biggest possible feather that Vince could put in his cap.
Match quality is important, but the WWE is willing to sacrifice some of that for a marquee matchup. Not only would an Austin vs. Punk contest sell based on name recognition alone, but the promos leading up to it would be fantastic. It can be argued that Austin is the best ever on the mic and Punk is the best currently, so they would likely draw huge ratings for RAW in addition to massive pay-per-view buys.
Ultimately, it all comes down to Austin's comfort level. If he feels as though he is in exceptional shape and is confident that he won't get hurt, then he and the WWE should pull the trigger, without question. If there is any concern about things possibly going awry, however, perhaps everyone involved would be best off going in a different direction.