“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was a WWE superstar unlike any other, the biggest draw of his time and in the history of North American professional wrestling. Austin, along with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Rock, Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, changed the face of wrestling in the United States and throughout the world, as the WWE was in a legitimate wrestling war with rival World Championship Wrestling when Austin emerged somewhat out of nowhere to become the biggest star in the business. The man once known as “The Ringmaster” became the focal point of the “Monday Night Wars,” and it is likely that we would all be watching a different product had Austin not been given a chance to carry the ball for the WWE.
Austin certainly paid the price in many ways throughout his days in multiple promotions. It was specifically a serious neck injury that forced Austin off of the active WWE roster over a decade ago. Austin has since, in interviews that have taken place over the years, admitted that he had wrestled against the recommendations of his doctors for some time, and that remaining an in-ring performer could have put his life in jeopardy due to the state of his neck.
With that said, rumors of Austin returning to the WWE for one final big-time match and, just as importantly, for one final massive payday have never been fully silenced. The speculation put out there by respected wrestling journalists is that Austin will do whatever physically possible to be able to take part in one more encounter, this one taking place at the biggest WWE pay-per-view of 2016. That show will occur in Austin's backyard and in a venue, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that could see a record attendance for any WWE event, especially if it is announced that Stone Cold is coming back for one final match.
15 Seth Rollins
This idea stems from the current storyline in the WWE that involves Rollins being part of the heel group, “The Authority.” Austin made his name in the WWE while feuding with the “Mr. McMahon” character and “The Corporation” faction, and putting together storyline reasons for why Austin would want to take Rollins out at WrestleMania 32 would not be difficult for the company. That Rollins is also a tremendous athlete who would be able to take all kinds of bumps and make Austin look great in the process is only a bonus for this potential match.
14 Randy Orton
The idea of “Orton versus Austin” may not, for some, jump off of the computer screen when compared with other possible match-ups for “Stone Cold,” but it may be a favorable final encounter for Austin. Orton is a respected in-ring worker who does not take unnecessary risks even when at a major event such as WrestleMania, which makes him an ideal opponent for a veteran of the ring who will be looking to protect himself during his final match. Some clever writing and stellar promos by both men would help sell this match to the casual fan who wants to see Austin one last time.
Yes, this would be a match that occurred two decades too late. The WWE is selling Triple H versus Sting as a battle of a former WCW star returning to “save” the WWE from Triple H and The Authority in 2015, and thus there is little doubt that the company could put together some storyline involving stars of the two biggest wrestling companies in the world back in the 1990s coming together for an epic conclusion to that feud at a WrestleMania. How much interest Sting will have in one more match is not yet known. He may decide that he is done following WrestleMania 31.
12 Dean Ambrose
The match would be somewhat clunky, and Ambrose would probably have to make the switch back to heel for this program to work. A feud involving these two, if properly crafted for months, could make for multiple entertaining television segments and in-ring promos leading up to a WrestleMania encounter. Ambrose would obviously be asked to take the loss in this occasion, but being on the wrong end of a pinfall in Austin's final ever match at a WrestleMania in Texas would do little-to-no damage to the career of the up-and-coming star.
11 Chael Sonnen
This is more of a “fantasy booking” than it is coming up with an opponent for Austin before “Stone Cold” says goodbye. Sonnen, who has allegedly called time on his mixed martial arts career, has been linked with the WWE for years, and it is known that he is a fan of pro wrestling. It would take some time to get Sonnen ready for a match with a person in Austin's condition, but that investment would be worth it considering that both are phenomenal workers on the microphone. Truth be told, it is the promos involving Austin and Sonnen and not the actual match that makes this idea so exciting.
10 Kevin Owens
Just as with Ambrose, Sonnen and other options for Austin's final match, this idea stems from imagining what the two could do on the microphone as much as it has to do with the match. Owens has proven himself capable of going toe-to-toe with an all-time great such as Austin in promos, and the rising NXT star and current champion of that division can also go in the ring. The NXT champ would have to take it easy in some instances, but that would not be an issue due to who Owens would be working with and the fact that he is a professional.
