Stone Cold Stunners From WrestleMania 38, Ranked
1:41 PM EDT on April 4, 2022
WrestleMania 38 happened this weekend, and it was pretty good! WWE's biggest show of the year is now a two-night spectacle, and this particular edition had just enough good moments to justify back-to-back four-hour shows. On Saturday, Bianca Belair won the Raw Women's Championship in a banger of a match against Becky Lynch. On Sunday, Sami Zayn lost to Johnny Knoxville with help from Chris "Party Boy" Pontius and Wee Man. It was that kind of spectacle; maybe not the best wrestling in the world, but certainly the biggest and dumbest.
The biggest part of the show was, unquestionably, the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin to in-ring competition. The 57-year-old legend had not wrestled in WWE since 2003, but he came back for what looked to be a quick goodbye match against Kevin Owens. Instead, Austin actually went to work, and the pair had a pretty solid match that even involved Austin taking a painful-looking suplex directly on concrete:
When you have Stone Cold Steve Austin available, you use him as much as possible, which is why the Texas Rattlesnake went around hitting his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner, on as many people as possible. Over the two nights, Austin delivered five Stunners to five different men. The recipients of those Stunners all sold the move in different ways, ranging from overly exaggerated flopping to ... well, the exact opposite of that. With that in mind, let's rank them.
5. Vince McMahon
To be honest, if I were ranking these sells based on how much joy I got from them, this would easily be No. 1. For reasons too stupid to get into, 76-year-old Vince McMahon found himself in the ring with his old nemesis and attempted to take a Stunner to send everyone home happy. Instead, McMahon managed to take what is now definitively the worst Stunner of all time, beating out his wife Linda and his wife's former employer, Donald Trump. This is perfect, and I have no notes.
4. Kevin Owens
If there was one true MVP of WrestleMania 38, it was Kevin Owens. After building to a talk show segment pretty much by himself over the last month, Owens then was able to carry a very game Austin to a passable match, despite the 57-year-old being made of tissue paper at this point in his life. It's therefore a bit unfortunate for me to say that his sell of the Stunner left much to be desired. It's not bad, but it's not particularly memorable. Given that Austin was one of Owens's inspirations growing up, I'm sure he'll still remember it all the same.
3. Byron Saxton
The funniest bit of deadpan comedy that WWE has ever put out, for my money, came during one of the first Raw episodes of the COVID-19 era: Austin tried to get a crowd response for 3:16 Day from the empty Performance Center, only to get one from Byron Saxton:
Whoever says WWE can't do long-term storytelling clearly did not watch on Saturday, as Saxton came into the ring to share a beer with Austin after his win, only to get sent bouncing off the mat. This is a classic over-sell of the Stunner, and as such, it is perfectly in the middle of these rankings.
2. Pat McAfee
Pat McAfee is very good at professional wrestling. I didn't know it for sure until he made his WrestleMania debut on Sunday night, but his match against Austin Theory saw the ex-punter bring his working boots and put on a hell of a performance. After the victory, he was coerced into another match, this time against the aforementioned and elderly McMahon, who beat him with some help from Theory. That's what brought Austin out to hit the Stunner on everyone, including McAfee during a post-match beer toast.
All credit where credit is due here: McAfee sold the hell out of the Stunner, falling backwards while shooting beer from his mouth like a fountain. Bonus points for his continued selling on the floor, all while still chugging a beer:
1. Austin Theory
The best Stunner sell of the weekend, and one of the best ever, came from Theory, though. The second Stone Cold's glass-shattering theme music hit, I expected that he would hit Theory with a Stunner, and I similarly expected the springy and dramatic Theory to over-sell it to hell and back. That's just what he did, taking a cue from The Rock and the late Scott Hall to ping pong off the mat and bounce many feet into the air. It's perfect, and perfectly stupid. For that, it is the best, because it is the one that truly shows how entertaining WWE can be when it leans into being the dumbest possible show in the best possible ways.