I beg your kind indulgence while I mark the fuck out for a minute.
Last night Dwayne Johnson, once (and probably still) best known as The Rock, returned to Raw, the flagship show of World Wrestling Entertainment, appearing in the ring for the first time in nearly seven years. A few pre-tapes scattered through the years aside, it was his first appearance for WWE since the Hall of Fame ceremony the night before WrestleMania XXIV in March, 2008.
It was as if the guy had never been away. In the space of about twenty minutes, The Rock not only performed the best promo WWE has seen in years — maybe since before he left the roster in 2004 — he single-handedly rescued what has been shaping up to be a limp and lackluster WrestleMania. Rock promised that he was back, and never ever leaving (we shall see how long that lasts), and called out WWE top dog and presumptive WrestleMania headliner John Cena, mocking Cena’s “You can’t see me” catchphrase in a bit that made me laugh out loud for nearly a minute straight.
WWE needs The Rock right now. After a seven-year absence, he’s a fresh face once again. And — taking nothing away from the current roster, including Cena, of whom I am a fan — he’s just a lot better at this stuff than anyone else in the company. The elevation of Alberto Del Rio and The Miz to main event level, solid ring work from Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, William Regal, Dolph Ziggler and a few others, has carried the promotion through the past year or so, but the disappointing Nexus angle, which started out white-hot in the summer but ended up circling the drain by a few months later, a silly and over-long feud between Kane and Edge on SmackDown, and a series of gimmicky and poorly received pay-per-views (not to mention the clumsy and off-putting attempt to brand the fans themselves by having everyone refer to the audience as the WWE Universe) have resulted in falling domestic buyrates and lagging fan enthusiasm. You can’t really blame people if they’d rather watch UFC.
This year’s WrestleMania, with Cena vs. Miz, and Edge vs. Del Rio, presumably to be its top title matches, was shaping up to be adequate at best. The return of injured stars like The Undertaker and Triple H in the next few weeks may have added something, but probably not enough to really make the show, set for April 3 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, something special.
But all of that was before last night. With the return of The Rock (whose vaguely defined role will be that of “host”), the prospects for WrestleMania went from arid to electrifying in the space of a few minutes. Last week the ‘Mania-related talk in the internet wrestling community was mostly about the wished-for match between The Undertaker and longtime NWA, WCW and TNA star Sting. Now it looks like that match won’t happen. Yesterday that seemed like a big deal to us wrestling fans. But today? It doesn’t matter.
Embedded below are videos of the closing 20 minutes of last night’s Raw, featuring the return of The Rock. If you’re a wrestling fan and you didn’t catch it already, check it out.