You do know that in 96 during Austins rise ratings were terrible right and the Mania he headlined with Bret Hart bombed hard as well. It took a LONG time for enough people to tune and like what they in Austin for the ratings to actually shift. It didn't happen overnight like your claiming. Also, The Rock became a star during the peak of Austin 316, and characters similar to him, so he already had the luxury of having a lot of eyes being fixated on him, and wrestling being cool.
This is probably one of the bigger misconceptions (among many) when it comes to ratings on these boards. That putting the belt on the right guy equals immediate and instant "ratingz" That's not the way it works. That's not the way it has ever worked.
And for the record, it doesn't work for other long running TV shows with up and down periods either. Take SNL for example. You'd think that all they have to do to come out of one of their down periods is to put the right person in a segment or two on one show then BOOM, ratings skyrocket instantly, no hype needed, people will somehow telepathically know to tune in right then and there.
But that's not the way it works. You have to build buzz. For SNL, you have to teach people that the show if funny again. They have to hear about it through word of mouth, the internet, or where ever. For WWE, they have to teach the audience that certain up and comers, whether they be Daniel Byran, Punk, Sheamus, or whoever, are bid deals. Only when you truly treat a guy like he MATTERS will fans start to believe in his starpower. It doesn't happen instantly. It's a process. That so many people buy into the Vince Russo idea of smash-booking is somewhat disheartening.
EDIT: And jesus christ guys, are we really sitting here talking about Big Show being a draw with a straight face? This is the worst thread.