The comparisons between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Man” Becky Lynch are running wild, so Rob is here with the Tale Of The Tape!
We all know where things turned for Becky; it was at SummerSlam 2018 when she attacked Charlotte Flair after the Smackdown Women’s Title Match. For Austin however, there’s been some revisionist history. Contrary to what has written into WWE lore Austin’s big bump did not come with the now legendary ‘Austin 3:16’ promo at King of the Ring 96. In reality, that segment didn’t do much to move the needle and Austin was back on the preshow at the next pay per view. No what really did it for him was working with Bret Hart, who asked for him as his comeback match opponent. The two men had great in ring chemistry and Austin’s character was the antithesis to Bret’s, the outlaw tough guy vs the straight laced good guy.
Austin got hot because it was 1996, the NWO was hot over in WCW, and the times were such that antiheroes were the preferred choice to traditional good guys. It was the time where Wolverine was the hottest thing going at Marvel and not long after Batman became the preferred choice to Superman at DC. In short, Austin’s character represented a change in the times while Becky’s turn was…….a revolt against high achieving people who don’t try to make us all feel better by pretending to be ordinary. Or against people that Vince has chosen to put in a high position because they’ve shown the should be there, because that’s just so unfair!! So yeah, apples and oranges.
Austin spent over a year climbing the proverbial ladder to being World Champion and number one guy in the then-WWF. He was certified in defeat, not victory, and the first iconic image we got of him was passing out in Bret’s sharpshooter with blood streaming down his face. He would go on to lose some more matches the next few months before he starting winning all the way through WrestleMania. Despite his image as an anti authority figure Austin was pegged for the top spot almost a year before it happened and had an entire road mapped out to get there. Becky on the other hand achieved her main goal a month after turning, winning the Smackdown Women’s Title from Charlotte. It’s obvious that she and Charlotte were supposed to fight for a few months, and then Charlotte would be off to start gearing up to face Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania while Becky would maybe continue on as the Smackdown Women’s Champion. Now it looks like there’s a chance Becky will be in that WrestleMania match as well (no way she gets Ronda one on one instead of Charlotte) instead of defending against Asuka or Naomi on the same show.
Circumstances matter here. Austin came up at a time when Bret had failed to captivate or inspire most of the audience enough to draw real money and Shawn Michaels had proven unreliable; at the first hint of any kind of potential it made plenty of sense to give him a run to the top and see what happened. Becky on the other hand has risen at a time when there are no shortage of superb talents on the roster and wasn’t needed to rescue anyone from anything. She was intended to be used as a plot device with the potential for some growth because quite frankly that’s all she was needed for at the time. Ronda Rousey is already a big star and a compelling figure while Charlotte is the best female in ring performer in the company (more like the best in ring performer period until Roman gets back in my opinion) and has developed an ability to win skeptics over with her in ring performances and make them believers in her. Asuka and Naomi have dedicated fanbases and are pretty well liked overall. Sasha Banks and Bayley are still around, Alexa Bliss has evolved into a captivating character, and there is a pipeline from NXT with more on the way. There was no star gap waiting to be filled here at all, no dire straits that needed escaping for the survival of the company.
Austin was a rebel for sure, but he didn’t start out clashing with the powers that be. For a while he was a miscreant who didn’t follow the rules, but he went almost a year before starting to butt heads with Vince onscreen to set up the legendary Austin vs McMahon feud. It wasn’t until he was injured and kept showing up at RAW giving Stone Cold Stunners to whatever minion Vince sent out to tell him to go home that the real beef began and even then Vince didn’t really try to thwart him until after he won the title. Ultimately his rebellion was against a boss who was blatantly putting his thumb on the scale to make his career hell while continuing to employ him because he made money. Becky on the other hand feels like she’s been thwarted at every turn either by cheaters who took advantage of her or high ranking officials who constantly gave out favors to her supposed best friend while she had to earn everything, and lashed out against someone who at the time wasn’t doing anything wrong to her. With Austin Vince was the guy who screwed Bret Hart on his way out the door and was screwing him every day while he was still there, whereas in Becky’s case Charlotte…………won a wrestling match fair and square. Again, apples and oranges.
The Bottom Line
Austin of course jumpstarted interest in WWF programming and was the spearhead behind it regaining the lead in the Monday Night Wars from WCW. RAW went from taping every other week to being live every week again, and WrestleMania went back to doing big stadiums instead of 15,000 seat arenas. Today there is no competitor to overcome so you can only look at things like the WWE’s own numbers vs what it was doing before she turned. Well it sure doesn’t look like she’s affecting the bottom line much. As hot as her act has been Evolution didn’t sell out until Nikki Bella was added to the main event. Smackdown got under 2 million viewers two weeks in a row while she was champion and while I am anything but a ratings devotee you can’t hold someone up as some kind of catalyst to the business, to the point where you want them to main event WrestleMania in four months, and have nothing to back it up with. If anything this is more like CM Punk, mostly energizing a group of existing fans that needed something new to latch on to, than Austin who brought in people who never watched before and are still around today. And Punk never main evented WrestleMania either before he took his ball and went home (sorry, couldn’t resist).
