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  Aug 2, 2001



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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Rocked by The Rock
By NICK TYLWALK -- For SLAM! Wrestling

The debate on the merits of professional wrestling versus those of sports entertainment is an ongoing one. On one side, you have the wrestling purists, the fans who prefer their in-ring action with a minimum of (in the words of Mr. T) jibber jabber. The other side consists of those people attracted to the soap opera storylines and increased microphone time that are so prevalent in today's WWF programming. While the issue is largely one of personal preference and isn't likely to go away any time soon, something happened this past Monday night that changed the way this writer thinks about things.

I'm speaking, of course, about the much ballyhooed return of The Rock. In many ways, Dwayne Johnson's alter ego is the poster boy for sports entertainment -- a victory for style over substance. For proof, you don't have to look any further than the reason for The Rock's absence: he was off in Hollywood shooting a movie.

Then go on to consider The Rock as a wrestler. Unquestionably a terrific athlete, Johnson actually has a pretty decent arsenal of moves for a main event performer. But as he's grown more popular, his execution has become sloppier -- witness his basically one-handed Samoan drop. And if making your opponent's offense look good is the true art of a pro wrestler, The Rock's penchant for overselling often borders on the ridiculous.

Taking all of that into consideration, it's no stretch to say that the fans at the First Union Center in Philadelphia last Monday were more anxious for a dose of The Rock's infectious charisma than they were to see him actually work a match. The WWF promoted his return heavily, so it was no surprise that fans were outside the arena chanting his name and plunking down 28 dollars a pop for his still unexplained "Team Bring It" shirts. They had to wait a few hours to get it, but the fans in attendance got what they wanted and more.

For disclosure purposes, I have to admit that until recently, I considered myself more of a wrestling fan than a sports entertainment enthusiast. Not that I didn't enjoy some witty banter along with my wrestling, but I preferred a well-worked 15-minute match to a 20 minute segment of dueling mics. You might say I was more Chris Benoit than Chris Jericho.

My preferences have shifted ever so slightly since the beginning of this calendar year. A scan of the Internet would show me to be in the minority, but Steve Austin's more humorous heel persona was and is much more entertaining to me than anything he does in the ring, and a welcome change after seeing him portray the surly anti-hero for so long. Edge, Christian and Kurt Angle continue to impress me in the ring, but I found myself sitting up and paying more attention to their backstage antics. Still, despite those concessions, I would still place myself more toward the purists' end of the spectrum.

So even being there live, I wasn't that caught up in The Rock's return. It came as no surprise that the WWF teased his return throughout the whole show to bring him out during the last segment, and the writers took the safe way out by having him side with Vince McMahon so quickly. Personally, I would have preferred it if his decision was more drawn out. And while the crowd reaction was enthusiastic when Rocky finally showed his face, I've heard louder pops.

It was what happened after Raw went off the air that made an impact. The Rock could easily have posed for the crowd and soaked in a few more minutes of applause, then hopped in his limo or rental car and sped off. The fans leaving the arena that night would still have gone home satisfied. But The Rock was clearly having fun, and he wasn't about to stop just because the TNN cameras stopped rolling.

What happened next was something to see. For a good 20 minutes, The Rock continued his interplay with the McMahon family and the fans. He had people laughing when he told the crowd to decide which chant they wanted to go with and cheering when he hit Shane McMahon with the inevitable Rock Bottom. No less a consummate pro than Vince himself struggled not to break character and laugh.

When it was all said and done, everyone in attendance left happy. And why not? The Rock gave all of the paying fans quite a bit more for their money, and even I have to say he was the most entertaining part of the entire night.

So when I tune in to Smackdown! tonight, I probably won't care if The Rock wrestles or not. Maybe there's something to this sports entertainment thing after all.

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