Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: An unconventional-looking, technically gifted WWE Superstar possesses all the attributes, tangible and otherwise, to become WWE Champion and, in fact, has the WWE Universe so enthralled they’re literally counting the minutes until he’s finally clad in championship gold. Everyone loves him and wants him to succeed … except the guy who happens to be running WWE. What ensues is less a title pursuit than a battle between man and regime, as said fan favorite must topple in-ring opponents and boardroom opposition to take his rightful place at the top.
OK, now, pop quiz: Name the Superstar we just described.
He pretty obviously could be Daniel Bryan, thanks to events of recent weeks, but fans of The Attitude Era will recognize it as the basis for the years-long, zeitgeist-infiltrating battle between Mr. McMahon and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. It’s hard to believe that, 10 years later, the defining conflict of The Attitude Era would be reprising itself with Bryan, of all people, at the helm, yet as the submission specialist embarks on his latest, most significant battle, WWE.com sought the wisdom of The Bionic Redneck himself. In between enjoying his movie career, "Redneck Island" and his must-hear podcast (and the occasional Steveweiser), Austin obliged us with advice for his unlikely heir apparent.
For starters, it turns out The Texas Rattlesnake didn’t exactly see this one coming.
“No, I didn’t see too much ‘Stone Cold’ in [Daniel Bryan], but I saw a young man who could work his ass off in the ring, who had a lot of fire and passion for the business,” Austin told WWE.com. “With that being said, he’s dealing with a very worthwhile adversary in Triple H, a guy with physicality and intelligence on top of that, and of course, he’s got some advice coming from Vince."
“Vince is the ultimate third-generation promoter,” Austin said of his old archenemy. “He’s been there and done that in every situation that’s ever been done in the history of sports-entertainment. Triple H is gonna lean on him for some resources. Young Daniel Bryan must stay the course and maintain his intensity.”
Despite the odd notion of Bryan carrying on his rebellious legacy—Austin was always lashing out at authority, but Bryan’s rage always seemed directed at individuals rather than the corporate cabal he’s now battling—the inherent similarities between “Stone Cold’s” own crusade and Bryan’s isn’t lost on the WWE Hall of Famer.
“It’s a complete parallel, and obviously a decade removed with two cats in these different roles … but it’s a complete parallel with what went on between myself and Vince,” said the former WWE Champion. Still, he isn’t expecting Bryan to break out a beer hose so much as use his unique opportunity to cement his place as a top-tier performer against the most powerful of enemies.
“I know what [Triple H’s] mentality is, and he’s been hanging around Vince for so long,” Austin said. “Right now, he’s playing the ultimate game with young Daniel Bryan … I look for similarities in situations and setups, but also for [Daniel Bryan] to push the envelope and come out of the box strong.”
That’s a job that’s harder than it looks when a Superstar’s fight takes on larger implications than a 1-on-1 match, and many a competitor’s morals have suffered at the expense of pushing said envelope. The Rattlesnake was careful to preach caution, believe it or not, as Bryan walks the uncertain line of corporate warfare.
“He must maintain his clarity and his focus and not get lost in all of it and lose confidence in himself,” said the WWE Hall of Famer. “Play your cards smartly, always be aggressive, never surrender.”
The Rattlesnake also cautioned that a solitary fight must also be fought in solitude, and that Bryan probably shouldn’t expect help from fellow Superstars (although this past Monday made that abundantly clear).
“I think it’s out of the locker room’s hands,” Austin said. “To me, it ain’t about the locker room rallying behind him or offering help. This is one guy against Triple H and the regime. This is Daniel Bryan’s moment to shine and so I think that he needs to focus on that. The locker room needs to let him focus on that so he can prove himself to that locker room.”
As anyone who watched Austin in action can tell you, fighting WWE management by oneself is always easier said than done. It’s a lesson Bryan has just begun to learn. In fact, only one Superstar in memory has ever made a significant dent without any help, but the task is proving particularly difficult with The King of Kings at the helm. And while Austin was certainly surprised by Bryan’s emergence as a rebel, it’s worth mentioning he didn’t see Triple H’s corporate transformation coming either.
“Man, I’ll tell you what: Back in the day when we were having heated battles in the ring, all over the world, and hell no, I didn’t see it coming,” Austin said. “But just goes to show they didn’t call him The Game for nothing. He’s a smart S.O.B."
“I think the guy loves the business enough that he didn’t want just any hand in it, he wanted to be at the top and planned his ascent accordingly,” The Rattlesnake continued. “I think he was looking way farther down the road than a lot of guys do.”
With great ambition, though, can also come a great ego. That’s a flaw Mr. McMahon certainly suffered from and one his son-in-law may prove to possess as well—something Austin was careful to convey in his advice to the young Superstar currently walking his path.
“If I could offer any advice to Daniel Bryan, I would tell him to be aggressive. Trust your gut instincts. The best defense is a good offense, and always be on the attack,” said Austin. “But, sometimes, lay in wait. I think Triple H’s ego may mirror Vince’s ego. Sometimes, as cerebral as he is, his ego may get the best of him and you’ll be able to spring an attack on him.”
Most importantly, though, Austin kept circling around to the same piece of counsel: Stay the course. It’s something The Rattlesnake always did, whether he had the WWE Title or not, and that made him a hero to the WWE Universe. For Bryan, that glory is on the table right now. He just has to be smart enough not to get sidetracked by the particulars of his battle such as championship gold.
“With all these corporate shenanigans going on, he has to stay true to himself,” said Austin. “Whether he gets the title back or overthrows the regime, that’ll come out in the wash. He must remember to stay focused about who Daniel Bryan is: A fiery competitor who loves the business and continues to make a name for himself; the guy who [supposedly] didn’t have the ‘It’ factor, wasn’t big enough, wasn’t good-looking enough. … He’s gotta stay the course and prove that — yes — he’s all that and more.”
Awesome interview from Austin which hits all the points many of us have been saying about Bryan needing to stay aggressive and serious in this feud, and it's interesting to see that Austin thinks Bryan HAS the "IT" factor, IS big enough, and is even 'good-looking' enough to be a huge name in this business.