WrestleMania 39 will mark ten years since the last time The Rock had a legitimate wrestling match. His last “real” match was at WrestleMania 29 against John Cena in 2013. That gap in time is significantly longer than the gap between The Rock’s previous exodus away from wrestling, when he went seven-and-a-half years between his match at WrestleMania 20, and his match at Survivor Series 2011.
In the years leading up to WrestleMania 39, there had been rumors that The Rock would be interested in wrestling again. The obvious direction of the current storyline with WWE Champion Roman Reigns spurred many rumors. Reigns’ gimmick of being “The Tribal Chief” and the leader of the Anoa’i Family, would naturally cause people to wonder about how that would go down with the biggest star in the Anoa’i Family, The Rock.
While WWE never announced or formally teased anything between The Rock and Roman Reigns, the way the company has constructed the storyline has almost forced fans to expect The Rock to eventually confront Reigns. The non-stop push of Reigns as the dominant figure in WWE elevated Reigns far beyond his peers when it came to relevancy within WWE, to the degree that no current star feels like a worthy challenger to defeat Reigns. Only a star from the past, particularly a mega-star like The Rock, would feel like the kind of end-of-the-line challenger that would justify the monumental push Reigns has gotten.
The Rock was rumored to be a potential opponent for Reigns heading into last year’s WrestleMania, but ultimately he was never teased and Reigns wrestled Brock Lesnar instead.
Dave Meltzer, whose relationship with The Rock is well documented, reported that WrestleMania 39, in Los Angeles and a chance to set an attendance record, would be a motivating factor for The Rock to come back and wrestle Reigns. While there is no confirmation of this intention, one would wonder if WWE planned on The Rock doing WrestleMania 39 as well. The company balked at real star-making moments, such as Drew McIntyre dethroning Reigns at Clash at the Castle in Wales, in favor of something bigger down the road, which naturally led to people believing The Rock must be coming back to wrestle Reigns.
That all came undone in the past week, first with Meltzer reporting in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that The Rock was at the moment, unlikely to wrestle at WrestleMania this year. Shortly after that, Mike Johnson of Pro Wrestling Insider reported that a scheduled segment for RAW would see “different generations” of the Anoa’i Family paying tribute to Roman Reigns (the biggest hint WWE has ever done in regards to The Rock getting involved) was now being changed to a segment involving Sami Zayn being put on trial. While people can change their minds in pro wrestling, and there is always the possibility this is a smokescreen to mask The Rock’s eventual return, the two stories hitting back-to-back strongly imply that The Rock is not wrestling Reigns at WrestleMania this year.
The question now becomes if we have seen the last of The Rock, now 50 years old, in a serious wrestling match.
The Rock’s career and motivations for wrestling are very different from most other wrestlers, and so it becomes harder to predict when or why he would return to wrestling given his other responsibilities and the various career options at his disposal.
Most older wrestling stars who retire, and The Rock has never formally retired, end up coming out of retirement because they typically get offered a sizable payday, and they miss the fame of being in the spotlight. Given The Rock’s success as a Hollywood star, he doesn’t need wrestling for money and he doesn’t need to be in the wrestling ring to be the center of attention. This makes him different from stars like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, who kept returning to wrestling even when they physically shouldn’t because they didn’t have any other way to get the spotlight.
The biggest challenge facing The Rock is time.
Meltzer reported that while The Rock would be interested in working a program with Reigns, he didn’t feel like he would have the time to get into the kind of ring shape that would allow him to wrestle the kind of match he would want to have. For The Rock, WrestleMania wouldn’t be a one-day commitment, he would need to condition his body back into pro wrestling shape, and he would also need to be around during the months leading up to WrestleMania to build the match, appearing on television regularly.
As a movie star, The Rock is known for his prolific career as a leading man. He has starred in eight major releases in the last three years. Obviously, that requires a lot of time filming on set and for six of those releases, he was also a producer, which requires additional time involved with the film. Outside of film, he has various other business interests, including being the public face for the re-launch of the XFL, which starts this February, right during the middle of what would be WrestleMania season.
It’s impossible to discuss a potential return for The Rock without discussing what happened to him last time he had a real wrestling match. In his match against Cena at WrestleMania 29, The Rock tore his abdominal muscle, which led to emergency surgery and delayed the filming of his next movie, Hercules, by two weeks while he recuperated. Allegedly, the delay cost an additional $2 million to production costs to the filming.
That has to weigh heavily on The Rock’s ability to wrestle. Not only does he want to spend time getting in ring shape and doing the work to promote the match, but he also runs the risk of getting injured and delaying his post-WrestleMania movie plans. The Rock was also a decade younger when he got injured the first time, and now he is 50. As we’ve seen with appearances by Triple H and The Undertaker in the past, being an older wrestler, wrestling infrequently, and carrying a lot of muscle mass, poses a much higher risk of serious injury such as a muscle tear, compared to a younger wrestler who is frequently working.
Even if The Rock really wanted to wrestle, and spend the time to get into ring shape, there is still a potential unknown timetable that wrestling could end up having, and for a busy guy like The Rock, with multi-million dollar offers all over the entertainment world, it may be hard to justify the risk of doing the wrestling match. And as each year goes by and he gets older, his chances of returning would get lower and lower.
There is also another factor, which is uncertainty if The Rock would want to get involved with WWE at this moment, as controversy swirls around Vince McMahon’s sexual misconduct allegations, his sudden return to power, and the potential sale to another company, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Rock is cognizant of a larger brand that he needs to protect if he wants to continue being a force in the world of entertainment, and associating with WWE, especially during this time period, might pose a real risk to his brand value.
The Rock is the biggest star WWE has at its potential disposal, but that potential seems to be diminishing. While The Rock has never ruled out a return to wrestling, the forces in play suggest that his doing a legitimate wrestling match would be very difficult. There was a sense, given WrestleMania being in Los Angeles and the idea of setting an attendance record at the expanded-seating SoFi Stadium, that it was kind of now or never for The Rock, so his opting out this year tilts the needle toward “never.”
On the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse talks with Karl Stern of the When it Was Cool website and Patreon page, about Karl’s ambitious project of creating a list of the 201 Greatest Wrestlers of All-Time. We talk about Karl using published lists from a variety of sources to create a consensus, the reasons some wrestlers are ranked higher than others, discuss why some wrestlers are remembered while others forgotten, the lack of historical recognition from certain periods and territories, and more.