‘LIKE RIDING A BIKE’: Inside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s return at WrestleMania 40

DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON backed up into his tour bus, which was parked outside the loading dock of the Allstate Arena in Chicago, and forcefully shut the door behind him. Drops of rain collected on his tattooed and muscular arms, left exposed by his sleeveless designer vest to the elements of the Windy City. He still had Cody Rhodes’ blood on his hands.



After the last episode of “Monday Night Raw” on March 25, Brian Gewirtz, a longstanding former WWE writer who continues to collaborate closely with The Rock as the senior vice president of Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions, got into the bus behind him. With his chest heaving and height of six feet five inches, the former football defensive lineman commanded a frightening appearance.

Gewirtz remarked, “We’ve been working together for about 25 years.” “He is breathing deeply and doing everything. And the fact that he was still so much in that zone made me feel a bit uneasy. It wasn’t like the amiable, carefree Dwayne.” Fans of Johnson’s films and television shows will recognize a different friendly Rock than the 51-year-old who returned to the WWE on New Year’s Day.

Even the arrogant “People’s Champion” that wrestling fans adored— or detested— in the 1990s and the early 2000s is no longer there. Johnson has developed into the “Final Boss,” a terrifying villain who beat Rhodes raw outside in the rain and vowed to whip Rhodes with a weight belt in front of his mother.

This evolution of the character follows the necessary plot and adds elements of truth. That Johnson will team up with Roman Reigns to take on Rhodes and Seth Rollins in the main event of Saturday night’s inaugural WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia. And that’s not all that’s new for the most recognisable celebrity in Hollywood.

As of January, Johnson is a member of the TKO Group board of directors, which is the organization that owns both the WWE and the UFC. The name, likeness, and image of “The Rock” are fully owned by him as well.

Speculation on The Rock vs. Roman Reigns Taking Place at WrestleMania 40

In order to guarantee that he is ready for the demands and schedule required to provide a superior match, Johnson began his training in Los Angeles and Hawaii during the first week of February. WWE sent two rings and three wrestlers from the East Coast to make room for him. He leaned into the intimidating authority figure aspect away from the actual training, and since his return, he has frequently appeared on WWE programs.

Everything came together for his first full-length encounter in 11 years in 2024, including those previously stated final-boss-like business machinations, following several previous attempts to bring him back.

“Why this year?” Johnson said to ESPN in Las Vegas in February. “It seemed like this would all come together well in terms of timing. And we had the impression that the timing would be on our side.”

GEWIRTZ and WWE President Nick Khan boarded a private plane to travel from Los Angeles to Chicago for the Raw broadcast on March 25. Johnson texted Khan and Gewirtz a menu from the well-known hamburger joint Kuma’s Corner, instructing them to select their favorites.

Johnson informed them, “It will be waiting in your room when you get it.” “After all this training, I could really use a meal like this.”

Johnson is in amazing shape when it comes to appearance. One only needs to peruse his Instagram page to verify that he is a dedicated weightlifter who is always working out to gain strength.

Even though he has an incredible body, he may not be in the cardiovascular fitness required for a major professional wrestling event that is held live in front of 60,000 or more spectators.

Johnson designed a training camp that is akin to those found in boxing or mixed martial arts for this reason.

WWE SmackDown: Cody Rhodes Appears Off-Air After The Rock's WrestleMania 40  Offer - Sports Illustrated MMA News, Analysis and More

WWE rented warehouses to serve as training facilities in collaboration with Johnson’s team. Johnson resides in Los Angeles, and one of the rings that the WWE supplied was put up there. He practiced matches there with NXT’s Gallus, the Scottish team made up of Wolfgang and Mark and Joe Coffey, who are real brothers.

Johnson required three wrestlers to perfect his timing and push through in-ring sequences because he is competing in a tag match. Along with former NXT, U.S., and WWE tag-team champion Bobby Roode, who is currently employed as a producer, those training sessions were overseen by Michael “P.S.” Hayes, a WWE Hall of Famer as a member of the Freebirds and a longtime match producer for WWE. Veteran referee Chad Patton supervised the preparations to ensure safety, and WWE medical oversaw them.

The other ring, perhaps? It was shipped to Hawaii, the home state of Johnson, in a shipping container. The trip to the training ring took roughly a week. Tens of thousands of dollars was the overall cost. The Rock trained alone in Hawaii.

Johnson stated that as part of his preparation, he is practicing more live-action “timing” scenarios rather than as many speed or mobility drills.

“Suplexes, a launch off the top rope, a catch, like bodies hitting bodies,” stated Johnson. That kind of activity is what you have to do and get ready for. Additionally, you’re hitting the ropes and getting bruised up. It returns really quickly. It is similar to riding a bike.

About ten minutes into his final scheduled match, which took place at WrestleMania 29 in 2013, Johnson had a hernia and tore his adductor and abdominal muscles. In 2016, Johnson did participate in an unexpected match at WrestleMania 32.

And that wasn’t even his first game back following a protracted absence. Three months before that, at the Royal Rumble, he had wrestled CM Punk. And he was eleven years younger.

Over the past two weeks, Johnson has clearly lost weight when watching television. It’s not only that he trained specifically for wrestling. In addition, he is preparing for his next motion picture role as MMA legend Mark Kerr in the upcoming biopic “The Smashing Machine”.

After WrestleMania, Johnson will immediately begin filming that movie, so in a sense, it’s an MMA boot camp.

“I know he is training and dieting and working out like a maniac, and I think this was strategic by design,” Gewirtz stated.

