WWE Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin retired from in-ring competition on March 30, 2003 at Wrestlemania XIX. That's just about 19 years ago now and in WWE time, that's nearly three generations ago. Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and now Roman Reigns have all served as the "face of the company" in the post-Austin WWE, yet apparently, fans haven't replaced the place in their hearts, or their wallets, that the "Texas Rattlesnake" occupied. The numbers have just been revealed for WWE merchandise sales for the past year and guess who sat in the number one position for both total merchandise earnings and earnings per item? Yep, it's ol' Stone Cold on top nearly 20 years since his last wrestling match.
Tallied up by US Bookies, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was indeed WWE's top merchandise man for the year 2021, bringing in $3,657,224 for the company, over a million dollars more than the second-place earner, John Cena. Austin was also in the top spot for the top-grossing single item of the year, with his "Stone Cold Steve Austin Legacy Championship Collector's Title" out-grossing any other item offered by WWE for the past year. He held two of the top three spots on that list, with his iconic "Smoking Skull Championship Belt" coming in at number three. When narrowed down to just t-shirts, Austin's shirts held two of the top five spots for the year.
While this is certainly another feather in the cap of the amazing career and lasting popularity and earning power of Steve Austin, it's also another sign of the damning reality that WWE cannot create bankable new stars. Alexa Bliss was the highest-earning current star on the list, coming in at number three overall and number two for a single item. She brought in $1,645,945 in merchandise sales in 2021, over two million dollars less than Austin and over a million dollars less than John Cena. All of Bliss' sales are due to the Lilly plush doll, which has been a mega-hit for WWE, at least as an item.
And what of WWE's current top guy, Universal Champion Roman Reigns? Well, he came in at fifth on the list, bringing in $1,164,253 in total sales, which is $128,308 below the long-retired NWO and only $172,139 ahead of his cousin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
WWE just can't seem to get fans past the wrestling boom period of the late 1990s. Of course, they don't do themselves any favors with, as the WWE Network is filled to the brim with "Attitude Era" programming, and whenever business is down or they need a boost at a big event, they bring in Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, etc. from the past to peak interest.
For all the naysaying during his run, John Cena was clearly wrestling's last true megastar. He's still just below Steve Austin in sales and has now successfully segued into Hollywood, following The Rock and Dave Batista before him. WWE has failed to create another breakout star in his wake and there's no sign of that changing anytime soon.
But to get back to the positive here, this really is something impressive that I believe cements Steve Austin's place as wrestling's biggest and most popular star ever. The ever-more disgraceful by the day Hulk Hogan likes to crow about being in that position and often refers to himself as the "Babe Ruth of wrestling." You can have that comparison Hulkster. Austin is the Michael Jordan of wrestling. The most popular, the most revered, and a figure who has created such an insurmountable brand that will outsell anyone well beyond his active days.
When there's a great new baseball player, you don't really hear anyone arguing if they're bigger/better than Babe Ruth, meanwhile Michael Jordan is still the litmus test in basketball. Comparatively, when there's a hot new wrestler whose popularity is soaring and they're getting loud pops, who do you hear people compare them to? Yeah, it's still Austin.