Why The Rock Is Making A Huge Career Mistake By Not Returning For WrestleMania 39
Just hear me out.
Over the last few weeks, I have repeatedly had different versions of the exact same conversation. It starts with me telling people I think The Rock is making a mistake by not returning for WrestleMania 39 (if the rumors are true). It continues with the other person saying of course I think that since I’m a wrestling fan. I then explain my viewpoint and try to present evidence of why this makes sense. They half listen and the conversation ends with the other person probably having a good laugh about how delusional wrestling fans are.
Maybe. Maybe I’m just a naive mark, to use a wrestling term, and I’m only seeing what I want to see. I’m sure there is some bias going on. I’d love to see Dwayne Johnson walk back through the curtain, grab a microphone, turn that sumbitch sideways and stick it up someone’s candy ass. The Rock is an all-time, top 10 wrestling character, and nothing would make happier than to see him back in action. Bias confirmed.
But I’m also an extremely rational and business-oriented person. Unlike some wrestling fans, I completely understand why the biggest superstars leave for Hollywood. There’s more money, more fame and a less grueling, less travel-intensive schedule in Tinseltown. So, I’m not normally an advocate for people coming back, at least apart from the occasional one-off match. Dave Bautista has a great career going in Hollywood that's on the upswing. He doesn’t need to do a six month run on Smackdown. But a return right now, at this very moment, actually makes sense for The Rock in a way it hasn't in years. Let me explain why…
The Rock’s Real Life Cousins Are The Stars Of Wrestling’s Best Plotline In Years
Most of the time when wrestlers come back after a long period away, they’re just sorta shoved into a side plot that exists separately from the rest of the card. Stone Cold Steve Austin, as an example, did WrestleMania 38 to tremendous fanfare, but it was basically just a multi-week build-up of people insulting the state of Texas and then he came to its defense at ‘Mania. It went over really well with the crowd, but it had no effect on anything else going on. It was a happy moment of self-contained nostalgia.
That wouldn’t be the case with Dwayne Johnson. WWE’s biggest current star, Roman Reigns, is in the midst of an extended plotline with his real life cousins The Usos and Solo Sikoa that’s essentially about who sits at the head of the table for the Anoa’i Family. Roman refers to himself as the Tribal Chief and dictates who does what and whether to let non-family members (like Sami Zayn) into The Bloodline. The Rock’s real life grandfather Peter Maivia was blood brothers with Reigns’ grandfather. Reigns’ father, WWE legend Sika, referred to Maivia as his uncle, and the families have basically been interconnected for decades.
The Anoa’i Family plotline, or The Bloodline, has been the most popular thing in wrestling for what feels like a year. It has almost universal approval from fans and will lead to Roman Reigns main eventing WrestleMania. Given The Rock’s deeply personal, real life family connections, there is the perfect opportunity for him to step in and assert himself as the real Head Of The Table. This wouldn’t be a matter of the plot bending to fit him. He is the natural extension of the current plot as written. It makes every bit of sense for him to walk in, and he would have the ability to elevate something that's already incredible.
The Rock Would Push WWE’s Ratings To Their Highest Level In Years (Which Would Be Great PR)
Over the last several months, WWE’s ratings have been increasing. Fans seem to be a lot happier with some of the creative choices being made under Triple H, who took over after Vince McMahon stepped away, and The Bloodline storyline has been a huge part of that. Smackdown is up 6% in the ratings this season, and when John Cena returned for a single announced match back in December with The Bloodline, the episode got WWE’s highest ratings since an NFL lead-in more than two years ago.
Everywhere you look, there is clear and notable evidence that wrestling is quietly back on the upswing. Attendance is getting better. The buzz on social media is better. The ratings improvement has also extended to Raw on USA Network, which has been regularly breaking 2 million viewers again, which is huge for cable. The Rock is in the perfect position to step in and suddenly supercharge those ratings. It’s not going to be Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant, which did 33 million on NBC back in ‘88, but I think The Rock could push the ratings even higher.
I think if WWE and The Rock announced he was going to do every Smackdown or Raw between now and WrestleMania, which is at the beginning of April, it would push the ratings to levels no one thought was possible anymore. I bet they would easily soar past 3 million per episode, and what inevitably would follow would be a series of articles in all the mainstream publications about how The Rock is pushing wrestling back into the mainstream. The goodwill press would be incredible, and he would be in a position to take credit for all this momentum that’s currently happening without him. And that matters because… well, have you been paying attention to Dwayne Johnson’s career lately?
The Rock’s Career Isn’t Exactly At A High Point Right Now
Acting is a game of momentum, and The Rock’s momentum isn’t exactly at its highest point right now. The Rock has been extremely defensive of Black Adam and its performance, but whether it lost money or not, it obviously didn’t perform to anyone’s expectations. That’s clear given DC doesn’t want another movie. League Of Super Pets made $200M, but it was against a $90M budget, plus whatever was spent on advertising. Red Notice put up huge numbers on Netflix, but it got Rock Bottomed by critics. Jungle Cruise didn’t get anywhere close to Disney’s hopes, though it may still get a sequel. You have to go all the way back to 2019 and Jumanji 2 to find a movie that performed very well, and even that movie, despite grossing almost $800M at the box office, made more than $150M less than the first one.
Now, let’s not overreact. 99.9% of all the people in Hollywood would switch careers with The Rock in a second. He’s still one of the biggest stars in the entire world, and he’ll be making big budget event films for years to come. He’s a mega-star. But the ruthless part of Hollywood is you’re either on the way up or you’re on the way down with momentum at any given time, and The Rock is on his way down right now. He needs some unapologetically good news. Maybe that’ll come when he re-launches the XFL. Or maybe his new holiday movie Red One will be amazing. He has some great paths to success, but the wrestling one is a guaranteed home run.
If The Rock returned to wrestling for 8 weeks between now and WrestleMania, all of the following things would almost certainly happen: 1. WWE would pick up its highest weekly TV ratings in years. 2. WrestleMania (thanks to the help of Peacock) would be the most watched PPV event in WWE history. 3. WrestleMania’s live event gate (thanks to it being in Los Angeles and inflation) would be the highest in the history of wrestling. 4. With The Rock’s help, The Bloodline storyline would be almost certainly regarded as one of the greatest plots in wrestling history (alongside Stone Cold vs Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage’s MegaPowers Explode). 5. He would get to do all of it with his family and celebrate the legacy of his father and grandfather, as well as the Anoa’i Family. 6. The mainstream press would write a ton of stories crediting The Rock with achieving all of that.
To Sum Up
I know wrestling isn’t as popular as superhero movies. I know The Rock is extremely busy and WWE could not afford to pay him whatever Warner Bros did for Black Adam. I know I’m ignoring how hard professional wrestling is on the performer’s body and how much pressure Johnson would likely put on himself to have an amazing match. I know I’m extremely biased and obviously want the outcome that results in The Rock stepping back in a WWE ring.
But this isn’t some fantasy pipedream that doesn’t make any sense. The Rock could generate a huge PR win, break all kinds of records and do it all with his family in the midst of all-time incredible wrestling plot. And all he would need to do is work once a week for less than two months. If rumors are to be believed, he told WWE no, and I think that’s a tremendous career mistake.
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Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.