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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Rock: Good For WWE? Good For Wrestling?

As talented and successful as The Rock may be, I  just can't get behind the idea of WWE having him so involved at the top of the Raw card for such a long stretch of time. I acknowledge the fact that The Rock is a gifted entertainer and a proven draw who is wildly popular with tons of fans. And, yes, his presence will probably translate to some extra pay-per-view buys for The Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 29. However, Dusty Rhodes and Hulk Hogan are proven WWE draws, too. Should WWE throw them in the main-event mix at two critical pay-per-view events, as well?

My problem with The Rock's role isn't so much about him occupying spots that could be used to build futures for wrestlers like Dolph Ziggler or Cody Rhodes. My concern is that by having a former wrestler so solidly in the spotlight, WWE perpetuates a damaging, industry-wide trend. The wrestling business is steeped in tradition, and that rich history shouldn't be ignored, but I believe wrestling's future is better served when promotions try to discover or create wrestling's "Next Big Thing."

(Incidentally, I don't hold independent promotions to the same standard. In many cases, the survival of an indy promotion depends on its ability to occasionally showcase "big-name" veteran wrestlers.)

Little over a year ago, WWE made the bold decision to hand CM Punk a microphone and give him the creative freedom to let loose on Raw. Punk instantly became the hottest thing in wrestling, and remains so to this day. That, it would seem, is a better way to build for the future health of the sport than reviving nostalgia acts, which many times fail to pan out for a variety of reasons. Attempting to recreate special moments in time, not only in pro wrestling, is a hit-or-miss endeavor. Mostly miss.

One of the major reasons pro wrestling appears to be mired in a "down cycle," in my opinion, is the tendency by so many industry leaders to look to the past, rather than the future, for success. Indeed, walking down memory lane may offer some short-term benefits, but what happens when the immediate effect wears off?

Frank Krewda


Tony Laplume said...

I would tend to disagree, especially concerning the situation with The Rock. His present angle involves CM Punk, a guy who has proven he'll work with anyone, and engage their strengths while doing it. The company tried doing this exact thing with John Cena, who has already proven many times over that he doesn't make stars, only opponents (much like Hulk Hogan before him), including the Nexus from a few years ago and his string of challengers this year.

Punk, meanwhile, has put together an impressive and diverse series of title defenses since last fall, including two notable and extended feuds that showcased two very different aspects of his character. Chris Jericho put him on the defensive. Daniel Bryan made Punk the cool kid, which WWE really hasn't had since the heyday of...The Rock.

Now, imagine Punk with a bad boy image but still at the top of the card, and you have all kinds of possibilities, and that's what you want, that's what WWE needs. It has finally groomed a versatile superstar with capability, who has already proven that he can deliver against any opponent, and will allow the company to put him up against all manner of competitors.

This now includes The Rock. Assuming Punk remains champion until next January, that leaves ample time for him to work this magic against anyone the company chooses to put him up against.

This story isn't just about The Rock. This is also about CM Punk. Before The Rock and Triple H, no one imagined that Mick Foley could captivate in the main event. We're on the cusp of discovering that ability in someone else.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated said...

Thanks for the feedback, Tony. I think I understand what you are saying. My response would be that I believe even The Rock won't help Punk get over as a heel, because the fans simply don't want to hate Punk (see Stu Saks' post below).
My larger point, though, isn't so much the abilities, failures, failures of Punk, Rock, or even Cena, as much as it is my lack of faith in trying to recreate the past. Sometimes it works, but most times it falls flat, IMO.
Frank Krewda

Tony Laplume said...

Not a problem.

Punk as a heel has been done many times before. At least in WWE, these runs were necessarily ineffective, because he's too good to waste as fodder for a face (Big Show, Randy Orton, even Cena) to prevail over in the inevitable matches where Punk's words can no longer keep him safe.

The turn we saw last summer was significant not just as a breakthrough moment for his career, but because he was a heel in that promo, even if the face was an entire system. He directed those comments against Vince McMahon, but he ended up fighting John Cena (and we all know how that turned out).

This heel turn against the establishment was different from what Steve Austin did a decade earlier in that Punk wasn't challenging any one individual, but forcing a seismic change in the kind of wrestler that could represent the mainstream. Austin never cared about being mainstream. Punk has been mainstream since he walked out, and has been champion since last November.

Yet the essence of this most recent heel turn isn't directed at The Rock, but in the notion that Punk can't contradict the idea of being mainstream without continuing to be the very same CM Punk he's always been, someone who isn't afraid to express himself or his ideals, even if they aren't as warm and cuddly as saying your prayers and taking your vitamins.

For years the fans have said that Cena is too generic to take seriously. The Rock was presented as his polar opposite. What Punk can communicate more effectively than Cena ever could is that The Rock is even more generic than John Cena. This program isn't about The Rock at all, but about someone who will allow Punk to broadcast his pipebombs to the world.

Before Monday night, CM Punk was the rebel who had been embraced as the cool kid. Well, now he's a rebel again. It doesn't matter if the fans embrace him as a heel. He's what DX was always meant to be. DX can't function as heels today. It's impossible. Their defiance of authority has been exposed as juvenile antics. Punk's refusal to conform was challenged in its most extreme form by AJ. He survived that.

Now it's time to get back down to business. This isn't about The Rock. This is about CM Punk.

BigSawg24 said...

I think the WWE is so big on bringing the Rock at the top of the card is WWE's obsession with crossing over to pop culture. They've been trying to do this since WM 1 with Rock and Wrestling Connection. WWE doesn't see the biggest bucks In just providing wrestling shows, they want to cross over to try to draw a bigger audience. It was like the Wii for game systems.... Appeal beyond the hard core gamers to women and children.