Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Rock returns to WWE



Finally!!! The Rock has returned to World Wrestling Entertainment. Dwayne Johnson, fresh off a role in the newest Fast & the Furious flick, slipped back into his most famous role - The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment, The Rock.

The Rock, making his return after a seven-year hiatus, is the "Guest Host" of this April's WrestleMania XXVII pay-per-view. What that means is unclear. It may not even be important. What it means is that The Rock is back. And that's the bottom line, to quote another superstar who recently came back to the WWE family.

Last week, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon announced that he would reveal the guest host of WrestleMania this Monday, February 14. Speculation started about who the name would be. WrestleMania usually has celebrity participation and it has unofficially been confirmed that two stars will be involved with WrestleMania - Justin Bieber and Bob Barker. Bieber will likely sing "America the Beautiful" before the event. Barker? If you're a wrestling fan, that doesn't seem weird at all. He had arguably the most successful "Guest Host" cameo in WWE history.

Some thought that one of those two would be the announcement. But, that didn't seem right. It just seemed "flat." Not exciting. WrestleMania is the biggest event of the WWE year. It needs something big. Justin Bieber and Bob Barker will be good additions to this year's event, but they just don't warrant the hype that WWE was throwing out there.

Dwayne Johnson had started a Facebook page a while before the announcement came out. In one of his first posts, he spoke of his WWE past. He wrote that his days as a wrestler were behind him, but that he considered the WWE to be family and had been in talks over the years on potential ways he could contribute to the program.

As Feb. 14 drew closer, that Facebook post came back into public memory. Monday afternoon, Dwayne Johnson's official twitter account was created. The name of the account sent the speculation to another level - @TheRock.

Then, it happened. The Rock made his return. He came out and all the memories associated with him came swelling out to the surface for every long-time fan.

The Rock is a third generation wrestler, following in his father's and grandfather's steps. He entered the WWE in the late '90s, in his early 20's, and quickly rose to the top of the promotion. He became a multi-time WWE Champion. He had memorable feuds with the likes of Mick Foley, Steve Austin, Triple H, and others. He became a master of multiple catchphrases. He sold tickets, pay-per-views, t-shirts, and anything else you could think of. He became one of the biggest stars ever.

He became such a big star that Hollywood took notice. A cameo in The Mummy 2 in 2001 led to his first starring role in 2002 in The Scorpion King. Starting in 2001, he made the switch to part time wrestler, as he would head off to film a movie, then stop back to WWE for a few months at a time.

The last time The Rock was in a WWE ring for an extended time was February - May, 2003. He wrestled his last match at WrestleMania 20 in 2004 and made a couple more appearances that summer. Aside from two pre-taped interviews (one in 2007, one in 2009), we have not seen The Rock in a WWE ring since 2004.

The situation with The Rock, I liken it to a popular actor on a sitcom who starts making movies. We'll use Kevin James as an example. For nearly 5 or 6 years, he was one of the most popular sitcom stars with "The King of Queens." He had a sizeable audience, but he wasn't entirely in the mainstream yet. A supporting role in the Will Smith rom-com Hitch changed that. Suddenly, he became more in demand and people started counting down when the series would end. He lasted until nearly the end of the decade, then he put "King of Queens" behind him and became Paul Blart.

That's the situation with The Rock. He flirted with movies, with wrestling being his main passion. He then switched to making movies, while flirting with wrestling. Finally, he was just making movies. His billing on the movies started as The Rock, switched to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, before ultimately dropping the nickname altogether.

A lot of wrestling fans were angry with The Rock for doing that. I never felt that way. Yeah, I wish he would have stuck around more, but you don't turn down an opportunity to make millions of dollars as a movie star just because you love wrestling.

His move to acting was good in a way, as it helped break down the "wrestler stereotype" a little bit. Not all the way, as there will always be people who hate professional wrestling for no reason. There's always been a hidden shame associated with being a wrestling fan. Every wrestling fan knows about it. There are always those people who say, "Really? You watch that stuff?" with a condescending tone. The Rock helped rise above that in a sense, as he showed that he could transition from the "seedy underbelly" of entertainment - professional wrestling - and make his mark as a successful actor, in everything from action movies to Disney kid films.

The Rock's return to wrestling will be something to pay attention to. It has already gotten people talking, as "WWE," "The Rock," and "Dwayne Johnson" were all trending topics on Twitter. The names "Stephanie McMahon" and "Steve Austin" were popular twitter topics as well on Monday night. McMahon, as WWE threw a red herring in having people think she would be the host and Rock mentioned Austin during his in-ring promo.

WrestleMania XXVII now has its "moment." That key factor to make the event important. What will The Rock be doing at the most important event of the year, after a seven-year layoff? You’ll have to purchase it to find out.

What does this mean for the future? It's too soon to tell. The most interesting thing was that The Rock did not treat his appearance as a one-off, short-term deal. He name-dropped superstars The Miz and John Cena, potentially laying the groundwork for something there. In a more poignant moment during his promo, The Rock said he was addressing the fans as Dwayne. He said that the fans were the reason he became who he was and he was never, ever going away.

"Never, ever going away." What does that mean? I doubt The Rock is retiring from acting, but I do believe that we won't have to wait another seven years before we see The Rock again.

WrestleMania XXVII airs live, Sunday April 3, on pay-per-view.

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