In case you missed it, The Rock appeared on the 9/15/2023 edition of the Pat McAfee Show on ESPN/YouTube and Pat, to his credit, got the Rock to open up about Wrestlemania 39. Before I go any further, major kudos to Pat McAfee here as he got the Rock to open up about almost doing business with the WWE and being brutally honest why he didn’t wrestle Roman Reigns this year in Los Angeles. Here is what he said:
“The reason why and what can we create that’s never been done before for the fans, that’s the idea.”
On Wrestlemania 39, where Roman vs. Rock almost happened: “That was locked. We were doing it. Beginning of 2022, Nick Khan, he was instrumental in bringing me and Vince together… We shook hands (about Wrestlemania 39). What can we create for the fans that’s never been done before. We can have the match, but what can we do for the fans and the business, where Wrestlemania isn’t the end but the beginning of something bigger. We got really, really close but we couldn’t agree on what that thing was”.
He was thinking about Wrestlemania 40, hinting at that as a possibility but also saying: “Also want to deliver to the locker room… What can we do to put them in a position where they are part of something that is a new change, and era of pro wrestling”
To me, as a longtime wrestling fan and analyst (approaching 25 years as Mr. Tito during late October this year), those are eye opening quotes to me.
Go back to Wrestlemanias 27, 28, and 29. What did you see back then? Well, at Wrestlemania 27, the Rock was the host of that show and that year was his big homecoming back to the WWE since 2004. Yes, he’s made appearances here and there, but nothing where he was fully active and engaged in a WWE storyline. While Wrestlemania 27 was Miz vs. John Cena for the WWE Title, the match was centered around brewing heat between John Cena and the Rock. On RAW before the show, John Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment on the Rock and the Rock then delivered a receipt by hitting the Rock Bottom on Cena to help the Miz win at Wrestlemania 27. Then, the pair agreed, on the RAW after, to wrestle at Wrestlemania 28 to create a year-long hype of this dream match. As the Rock said “something that’s never been done before with the fans”.
But who won on Wrestlemania 28? THE ROCK.
I remember being shocked at this, at the time, as the Rock was a Hollywood actor and part-time performer, yet he defeated the company’s #1 star cleanly at Wrestlemania 28. Little did we know that a rematch was already scheduled for Wrestlemania 29, to which John Cena not only won, but also won the WWE Title off of the Rock. This concluded 3 Wrestlemanias worth of great business for everyone involved and gave John Cena tremendous momentum for the rest of 2013 (to which Cena tried to use that momentum to put over Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam 2013, but also due to Cena needing surgery on his arm).
If the Rock is going to boldly sacrifice his body and his time for the WWE, it has to not only be worth it to him, but be worth it to his character.
I believe that the Rock learned something from 2003, immediately following Wrestlemania 19. If you’ll recall that year, we were witnessing somewhat of a rebirth of the Rock’s character. He returned to being a heel and a very cocky heel at that, known to many fans as “Hollywood Rock”. He was KILLING it again and for Wrestlemania 19, he was getting another crack at wrestling Stone Cold Steve Austin whom he could never beat (lost at 2 Wrestlemania events, 15 & 17). The Rock finally vanquished Stone Cold and on the RAW following it, Bill Goldberg made a surprise appearance to challenge the Rock who was looking for an opponent after finally “doing it all”.
At WWE Backlash 2003, Bill Goldberg defeated the Rock… One and done.
GONE was the momentum of the “Hollywood Rock” character. Now granted, the Rock did have some movie projects for the rest of 2003 but I believe he realized that by quickly putting over Bill Goldberg, it erased all of the character development that he did during 2003 and finally getting over the hump on defeating Steve Austin. I believe THIS moment, along with the prior year when Brock Lesnar vanquished the Rock at SummerSlam 2002, made the Rock think that maybe he was being too generous with his time. After all, very few wrestlers in the business have been as big of a star inside the business than the Rock.
