Ever since The Rock's return to WWE at the Royal Rumble in January, he has been the victim of bad press, and it's not his fault.
Several full-time performers have gone on record to voice their displeasure over the WWE relying on part-time wrestlers like The Great One. Even though he left WrestleMania 29 after the event ended due to a then-unknown injury and missed Monday Night Raw, the heat continued to pour down on him.
But Rock does not deserve the bad press he's received. It's not his fault he was given a main event title run after not being with the company for many years.
It's the WWE's fault.
World Wrestling Entertainment is relying so hard on part-time guys like Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar to sell pay-per-views because they have proven they can deliver. Any of these four men in a match, either on television or at an event like WrestleMania, is a match that is going to work.
Even without being on television week in and week out, they can step back into the squared circle and put on a five-star match that engages the fans.
Several WWE wrestlers have voiced their feelings about part-timers in today's WWE. Cody Rhodes told 106.7 The Fan DC:
I love the fact that Brock, and the Rock, and Jericho are here because they’re guaranteed. They’ve proven that they can go in the ring. For WrestleMania this year, I think it’s wonderful...Who’s a bigger celebrity than the Rock?
But next year, at WrestleMania 30, it’s a personal goal—and I know Dolph (Ziggler) is the same way, Wade (Barrett) is probably the same way—that it’s not about bringing anyone back. Let these guys go home. They did everything they possibly could, let them go home.
Would it be nice to see more of the younger and full-time stars headlining shows? Sure. But when big events roll around and these guys can't deliver, what's the WWE to do? Vince McMahon and company aren't in the wrestling business, they're in the moneymaking business.
Bigger and more established names draw bigger numbers and thus make the company more money. John Cena taking on Rock, Hollywood movie star, is going to do more for the WWE in the short run than Dolph Ziggler facing anyone else on the roster.
The current World champion is a great seller and athlete, but he doesn't have the same name recognition as Rock. Fair or not, Ziggler won't be on daytime television or late night talk shows plugging the WWE.
Can Rock be blamed for taking a big paycheck to appear on a few shows and carry the gold once again? Perhaps the grumbling from the others on the roster is fueled by jealousy and nothing more.
By using Rock, the WWE improved the buy rates for the events he appeared at. Wrestlezone.com noted that the 2013 Rumble drew 498,000 buys, up from 438,000 buys the previous year. Even though it was lower than the 2008 event, which drew 575,000, buys, this was still an improvement.
For Elimination Chamber, the event drew 210,000 buy rates. This, too, was an improvement from 2012, which drew 178,000.
WrestleMania 29 buy rates are not out yet. Even though some wrestling sites speculate the numbers will be low, the event did draw the biggest live gate for any WWE show in its history. It earned $12.3 million—also a MetLife Stadium record—and drew 80,676 fans, the second most-attended WrestleMania, behind only WrestleMania III.
Rock’s quick departure from WrestleMania 29 and failure to appear on Raw the next night continued the heat and bad press. According to PWInsider (h/t Wrestlinginc.com) the heat on Rock dispelled a bit when word leaked of his injury, although some still voiced their displeasure. Certain wrestlers backstage felt if they work hurt, so could Rock.
But Rock doesn't deserve this heat either, for the same reason Rhodes, Punk and Ziggler were complaining about: He's a part-time wrestler. Like it or not, his biggest priority is not coming to the ring to cut a promo but making sure he can still do his day job, which is making million-dollar Hollywood pictures.
Rock suffered torn abductor and abdominal muscles during his bout with Cena. Instead of stopping the match, he finished it. He finished the bout like a professional in much the same manner as Triple H did when he tore his quadriceps muscle during a match.
Shouldn't Rock be applauded for his professionalism when it counted most? In the main event of the biggest show of the year, he suffered a painful injury and still finished the bout with most in attendance unaware that anything was wrong.
Mick Foley, hardcore legend and the man known for punishing his body, took to Twitter to defend Rock. He wrote:
Very sorry to hear about the injury suffered by @therock.A torn abdominal muscle I suffered in 1993, was BY FAR my most painful injury.— Mick Foley (@realmickfoley) April 11, 2013
Instead of announcing on Raw the night after WrestleMania that Rock wouldn't be there, and drawing a chorus of boos, the WWE could have been truthful. They could have announced Rock's injury for those who didn't know or don't follow him on Twitter.
Rock has been nothing but a class act during his time with the WWE. He has done everything the WWE asked of him and paid him to do. He doesn't deserve any of the bad press he's received.