Why Are Vince McMahon and WWE Afraid to Create New 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin?

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2019


Here is an evergreen comment about WWE programming: Vince McMahon and those in charge seem hesitant to pull the trigger.

This time the subject is Kevin Owens. Or as fans know him, the guy running around in an anti-authority role, shutting down shows, kicking his boss in the rear and giving him Stunners the same way a guy by the name of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would.

WWE seemed to have a great thing on its hands. Capturing the crowd's undivided attention like that is as rare as it gets, otherwise the company would constantly churn out top guys like Stone Cold.

But seemingly intent on ruining a good thing, WWE made Owens look like a dork in the biggest sense of the word on Tuesday's edition of SmackDown:

"Man to man, father to father, I wish you'd reconsider." In a segment later in the show, Owens apologizes when Shane McMahon demanded it.

And fast forward to the main event: McMahon takes advantage of this new twist and costs Owens his match against Elias and spot in the King of the Ring tournament.

It isn't hard to see what WWE is trying to do here. Owens, fresh off beating Shane at SummerSlam in a match wherein a loss would have cost him his job, is now concerned about a $100,000 fine and how it affects his family because...reasons.

The idea isn't to think too logically about it but to appreciate that characters like Owens can have some nuance. Owens isn't Steve Austin in the sense he's a renegade and nothing can affect him. He's Kevin Owens, and he's talked consistently here and there about his family.

But that doesn't change the fact that what WWE is trying to do here is flat out wrong. Great tweener characters who flip off their bosses remain cool in 2019. It's why WWE keeps rolling out endless McMahon authority figure storylines. But to take a guy with red-hot momentum and reduce him to begging for forgiveness and handshakes and then just shaking his head when he gets taken advantage of—after everything we've seen to the contrary lately—is just disappointing.

This doesn't have that much to do with Owens using Austin's stunner finisher, either. If that were the case, we would be talking about The Fiend as the next Mick Foley. But Owens using that and acting like Austin sure didn't help. Walking back the character, tuning it down, becomes a whole lot harder now—why is a guy bowing down to the boss he just beat using the stunner at all?

Keep in mind, too, this swerve away from the anti-authority Owens who doesn't care means more Shane on programming again. Maybe he's not on both Raw and SmackDown and in the top storylines, but he's a fixture of the show again if this angle with Owens keeps up.

We don't know where this is leading. Owens might end up snapping again in a few months. But he already won a win-or-leave match against Shane on the second biggest pay-per-view of the year. A payoff doesn't really get any bigger than that, and if Owens keeps start-stopping this Stone Cold-type character, fans are just going to tune it out.

And maybe that's the point. Maybe WWE recoils at the thought of pushing just one guy at the top after endlessly doing so with Roman Reigns. But it seems counterintuitive to keeping fans engaged to clip off a character's wings right as they are starting to fly.

WWE has had a ratings problem on its hands for a while, which makes this all the more perplexing. The company has got to find a way to keep the young fans engaged and committed, with not only competition like AEW popping up but also SmackDown's impending move to Fox. A bad dude like Stone Cold at the top of the card is a big way to accomplish this, and fans were seemingly all-in on Owens.

Now, that's hard to say. With any luck, fans can look back on those miserable interactions above and laugh at the speed bump. But it is going to take some brilliant long-term character tweaks, which hasn't always been WWE's strong suit, to say the least. It's also going to need an incredible payoff that somehow has to top the last one.

As a disclaimer, if anyone can overcome this horrendous sidetracking of a stellar development with great fan reaction, it's a guy as talented as Owens. But that requires WWE seeing the problem with this curve in the character to begin with and the company getting comfortable with the pursuit of another Stone Cold-style character.