‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin Talks About WWE’s Brand Split, Young Wrestlers Stepping Up

WWE legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin sees a lot of potential value in the company’s forthcoming brand split, but only if the WWE takes the time to invest in making new wrestling stars for RAW and Smackdown, and those stars “step up.”

Austin, who spoke at length on WWE’s live Smackdown and draft lottery announcements during the most recent edition of his The Steve Austin Show – UNLEASHED (Episode 328) podcast, said that WWE’s issue, at times, has been being able to distinguish between having what the company calls “incredible depth” and what “The Texas Rattlesnake” says is just “a lot of bodies.”

“[WWE’s marketing] says, ‘WWE’s flagship programs will… leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster’ [and] I don’t see incredible depth,” noted Austin, a six time WWE World champion. “[WWE] is a lot of bodies, a lot of… talented people, but I don’t think you can say your roster’s necessarily deep.”

At the heart of the matter is that WWE once tried — under its now famous 2002 “Brand Extension” and subsequent draft lotteries in the years to follow — to capitalize on its bloated roster of wrestlers following the company’s 2001 acquisition of rival World Championship Wrestling. WWE’s draft lotteries over the years are fully documented by ProWrestlingHistory.com.

At the time of the first split, WWE, which had previously run two touring house show brands but kept its on-TV roster unified, felt it had the opportunity to generate larger profits by simulating its own manufactured brand of competition between RAW and Smackdown.

Unfortunately, issues such as injuries and questions of roster depth ultimately killed the business model before its 10-year anniversary.

Steve Austin would quickly clarify his statement regarding WWE’s current roster depth, however, noting that WWE’s biggest roadblock today is not necessarily one of depth, but rather the unknown star power of many of its performers.

Steve Austin and Dolph Ziggler

“They’re going to try out and we’ll see how they do,” said Steve Austin in his usual promo-style demeanor. “Are they going to make the all-star team by getting over or are they just going to be bodies that go out there and occupy time on the television screen?”

Of course, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who has been vocally critical of his former employer on a number of past occasions, does not see his words as anything but thoughts of encouragement — mixed in with a dose of realism.

In fact, Austin noted that he believes the top beneficiary to WWE’s brand split might actually end up being Smackdown, which is widely perceived as WWE’s secondary television program, if the split is successful in the long run.

“The Smackdown roster can’t be the minor leagues,” said Austin of the opportunity of the wrestlers who are drafted to the blue brand. “Smackdown could become the hotter show… it takes less time to watch it, and, man, you know everybody has attention deficit these days… It could have the makings of making Smackdown the hotter, more popular show.”

Steve Austin would also take the time to weigh in on the top question of a lot of wrestling fans headed into the expected July WWE draft lottery, discussing whether or not a second WWE World title should be added in order for each program to have its own champion.

“I absolutely think that the world champion ought to travel back and forth [between Raw and Smackdown],” said Austin, who broke into wrestling through the National Wrestling Alliance (N.W.A.) and its territory system of companies. Under this system, each region – or territory – had its own local secondary champions such as Raw and Smackdown would have if the WWE Intercontinental and United States championships are placed on separate programs.

Roman Reigns

The real treat for N.W.A. fans, however, was whenever the over-arching N.W.A. World champion would visit their own specific territory to defend his title against whoever happened to be the local hero.

And Steve Austin, likewise, is endorsing the idea of a traveling champion defending his title against RAW or Smackdown’s own local hero as well.

“If the champion… on RAW, Reigns, who has the championship, goes to Smackdown,” the creator of the “Austin 3:16” phenomenon noted. “To me, that in and of itself creates something that I want to see.”

To Austin, ultimately, the success of WWE’s 2016 brand split will mostly come down to the success of the lesser known wrestlers stepping up and becoming successful enough to help carry their own brand forward.

And that issue, the former WWE World champion knows well, is the same dilemma that plagues WWE today even without a brand split.

[Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images]