Business picked up on Raw 25 when Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupted Vince and Shane McMahon in the opening segment. The Texas Rattlesnake didn't say a word, and he didn't need to; three Stone Cold Stunners did the talking for him.
Fans exploded when Austin's music hit, and the pop came again after he left the McMahons lying in the middle of the ring. But this wasn't just nostalgia, this was something more.
The WWE faithful want Stone Cold back. It's just that simple.
Of all the legends that exist outside WWE's immediate universe, Austin is perhaps the most intriguing. He's in great shape, he can still talk, and if possible, he could still work. He's close enough to the product to be heard, thanks to his podcast. But he's far enough out of the company that he can talk about it objectively.
Yet he's shown virtually no interest in coming back for an extended period of time.
But when it comes to legends WWE could insert into either Raw or SmackDown right now, Austin is the one that would make the most immediate impact. In a company full of scripted promos and Superstars that at times seem to be reciting memorized lines, Austin would be an instant breath of fresh air.
Austin comes from a time when the territories still existed, when a talent had to be quick on his feet in order to make it in the business. He had to learn how to hold his own and get over while surrounded by veterans much more experienced than he was.
Though Austin surely received words of wisdom along the way, he did not have a billion-dollar company making life easy for him. He was not presented with a ready-made character or coaches to guide his growth. Austin had to hone his craft and earn his stripes along the way, while a locker room full of guys fought to do the same.
In many ways, Austin was a self-made success story. He took opportunities and when there were none, he found a way on his own. He not only lived the life; he excelled at it. He had a career's worth of ups and downs, capped off by a ride on top that no one has ever been able to duplicate. Austin has a wealth of knowledge and experience at his disposal, yet he's not around to share it.
So why not change that?
The Road to WrestleMania begins at January 28's Royal Rumble and that road would be much more exciting if Austin were part of it. Daniel Bryan has had heat with Shane McMahon on SmackDown Live and that heat could lead to a match between the two at Mania. Or maybe Bryan could face The Miz in a grudge match that's been brewing for months.
Then there's Kurt Angle, who always seems to be one bad decision away from losing his general manager job on Monday Night Raw. If he or Bryan is ousted as GM between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 34, then there is no better choice for the position than Stone Cold.
Austin brings a serious tone, and the company needs that right now. WWE is entrenched in the world of social media. It's a world in which kayfabe does not exist, and every bit of promotion tends to revolve around the latest Twitter war between Superstars. It's a slick production that has trained the fans to accept the same storylines that tend to fall flat despite the talent level of the stars involved.
That is not who Austin is. It's not about getting him back in the ring as a performer; it's about using him on TV to legitimize the product and provide fireworks when necessary. Fans immediately respond to a tough guy that gets straight to the point and takes care of his business. It's the model that WWE has tried to mimic since Austin's departure and it hasn't worked yet.
Austin is the tough guy that WWE needs and anyone he endorsed on the air would benefit from the rub.
Many would say that today's generation should find its own way, much like Austin did. But veteran agents work backstage to produce WWE and their efforts are important to lead the company's New Era in the right direction. Austin could be part of that, except he would be on TV.
Old-school fans would tune in to see what Austin is up to and today's fans would be struck with just how good Austin is. His presence alone would heighten the drama of any program he appears on and the company would have great buzz because of the hottest top guy of all time. He would contribute every time he's on camera. It's a perfect fit for WWE and Austin's return on Raw 25 proves it's a perfect fit for the fans.
Maybe one day it will be a perfect fit for Austin as well.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com