THE JOHN REPORT
Respecting The Rock
It seems like every place you look on the 'net wrestling fans have an opinion of The Rock. Some people love him for his catchphrases; others mark out for the People's Elbow, while some dislike him for repeating the same lines. Others, like myself, do not love him or hate him yet we find a way to respect him for everything he has accomplished in his short wrestling career.
Two years ago, in the summer '98, if you asked wrestling fans whether or not they liked The Rock I'd guess that 85% of them would say yes. His act was fresh. A guy talking in the third person who, at age 26, seemed like the cockiest guy in the company was something that the WWF needed. Yes, it was somewhat similar to Steve Austin's badass character but the Rock maintained a freshness about him that made him appealing to all viewers.
You could tell just by looking at him that he had a flare for the wrestling business. Growing up the son of former wrestler Rocky Johnson allowed The Rock to see what it was like behind the scenes. He didn't have second hand knowledge of the business; he had first hand knowledge. He breathed it and once his football career was over, he lived it.
His start in the WWF was a rough one although you can't necessarily put the blame on him. All the WWF did was put a 25-year-old kid out there and tried to get fans to cheer them. This was at the same time as Steve Austin's rise to fame, Bret Hart's hatred towards America and Shawn Michaels degenerate behaviour so it was not the right time to debut an unknown wrestler and proclaim him a "blue-chipper." Fans didn't accept him and they let the WWF know with those infamous "Rocky sucks" chants. Rocky Maivia did suck and I bet The Rock will be the first one to admit it.
Months after the blue chipper gimmick failed he found a home as a member of the Nation of Domination. The lame blue tights were gone, the smiling was replaced by a smug look and his name was now The Rock. To start, The Rock maintained a low profile in the Nation before having a feud with Steve Austin in late '97 that would prove to be the catalyst for a long Intercontinental Title reign. Immediately following that gift from Mr. McMahon, The Rock began to shine both on the mic and as a singles wrestler. He got the rub from Stone Cold and now he would take that momentum elsewhere.
The Rock's eight month IC title reign was headlined by feuds with Ken Shamrock, Farrooq and Triple H. Most of the time The Rock retained the belt by DQ, countout or blatant interference which only caused the crowd to hate him more. They were forcing the crowd to boo him although not as blatantly as they wanted them to cheer him during his blue chipper phase. During his reign as the IC champion several of the things that we are so familiar with today began to materialize. We saw the Rock Bottom and the People's Elbow. We heard all about jabronies, we smelled what The Rock was cooking and we knew our role. He still had some work to do in the ring but as far as characters go he was already one of the best.
The WWF was so happy with The Rock's work that they put the world title on him at Survivor Series '98 that saw him turn heel in one of the greatest swerves in wrestling history. In the months that followed The Rock had a three-month feud with Mick Foley that was both brutal and thrilling to watch. The more these two wrestled, the better The Rock became in the ring. It was a learning experience that we were witnessing before our eyes.
In March of '99 at WrestleMania XV, The Rock wrestled in the main event as the top heel in the business going against the top babyface in the history of wrestling, Steve Austin. At the ripe age of 27, The Rock was headlining the biggest show in the business. Who cares if he lost the belt to Austin? He did something that only a small percentage of wrestlers will ever do. He has headlined three WrestleMania's in a row and the man hasn't even turned 30 yet.
After his feud with Austin, he turned face and has since stayed face ever since. You know the story here. When Austin was forced to sit out for ten months with a neck injury last year, The Rock became the WWF's top star. Somewhere along the way, The Rock's popularity on the internet has faded even though he remains the most popular active wrestler on the WWF roster today.
Here are a few of the things that people like to say about The Rock along with my thoughts following. These are not my thoughts; these are the thoughts that I've seen people use when they talk about The Rock.
"The Rock says the same lines every week."
Big deal. Catchphrases are, and always will be, a part of the wrestling business. Hulk Hogan had them. Bret Hart had them. Steve Austin had them. Chris Jericho has them. My point is that The Rock is not doing anything new here. These are not uncharted waters that he is crossing here. Keeping the crowd into the show is vital. If the crowd pops for it then there should be no reason to stop. That's the way it is and that's the way it always will be. He's the best promo man in the business and just like in everything else he is always improving.
"He does the same moves in every match."
