(CBS SF/AP) – The Rock is ready to roll into WrestleMania as a dual champion.
The Hayward-born wrestler/actor is the reigning king of the box office after “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” stormed to $40.5Million over the weekend to become the No. 1 movie. And in the ring, he’s walking tall as WWE Champ.
Everything Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson touches these days turns to gold, from the film franchises he whips into blockbusters to the diamond-encrusted WWE championship belt he drapes over his shoulder before he hits the ring to lay the smack down one more time in his triumphant return to the company.
Johnson is set for his latest starring role when he defends his title against John Cena at WrestleMania 29 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The main event rematch is the pinnacle for the sports entertainment powerhouse and one of the most popular spectator sports in America.
“It’s the biggest show of my career,” the 40-year-old Johnson said.
Johnson has the sequel market cornered, flexing his box office muscle in franchise films as “Fast Five,” “The Mummy Returns,” “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and now “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (pictured above with Channing Tatum)
He’s ready to prove another one of his sequels can top the original when he faces Cena on Sunday.
In his first singles match since 2004, Johnson defeated Cena last year at Sun Life Stadium in Miami in a WrestleMania main event billed as “Once in a Lifetime.”
Well, that tagline may as well be “Once a Year.”
Hard to believe a professional wrestling company would stretch truth in advertising, but the two became set for a return bout once Rock beat C.M. Punk at January’s Royal Rumble to win the championship and Cena won the 30-man Rumble to become the No. 1 contender.
Johnson said the rematch made sense because it was still the biggest money match the promotion could offer in the Super Bowl of sports entertainment.
He had the numbers to back it up. With one full year of hype, Rock-Cena drew 1.217 million pay-per-view buys last year and another 78,363 packed Sun Life Stadium on the strength of the match. Much like the Final Four or World Series, the WrestleMania brand is almost guaranteed to fill a stadium before a match is announced. It’s getting fans at home to plunk down at least $59.95 for the standard definition broadcast that can truly stuff the coffers.
“Rock means revenue. Rock means ratings,” WWE Hall of Famer Booker T said. “The Rock is great, not just a great performer, but he is a great ambassador for this business.”
With shows tailored around The Rock, the last two WrestleManias have topped 1 million buys. The WWE expects to hit that mark again Sunday.
The Rock had a wrestling ring set up wherever he was on location filming movies, his private training camps a part of the grind necessary to keep his spot as the biggest dual threat in entertainment.
“I always knew he loved the business,” Cena said. “He loves it so much now that he really is the busiest person in the history of the WWE. He’s everywhere at once. He can do everything and still compete as WWE champion.”
Rock was in position to call his shots and he picked Cena for his return feud over Punk or any other superstar on the roster. For all the trash talking in the ring, there’s a deep respect in real life between two wrestlers who know how to carry the global sports entertainment empire.
“He’s been the No. 1 guy in the company for many years now, and has managed to maintain a genuine, optimistic love for the business,” Johnson said. “Often times, inherently, what the business creates is pessimism over time, and unhappiness. John has been able to stay above that, not get lost in the garbage, and not get lost in the noise. He’s very focused, very committed. There’s an X-factor about John that moves an audience.”
Rock is among four key stars – including Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and Triple H – who work a scaled back schedule with main event slots waiting for their returns. The four have combined for five pay-per-view matches since last year’s WrestleMania, the kind of work-rate wrestlers on a punishing 200-day-a-year schedule could appreciate more than any five-star match. Amid gripes Rock takes a headline position that could go to a full-time wrester, Cena said Johnson has earned that spot.
“I wish we had one guy with 10 percent of his vision and his aspiration,” he said. “When he gets a small opportunity, he kicks the damn door down and owns the horse. Often times here, we have superstars that remind me of a hamster on the treadmill and those are the guys that usually complain. I don’t take too kindly to them. I’m fortunate Rock’s here and I’m glad he’s here. He can show up whenever he wants.”
Johnson said he hasn’t decided if he’ll participate in WrestleMania 30 next year in New Orleans. With a loss Sunday, the anniversary card could set up an epic rubber match. Then again, the WWE would be foolish to leave a Rock-Brock Lesnar bout on the table without a payoff at a major pay-per-view event.
If Rock returns, he’ll need to set up that ring for training camps in Budapest, where he’ll head after WrestleMania to start shooting “Hercules.”
Not a wrestling fan? Hate action movies? Well, you’ve probably seen Johnson pop up the last six months everywhere from a starring role in a Super Bowl milk commercial, or on TV hosting his new reality show, or maybe on your mobile device with the game, “Rockpocalypse.”
The Rock sure does know his role – to entertain in every available forum.
“I never feel that it’s too much because I’m aware of the plan. I put the plan together,” he said, laughing. “But in that, comes really incredible challenges that require a lot of people to embrace the vision of it, to support it.
“It was one of those things where you take a risk and, fortunately, it’s paid off.”
He has the WWE title belt around his waist and a number one movie to prove it.
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