Cena v Austin

Hi Scott,
Big fan of your rants, read 'em after every show, and read old rants to pass the time at work. I got into wwe wrestling in 2001, so I missed most of the Attitude Era. I read a lot about Austin, my favourite wrestler, but I was hoping I could get your opinion on how popular he really was. You say a lot of times in the rants that Cena carried the company on his back, and Batista turned it around, but how does their popularity compare to Austin? And was he a bigger star than The Rock? Or was he bigger in 98-99, but The Rock took over in 2000?
Thanks,
Roel from Holland.

Cena and Batista compare to Austin like a bug compares to the person about to squash them under his boot as far as popularity goes.  Steve Austin transcended wrestling, taking an entire company from the verge of bankruptcy and making it into a billion dollar publicly owned juggernaut.  In 1998, you could walk down the street and see regular people wearing Austin 3:16 t-shirts, and these are people who would never have watched wrestling in their life before that.  Rock is a bigger star overall now, but Austin destroyed him in box office and merchandise.  The WWE's own quote on the number of shirts sold by Austin, according to Dave Meltzer, is "a shitload".  Basically so many that he still essentially lives off the residuals.  
So yes, Austin was a bigger star than ANYONE.  The only other person, and I mean the ONLY one, who is even in the conversation is Hulk Hogan.