Everything about The Rock’s stunning WWE return makes anything possible now

Everything about The Rock’s stunning WWE return makes anything possible now

The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson finally returned to WWE and brought plenty of intrigue with him.

Maybe a lot of it was a coincidence, a one-day fever dream of The Rock just happening to be a guest Friday on “The Pat McAfee Show” in Boulder, Colo., and then he and the ESPN star making the short trip to Denver to just so happen to open the first WWE show after the merger with Endeavor.

The show was seen by 2.569 million people with a massive 0.70 rating in the key P18-49 demo, and the YouTube video received 103 million views.

He and McAfee shined during a fun opening segment with Austin Theory — who rose to the occasion — that could very well be a throwaway one-off like his Baron Corbin and Becky Lynch segment the last time he was on WWE programming for the first “SmackDown on Fox” in 2019.

Maybe the Hollywood writers strike left The Rock with some extra time on his hands.

While it could be the case, you probably aren’t reading between the lines enough. 

For years, The Rock and and his “cousin” Roman Reigns in interviews have danced around the idea of them finally having the dream match wrestling fans crave — never dismissing it but never giving it enough credence to make fans expect it. 

That is until Friday. 

Because Friday, The Rock revealed on McAfee’s show that that match with Reigns was “locked in” for WrestleMania 39 in Hollywood over a handshake agreement with Vince McMahon and current WWE CEO Nick Khan. It didn’t come to fruition because they could not come up with the industry-changing creative that was the start — and not the end — of something The Rock desired.

But listen to Rock’s words carefully.

“We got really, really close, but we couldn’t actually nail what that thing was so we decided to put our pencils down,” Rock said. “Then we agreed, ‘Hey, listen, there is a merger coming up. Eventually, that will happen. There’s WrestleMania in Philadelphia.’ … I’m saying that’s a potential too. I’m open.”

A merger, you say. WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia, you say. 

The Rock
The Rock arrives on SmackDown last week.WWE
The Rock
The Rock received a huge pop in his return.WWE

This was the most brazenly The Rock has talked about a return, making it even more disappointing if he and WWE don’t deliver for the millions and millions of his fans. Let’s see if Reigns makes any references to The Rock and him calling SmackDown his show when he returns to television.  

But it is the “merger” that makes waiting and possibly the conscious decision to do so make perfect sense and perfect business — something Khan has proven to be a master of more times than not. 

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The Rock vs. Roman Reigns — whether it’s for the WWE Undisputed Universal championship or not — would give the first WrestleMania of the Endeavor era the type of box office attraction and likely record profits you wow your new bosses with. That also includes using the possibility of The Rock to negotiate even better television rights deals  

There will be a creative challenge here, but to me, The Rock vs. Reigns arc needs to be about rebuilding their tattered family and bloodline back stronger than ever on screen.

The biggest question is how does Cody Rhodes fit in.

Fans were expecting him to “finish the story” against Reigns in Philadelphia to finally become WWE champion and end The Tribal Chief’s historic reign after losing at WrestleMania 39. 

The Rock gets set to deliver a People's Elbow to Austin Theory.
The Rock gets set to deliver a People’s Elbow to Austin Theory.WWE
Roman Reigns
WWE undisputed universal champion Roman Reigns.WWE

Will that have to wait another year? Will he beat Reigns before WrestleMania and Rock picks up the pieces of his broken cousin? Does WWE detour and have him win the World Heavyweight championship first?  

That will work itself out for better or worse.

What matters for now is The Rock’s appearance and words allow fans to dream and fantasy book all of it with more hope than ever before. 

Taking her leave 

Jade Cargill appears to be headed to WWE, according to multiple reports, as the second biggest star after Rhodes to come over from AEW. She has limitless potential in WWE, where she will likely get some Performance Center training before hitting the main roster with plenty of dream matches to have. She, however, exits with her final match in AEW leaving a feeling of what could have been. 

Jade Cargill
Jade Cargill faced Kris Statlander in likely her last match in AEW before heading to WWE.AEW

TBS champion Kris Statlander really is the best opponent for Cargill in AEW because her matching her in size and strength is believable. It’s a shame Statlander dealt with so many injuries and their first real match had to be Cargill’s farewell one on Rampage of all places.

