Before I progress into the main body of this article, allow me to pre-empt the public outcry that may follow such a seemingly pessimistic stance.
I, like the majority of the wrestling community, have been riding a wave of euphoria since The Rock made his triumphant return three weeks ago. That moment was one of the greatest Raw moments of all time—in my book at least.
Trust me, I marked out. I marked out hard. I marked out like Perez Hilton after he found out Charlie Sheen opened a Twitter account.
But amongst the celebrations, there is a question that needs to be asked:
Will The Rock’s return harm the WWE in the long run?
This article functions on the assumption that shortly after WrestleMania XXVII, The Rock will play a significantly less active role on WWE programming or leave altogether. Let's face it, the chances of The Rock working with the WWE on some sort of regulated schedule are highly unlikely.
So, after the tremendous high that was The Rock’s return and the spectacle that WrestleMania XXVII will hopefully become, The Rock will ride off into the sunset, the WrestleMania hype will die down and the WWE Universe will let out a collective sigh of, "So...what now?"
Over the past couple of years, a sense of apathy has infected the WWE audience—at least in comparison to wrestling audiences of 10 years ago. This sense of apathy would only be exacerbated by The Rock’s departure, as something has come along that we all wanted, only to come to an abrupt end.
Furthermore, despite The Rock returning in glorious fashion to host WrestleMania XXVII, we are unlikely to get what we really want: that one last match.
In all likelihood, post-WrestleMania WWE will be just like WWE before The Rock returned. John Cena will reclaim his place at the top of the pile, and the rest of the card will be treated with the same significance it is treated with from April to December every year.
However, the problem lies with John Cena.
The Rock’s return has in many ways rejuvenated the John Cena character. From my own perspective, there is currently a consistent interest in what Cena is saying, something that has been largely absent in recent memory. His clash with The Rock has captivated the audience, encouraging them to choose a side. This is fantastic. Or, it would be, if Cena was a heel.
The Rock’s promos not only illustrate the difference in quality between a top guy in 2000 and 2011, they leave Cena with questionable authenticity in light of the comments he made regarding The Rock.
The WWE cannot expect the WWE Universe to throw its support behind John Cena once WrestleMania XXVII has passed. His appeal as a baby face is as questionable as ever before, with his popularity seemingly waning. Once The Rock leaves, the WWE Universe will be left with a top face they may not fully support or want.
The only thing that may prevent such a backlash is a “happy ending” to this feud at WrestleMania. For example, The Rock counts the three at WrestleMania, allowing Cena to capture the WWE Championship. They then shake hands and everyone is happy.
(Miz Voice) "Really?"
This prospect displeases me and I doubt such an ending would please many of you.
After years of build up, the passionate and boundary-pushing promos and the excitement from the fans…we get a handshake? It does not fit the feud and would be one of the biggest anti-climaxes in WWE history.
But this would not surprise me. To allow John Cena to keep his baby face credibility in tact, it is probable that the WWE will risk rushing the finish of the most engaging feud currently in wrestling, increasing the likelihood of the WWE Universe becoming even more apathetic towards the product in the long-run.
But maybe this won’t happen. Perhaps The Rock will rejuvenate WWE programming for the rest of 2011 like he has the past few weeks.
Imagine this: during The Miz vs. John Cena match, the referee gets knocked out and The Rock comes down to referee the remainder of the match.
John Cena hits an AA, but Miz manages to kick out at two. John Cena confronts The Rock, claiming he counted slowly. This infuriates The Rock, so he hits The Rock Bottom, following up with a peoples elbow. He then exits the ring and WrestleMania XXVII. The Miz crawls on top of Cena. The original referee brings himself round enough to count to three. The Rock just cost John Cena the WWE title.
Here begins the buildup to The Rock vs. John Cena at SummerSlam, or even better, WrestleMania XXVIII.
Or they will shake hands after a John Cena victory and share a bowl of Fruity Pebbles at Mania.
It is clear that the WWE’s handling of The Rock at WrestleMania XXVII, and more importantly his departure, is crucial to how the audience receive the product immediately after sports-entertainment’s Superbowl.
Only time will tell what the long-standing impact The Rock’s return will have on the WWE as a whole.