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The Rock Used to Be America’s Sweetheart. He’s Actually Accomplished It This Time.

Life Why Everyone Suddenly Hates the Rock Photo illustration by Slate. Images via Sam Hodde/Getty Images and Nosyrevy/iStock/Getty Images Plus. The Rock—international superstar, national treasure, and proprietor of the world’s most emotive face—is back in WWE. But instead of celebrating the return of one of the sport’s most infamous legends, fans are freaking pissed. Like, they’re

The Rock Used to Be America’s Sweetheart. He’s Actually Accomplished It This Time.


Why Everybody Immediately Hates the Rock

Dwight The Rock Johnson being hated by an angry mob with pitchforks because of the WWE controversy.

Photograph illustration by Slate. Photos by way of Sam Hodde/Getty Photos and Nosyrevy/iStock/Getty Photos Plus.

The Rock—worldwide celebrity, nationwide treasure, and proprietor of the world’s most emotive face—is again in WWE. However as an alternative of celebrating the return of one of many sport’s most notorious legends, followers are freaking pissed. Like, they’re actually booing him out of arenas.

That is an sudden growth, as a result of ostensibly, there is no such thing as a place on earth the place the Rock ought to be extra welcome than throughout the confines of knowledgeable wrestling ring, which is the place he first cultivated his one-of-a-kind charisma, method again within the prehistory of America. (Learn: the late Nineties.) However to know the Rock’s current curdling, you’ll have to stand up to hurry on a complete lot of wrestling lore, and the truth that he’s not fairly as beloved exterior the ring because the field workplace might need you consider. Don’t fear, I’ll clarify.

Why are individuals mad on the Rock?

By asking this query you notice you’re cracking open a complete Pandora’s field of hyper-insulated professional wrestling nerdery, proper?

What? Nevermind. Let me simply shut this

Too late! So, final Friday, on WWE’s tv present SmackDown, the Rock made a wonderful return to the ring to be able to problem Roman Reigns for the distinguished Undisputed WWE Common Championship, which is a title that Reigns has held for greater than three years. The match is scheduled for this yr’s version of WrestleMania—mainly, the WWE’s Tremendous Bowl, the place the corporate takes over a soccer stadium to showcase the perfect of pretend preventing.

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In a vacuum, that is the precise kind of match that WWE followers fantasize about. The Rock hasn’t actually wrestled in over a decade, and Roman has accomplished a wonderful job portraying the precise form of smug, narcissistic villain you desperately need to see taken down a peg. A predominant occasion between the 2 would possess crossover Hollywood pageantry, drippy overtones of “legacy,” and, after all, two big guys beating the piss out of one another.

What’s so unhealthy about that?

As a result of, as is evident to anybody who cares even just a little bit about professional wrestling, that is most actually not the story that WWE—who employs a complete fleet of writers tasked with dreaming up the hubrises and motivations of their on-screen characters—was attempting to inform. In reality, the Rock’s rebellion torpedoed the final yr of inventive imaginative and prescient, and made Cody Rhodes, the opposite man you have to learn about, seem like a chump.

Who’s Cody Rhodes?

Cody Rhodes is a supremely gifted wrestler who tried, and failed, to beat Roman Reigns eventually yr’s WrestleMania. This was a little bit of a swerve. Everybody within the constructing anticipated that Cody would win, thus banishing Reigns to the shadow realm as soon as and for all. The script had all of it: Cody was returning after a debilitating harm, and, extra importantly, WWE’s inventive crew hammered residence the concept that he was competing for the one belt his late father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes, by no means received throughout his time as a wrestler.

So sure, the defeat stung, however for the 9 months afterward, Cody Rhodes opined about his quest to FINISH HIS STORY. Rhodes was lifeless set on defeating Roman Reigns in a cathartic rematch in 2024, crystalizing a two-year dramatic arc stuffed to the brim with failure and perseverance, which is admittedly when skilled wrestling is at its greatest. (In reality, you should purchase a Cody Rhodes T-shirt from the WWE store brandished with the phrases, Finish the Story.)

Wow, so the WWE has been pitting Rhodes in opposition to Reigns for some time. 

Yeah. All of this culminated in January, at WWE’s Royal Rumble—one of many firm’s marquee occasions, the place 30 wrestlers compete for a title shot in opposition to the present champion. (Which, on this case, is clearly nonetheless Roman Reigns.) Guess what, Cody Rhodes received! He was gonna end the story! All of his hopes and goals have been in attain!

After which WWE’s writers did one thing unthinkable. Regardless of constructing the strain between Rhodes and Reigns for literal years, it appeared that the corporate had made the unconscionable resolution to jot down Rhodes out in favor of … you guessed it … the Rock. Cody Rhodes introduced that he would face Roman once more, however not at WrestleMania—offering a meandering jumble of lines to clarify why he was ceding ground to his much more famous colleague. It fully broke the interior logic of Cody’s character and obliterated the explanations we’ve rooted for him for therefore lengthy. That’s simply unhealthy writing, brother.

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I can see how that will be fairly irritating should you cared about wrestling.

