Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, once on-screen archenemies, met on a live edition of Stone Cold's podcast as they tore back the curtains and allowed fans a long look at WWE's inner workings.
The interview (subscription required) aired live on the WWE Network just after Monday's Raw ended. Austin held little back. McMahon revealed what young stars he believes in the most, talked about a potential CM Punk return and answered questions about everything from Jim Ross to Randy Savage.
This was the kind of must-watch programming that will boost the WWE Network.
It was easier to get more excited about seeing McMahon field Austin's questions than Raw itself. The interview didn't disappoint.
McMahon gave his share of vague answers, but he offered insight into his background, the difficulty of the decisions he makes each day and his thought process when it comes to stardom in the WWE.
How McMahon Views the Roster
Fans saw a glimpse into McMahon's booking brain. Those wondering why he leans so heavily on John Cena and doesn't give other, younger stars more spotlight found out that he doesn't believe anyone else has grabbed the proverbial brass ring.
McMahon said that the current roster is not as ambitious as ones in the past. He cited them being millennials as a big reason for that.
He did praise Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt, saying that he sees potential in all of them. However, he said they weren't there yet in terms of being a top star.
Cesaro, on the other hand, he's not as sold on. McMahon said that while The King of Swing has tremendous physical ability, he lacks verbal skills and charisma. The most damning thing he said is that Cesaro lacks "it."
Austin countered by saying that poor booking has hurt the Swiss strongman. After WrestleMania, he got "lost in the shuffle" in Austin's mind.
McMahon doesn't see things that way. He isn't seeing a top-tier star when he looks at Cesaro, and that's a mistake.
While McMahon claims that he listens to the fans to decide the next stars, the company's resistance to make Daniel Bryan a headliner despite his passionate fanbase says otherwise. The same goes for Dolph Ziggler and Cesaro. Both men consistently receive big reactions and are wrestlers many fans would like to see get bigger opportunities.
The opportunity to knock off The Undertaker at WrestleMania is gone.
McMahon revealed a lot about his lack of confidence with the current roster when talking about why he chose Brock Lesnar as the man to end Undertaker's undefeated streak. He said, "Who else possibly could Undertaker work with and at that time give back in the biggest possible way he could to help someone be a star? When you look at that talent roster, who was it going to be?"
Why he believed that Lesnar needed help in becoming a star when he was already an unparalleled attraction is hard to understand. Lesnar was certainly a believable option, but he didn't need the rub that came with felling Undertaker.
McMahon's Relationship with Jim Ross
McMahon claims there is "no heat" between him and Good Ol' JR. He did acknowledge that Jim Ross' departure last year was partly due to what he referred to as the "incident in Los Angeles."
That is presumably the WWE 2K14 roundtable discussion where Ross served as moderator. Ross said that his losing control of that panel played a part in his split from the company, telling Grantland, "I don't think you have to be a Mensa member to figure out that it had an influence on decisions that were made."
Beyond that, McMahon said that Ross wanted to stop working such a hard schedule. McMahon told Austin that Ross wanted to return to Oklahoma.
So according to McMahon, Ross' retirement was part forced, part voluntary. That suggests that their relationship is less strained than many rumors have suggested.
CM Punk Is Not Blacklisted (Yet)
Even after Punk blasted Triple H and the WWE in general in a recent interview (h/t PWInsider) with Colt Cabana, McMahon is still open to his returning at some point.
The chairman seemed to empathize with Punk, understanding that disagreements over creative direction are inevitable. He apologized for the company sending Punk's walking papers to him on his wedding day. It was not intentional.
He said in retrospect having more communication with Punk would have aided the situation, as would having a liaison like Ross around.
It was clear that McMahon was upset with Punk, but he wasn't seething. He certainly took Punk's exit seriously, saying that when you do something like that, you're not walking out on him or the company—"You're walking out on the audience."
McMahon talked about how he and Austin worked out their differences and how he patched things up with Ultimate Warrior. That could happen with Punk as well. McMahon said, "Hopefully, one day we can get back together again."
His attitude may change after he actually listens to what Punk said to Cabana. McMahon admitted that he heard a bit of what Punk said secondhand, but that he had yet to listen to the interview.
Things to Look Forward To
Austin asked bluntly if Randy Savage would ever be in the WWE Hall of Fame. McMahon said he would but didn't give a time frame other than "soon." The chairman said it probably wouldn't happen this coming year, but it would happen.
The Macho Man has been the most deserving candidate who is not yet inducted into the Hall. It's not merit that has kept him out. Instead, grudges have prevented it from happening.
That and Savage's insistence that the whole Poffo family go in with him.
McMahon clearly wants to get past those issues. His matter-of-fact answer is a sure sign of that and likely means Savage will finally join the rest of the inductees.
When asked about when the United Kingdom would get the WWE Network, McMahon offered a similarly vague time frame.
He said that there has been a lot of back-and-forth in getting that deal solidified and believes that it will get done soon. "I don't want to make any promises," he said to explain the lack of a fixed date.
It looks as if the company has learned its lesson about how angry fans get when you announce a launch date and then call things off at the last minute.
McMahon seemed confident that the WWE Network-to-U.K. deal would happen before long. The same was true about his belief that Sting will be wrestling at WrestleMania.
When asked about Sting's role going forward, McMahon said that we will "see some" of him but that, like Lesnar, he would be a special attraction. As for next year's big event, McMahon said of Sting, "I think you'll see him at WrestleMania."
Hopefully, we also see several rising stars get a good share of the stage, which would allow them a chance to grab that brass ring that McMahon talked about—one that Austin held tight to all those years ago.