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  Friday, April 19, 2002

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Special to SLAM! Sports

A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column
Goodbye to Rocky

Down the Ramp

By NICK TYLWALK -- For SLAM! Wrestling

There's no doubt that I'm officially enjoying the farewell tour of one of the most charismatic performers ever to grace a wrestling ring. Years from now, we'll be able to look back on 2002 and say we got to see a star who had the fans in the palm of his hand, a man who got to the very top of the business. Honestly, wrestling just won't be the same without him. And I'm not talking about Hulk Hogan - I'm talking about The Rock.

Maybe I'm getting a little overdramatic, but I don't think so. If "The Scorpion King" is a big hit - and the reviews have been pretty favorable - I'm guessing that we have less than two years to enjoy Dwayne Johnson, the wrestler. Call it a hunch. Actually, call it a bit more than a hunch ever since The Rock's appearance on ESPN's Unscripted left a very strong impression that Mr. Johnson would like to make movies on a regular basis.

Humor me for a second and allow me to state the obvious. The Rock has everything it takes to be an A-list action star: good looks, an incredible physique and the type of screen presence that can't be taught. Add in the name recognition that he brings with him from the WWF and Hollywood would be nuts nut to consider him for summer blockbuster-type roles. His appearances on Saturday Night Live suggest he could handle comedic roles, and the People's Champ himself thinks he could tackle a serious dramatic role with a decade or so of training. The sky's the limit is a cliche, but it fits here.

Given all of that, you could hardly blame the guy if he chooses to walk away from sports entertainment in favor of plain old entertainment. It's a lot easier to make your millions in front of the camera (even if you're doing your own stunts) then taking bumps in the ring. Call it the Mick Foley lesson, with one difference being that The Rock didn't have to take nearly as many chair shots to the head to learn it.

The other big difference is that unlike Foley, and despite being born into a wrestling family, The Rock didn't have his heart set on a career in the squared circle from the time he was a boy. If injuries hadn't derailed his career, we might only know Dwayne Johnson from his exploits on the gridiron. Everything we know about him suggests he respects the wrestling business, and he might even love it. But was he guaranteed to be a lifer like, say, a Chris Benoit? I think we've known for a while now that he wasn't.

There's not really much the WWF can do except enjoy the ride while it lasts. True to form, they've done an outstanding job capitalizing on The Rock's side ventures thus far, and I wouldn't expect that to change in the future. If I were on the writing team, I'd think about giving him one more run with the World Title in the not too distant future. And if "The Scorpion King" clears $150 million, I'd do it even sooner.

I know Rocky isn't everyone's favorite wrestler, and there's probably some people reading this who would actually be glad to see him go. Personally, I really only warmed up to him after his heel turn at Survivor Series '98, and I attribute that more to the booking of the event than anything else. I doubt anyone would argue that his in-ring technique has become a lot sloppier over the last few years.

I also doubt many people can say that The Rock hasn't made them smile with one or two of his promos. I can think of numerous times when I was taking notes on a boring edition of Raw until Rocky injected a bit of energy into it. His antics with the poor backstage reporters and his spot-on mocking of other performers are classic. Since this is wrestling, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of great matches he took part in, including his ladder match with Triple H at SummerSlam '98 and a number of his bouts with Foley.

It will be hard not to think about all of this when I go to see "The Scorpion King" on Saturday night. I'll try not to look at my ticket and see it contributing to the departure of a WWF superstar, but rather helping a talented entertainer reach the next stage of his career.

Previous Columns

April 5 ... Boarding the Hulkamania bandwagon
March 29 ... WWF split finally here
March 22 ... WWF should just relax
March 15 ... WrestleMania, slamdunk or air ball?
March 1 ... WWF return a test for Hall
Feb. 22 ... WWF return a test for Hall
Feb. 15 ... Nick who?

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