It all started when CM Punk openly stated Stone Cold Steve Austin was a guy he always wanted to work with but never got the opportunity to. Then he started poking at "The Rattlesnake" on Twitter, seemingly planting the seeds for a feud between the two later on. Austin played along, too, trading barbs and keeping kayfabe.
Then Stone Cold started doing interviews saying he wasn't 100-percent certain he would never return for one more match and if he did, Punk would be a guy he would work with. This is important because in saying he wouldn't rule out a comeback, Austin made sure to say everything has to be just right: the opponent, the time, the place, the storyline, the money, the match; all of it has to come together perfectly.
Naturally, WrestleMania 29 became a target for rumors and the idea of a card including Austin vs. Punk, The Rock vs. John Cena, and Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar has turned even the most hardened of fans into blithering marks.
But those flames were quickly doused when word broke that Austin had undergone knee surgery, one that kept him from making an appearance at the historic 1,000th episode of Raw back on July 23. Both Stone Cold and Jim Ross, his good friend, made sure to let everyone know that he still wasn't ruling out a return but the surgery would make it highly unlikely he could work a match at WrestleMania 29, which is scheduled for April 7, 2013.
Of course, those statements were greeted with skepticism. If Austin wanted everything to be just right for a return match, wouldn't getting surgery be a necessary step towards making that happen? Sure, he would run the risk of being off on his recovery time but we're talking about a 47-year-old man who will be 48 on Dec. 18. He's running out of time for a return match to even be on the table.
Further fueling speculation that a feud between the two could be forthcoming at some point in the near future was Punk's promo on Ross during Raw last night.
"I hope you understand the gravity of the situation that you're in right now. What happens if I treat you with the same disrespect you're showing me? How about if I treat you the way I treated Mick Foley last night (sic)? What happens then, Jim? Who saves you? Who comes to your rescue? Oh, yeah, I know, I know ... STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD! Give it a shot, go ahead, scream his name as loud as you want. He can't hear you nor can he help you; nobody can help you. Not your friend Jerry Lawler, not your friend Stone Cold Steve Austin. You know 316 used to mean that your buddy Steven got his hands on you and he whooped your ass. But now 316 is just currently the climate we live in. It is the number of days that I have held the WWE championship. 316 now belongs to me, 316 and counting. And it belongs to the best in the world."
That seems a little over the top when Punk's objective was simply getting heat on himself at the expense of Ross, who was being honored with an "Appreciation Night."
Naturally, Austin responded through Twitter.
"I was in a bar in Mexico watching the football game. Word on the street was some low end piece of trash was talking smack on #WWE RAW."
Of course, there could be nothing to see here and we should all be moving along but how often is that true in pro wrestling? Where there's smoke, there's almost always fire, and it seems unlikely they would let Punk and Austin go to these lengths if something wasn't at least agreed to for something down the road.
Granted, that could simply include Austin leaving the door open provided his knee heals properly and this is simply a way for the two to keep their names in the headlines. It's working, too, and WWE fans will continue nurturing the hope that there is hope for an Austin vs. Punk feud that leads to a match at a major show.