Now you may perceive why, when Cody Rhodes appeared on this week’s Uncooked, the entire area went deafening with chants of “ROCKY SUCKS!” The hashtag #WeWantCody, in the meantime, was the No. 1 trend in the United States, eclipsing, I don’t know, #TrumpMoscowTrial or no matter else. Are you aware how a lot you have to bungle your script to get wrestling followers to activate the Rock? Evaluate that opprobrium to actually any of the opposite instances the Rock has walked right into a wrestling area over the previous 20 years. (Right here’s a private favourite second, from WrestleMania 32, where he ignites his own name with a flamethrower.) It goes to indicate you that whereas the Rock is among the most popular individuals on planet Earth, even he can not escape the gravity of muddled plot growth.

OK however, like, why is that this occurring? Why is the Rock immediately infringing on Cody’s plans? 

Now you’re stepping into some actual off-the-books chicanery that no person could be completely clear on. However the information are these: On Jan. 23, the Rock joined the board of directors at TKO—the sports activities conglomerate that owns each WWE and UFC. This all occurred throughout an enormous shake-up on the firm. Vince McMahon, longtime chairman of WWE, had been ousted as a sequence of horrifying sexual assault allegations got here to gentle, which appeared to create one thing of a management vacuum. In keeping with some stories, the Rock used his newfound leverage to lobby his way into a headlining match against Roman Reigns, pretty asserting {that a} conflict in opposition to Reigns can be a big-ticket merchandise that would garner a ton of mainstream consideration, even when that meant portray over the established narrative scaffolding. (Sure, we’re taking a look at a situation the place a C-suite stage govt goes to be exchanging powerbombs in the midst of the ring.)

That appears kinda snakey?

It wouldn’t be the primary time! Right here’s the place we should acknowledge that the Rock is accumulating a little bit of a status for being a conniving presence behind the scenes within the leisure enterprise. We’re solely a few yr faraway from Black Adam—the Rock’s superhero flip—which coincided with an try and snag management of the perpetually dysfunctional DC universe by pitching a multi-arc set of franchise movies pitting his character in opposition to Henry Cavill’s Superman. (He failed, and the DC property was instead handed over to director James Gunn.) There’s additionally the truth that the Rock and a few members of the Quick & Livid franchise spent years on hostile phrases with each other—partly rooted in his decision to star in the spinoff film Hobbs & Shaw, which excised the rest of the cast—though, apparently, the Rock and Vin Diesel have since squashed their beef. If the Rock is really angling for decision-making energy in WWE boardrooms, then it does seem to be half of a bigger sample of aspirations.

Have they accomplished any harm management?

As a matter of truth they’ve! Thursday night time, at a loosely outlined WrestleMania press convention, Cody, the Rock, and Reigns had a second confrontation that retconned the primary. Cody is now saying that he does need to face Reigns at WrestleMania, however Reigns mentioned he’d a lot favor to wrestle the Rock. An deadlock! Drama! Collusion! WWE, sensing the rising displeasure with their newest Hollywood import, is now writing the Rock as a professional unhealthy man, which implies that the rain of boos greeting him a minimum of make sense throughout the fiction. It’s onerous to say the place we’re going from right here. Perhaps all three of them will wrestle for the belt on the identical time? However on the very least, WWE is attempting to wash up their very own mess, and by and enormous, followers appear fairly happy with the brand new route—if solely to see the Rock get his ass kicked.

Doesn’t the Rock have motion pictures to star in? Why is he again in WWE within the first place?

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It does seem to be his movie profession has slowed down a bit. Final yr, the Rock’s sole theatrical undertaking was a cameo within the aforementioned vibeless and shark-jumping Quick X—sure, the tenth Quick & Livid film. He has Moana 2 on the horizon this yr, which is about to be a minimum of a medium-sized deal, however you do get the sense that Peak Rock—with all of the GQ profiles and hypothetical presidential bids—is within the rearview mirror. How do you rehabilitate your model after a few duds? The wrestling ring, child!

Whereas we’re right here, are there different causes I ought to hate the Rock that I don’t learn about?

His shtick is getting fairly outdated! In case you are a fan of, like, subpar center faculty–fashion burns, laced with the faint whiff of homophobia, then I can’t suggest the Rock sufficient. The final time he was in WWE, he made a complete factor out of nicknaming John Cena “Fruity Pebbles.” I get that wrestling isn’t the best artwork on the earth, however we are able to perform a little higher than that. As an actor he has mainly caught to the identical blueprint—a jacked, good-looking man who has hardly ever encountered real adversity—and albeit, that has gotten fairly outdated, too.

I received’t bore you with each gripe individuals have in opposition to him, however suffice it to say there are scores of YouTube compilations, angry Reddit posts, and small-time sports and celebrity blogs that try to elucidate the anti-Rock sentiment. Not America’s favourite large man in spite of everything!

So the place does this go away Cody?

Who is aware of! The humorous factor is that the WWE has pivoted earlier than, they usually’ll pivot once more. Perhaps Cody will end his story at WrestleMania, kicking the ass of Roman and the Rock on the identical time, earlier than using off into the sundown along with his legacy safe. Or, maybe, the Rock will completely emasculate him in entrance of a jampacked stadium, making everybody even angrier than they’re proper now. I truthfully can’t determine which one I’d quite see.

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