Will The Rock & WWE repeat ugly Royal Rumble history?

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Word around the campfire is that WWE has an idea for The Rock at the Royal Rumble, which would lead to a showdown between the Great One and his cousin Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. While that may present a conundrum for Chief Content Officer Triple H, a return by the star of Black Adam puts WWE in a potentially ugly position to repeat history.

Fairly or unfairly, failing to meet fan expectations and demands is nothing new for WWE. Ironically, it was at the Royal Rumble in 2014 that a years-long adversarial relationship between the company and its audience began.

Though not advertised for the Rumble match that year, wrestling buffs at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center let WWE know they were unhappy with the exclusion of Daniel Bryan from the every-man-for-himself spectacular. They even went so far as to boo the final entrant and longtime favorite, Rey Mysterio, as he entered the fray, thus killing any hopes of seeing everyone's favorite Yes man.

While WWE isn't currently advertising or teasing The Rock for the January tradition, that won't stifle fan expectations as rumors of an appearance begin to swirl. If Rock is unavailable to appear, WWE needs to make this clear fast, or it will face a backlash that will make the 2014 Rumble seem like a happy memory.

But that's not where the potential similarities end in this tale of two Rumbles.

At that same event, fans were not only upset with Bryan's snub, but they also took issue with the return of another former wrestler-turned actor, Batista, who went on to win the event, much to the obscenely vocal objections of fifteen thousand-plus attendees.

Following the Rumble, a revolution began as arenas filled with rabid Bryan supporters disrupted shows with endless chants for the bushy-beard grappler until WWE relented and found a way to work him into the main event of that year's WrestleMania.

Heading into 2023's Royal Rumble, Sami Zayn has connected with the audience in a way that WWE probably didn't expect, much like Daniel Bryan. His interactions with Roman Reigns and the Bloodline have led to some of the most entertaining segments of 2022, making Zayn a wrestling anomaly: a lovable, adorable heel.

Because of his performances, a grassroots campaign to see Zayn unseat Reigns as Undisputed Universal Champ is beginning to grow. So how will fans respond to seeing another endearing underdog take a backseat to another returning part-timer and celebrity who has done everything there is to do in wrestling?

The People's Choice versus the People's Champion may make for a great tagline, but it could make for a big headache for WWE if wrestling enthusiasts aren't smelling what the Rock and company are cooking.

And if you think wrestling aficionados won't boo The Rock, especially as it relates to Roman Reigns and the object of fan desire, let me tell you about the 2015 Royal Rumble...

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