As always the question is not what some fans are saying so much as it is what the fanbase as a whole is doing, and until we get evidence to the contrary we’re getting more noise than action. As a Roman Reigns fan I will say for the 100th time that tweets and chants don’t matter if there’s no concrete action behind them, so minus any emergence of proof that she’s increasing business don’t expect Vince and Co to move everything around a lot for her. To her credit, her meet and greets have gone through the roof so that is something, and I’ll bet she’s selling more T-shirts than she did before. But that still makes her net impact debatable whereas with Austin there was no discussion to be had. Austin, even with an injured neck that was touch and go for a good while, made Bret Hart utterly disposable and helped paper over two years of TV and Pay Per Views so well that people genuinely do not remember how good or bad they truly were. Shawn Michaels was out of action for over four years, and was originally thought to be done for good, and we all didn’t even care much until he came back. That’s how much Austin’s impact was over everything. We watched him feud with Vince McMahon every week for two years for crying out loud. As much as I’ve loved Becky and Charlotte’s matches I don’t think I’m up for another year and a half of them fighting each other.
The Longevity Question
This is the great unknown. Austin was the unquestioned top man for two years, was out of action for a year, then shared that space with the Rock for another year and a half. In that relatively short time he established himself as one of the top five stars in WWF/E history, and if there was any way he could work one more match today they’d put him on top of the card. Becky has a long way to go in that regard. For one, her popularity has yet to endure any real storyline or real life adversity. Austin lost pay per view matches to further angles and went stretches without any titles. For a month in 1999 we had Vince McMahon, Royal Rumble winner, and Austin on the outside looking in before WrestleMania XV. Then he missed a whole year due to complications with his neck and back from previous injuries. Right now the worst things Becky has dealt with on this run was missing a match with Rousey at Survivor Series (which she probably would have lost) due to injury, and the triple threat at TLC in which she did not retain her title but didn’t take any kind of pin or submit. When Austin went through some low points his fans did walk around scared that Vince would dump him for the Rock, they held firm. By contrast Becky’s most rabid fans have been on pins and needles since October waiting in a state of near paranoia for the inevitable moment when Vince is going to pull the rug out from under her, give everything back to Charlotte,and ‘bury’ her.
If this thing is going to be than a passing fad then her fans are going to have to sit through some stuff – losses, being put in a lower place on some cards, etc. Us Roman Reigns fans did not waver while he went two years without either of the top titles and took a lot of losses to make other guys look good. Auska’s biggest fans stayed with her through several pay per view losses, including a submission at WrestleMania, before finally reveling in victory at TLC this year. And 30 years ago fans of Dusty Rhodes like myself stayed with him even as he booked himself to lose over and over to Ric Flair in World Title matches. If your devotion is dependent on her being booked entirely to your liking then that devotion isn’t very strong at all and this thing has no legs at all. What if she doesn’t get the match with Rousey at Wrestlemania? Or what if she does get it and taps out in 10 minutes? Will the whole thing die from disappointment or apathy? Austin lost his first big WrestleMania match clean. Roman lost his first singles match there clean as well, then got a rematch three years later to the same guy and lost clean again. Movements that last persevere through the results that piss off it’s members. We have yet to see if this one can.
And that’s not all. What happens when she has to work with someone other than Charlotte as a foil? Once Bret was gone Austin faced down Vince on TV every week and had to make due with Mick Foley (when he was still considered a midcard guy) and Kane as opponents some months. His earliest battles with the Rock were when the latter was still learning his way around the ring. What happens when Becky is asked to carry someone like Lana through a month long program or match up with someone who is pretty popular in their own right like Asuka or Naomi or Sasha Banks? Will the same energy be there as when she’s facing the Queen, who a lot of people (of which I am not one) think ‘gets too much’? It’s really hard to maintain an aggrieved stance when your opponent isn’t someone you can convince people has gotten preferential treatment (remember in storyline Charlotte has won matches to achieve her status, she wasn’t handed titles without fighting for them so a lot of the sentiment against is really against Ashley Fleihr and not Charlotte Flair). Adapting to life after Charlotte and Ronda as opponents is going to be a crucial next step. Austin did just that when his best opponents were literally taken off the board by release (Bret) or injury (Michaels). We have no idea if Becky can do the same.
No they’re not the same. Not even close. Other than wearing black T-Shirts and getting a big bump because of who they were facing, the two really don’t have any parallels. And that’s fine! In fact you do a disservice to both of them by equating them so easily. Both characters have their own unique stories as do the people behind them. Both of them had their own struggles to get where they are, and the uncertainties they faced at similar points along the way are entirely different things. Austin was tasked with carrying a company out of the wilderness while Becky’s challenge is to remain a relevant and high positioned presence over the long haul in an ever growing pool of really talented female performers. Those aren’t even apples and oranges in terms of objectives.