We've all heard the arguments behind the partnership between WWE and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson over the past three years. He drives ratings, sells pay-per-views (PPV), brings back lapsed fans, and increases media exposure.
He gains "free" publicity for his movie and television endeavors, gets a chance to work huge live crowds, and cement his legacy as a sports entertainer.
Since his return to the company that launched his post-sports, multimedia career in February of 2011, "The Great One's" goodwill with the hardcore fan base has eroded. Even his most ardent defenders and those that enjoy his film work (like this #ToothFairy4Life) have been left to fall back on Nielson points, buyrates and even the dreaded "well, he doesn't pander as aimlessly as Cena".
The build to and pay off at WrestleMania 29 seems to be no exception. Despite being the holder of a brand new WWE championship belt design, he was only sporadically seen on WWE television. When he was present, his focus seemed more on delighting the live crowd with well told stories of his youth than in hyping his kayfabe in-ring business.
Reports indicate the live crowd was into the finish of the match itself, and it has some anonymous support among the internet wrestling community (IWC). But the April 7 main event is another example of a guy who wasn't primarily known for being a workrate machine even in his prime clearly struggling to keep up and do much beyond a few moves per contest.
As the man himself might say, when you can't work a three star match with either John Cena or CM Punk, something's not right, jack.
So when even a lifelong Rocky mark like this writer spends 200 words diplomatically panning his pro wrestling work of late, what is the guy bringing to the discussion in 2013? If he's nearly guaranteed to be off the screen and out of storylines for nine of the next 12 months, why should we care about "The Brahma Bull"?
The short term monetary gains of Dwayne Johnson, Inc and WWE don't effect us. Outside of the occasional vignette, he's not working with anything other than established mega-stars.
But in an industry where the main associations that the mainstream media and the guy or gal on the street has with your art form are drug addiction and early death, "The People's Champ" represents something else.
For fans and fellow wrestlers, here is an example of someone who came from professional wrestling and "made it". It happens in other kinds of entertainment more often. George Clooney goes from sitcoms to a highly rated TV drama to a staple of the Hollywood red carpet. Justin Timberlake escapes boy band punchline status to become a 21st century Frank Sinatra.
But the best that wrestling has ever been able to muster has been B-movies and Hulk Hogan's laughing-at-you-more-than-laughing-with-you reality television career.
Johnson's early career seemed destined to follow Hogan and Roddy Piper's path. The Scorpion King and Doom were...not good movies. But somewhere along the line, he found a voice that was both ass-kicker and family friendly. Walking Tall and The Game Plan may not be great movies, but they're watchable fun ones.
And then he came back.
Much fun has been poked at this promo, what with the coming home and the never leaving again:
But more important than his return - he didn't apologize for it. And it only boosted his marketability. His stock continued to rise in the world outside of the sports entertainment bubble.
Whether or not he carries the belt to an interview or even mentions the company on a talk show, The Rock will be forever associated with WWE and pro wrestling. That it is now something that he and the entertainment establishment acknowledge and embrace is a game changer.
No more will wrestlers be automatically stuck in the casting ghetto of SyFy channel shows or NASCAR opening ceremonies (unless they want to be). Johnson may be a once in a lifetime talent, but you only have to look to a contemporary following in his footsteps/co-blazing this trail, Chris Jericho, to see that the model works even if you never get a five picture deal with Disney.
We can also see the influence of his career since the year 2000 on workers who will never crossover as big as he has. His frequent partner over the last few years, John Cena, seems more likely to end up a Hogan than a Johnson in that his fame will be more dependent on wrestling. But there is already talk of trimming down Cena's bookings to keep his body healthy for a longer career.
Rather than worry that a legend like the Undertaker (someone who Vince and Co undoubtedly wish they had slowed down sooner) might seriously hurt himself in his annual match, joking about why Hogan walks to the ring like that or hoping that Ric Flair doesn't die in the ring, the business' biggest stars now have an opportunity to protect themselves like never before.
Finally, the negative and tragic are what have historically resonated beyond wrestling's closed curtain. The Benoit story remains in the cultural consciousness. Documentaries like Beyond the Mat and ESPN's e60 spread "cautionary tales" of addiction and dead beat dads.
The McMahon family, WWE stockholders, any industry veteran or passionate fan -- especially ones who have children in their lives that they may be considering turning on to this business and art we love -- would much rather point to a man who earnestly spreads messages like this:
A platitude followed by an eyebrow raise does more good coming from "The Great One" than a million Be A STAR rallies with Alicia Fox.
So, crap on his matches. Be bored by his promos. Observe that you've outgrown his humor.
But this pastime that we love, and the men and women who work to entertain us within it, are better off for his return.
Agree? Disagree? The most electrifying man in sports and entertainment is always a divisive topic here at Cageside Seats. Let's hear your thoughts on if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's return will have positive impacts beyond the on-screen product.