When The Rock made his intentions to capture the WWE Championship quite clear nearly a year ago, the outrage began over a part-timer potentially holding the most prestigious title in pro wrestling.
No matter how big a star The Rock is in both wrestling and Hollywood, the consensus seemed to be that the WWE title should be reserved for full-time performers only.
Yet, here we are, nearly 12 months after The Rock first set his sights on the WWE Championship, and he’s now holding it. He defeated CM Punk at the Royal Rumble to end Punk’s historic 434-day title reign and beat him again at the Elimination Chamber.
Now, The Rock is headed to WrestleMania 29 on April 7 as the WWE Champion to face John Cena in the main event for the second straight year. Unfortunately for Cena, the WWE as a whole, and especially for us fans, The Rock hasn’t been around much to make this feud seem like as big of a deal as it should.
On the last two episodes of Raw, there has been absolutely no sign of The Rock—at least not in person. Aside from a video package chronicling his feud with Cena, The Rock hasn’t appeared on a WWE show in more than two weeks.
And as The Rock films movies and does whatever else it is that’s keeping him off of Raw and SmackDown, he continues to devalue the title that the WWE worked so hard to build back up before The Rock had won it.
From November of 2008 to October of 2011, the creative team played a dangerous game of hot potato with the WWE Championship. There were a whopping 25—yes, 25—different title reigns during that span, with only one (The Miz’s from 2010 to 2011) lasting more than 100 days.
The creative team kept flip-flopping the title from one superstar to another so much that it came to mean next to nothing. It went from being the top title in the WWE to nothing more than a prop that the WWE couldn’t decide who to give it to.
But that all changed about a year-and-a-half ago.
That, of course, was when CM Punk became WWE Champion at Survivor Series 2011 and went on to hold the title for an astounding 434 days. Punk was able to do what not even the likes of Triple H, Cena and Randy Orton before him could—restore the prestige of the WWE title.
It became something that mattered again—something that the WWE’s top stars wanted and something that wasn’t a silly little prop that was randomly passed around.
Then, The Rock won it.
The Rock won the WWE Championship because he’s a major Hollywood star and a huge draw. The WWE likes the additional media attention he gets (even though it’s not quite as much as the company makes it out to be) and the fact that he equals more pay-per-view buys.
But what the WWE has naturally failed to take into consideration is the effect that The Rock’s absence from TV has on so many things—the buildup to his match with Cena, morale in the locker room and, perhaps most importantly, the prestige of the WWE title.
After all, the “buildup” to The Rock vs. Cena II (and I use the word “buildup” cautiously) has been pretty lackluster, and not surprisingly, the WWE locker room reportedly isn’t too fond of The Rock’s limited schedule on the road to WrestleMania 29.
That’s not all that surprising, though. What is surprising is that the WWE doesn’t seem to care about The Rock’s lack of TV appearances as we near the biggest show of the year.
The Rock is a busy man, and anybody else who stays busy can certainly respect that. But—and the debate is there as to whether this is true or not—the fact that he’s not around at the WWE’s most important time of the year while he’s the WWE Champion sends a bad message that the WWE Championship simply doesn’t matter.
Why should we care about the WWE’s top title when, at least on the surface, it looks like the WWE Champion himself doesn’t even care about it? Why does the WWE title matter when the champion isn’t appearing on house shows and can’t even record promos via satellite?
The simple fact that The Rock draws ratings and fans is what’s making this OK in the eyes of WWE officials, but the rest of us aren’t blind.
We see that The Rock is busy filming his movies, making his red-carpet appearances and so on. What we don’t see is the commitment to the WWE that the company deserves out of its champion.
When Punk was champion, he worked his tail off and showed up each and very week. When Cena was champion, he made sure that the WWE title mattered. Even when The Miz was champion, he did everything he could to show that the WWE title meant something and that he truly treasured it.
The Rock will tell us that he cares so much about the WWE Championship, and I think he does. After all, he didn’t have to come back to the WWE at all, and he did.
But perception is reality, and the perception is that The Rock doesn’t care enough about the WWE or being the WWE Champion. Therefore, the reality is that many fans don’t think he cares about it, either.
This has set a bad precedent that has not only opened the floodgates for more potential part-time champions down the road, but has also completely devalued the WWE title after the creative team spent 14 months building it back up.
The WWE Champion failing to appear on TV every week would be like the Baltimore Ravens deciding that they only want to play 10 games this season instead of 16. Yeah, they’re the top dog right now, but no one thinks they deserve any special treatment because of it.
If you have a job, you give it everything you have. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t have that job.
And if you’re The Rock, don’t ruin the prestige of the WWE Championship by showing up once in a blue moon. It hurts you, the WWE title and Cena, but most importantly, it hurts the fans.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!