It never ceases to amaze me how The Rock can return to WWE television after months, or even years away, and deliver a promo that puts most of his locker room to shame. Even well before his return as a semi-regular performer in WWE in 2011, The Rock proved this with his via-satellite appearance at 2009’s Smackdown 10th anniversary special.
And “The Great One” did it once again last night with his red-hot performance at the end of Monday Night Raw that set the stage for his Royal Rumble showdown with WWE Champion CM Punk.
Not surprisingly, Punk more than held his own on the mic. Some fans even think he got the better of The Rock last night. But, regardless of who had the edge in the memorable exchange, this much is for certain: Anybody who works in the pro wrestling business would have been well served to watch and listen The Rock last night—especially WWE writers.
The Rock’s promo was not only entertaining, but it was chock full of the kind of nuance rarely seen in wrestling these days.
Here’s a look at why it worked, and why it could be a model for what a successful wrestling promo could be:
- It got The Rock’s opponent over: What most impressed me about The Rock’s mic work last night was the lengths he went to establish CM Punk as a credible champion and worthy adversary. Even while chastising Punk for being insecure, fraudulent and having bad tattoos, The Rock drove home how impressed he was with Punk’s 414-day world title reign and admitted to have been knocked out cold by Punk’s GTS finisher during their last meeting. Considering The Rock’s stature in show business and his physical advantages over Punk, it would have been easy for Rock to mock Punk for being small and scrawny and not in his league. The Rock did just the opposite, and made their Royal Rumble showdown feel all the more important in doing so.
- It made fans want to see a fight: It goes without saying that the single most important goal of any fighter any time he gets in front of a microphone should be to make fans want to see somebody get his butt kicked. And yet, as obvious as that sounds, it’s been lost over the years as wrestlers and wrestling writers have become more concerned with trying to be “entertaining.” The Rock proved last night that you could do both. But his primary purpose was obvious: To make it clear that he wanted to get revenge on Punk for laying him out in July, and along the way win the prestigious WWE world title. No need for poop falling from the ceiling here.
- It was entertaining: I watched two movies over the weekend, Flight and Argo. Both films were about masters at their profession successfully executing incredibly risky maneuvers. If they failed, they’d be ridiculed for eternity. But if they were successful, they’d be hailed as geniuses. Much the same can be said about attempting comedy in wrestling. In general, I’m against it. But that’s because so it’s so rarely done well. However, few performers in the history of wrestling can so gracefully transition from intimidating to hilarious like “The Great One.” His usual catch phrases always pop live crowds, as did his fantastic, “It doesn’t matter if you matter!” line. I’m not saying he always hits a home run (The Cookie Puss stuff was a double at best). But when you’re The Rock, you deserve plenty of leeway.
- It made The Rock look tough: Here’s another lost art in modern professional wrestling. With wrestlers so focused so much on trying to be comedians, entertainers, and “brands,” they often forget that they are supposed to be, first and foremost, fighters. For all his beer drinking, catch phrases, and T-shirts, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would never have become the sensation that he was if fans didn’t buy him as a credible tough guy. The Rock made it clear last night that, for all his move star sheen, he was still a strong and fierce competitor who has been hitting the gym twice as hard with the goal of winning his first world title in ten years and knocking CM Punk off his pedestal. If his promo didn’t accomplish that goal, his Rock Bottom on Punk at the end of it sure did.