The last great heel in professional wrestling was The Rock…version Hollywood. Nobody did it like The Rock in 2003 and nobody has come close to doing it since. The run in 2003 that Dwayne Johnson had as The Rock is something I will always note as one of the greatest and underrated heel runs in the history of the business. The longevity wasn’t there (which is likely why this run is often overlooked), but he drew huge money in such a short time period. Not too mention, he made wrestling fun again.
In my opinion, it wasn’t until this run that The Rock became an undeniable WWE Hall of Famer. Once The Rock turned babyface after his run in the corporation, he cut catchy promos and had a lot of exciting moments but he became stale towards the end of that run. The phrases started getting too gimmicky and the People’s Elbow routine was old. It took a lot of guts but The Rock did something that even arguably the greatest WWE superstar of this generation, Stone Cold Steve Austin couldn’t pull off. The Rock reinvented himself overnight going from the hearts of pro wrestling fans to becoming the most hated man in the business.
That was the ticket right and the formula for a successful heel worked. 20,000 fans paid to come see Jimmy Snuka try and kill Roddy Piper over twenty-five years ago on a nightly basis. The fans tuned in 2003 tuned into WWE Raw every Monday night to see someone shut The Rock up and kick his ass. The second The Rock walked through the curtain the fans not only stood on their feet, but they yelled and screamed at the top of their lungs in disapproval at their former hero.
The Rock-concerts were pure genius and often overlooked for their greatness. The Rock went out there and cut these musical numbers with a guitar and some great promos. The Rock had a blast with them and just as he would get the fans back with his quick wit, he would slice them up and take their adoration away. It was more like a beautiful symphony of fan reaction going up and down for ten minutes. There wasn’t a person in the building didn’t want to see this guy get creamed at WrestleMania.
The body movements were critical as well. The way The Rock would walk out of the curtain and just stare at the fans. The Rock would keep his sunglasses on and just laugh at the fans. The Rock would move slowly into the ring and during the matches he would jaw-jack back and forth and set up the babyface for an improbable comeback. There is more to being a great worker than a great promo and a cool move and The Rock will go down as one of the “great ones.”
Critics point to scripted interviews as a big problem with today’s wrestling but it is more than that. The Rock likely read some scripts but he took ownership of the promo, something rarely done today. The pace, the words, the inflection, the atmosphere, the diction, by the time it was over The Rock did his job with his promos which was make the fans want to watch him get beat.
Unfortunately the shine came off the gold quite a bit with The Rock’s following feud with Bill Goldberg. The goldmine for the WWE turned into a disappointment at the box office in terms of revenue. Their first match drew a disappointing buyrate at WWE Backlash, which is incredible at that time for a show featuring one of the last dream matches. In retrospect, the booking of the feud was terrible and The Rock probably got more out of Goldberg than he should have.
Pro wrestling misses The Rock from 2003 and so do its fans. Not since The Rock has any heel been able to tap into the passion of the fans like The Rock. There isn’t anyone I can see in wrestling today who is going to take the world by storm like The Rock. John Cena, Sheamus, Randy Orton, Edge, Chris Jericho are all great talents but could never pull off the reinvention like The Rock did. Shawn Michaels came close with his SummerSlam build-up against Hulk Hogan several years ago, but it was one and done for the Heartbreak Kid.
Who would have guessed that the day The Rock went to Hollywood he took the last great heel with him? The WWE gave us a taste of what we are missing with the WWE Raw retrospective DVD set. Unfortunately it looks like it will be many years before the fans want to see the next great heel get beat. The Rock says, “Know your role and bring back the great heel!”
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