Outside of completely catering to society as a whole and pushing its current roster and storylines to the back burner, there isn’t a match the WWE can put on that would draw a bigger box office than The Rock returning to the ring for a first-time ever matchup with his cousin and current Undisputed WWE Champion Roman Reigns. Well, they’re second cousins. But cousin just sounds better when you can craft a story. The mainstream appeal of the matchup, combined with how it would keep the company’s casual and diehard fans interested, would trump any current plans in place to make the match happen, anytime, anywhere.
Of course in the wrestling world, there isn’t a bigger stage than WrestleMania. On paper, pairing the two makes perfect sense. In reality, it’s much more complicated, with only specs of clarity given to the situation on Friday, when The Rock appeared on The Pat McAfee Show. ESPN’s newest darling asked The Rock about the possibility of coming back to the company to challenge Reigns. The Rock revealed that he met with Nick Khan and Vince McMahon in January 2022, and a match between himself and the Tribal Chief was locked in for Wrestlemania 39, which took place 15 months later in April, at SoFi Stadium.
According to The Rock, there were handshakes and hugs after the meeting, but the match fell apart when discussions took place about how the story would go, and the company, Reigns, and The Rock couldn’t come up with something that satisfied them all. Reigns ended up defeating Cody Rhodes in that show’s main event. [Ed. note: Cody Rhodes winning seemed like a real possibility, but nope.] One of the cool things about professional wrestling is that there’s more than one chance to pull off a dream match. And The Rock also said Friday WrestleMania 40 next year is still on the table and added “I’m open” several times. The Rock’s “openness” as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors might only be due to the coinciding Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, but WWE would take any reason at this point to bring Dwayne back within its walls. The company’s desire to bring back The Rock in such a predominant fashion is a self-own about how stale Reigns’ title reign has become, if not the entire on-camera product. Star power or not, why does the WWE need a part-timer and a one-off appearance from a legend to complete the spot for the biggest match of the year? Rumors will recirculate as to the match being a possibility after these rare public comments from The Rock on it, but the former Black Adam speaking on it doesn’t mean it makes any more sense.
The Rock hasn’t wrestled a match longer than six seconds since 2013, when he faced fellow former-full-timer-turned-actor John Cena — who was phenomenal in Peacemaker — at WrestleMania 29, a main-event clash where The Rock tore multiple tendons. The Rock would be a few weeks shy of 52 for that match, and even in as titan-like shape as Dwayne Johnson is, wrestling a main-event caliber match takes preparation and a level of athleticism that I doubt The Rock still has. Look at Johnson’s contemporaries. The Undertaker was severely limited at the end of his career at a similar age. Stone Cold Steve Austin looked great compared to expectations in his return to the ring at WrestleMania 38, but the match didn’t involve much outside the brawling style that always suited Austin best.
Doubt me? Ask Reigns himself, as Jimmy Fallon did earlier this year. Reigns said The Rock does two of the three things needed to be an active professional wrestler perfectly with his weight training and nutrition. His conditioning? The Rock hasn’t taken a bump in over a decade. Can he do it? Absolutely. Ric Flair and Terry Funk retired how many times? Neither of them tried to main event WrestleMania in a match that would likely be for two world titles, and therefore, expectations need to be harshly high. And The Rock trying to pull that off now is a desperate cry for help. It’d be a great spectacle to see, but the match doesn’t need the titles or the huge block of time commonly carved out for WrestleMania main events.
Reigns himself has worked his lightest schedule ever this year while being healthy and his next match is reportedly not scheduled until November. While Reigns is all-but locked into the WrestleMania 40 main event, a route where it’s not a rematch with Rhodes if The Rock can’t compete, or Johnson actually pulling it off and wrestling a long match for the first time in over a decade, is just as unlikely. Getting a story down that satisfies WWE’s new ownership group, TKO, as well as Reigns and The Rock, seems more likely to draw eyes to the product. It’d be another decision of those in and around WWE chasing money over the best product possible.