That said, the Sheamus/Bryan rumor has me thinking that WWE is really, truly, not-working-us missing the point. Austin got huge because he tapped into something basically everyone could identify with: he wanted to kick his boss' ass and drink beer. So did we, only in real life that's less of an option. Now, in the current economy, you know what people really identify with and latch onto? The guy who busts his ass and tries his hardest, but keeps getting screwed over by a system that caters to rich, corrupt assholes. There's a reason Bryan's getting the biggest crowd reactions in a decade, and I'm pretty sure that's it; he taps into something real, just like Austin did.
The problem, then, is that WWE doesn't get the last part of that formula (at least not yet). We loved Austin from the jump, but what REALLY made him a super-duper-forever-mega-hyper star was triumphing over that thing we can't triumph over in real life; he got to kick Vince's ass (multiple times, as well as Shane's, Steph's, Eric's, and whoever else they put in front of him). He got to live out the dream that made us sympathize with him so instinctually in the first place. If Bryan just keeps failing to beat the horribly corrupt system, he's not going to lose too much heat (I mean, it's been two years of them dicking him around at this point and he's as over as ever; that's the strength of gimmick), but he's also not going to become a sport-defining megastar. Not on the Austin scale, that's off the table, but there's no reason to believe he can't be the next Cena/Sting/HBK/Flair level guy; a guy who absolutely draws money within the industry at the tippy top level. Only Austin/Rock/Andre/Hogan really were able to bring fresh eyes to the product, and that list may never grow. The Cena-tier is still pretty great for business, though.
I'm not even writing this out of frustration, I just think it's interesting; the parallels are right there, and WWE, for whatever reason (best guess: Trips) doesn't want to roll the dice on it. Worst case scenario, it's no bigger of a failure than everyone else they've tried in that slot (Sheamus, ADR. etc.). Best case scenario he's the biggest thing in the last ten years. Just seems silly.