Cargill potentially leaving makes you wonder if having her go 60-0 and never challenging for the world title at the top of the roster was the right way to use her.

Man Up

Becky Lynch and Tiffany Stratton absolutely nailed it as The Man won the NXT women’s championship to become the final Grand Slam champion in WWE among the Four Horsewomen. The action was well-paced, hard-hitting and it only added to the drama of the false finishes at the end. Stratton is incredibly smooth for someone this early in her career and has proven she is main-roster ready. 

Lynch, who can be seen calling the match and keeping Stratton present in the moments, is working at an elite level right now coming off her cage match with Trish Stratus and is a rating success, and the Stratton clash peaked at more than a million viewers.

Things did take a weird turn on Raw when instead of using Lynch to showcase an up-and-comer, they gave Natayla an NXT women’s title match. Maybe this will be a longer run than we think.

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The 10 Count

The Jey Uso storyline on Raw feels like it could lead to some shifts in WWE, from Drew McIntyre potentially turning heel after not helping him and maybe a little rift between Dominik Mysterio and Rhea Ripley. The one to really watch for is if Jey can usurp Cody Rhodes and Raw’s top babyface.

Dynamite needed a good angle to end the show and it got it. Roderick Strong’s character work with faking his neck injury continues to be a ton of fun, and Samoa Joe choking out Adam Cole like he did in NXT only raised the stakes and danger MJF faces at Grand Slam.

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Bron Breakker and Baron Corbin’s promo interaction on NXT had enough twists and turns to be compelling. But I’m curious to see why WWE made this match that is hard to get fully invested in with two clear heals squaring off.

Beloved babyfaces in the LWO are a perfect place for the more aggressive and heelish Street Profits to restart after Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins got cheered for attacking The Good Brothers a few weeks ago.

Sammy Guevera and Chris Jericho
Sammy Guevera and Chris Jericho.AEW

Sammy Guevara and Chris Jericho delivered a really good setup promo for their Grand Slam match. They broke down the fourth wall on their friendship, laid out the importance of winning for Guevara and established no one will hold back. If Guevara gets the win, the handshake after will be key. The lack of one is needed for a full breakout.

Love that WWE had Solo Sikoa and Grayson Waller interact with John Cena in a meaningful way to close SmackDown. Interweaving The Bloodline, The OC and The Judgment Day storylines is also very intriguing.

Seth Rollins completely losing it on Raw with Shinsuke Nakamura firmly in his head during the storyline is just another intense layer added to this story. Both men are delivering high-level and local character work that has allowed things to exceed expectations

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Impact 1000 was a really fun trip down memory lane and a reminder of just how rich a history the company has going bak to its TNA days. From seeing Gail Kim, Awesome Kong and the Dudleys, to having Chris Sabin win another X-Division title was all fun stuff.

The potential brutal TV botch of having the take-start signal at the start of Keith Lee’s backstage interview on Collison was just the start of the trouble with it. Making a match between him and Shane Taylor without a proper explanation of their history as tag partners in Ring of Honor from 2015-17 felt like another rushed dream match in AEW.

Watched the first two episodes of “Wrestlers” on Netflix chronicling the current Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). The show has tremendous heart, this grassroots type of look at the business is something people need to see and Al Snow’s passion flows through the screen.

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Extra: Cody Rhodes, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Jey Uso would need a fifth for WarGames. Carmelo Hayes?

Wrestler of the Week

Kris Stantlander, AEW

The TBS champion is proving herself to be one of AEW’s best attractions and in-ring workers in the women’s division as her athleticism and versatility are starting to set her apart. Statlander went out and had two excellent title defenses this week, first defeating Cargill on Rampage and then delivering a hard-hitting and entertaining affair against Britt Baker in the first-ever women’s match to main event Collision, which ended in a great pin to counter the Lock Jaw.

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Match to Watch

Claudio Castagnoli vs. Eddie Kingston, Title vs. Title at “AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam”, (Wednesday. 8 p.m. ET, TBS)

This could be a defining chapter in a rivalry that stretches back 17 years to Castagnoli’s and Kingston’s day in Ring of Honor and the indies. The Ring of Honor world championship and the NJPW STRONG Openweight championship will be on the line.

It could be a crowning moment for Kingston to finally defeat his nemesis and win his first world title in a major promotion in front of his hometown fans in New York City at Arthur Ashe Stadium.