WWE 2K16 Exclusive: Steve Austin "Honoured" To Be Cover Star - But Has No Plans To Get Back In Ring
He's a global icon, a national treasure and a WWE Hall of Famer, having spearheaded wrestling's hottest boom as the leader of the Attitude Era in the 1990s - and now 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin has been unveiled as the cover star of the upcoming WWE 2K16 video game.
"First of all I’m very honoured to be the cover superstar for WWE 2K16," Steve brings up right away as he chats to MTV UK on the phone from California where he is currently filming his Broken Skull Challenge competition reality show.
"And being asked got me thinking - and I guess I kind of started looking back at all the things I managed to accomplish in the business.
"But I think it was testament to a very deep locker room in one the best eras in the business. All these years later, it is very special and I’m very proud and I was very happy to get the phone call to be the cover star of such a highly-regarded video games franchise."
Having set Twitter alight after interviewing Paul Heyman on his WWE Network show in June in which it seemed as if they may be building toward a Brock Lesnar-Austin clash at next year's Wrestlemania - and with last year's cover star Sting making his dramatic Wrestlemania debut after being part of the game for the first time - Steve laughs when the possibility of this appearance on the cover being a hint he may lace up his boots again for an in-ring appearance at next year's annual extravaganza.
He says: "I remember I was talking to Bryce [Yang, Director of Brand Marketing - WWE at 2K] about being on the cover of the game and how big of an honour it is.
"I said: 'You know, its been a while since I’ve been around so this may spark some rumours or speculation?' And he goes: 'You know, Steve, it is no different to when we put Michael Jordan on the cover of the NBA 2K game a few years ago.'
"I would put myself on the same level for the wrestling/sports entertainment industry as Jordan - but his appearance didn’t mean he was going to put the uniform on again.
"So I would go on record: don’t look forward to me putting on the trunks and knee braces to get back in the ring and stomp a mudhole in somebody and walking it dry. How’s that work for you?"
That works great, Steve - but we had to ask.
WWE 2K16 will have the game's most packed roster ever, with rumours 120 playable characters may be available - nearly double last year's total. Although Steve won't be drawn on speculation, one star already announced has caught his eye.
"I know Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Paige, Bad News Barrett [are all included]… but Finn Balor, I think, is going to be an interesting addition to the game.
"Here’s a guy from Ireland who’s been around for about 15 years, give or take - a guy with his experience and moveset and the different paint jobs he wears to the ring, he's very entertaining guy and I’m looking forward to big things from him.
"I know this is the biggest roster they’ve ever had in this series of WWE games from 2K - but for me to speculate who could be on there, I have no idea. I have heard some very interesting rumours but I cannot speak to those rumours. But it should be a very cool and - if I might say so - completely badass roster!"
Steve continues to wax lyrical on one of the game's newest additions, NXT champion Finn - who defeated Kevin Owens last weekend in Japan for the title.
"I tell you what, first of all, I love Finn’s work," he says.
"There have been some tremendous workers come out of Ireland and Northern Ireland over the years. I talked to him once on the telephone - and I’m a big fan of Fit Finlay - so he reminds me a little bit of Fit, but much more dynamic with his moveset and all of his experience in Japan.
"Man, the kid is just a walking highlight reel as a far as technical wrestling, a master. He’s just a good looking kid, he knows his business in the ring. And I’m a fan of the bodypaint he wears on special occasions.
"And then you put him across the ring from Kevin Owens… again, there’s a guy - probably, what a 13 or 14 year veteran? - and finally getting a shot here in the big leagues and for those two guys to go in there and have match in Japan, I think it is a good time to be a WWE fan.
"Some people consider these guys rookies on the big scene but they are veterans, have paid a lot of dues and are damn good workers so I think right now is a pretty exciting time as we see these guys develop further and get some more ring time, get more over than they are.
"But they certainly have all the tools, all the moves and all the talent to do so. I think the horizon is very bright for the upcoming in ring product as far as WWE is concerned."
It was announced last Friday that WWE's highly-acclaimed developmental brand will debut in Brooklyn's Barclays Center next month, the night before SummerSlam occupies the same building which drew 15,000 fans for the TLC event in December 2012. Steve has no doubts that Finn and his fellow NXT stars will thrive working in a bigger building than previous TakeOver shows, usually held in NXT's Full Sail University base in Florida.