9 Daniel Bryan
Say that Austin is, for whatever reasons, lacking confidence and/or not comfortable with working with an opponent who is limited inside of the ring. He could not, in that case, find a better opponent to work with than the man formerly known as “American Dragon.” Bryan is by far the best worker in the WWE and maybe in all of North American, and he has the ability to make Austin look good throughout a match. Those who believe that Bryan would not be capable of cutting suitable heel promos leading up to that contest have obviously never seen him outside of the WWE.
8 John Cena
Austin is going to be a beloved figure whenever he returns to the ring, even if it does not occur at WrestleMania 32. Imagine, though, that he engaged in a storyline with the leader of the “Cenation,” a man who has been the most-polarizing WWE performer of his time. Cena was booed nearly out of the stadiums when he faced off with The Rock at back-to-back WrestleMania events. That reaction would be multiplied were he to take on Austin, and those moments of that match when it appeared as if Cena and not Austin would go over would lead to near-riots.
7 Triple H
Some remember The Rock and Vince McMahon as being Austin's top rivals, but do not undersell those programs that involved “Stone Cold” and Triple H. They had several memorable encounters after Triple H became the leader of D-Generation-X in storyline, and then after the “Cerebral Assassin” became the top heel in the business. With The Authority currently running the company, the story of Austin returning to destroy the latest version of The Corporation is easy to compose. Speaking of that former group that included a certain member of the McMahon family...
6 Vince McMahon
There would obviously have to be a boatload of smoke and mirrors to keep this from being a complete disaster in front of nearly 100,000 fans in attendance and millions watching around the world. Austin's condition coupled with McMahon's advanced age would demand such gimmicks. There is, nevertheless, something nostalgic about the idea of Austin nailing McMahon with one more “Stone Cold Stunner” inside of the ring, this time at a WrestleMania in Texas. Heck, that one move could be the entire match. Those in the crowd would roar with approval.
5 Shawn Michaels
While “The Heartbreak Kid” has not wavered about not returning to the WWE as an in-ring performer following back-to-back WrestleMania losses to The Undertaker, this could be the one idea that convinces Michaels to have that one final match. Michaels would, at WrestleMania 32, have an opportunity to perform in front of the biggest crowd of his career, to do so in his home state and to face off with Austin on a massive stage when he is not in agonizing back pain as he was when the two went head-to-head in 1998. HBK could also help Austin have one final match to remember.
4 The Rock
There are likely wrestling cynics out there who would say that nobody ever again needs to see The Rock and Austin face off inside of a WWE ring, especially when the two are no longer in the primes of their careers. Nonsense. One of the main rivalries that put the WWE over WCW in the late 1990s would draw all kinds of interest if it was booked properly, and this match would, were it to occur in Texas in the spring of 2016, provide Austin an opportunity to get his win back after he lost to the Rock all the way back at WrestleMania XIX.
3 CM Punk
I know what some of you are thinking. “CM Punk has moved on to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He is never going back to WWE.” Any diehard fan of the industry would know that you never say “never” in pro wrestling. Punk and the WWE are not close at the moment, no, but the company has a history of repairing relationships. Knowing the perceptions of Punk that are out there, he would not, unless he finds great success in the UFC, turn down one final massive paycheck from the WWE, especially one that included Austin as an opponent. The two performers have teased this match on WWE.com and via social media in the past. Those two cutting promos on each other would be must-see television.
2 The Undertaker
A popular rumor hovering over the world of professional wrestling at the start of springtime is that both Austin and Undertaker are eyeing ending their in-ring careers for good in their home state. The two legends of the squared-circle are both from the state of Texas, the site of WrestleMania 32. Austin is realistically good for maybe one more match, while 'Taker could have only two decent battles left in him before he is ready to shut it down. WWE could even add the element of The Undertaker being inducted into the Hall of Fame on the night before 'Mania. The stories write themselves.
1 Hulk Hogan
Plenty would have to go right for this match to even be a possibility. For starters, both men would have to be willing to put their bodies at risk and also pass a WWE physical that may or may not be on the level. They would also have to work out a finish that both found agreeable. Outside of any hiccups, this is the one match that unquestionably worth the most money to all parties involved, and it is the one from the 1990s that fans never got to see on the biggest stage of them all. Hogan versus Austin at WrestleMania 32: So much for worries about the stadium not selling out if this match is booked.