Fast forward to 2011… The Rock is a freakin’ movie star and a major one at that. He didn’t have to return to the WWE, but if he did, it HAD to be worth his time. Not just a “one and done” with John Cena. No, it had to be something that increased his value to the WWE for more than one match. Hence why he was a host at Wrestlemania 27, defeated John Cena at Wrestlemania 28, and then put over John Cena at Wrestlemania 29. Everyone wins. Vince McMahon and the WWE did incredible business for 3 straight Wrestlemania events. Though Cena lost the first bout, he got revenge on the second match and actually defeated the Rock for the WWE Title. Then, for the Rock, he’s still credible as a performer… He held his own against John Cena.
I believe there was a Creative difference between what the Rock wanted and what Vince McMahon wanted for Wrestlemania 39. Vince wanted a “one and done”, with the Rock putting over Roman Reigns in the Main Event of Wrestlemania 39. Vince wasn’t ready to have Roman lose yet, as he wanted extra time to pile up on his World Title reign. Hence why Cody Rhodes, who appeared to be substituting for the Rock as we know officially know, didn’t win.
The Rock wanted something else… Now, whether that was something exactly like John Cena vs. Rock where the Rock wins the first match and Roman wins the second, I don’t know? Maybe they have a draw or a disputed finish at Wrestlemania 39 and then agree to hype a rematch at SummerSlam 2023 or Wrestlemania 40? It’s something… I believe that the Rock wanted to make it more than just one match, but Vince didn’t want Roman losing at Wrestlemania 39. The Rock wanted to keep his value strong with the WWE, as that helps him with his brand and popularity with his movies.
You could give me that “Rock didn’t want to put Roman Reigns over”. Nope… It’s just like 2011-2013. The Rock just doesn’t want one match, he actually wants to be much more involved than that. Again, it’s the comparison of the 2003 Goldberg one & done versus the John Cena feud of 2011-2013.
But the Rock has every right to dictate terms. He is one of the, if not the, biggest stars in Hollywood. His films have totaled $12.5 billion worldwide. There are many right now inquiring if he’d run for President of the United States. PRESIDENT!
Also with the Rock, he can be trusted to do business when the timing is right. Again, look at that John Cena feud. Yes, the Rock won at Wrestlemania 28, but he put John over cleanly at Wrestlemania 29 and for the WWE Title.
Do you think that you could do that with Hulk Hogan or other major stars? Do you remember that SummerSlam 2005 stuff with Shawn Michaels? And by the way, Hogan was very old by then and he still wouldn’t give Shawn Michaels any wins over him. While Hulk Hogan put over the Rock cleanly at Wrestlemania 18, that game over disagreements over the finish of a potential Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin match that was supposed to happen instead. Being a smart politician, Hogan knew his early WWE tenure was doomed if he gave Vince any issues over putting over the Rock at Wrestlemania 18. Hogan then proceeds to feed into the Toronto fans and turn babyface during the match, getting essentially what he wanted anyway (another WWE Title run).
Why do you think “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was so cautious of Hulk Hogan? He knew that if Hulk Hogan ever pinned him cleanly in a one-on-one match, his career in the WWE would be over. That’s the way it was when working with Hogan back then. Fast forward to 1996 and Roddy Piper defeats Hulk Hogan in their very first WCW encounter. See what happens here? Because Hogan let Piper win, it extended their business together and we got another huge Pay Per View during early 1997 because Hogan lowered his guard and did proper business. Instead of making money off of just 1 event, they made money off of multiple events (plus the TV in between).
The Rock has put over many, many wrestlers in his day. Austin multiple times, Triple H multiple times, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg… The Rock was very generous to Kurt Angle during their matches. Then, of course, letting John Cena get his win back.
I’d trust him… And what the Rock is giving you back in return is multiple appearances and more than 1 match. Is that not worth it? Furthermore, he alluded to helping the entire locker room, too. Maybe more wrestlers get involved in the Rock vs. Roman conflict?
Apparently, it wasn’t what the WWE or Vince McMahon wanted for Wrestlemania 39, as it appeared Vince wanted Rock vs. Roman to be “one and done” with Roman beating the Rock and moving on. BUT, had the Rock been at Wrestlemania 39, his value would have diminished if Roman Reigns, the dastardly heel by the way, would have defeated him cleanly as one and done.
