Considering how many magazines he’s sold for us over the years, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ring in on the return of The Rock on last night’s Monday Night Raw.
Even after a seven-year absence from the ring, The Rock quickly reminded the wrestling universe why he is, indeed, “The Great One” by delivering an inspired 20-minute monologue that put to shame just about any wrestling promo in recent history.
With his speech, the Rock almost single-handedly made it finally feel like WrestleMania season. Even without competing in a match, his presence as host of the big show is enough to sell WrestleMania XXVIII. And his highly anticipated confrontation with John Cena is, essentially, WrestleMania’s new main event.
And yet, for all the joy in the wrestling community today, I can’t help but notice some of the bitter-sweetness of The Rock’s celebrated return. Yes, The Rock (2000’s PWI Wrestler of the Year) is a charismatic giant. Yes, he’s untouchable behind the microphone. Yes, he can elicit a crowd pop like no other.
And yes, he probably won’t be sticking around too long.
The Rock may have vowed last night “never” to leave WWE, but the reality is that his acting career will always come first. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And so while The Rock may make more regular appearances on WWE television than he has over the past seven years, the reality is that he is not a regular part of WWE’s roster.
And so I fear that the collective wrestling universe is in for the kind of depressing reality check that comes at the end of a really great vacation. You’ve just spent a week partying at poolside and staying in a nice resort, and then you return home to your regular life. Or in this case, your regular WWE product.
None of this is meant as a putdown of WWE, which has developed some big stars over the past decade in the likes of Cena, Randy Orton, and others. But none has risen to the level of not only of The Rock, but of other wrestling icons who have left the sport over the past 10 or so years.
Ironically, three of the biggest names who fall into that category—The Rock, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin—have all come back to WWE this WrestleMania season in non-wrestling roles. Their returns could be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they could help “pass the torch” by endorsing the new generation of WWE wrestlers, who may some day reach their heights. On the other hand, they just drive home the fact none of them is even close to doing so.