Once again, big deal. The best way to distinguish wrestlers from one another is by each man having his own unique moves. Bret Hart had the five moves of doom. HBK had the flying forearm, elbowdrop, and superkick combo. Austin has the Thesz Press and Stunner combo. The Rock has the spinebuster, Rock Bottom, People's Elbow combination. If a wrestler did different moves in every match how would the crowd know when they should anticipate the end of a match? When the Rock hits a Rock Bottom or Spinebuster the crowd gets up because they know it's close to the end. The People's Elbow may be a weak looking move but even after three years of being used it still gets a response. Isn't that what wrestling is all about anyway? People who want to complain about that are watching for the wrong reasons. Wrestling is not reality, wrestling is perception and there's a big difference there.
"The Rock sucks in the ring."
One of my favourite ones to talk about because it's been a topic that will probably never end even after I prove my point here. Wrestling fans are a fickle bunch. If they see somebody like Jeff Hardy do a Swanton Bomb off of a ladder then they want EVERY wrestler to do something close to that. To fans like this, The Rock sucks because he doesn't go to the top rope or he sucks because he blocks steel chair shots ever so subtly with his hands. I'll be the first to admit that he doesn't bump like Shawn Michaels or Mick Foley but to me that's a good thing. For those that are too stubborn to realize this, Michaels and Foley have suffered injuries in wrestling that will affect them for the rest of their lives. If they didn't take powerbombs on concrete they'd probably be able to bend down without pain and pick up their kids. If they "sucked" in the ring like The Rock they'd probably be wrestling right now. My point is this, although The Rock is not the greatest worker in the world he is good enough that he gets the job done.
So what if he was the beneficiary of great performances by guys like Foley, Austin, Triple H or Benoit over the years? Without The Rock's presence in those matches where would the heat be. If someone like, say, The Big Show was in his place then the matches surely would have sucked. The Rock is not among the best workers in the world right now and he probably never will be but you can see the strides he has made in recent years. He does a better job of selling injuries, he is not exaggerating his selling as much as he used to and he has stepped up his game to keep up with the likes of Triple H, Benoit and Angle. Remember folks, The Rock is only 29 years old so he will get better over time. If you need an example of that look at Triple H who, at age 30, has improved by leaps and bounds over what he was two years ago. The Rock will get better; you just have to be patient with this because it's not something that happens over night.
"The Rock never does the J.O.B."
Often times wrestling fans like to bash The Rock because he supposedly never loses matches. I find this ludicrous because he has been more than willing to take a pinfall against several of the WWF's biggest names. Witness his being pinned by Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle in the recent past. Did The Rock complain because he's never won a WrestleMania main event? No. Did The Rock complain after having a three-week reign last April? No. Has there ever been a time when The Rock has been known to complain? No. Who is the one that jobbed to Kurt Angle when it was time to put the belt on him? The Rock.
Bottom line: The Rock does what he is told and usually he does it very well so you can't put the blame on him if the WWF wants to have tainted finishes for his matches. He's only a wrestler, he doesn't write the scripts.
I'm sure there are more bogus statements out there that some of you believe and that's fine. Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion but I'm here to tell you that, love him or hate him, The Rock is a tremendous leader to have for wrestling. Here's a guy that is popular with most wrestling fans, he's well known by non-wrestling fans and he is respected as a hard working guy by his peers. People would like to think that The Rock is egotistical but after reading interviews with his peers I can only see good things being said about him. His haters want to believe that his peers hate him just because he makes more money than they do and he's more famous than they are. It's the same thing with Tiger Woods success in golf.
Do you think other golfers like David Duval or Phil Mickelson hate Woods just because he wins most of the events he participates in? I think they may be frustrated that they are not on top but they should be smart enough to realize that Woods' presence has helped the game of golf. Compare player's earnings from three years ago to today and you'll notice a significant increase. More viewers watching Tiger Woods means more money from sponsors which end up going to the players. I'm not saying The Rock is the best wrestler in the world like Woods is the best golfer but, like Woods, The Rock is the most well-known wrestler right now and that's where the two have something in common.
When The Rock left the WWF to film "The Scorpion King" in April the WWF machine rolled on without him. While the product was still solid, it definitely was missing its biggest star. When he came back on Monday night he gave Raw the biggest rating they've ever received on TNN, not to mention a 7.1 rating in the overrun that featured him. Love him or hate him, you have to admit The Rock is good at what he does because he always gets a reaction.
If all you see when you look at The Rock are catchphrases and the People's Elbow then you are being too narrow minded. The Rock is a guy that has a genuine love for the wrestling business that comes out every time he steps into an arena. He appreciates those that came before him and he is ready to help out those that will come after him.
The Rock is genuine.
The Rock is special.
The Rock is everything that is good about the wrestling business.
It's too bad that so few people want to admit it.