What to do when the name most associated with your company is accused of being one of history’s greatest monsters, as well as completely biffing the first meeting with the media after said accusations? Well, if you’re WWE and billions of dollars strong, apparently you call on one of the biggest stars in the world to try to wash it all away. Or maybe The Rock calls his own number? It’s not exactly clear what the actual mechanics of it all were, but the end result is that The Rock is both sitting at the top of the company and of their biggest show as someone is definitely trying to shift the conversation away from Vince McMahon.
In case you missed it, the hard facts are that on Friday Night Smackdown, Cody Rhodes – despite winning his second straight Royal Rumble, calling out champion Roman Reigns on that very show and in the days after, and months and months of reports that the company wanted to run back Cody vs. Roman for the second straight Mania main event, as well as centering it amongst every creative plan WWE had – announced that he was ceding his spot against Reigns at Mania to The Rock. The Rock, who isn’t a wrestler anymore, but WWE has rarely cared about such trifles.
The reports and buzz over the weekend have been all over the map. Today, Dave Meltzer was saying that the company had planned on Rock vs. Roman as far back as the turn of the year, even though Cody had won the Rumble and was making it certainty look like there would be a repeat of his match with Reigns. Which is…curious. Some said that Rock, ever since rejoining the company on the board, had inserted himself into the Mania card and his own latchkey into creative alongside Paul Levesque, aka Triple H. And some scamps were pointing to the connection between Jungle Boy making a snide remark into the camera on the preshow of All In costing Cody his Mania main event.
What we can say is that suddenly Johnson is wielding a tremendous amount of power at WWE, at a point when the company wants people talking about anything other than McMahon. Even though Rock was standing right next to McMahon at the NYSE mere hours before the lawsuit against McMahon became public. Rock’s been away from the company long enough in an official capacity to duck the aftermath of the original lawsuit, which will be far-reaching, but it can’t be argued he’s completely unconnected to McMahon either.
It’s hard to tell if the smokebomb of The Rock, while various WWE execs scurry for the door to avoid more questions they don’t know how to answer about McMahon, will work or even if it has to. WWE’s ratings or ticket sales were hardly under threat no matter what happens with Janel Grant’s lawsuit or the federal investigation into McMahon. Perhaps the presence of The Rock locks that in, as even in as much of an uproar fans were in after The Rock usurped Rhodes’s place they’re still very much going to tune in to see Rock get back in a ring. In that sense, WWE is too big to fail.
It still feels as naked-as-can-be of a ploy from WWE, even more so given that The Rock’s agent is none other than Ari Emanuel, who just happens to lord over TKO, the company formed by the merger of WWE and UFC. Certainly the Rock’s insertion into the creative side of WWE is prepping the ground should a lot of those currently in the department be outed as concealing or ignoring McMahon’s alleged evil and disgusting actions, and having The Rock on everyone’s screen at Mania preps the ground for that prepping the ground. No matter how nonsensical is, when Reigns and The Rock face each other down in the ring it will feel like a big deal (to WWE fans and those who only tune in for Mania, at least), and no matter what is going on in the legal process at the point in two months, the company will look and feel very healthy. Which it is anyway, but optics are important in times like these.
On simply a wrestling scale, it’s utterly hilarious. Cody Rhodes has spent the past few years chasing the big, dumb, empty moments that WWE specializes in, to the point the company he started (AEW) wasn’t all that interested in keeping him around as they prefer slow and solid storytelling. When Cody was finally on the cusp of achieving the ultimate big, dumb, empty moment under the cover of a pretty flimsy story around his father, WWE simply punted him to the side in favor of an even bigger, dumber, emptier story of The Rock that doesn’t even have a figleaf of a storyline. Rhodes was undone by all that he craved, which actually would be a pretty good story in itself. WWE will always opt for the bigger name to attract fans that don’t watch all that often over the wishes of their fans that do, because the latter group isn’t going anywhere. We were all harshly reminded of this when they didn’t have Sami Zayn go over Reigns in Montreal, which would have resulted in one of the biggest pops in the company’s history, in favor of Rhodes at Wrestlemania, which they didn’t even pull the trigger on anyway. WWE is always chasing this dragon.
Which is maybe what this whole Rock saga is about. Instead of questions from the non-wrestling world about who knew what about McMahon and when and who is going down with him, the story the company gets to put out into that world, for at least the next little while, is that The Rock has returned. Everyone in the wrestling world knows exactly what’s going on here, but we’re also not going anywhere. Who knows for how long that will work, but it bought WWE a couple days at least.