Different eras of professional wrestling have long been defined by the stars which inhabited them and set a new standard for what was possible from the standpoint of performance and crossover stardom. Whether it comes to making a Mount Rushmore of the greatest performers in the genre's history or handing out singular credit for launching the biggest boom period two decades ago, six-time WWE champion and Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would be at the top of just about anyone's list.
The 56-year-old Austin, who wrestled his last match in 2003 following a string of debilitating injuries, has stayed close to the business of sports entertainment through his weekly podcast and numerous callback appearances on WWE television. He's also launching a new interview show Sunday called "The Broken Skull Sessions" following the conclusion of Survivor Series on the WWE Network featuring a sit-down with The Undertaker in its debut.
It would be far from a stretch to name Austin as the best wrestler of the 1990s (slightly ahead of rival Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) should such an award have existed. The same honor could easily have been bestowed upon Bruno Sammartino in the 1960s and 70s, Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair in the 1980s and John Cena in the first decade of the 2000s.
But just months away from the close of the current decade, the question of who has been the best-performing and most important pro wrestler over the last 10 years is an interesting one.
From Cena, who twice closed out WrestleMania against The Rock to open the decade, to Roman Reigns, who evolved from an explosive debut with The Shield to main event WrestleMania four consecutive years, there are plenty of strong picks. Or how about Daniel Bryan, who began the decade as the hottest babyface WWE had seen in years, and following a three-year retirement, returned to become one of its best heels? And what about AJ Styles?
Check out our interview with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin below and subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast for coverage of WWE each week.
For Austin's taste, he had someone else a bit different in mind.
"You dang sure have to put Brock Lesnar on it because I think Brock is the guy," Austin told the CBS Sports' State of Combat podcast. "Can you give me another name?"
Lesnar, 42, made a triumphant return to WWE in 2012 following a run as UFC heavyweight champion and has gone on to consistently be booked as the promotion's most untouchable and important superstar despite a part-time schedule that has often angered fans yet kept him unique as an attraction.
"With Brock, you can say 'part-time' or this or whatever, but when Brock goes to the ring, I still get a sense of danger or I sense that I don't really know what he is going to do," Austin said. "How often does he go to Suplex City? How bad did he really hurt somebody? What's he going to do to this opponent or what is he going to to do to dismantle him?"
Not only did Lesnar break The Undertaker's vaunted WrestleMania unbeaten streak in 2014, he enjoyed marquee feuds over the past 10 years against just about every big name imaginable while closing the show twice at WrestleMania and routinely being position in the title picture.
"Brock Lesnar creates more questions in my mind than anybody else who has walked into the ring for the last 10 years, no question in my mind," Austin said. "Cena is up there with the top of the top, but moving past that, Brock Lesnar, when he walks into an arena or steps into an Octagon, you always wonder what's going to happen with that guy.
"He might not be around as much as many people would like, but as far as impact and pure 'I have to watch this match' factor, it's hard to say a guy other than him."
Check out our complete interview with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin below, and be sure to subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to fine audio.