WWE is negotiating with the legendary “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for an improbable in-ring return at WrestleMania 38, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg.
With it looking more and more likely that Austin, arguably the greatest WWE superstar of all-time, will wrestle Kevin Owens in his first match in nearly two decades inside AT&T Stadium this April, WWE is reportedly planning another equally big surprise for the show. According to the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer (h/t WrestlingNews.co), “There’s apparently one more [WrestleMania] surprise besides Austin still to come and it’s supposed to be Austin-level.”
The list of past and present WWE stars who are widely viewed to be anywhere near the same stratosphere as Austin is a very short one. Meltzer speculates that the possible names on that list would be The Rock, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, John Cena and Ric Flair, but it seems highly unlikely that any of those stars—outside of Cena—would return to wrestle.
The Rock reportedly won’t be stepping back into the squared circle for a match until WrestleMania 39 against Roman Reigns, and questions remain about whether or not that will actually happen given The Rock’s famously busy schedule. The Undertaker has confirmed that he is retired (though that means little in pro wrestling circles) while Hogan likely isn’t physically able to lace up the boots again and Ric Flair’s recent WWE departure and outspokenness about the company might prevent his return from happening as well.
While all of those aforementioned names could theoretically make an appearance at WrestleMania 38, an in-ring segment simply doesn’t mean as much as a blockbuster return match. Thus, a possible return match for Cena would be the best case scenario for WWE here, given the massive impact he had on ticket sales last year when he returned for a blockbuster match with Reigns at SummerSlam—plus, the fact that he’s still a top-level in-ring performer.
Given the current state of WWE’s main event picture and the likelihood of Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar being a title vs. title match, there isn’t a clear and obvious match waiting for Cena on “The Grandest Stage of Them All.” Maybe a bout with Bobby Lashley (perhaps even for the WWE title) or Seth Rollins would make sense as those two stars are the most pushed performers on Raw and seemingly have nothing concrete lined up for WWE’s flagship show.
The return of someone of Cena’s caliber—whether it’s actually him or not—would create quite the stir given Austin’s expected comeback and other wild happenings in the wrestling world.
The now-expected in-ring return of Austin, who sold an astounding 12 million “Austin 3:16 t-shirts” in a single calendar year during his heyday, has already sent shockwaves through the pro wrestling world at the same time that Cody Rhodes may be the first major name to jump ship from AEW to WWE.
The possibilities of Austin wrestling his first match since 2003 as Rhodes, a founder of AEW, may be rejoining WWE has wrestling fans abuzz about WWE potentially having a very intriguing road to WrestleMania 38. And now another “Austin-level” performer might be joining them in WWE? That’s almost too much for pro wrestling fans to handle.
So, sit back and enjoy the ride. What once was shaping up to be a very mundane road to WrestleMania 38 that was struggling to sell tickets is suddenly shaping up to be a can’t-miss, history-making show.
And that’s true no matter who the “Austin-level” surprise is.