By the time WrestleMania 40 arrives, eight years will have passed since The Rock had its last official match in the WWE. One would think that a return, especially one with build, would be a well-received moment. Unfortunately, the year is 2024 and this situation has played out in a way that is setting The Rock up to become one of the biggest villains in the industry today.
The Rock appeared on WWE SmackDown and with a handshake, it looks like he’s stepped into the role to take on Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40. What becomes of Cody Rhodes and the title shot he earned at The Royal Rumble? Looks like he’s just going with the consolation prize of facing (and probably defeating) Seth Rollins once again.
The WWE will make millions upon millions of dollars, as this is a massive match that will garner the attention of both hardcore and casual fans. But what will this do to The Rock’s perception and legacy?
The Rock may be the most famous man walking the Earth today. He went from being a professional wrestler to a movie superstar opening the door for individuals like John Cena and Batista. His movies may not have been all-time classics, but to see him grow from roles like those in The Scorpion King and Get Out, to playing Hobbs in The Fast Franchise helped build him into one of the highest-grossing actors in recent memory.
That all came crashing down with Black Adam. The movie that was supposed to kick off a revitalized DCEU failed in a way that even The Rock couldn’t overcome. He was ridiculed for conflating numbers and was sent on his way when DC took steps to restart everything. That failure has impacted his movie cache, even to a point where some think it played a part in his return to the Fast & Furious franchise.
Then there was his attempt to recharge the XFL and its merger with the USFL. The Rock led a consortium that purchased the organization in August 2020, but it has continued to struggle to generate any true momentum in a country that is firmly dedicated to the NFL’s version of football. The Rock even faced mounting criticism for his partnership with the UFC, as his apparel deal did not put any money into the pockets of the fighters who became billboards and ambassadors for his brand.
The Rock isn’t the automatic promotional powerhouse that he once was. His ability to generate buzz and revenue took a hit, so a return to professional wrestling made sense. This was the audience that would always welcome him back with a warm embrace. That seemed to be the case, even as a few started to raise their eyebrows when it was announced that he joined the board of TKO Group Holdings. Less than two weeks later it is already being reported that The Rock pushed his way into this position, regardless of what fans wanted to see after spending another year standing behind Cody Rhodes.
Fans are taking to social media to proclaim, “We Want Cody,” while flooding WWE’s social media with complaints. YouTube videos are getting hit with downvotes. The Rock’s image is getting booed at house shows. Will the surge in disdain work? Probably not. WWE, and Endeavor as the parent company, realize that the bottom line is the real focus. Viewers may leave for a time, but that doesn’t immediately impact the money brought in. At least not for a major organization like WWE.
The Rock’s desire to be the coolest man in the room seems to have run into the undefeated force that is Father Time. Now, he’s jockeying his way into the main event at WrestleMania 40. Along the way, he’s going to become the most hated man in wrestling, and not because of some catchphrase or cheating behind a referee’s back.