Think about it this way… What if the Rock defeats Roman at Wrestlemania 39, with Rock as a babyface and Roman as a heel, but then roles get reversed at Wrestlemania 40? What the WWE truly wants is to push Roman as a babyface wrestler. What if the Rock can deliver that character switch? See, that’s the BIG PICTURE kind of business that the Rock is alluding to… Don’t just use me as “one and done”, let’s tell a story of a true rivalry that goes back and forth. Let’s make money at multiple events, not just 1 event.
Do you smell what the Rock is cooking here?
The crazy thing is that the Rock’s stance is that he wants to do MORE with the WWE than just one match. Isn’t that great? Getting more business from the biggest star on the planet? He just appeared on WWE Smackdown and the overnight ratings just showed he boomed its viewership. Keep in mind, High School football is happening right now on Friday Nights and he’s growing the television audience because of appearing.
This story goes to show you how protective Vince McMahon is of Roman Reigns. I bet that if you asked Vince whom his favorite all time wrestler is, Roman seriously has a fighting chance to be that guy. Between Roman and the Undertaker, I believe, maybe some Andre there as well. For 2014-2019, he gave Roman Reigns all of the breaks while taking the rest of the roster for granted. Those years featured a very inexperienced Roman Reigns, too, having many subpar matches against top superstars. Vince didn’t care and he was bound & determined to make Roman become the next babyface sensation as a John Cena clone.
And he remains protective of Roman as a heel… Given the chance to have the Rock at Wrestlemania 39, Vince fumbled the ball… Vince wanted one and done, not realizing that he’d have the Rock for multiple events instead of just 1 show. Plus, the Rock could be trusted to eventually put over Roman. Again, see Rock vs. Cena from 2011-2013.
What I really liked about the Rock’s appearance on Pat McAfee‘s show was that we have everything ON THE RECORD about Wrestlemania 39 along with potentially Wrestlemania 40. Rock confirmed that Roman vs. Rock was supposed to happen, but business couldn’t be made or negotiated. We also know why… The Rock wants more than “one and done” with Roman. That means if the Rock does wrestle Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 40, I’d put good money on either the Rock winning, a draw, or some kind of major screwjob finish instead of what I believe Vince McMahon proposed at Wrestlemania 39 with Roman winning 100% cleanly. What Rock wants is a program of multiple events, not just one match at one event.
Vince McMahon probably sees the Rock’s age, availability with Hollywood, and the fact that he got injured badly against Cena at Wrestlemania 29 (torn abdomen). What if the Rock defeats Roman, but gets injured in the process and his Hollywood career won’t let him return? I see Vince’s point in that respect.
With the Rock being on WWE Smackdown this past week and having ZERO interaction with Roman Reigns and the Bloodline, that tells me that Roman vs. Rock at Wrestlemania 40 isn’t happening yet.
HOWEVER, let’s give Pat McAfee some major credit. Not just by taking a huge ESPN deal and his show is still killing it, which many predicted he wouldn’t, but by getting the Rock to get ON THE RECORD about Wrestlemania 39, what he wants from a WWE run, and the door being still open for Wrestlemania 40. Total respect to Pat for getting answers out of the Rock that all of us have been wanting for a while.
Maybe we could get Pat McAfee to ask Tony Khan or CM Punk what their terms of Punk’s non-complete are, if one exists? If I were CM Punk, I’d seriously consider Pat McAfee’s show as the first place to talk about his AEW tenure. That is ratings gold and could help Punk amplify his story to new heights.
What the Rock is cooking is an extended experience. What the WWE and Vince McMahon want is for the Rock to just put over Roman cleanly. That is what I heard from the Rock’s appearance on the Pat McAfee show. Rock remembers his program with John Cena and remembers that it made a metric ton of money for everyone involved, while making John Cena look strong in the end. The Rock wants that same experience with Roman, simple as that.
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