"That’s going to be real interesting," Steve muses.
"I really think they’ve got a hot product over there. I’m entrenched in the middle of filming - I think we have four or more five weeks to go - of Broken Skull Challenge for Country Music Television so I’m a little behind on the past couple of shows on the WWE Network but I like what I see.
"I love the feel of the show, I love the way they wrestle, I love the way the announcers call the matches. I think the women’s division is extremely exciting with great talent. And the guys as well, they’re doing good work over there, so it’ll be interesting to see them in this building.
"They may tape it off a little bit but I don’t think they’ll have a hard time drawing the 5,000 fans that came to see the NXT show around Wrestlemania, if not more."
Steve continues: "SummerSlam is the second biggest show of the year, so to be part of it the day before as NXT, I think these kids are going to be on cloud nine.
"The more chances you get to work large crowds, different buildings, hot crowds, cold crowds, the better. I love what they’re doing at Full Sail University, but being in front of an audience like this will really show where they’re at on a performance scale by reading that crowd, listening to that crowd and performing accordingly.
"Hopefully they will all make the most of it and raise some eyebrows of the WWE's cats on the main roster. This is a great opportunity for all those young cats in NXT, the men and the women."
Moving onto one such cat from the main roster – and one that excelled on the NXT stage before emerging as ‘The Architect’ of The Shield – what adjustments would Steve make to WWE World Heavyweight champion Seth Rollins if, like previous WWE 2k16 games, there were options to 'create a character'?
Steve, regarded as a fountain of wrestling knowledge who often offers constructive criticism on how stars can improve their game on his twice-weekly podcast responds: “There’s a guy who has got all the pieces put together right now, he’s on a roll and I think he’s an exciting guy, I think he’s representing very well.
“I think he has a pretty good repertoire right now. I might play him a little bit more aggressively than he performs in the squared circle, dial him up from that aspect and give him a bit more of a mean streak.
“But I think you’re looking at a guy who is a very well-rounded athlete. I know he loves crossfit for his training regime. All of these guys are so dynamic now."
Steve may be certain he won’t be returning to dish out any Stone Cold Stunners in a match context on the greatest stage of them all for Wrestlemania 32 at the 100,000+ capacity AT&T Stadium in Texas, but who does he reckon has a shot at main eventing the show and bringing in WWE’s likely largest-ever attendance figure?
The Rock, Ronda Rousey, Hulk Hogan, the Undertaker and Steve himself are all likely to feature in some capacity - and that’s before full-time superstars John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and many other headliners are considered.
So Steve, what is the biggest potential main event for next year’s Wrestlemania?
Mulling it over, he replies: “I don’t know what the biggest is because once you start talking about main events, with all the talent that WWE has there’s really going to be three to four main events depending on the match ups and the egos!
“Rock was talking about going back and right now, if he did go back, I think it is safe to argue Rock is the biggest movie star in the world. There many be guys who can technically act better than him but as far as superstar and a draw - and his acting is pretty damn good now - so he’s the number one movie star in the world. That’s going to carry a lot of weight.
“If Hogan goes back and he can pass that physical, just for nostalgia’s sake, to see the Hulkster back in the ring with whoever they’re going to put him in the ring with would be awesome.
“Sitting here talking about bringing the Undertaker back, for sure you'd want him back for one more ride - because of the sentimental aspect of it being in Dallas, which is very close to his old stomping ground because he’s a Houston boy.
“And Ronda Rousey, she is the face of UFC right now - bar none. She’s the face. So you’ve got a lot of potential there to work with.
“And obviously John Cena’s the number one guy in the business right now, I don’t care what anybody says about it - that’s the truth. I’m not a big fan of the Springboard Stunner - but I love John Cena and he is a major star so any way you mix those guys up - and I’m leaving out a lot of names - but I don’t think they’ll have a hard time filling up that stadium with 105,000 people.
“I wouldn’t mind being there, and not in a wrestling capacity, but I’d love to be there to see it go down and it is going to be a great show.
“And in my opinion, it is going to be a sellout.”
WWE 2K16 Roster - Who's In The Video Game?
* WWE 2K16 is scheduled for release in the UK on October 30