Over the last six months or so, Hollywood mega-star Dwayne Johnson has been the subject of persistent rumors about a possible return to WWE. On the surface, the whispers made a lot of sense given The Rock’s real life cousins, Roman Reigns, The Usos and Solo Sikoa, are now main event talent and currently involved in a plotline about family loyalty and who sits at the head of the table. Fans were really fired up about seeing The People’s Champion in the ring again, but both The Royal Rumble and WrestleMania came and went without an appearance. Now reports have emerged that he may be open to doing something a year from now at WrestleMania 40, and the collective response from the wrestling community has mostly been a mix of pessimism, annoyance and indifference.
The latest report comes from longtime wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. He claimed on Wrestling Observer Radio that The Rock has left “a crack in the door” for a possible appearance at WrestleMania 40. Uncle Dave went on to say it was “far” from a commitment but the possibility is there for him to do something in Philadelphia. Naturally, word of this possible crack raced around wrestling twitter immediately, but on the whole, fans were a whole lot less excited about the news. In fact, if you look at the comments underneath the stories on social media, they’re almost all a mix of “don’t care”, “probably won’t happen” and “too late.”
So, what happened? How is it possible that a story about one of the most popular wrestlers in history maybe returning for a major event could be looked at so negatively? Well, some of it is definitely rumor fatigue, but in this case, there’s also a feeling that Johnson missed his window to do more than just have a nostalgia match. There was a chance for him to be involved in one of the greatest plotlines in the history of the wrestling business, and instead, he didn’t make it a priority, which has left a bad taste in the mouth of some wrestling fans.
Let’s talk more generally first. A lot of former wrestlers occasionally come back to do a segment or participate in a match at major premium live events. WrestleMania 39, as an example, featured WWE legend turned movie star John Cena. WrestleMania 38 featured Stone Cold Steve Austin. We also saw Booker T at this year’s Royal Rumble. The scripted nature of the product allows for a fun bit of nostalgia now and again, which fans always get a kick out of. So, in that sense, it’s easy to see why The Rock, if he wants to come back, would simply wait for the right moment in which scheduling works out. But the difference here is, fairly or unfairly, wrestling fans saw his possible return as a lot more than just a fun bit of meaningless nostalgia.
Over the last year, the Bloodline plot has grown into what many consider to be the greatest story in the history of professional wrestling. Roman Reigns, who is in the midst of a nearly three year unbeaten streak, has demanded absolute loyalty from his family members, The Usos and Solo Sikoa, and from those who associated with the faction, most prominently Sami Zayn. After months of torment and second guessing, Zayn eventually turned on Reigns, which forced everyone else to pick sides, as Roman repeatedly asserted he was The Tribal Chief and Head Of The Table. It was amidst this all-time great storyline that rumors of a possible Rock return surfaced, and it all just seemed to make so much sense.
This was an opportunity, not for The Rock to simply come back for a fun bit of nostalgia but to do something more. It was an opportunity for The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment to come back and play a meaningful role in a historically great moment in wrestling history and generate a ton of great press for himself and the business. He could walk in, assert himself as The Real Tribal Chief, and challenge his own cousin for supremacy at WrestleMania 39.
It would have been the most anticipated match for a returning legend in WrestleMania history. And then it didn’t happen. The reported explanations ranged from his cardio wasn’t good enough to scheduling problems to he just didn’t feel like it was the right time. Fair or not, to many wrestling fans, those rumored explanations came off like he didn’t make it a priority, which led many to ask… if the greatest plotline in wrestling history isn’t a priority, then does he really care about wrestling at all?
Don’t get me wrong. If The Rock ever returns to do another WrestleMania, he will get a tremendous ovation. Every single fan including this one will be happy for him to come back, even if it’s for fifteen minutes of nostalgia. He’s an all-time great professional wrestler, and his success in Hollywood has opened up the door for so many in the future to follow him. His stardom continues to inspire kids to step into the squared circle, which is great for the long-term health of the business. We all owe him a lot.
But it’s also easy to see why wrestling fans are a little frustrated. All the rumors, all the alleged waffles back-and-forth about whether he will come back or not have left the impression that he considers wrestling a back-up option if there aren’t better things for him to do in Hollywood. While people like John Cena continue to jump at even the flimsiest excuse to make appearances, it feels like The Rock backed away from the best reason he’ll ever have. And as a wrestling fan, that sucks to mentally come to terms with.
So, yeah, we’ll cheer our heads off whenever he comes back. He’s earned that right. But I’m done wasting mental energy fantasizing about him coming back, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most wrestling fans seem to feel the same way.