Though The Rock and Chris Jericho both came back to WWE from other fields of entertainment, it was not with an equal amount of hype.
Ultimately, the WWE has been most focused on the in-ring WrestleMania return of The Great One.
And why shouldn’t it be?
This is the first time a leader from the Attitude Era has come back to put over the next generation of WWE stars.
The match, the prospect of the match, has been with us for over a year.
The Rock has fired off from Twitter, from video, from RAW, and even littered the Boston Harbor to drive home his hatred for John Cena.
But even with a year, even with the 20-minute concert segment this week on RAW, The Rock has not yet been able to do what Chris Jericho did on that same night—he has not been able to wipe the smirk off his opponent’s face.
If you’ve watched John Cena the last three weeks, you know the smirk.
It’s the one he wore as the Rock tried his best in Boston to tough-talk John Cena. It's this smirk, I believe, that caused a pro-Rock crowd to chant “Tooth Fairy."
It is the smirk heard ‘round the world.
The Rock is not just losing to John Cena right now, he's losing to John Cena’s smirk.
Don’t get me wrong, fans of The Rock, The Great One has had his moments.
Rocky has proven what we already knew—nobody can electrify a live crowd quite like The Rock. It is a natural gift that he has honed, and arguably nobody before, or after, has a presence like the Rock.
But while The Rock may be winning with a live crowd, he is losing the conversation.
Who would have guessed, just over two weeks from WrestleMania, that John Cena would be winning the verbal war?
Cena has been smarter than The Rock. He has been more defiant and [shockingly?] showing an ability to land a counter punch.
And he’s done it all wearing that grin the Rock hates so much. The grin the Rock has not been able to reshape.
You know who else likes to grin?
And it had been working for him against Jericho.
Jericho scowls…Punk grins. Jericho recounts his history in professional wrestling…Punk grins. Jericho wears his lite-brite jacket…Punk grins.
But all that ended on RAW this past week.
Chris Jericho took one of the most ill-timed moments in the history of WWE and changed the mood of the WWE championship match.
Jericho took a theme that was rushed, that appeared from nowhere, that could have led to a kickback from the live crowd, and heated the building like a human blowtorch.
Jericho proved once more that he can take any word in any given amount of time and make it transform. Not only did he transform the program with Punk, he has now given Punk the potential to add more layers to his character.
Punk must now do something more than grin.
And what did Rock do that same night?
He put on a twenty-minute concert that, as usual, connected with the live crowd but fell short with the WWE Universe at large.
One would think by giving the Rock the main event time slot and four times the minutes of John Cena that the WWE was trying to help Rock catch up.
Still, many believe John Cena won again. I’m not hating on the Rock, either. He’s done exactly what we expected him to do—entertain.
But has anything he’s said truly been a game-changer?
I mean, sure, his remarks have been memorable enough to trend. We are all aware of that. And, yes, they have also been memorable enough to launch Cena onto a breakfast cereal box.
But, if you judge by expectation and by the amount of time invested in The Rock, you must admit he has not once broken through against Cena like Jericho did against Punk on RAW.
Maybe, dare I say, there has been too much expectation for The Great One.
No one man can be expected to save us. Ask Chris Jericho.
Jericho was once placed in such a role and had to transform himself to live it down.
Rock, too, may have to change it up if he expects to make more contact against Cena. To his favor, Rock has a safety net in that WrestleMania is in his backyard.
But one day, history will judge his performance against John Cena leading into WrestleMania.
Rock hasn’t done poorly. But did he come back to not do poorly?
It would be interesting if we lined up these four men: The Rock, Cena, Jericho, and Punk. I know who was meant to accomplish the most on the road to WrestleMania—The Rock. It’s clear from the time that has been allotted to him that this is true.
But I can’t say he’s outperformed Cena. In fact, I’ll say lately Cena has outperformed him.
Now I’m wondering about Jericho.
When it comes to their returns, is Chris Jericho outperforming the Rock as well? And will the Rock do anything between now and WrestleMania that will break through on the level many have expected?
Rock can learn from Jericho that we do not need to be saved. Not even from Cena.
What he should remember is that every time a wrestler returns, his legacy changes with what he does. What he is able or not able to do. While Rock can't save us, he'd better save himself.
Unless he wants to be the guy who came back and lost the conversation against John Cena.
Meanwhile, Jericho continues to elevate everything around him. Including his legacy.