Prior to this weekend, Johnson must first perform in the ring at the same extraordinarily high caliber that he has displayed on stage.

“Fortunately for me, very lucky in that I became somewhat of a ring general where I see the circumference of the ring and where I need to be usually timing wise,” Johnson stated. “Because in the wrestling industry, timing is everything. Thus, it’s just a matter of working hard, training, and starting the awful diet. And accepting the consequences and simply getting my ass kicked daily. We’ll see how it goes, then.

While Johnson was traveling for appearances, the job was still being done. Along with Rollins, Rhodes, and Reigns, The Rock persevered through a complete rehearsal of Saturday’s main event on Monday in Brooklyn. He will do the same on Thursday in Philadelphia.

In Atlanta, THE ROCK’S RETURN began to take shape in December 2021. That’s where Johnson met his longtime friend Khan at the iconic Bones restaurant in Atlanta, where they had a five-course dinner together. There, they started laying the foundation for his eventual return to the ring.Johnson will induct his late grandmother into the WWE Hall of Fame on Friday. “My grandmother was promoting wrestling shows in Hawaii, Lia Maivia, in 1983, ’84,” Johnson said. “Back then, Nick and his sister Nahnatchka, who is the creator and executive producer of the TV show “Young Rock,” would often run around together in that Honolulu stadium because they were also residents of Hawaii. 2024 WWE WrestleMania 40 -- Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes: Card, date,  rumors, matches, start time, location - CBSSports.comThus, our bond is quite old.”The conversation was resumed when the wives of Khan, Johnson, and their two daughters got together in Honolulu in February 2022, two months later.”Nick’s an excellent leader, astute businessman and sharp dealmaker,” stated Johnson, “because he’s an innovative collaborator, big-picture thinker, and has the capacity to recognize epic, disruptive opportunities for brand-building.”As part of his responsibilities as co-head of television at CAA, Khan has been a representative of WWE since 2016. However, he did not formally join the company as president and chief revenue officer until 2020.In terms of establishing the brand, bringing The Rock back to the WWE universe would be monumental, but Khan—who is still relatively new to the company—wanted to make a major splash when The Rock made his comeback at WrestleMania 38 in Dallas. Still, it never materialized.”Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who costarred with The Rock throughout the Attitude Era, turned out to be the major return that evening. Austin got into a street fight with Kevin Owens. The Rock would have to postpone his comeback.”Ultimately, Dwayne would say one of his greatest loves was WWE,” stated Khan. However, Dwayne had to ascertain the ‘Why?’ Beyond his passion for wrestling or his need to establish his legitimacy as the true Head of the Table. Therefore, it never happened. Dwayne continued to grow his empire, and in late 2022, we got back together.”

The topic of discussion was WrestleMania Goes Hollywood, which took place at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, last year. It seemed like the ideal environment for The Rock’s comeback, given his actual status as a highly compensated movie star and the public’s desire for a protracted animosity between him and Reigns.”Dwayne did the on-camera intro before the Super Bowl [at SoFi],” added Khan. Dwayne made a video announcement to his videographers as he was exiting the stadium: ‘I’ll see you again at SoFi come April.’” In the end, Dwayne and I reconnected, but this time, there was no “why.”It was revealed the day following WrestleMania 39 at SoFi that the WWE and UFC would soon merge to form TKO Group.WWE's WrestleMania 40 main event: The Rock vs Reigns Reigns Supreme despite  backlash | WWE News - Times of India Along with President Mark Shapiro and Endeavor CEO and longtime Johnson agent Ari Emanuel in late 2023, Khan and Johnson talked about The Rock getting a board position.”And the ‘why’ started to materialize for Dwayne,” added Khan.Now that Johnson had a renewed interest in WWE, it was time to commit fully.”

I was excited to work with [Nick], Ari and Mark Shapiro to help expand the WWE/TKO business to new heights.”The Rock’s return to WWE on January 1st, when he executed his signature Spinebuster and “The People’s Elbow” on Jinder Mahal, was the culmination of everything. Following his hint at a confrontation with Reigns, Johnson received loud applause from the audience and quickly became popular on social media.”That relationship that I have with Nick has certainly helped propel a lot of this forward,” Johnson stated.

“Even though philosophically we were unable to close the deal for WrestleMania 39 at SoFi Stadium, that gave Cody Rhodes this fantastic opportunity to enter the ring. And what a fantastic opportunity this is for him, as we can feel, sense, and hear from his ardent fans.”Such encouraging remarks about Rhodes from Johnson have been hard to come by these days. It looked as though Rhodes and Reigns would square off for the WWE Undisputed Universal championship at WrestleMania after Rhodes became only the fourth person in history to win two consecutive Royal Rumbles in January. Over 1,300 days have passed since Reigns’ title run began.During a SmackDown segment six days after the Rumble, Rhodes appeared close to making his ‘Mania decision.

Rhodes welcomed The Rock and seemed to pass over his main-event place with an embrace, instead of choosing Reigns for his title shot.It was despised by the fans. With their uprising and “We Want Cody” chants, The Rock dubbed them the “Cody Crybabies.” Cody Rhodes Slaps The Rock On WWE SmackDown, Major WrestleMania Match  ConfirmedThey met again in Las Vegas six days later for the WrestleMania 40 kickoff press conference, which took place three days prior to the Super Bowl. The Rock gave Rhodes a smack there to build up the main event of Night 1’s tag battle.Rhodes now gets the opportunity to, in his words, “finish the story” and get the WWE championship, which evaded his renowned father, Dusty Rhodes.Johnson stated, “[Cody’s] gotta tell his story.” Thus, we find ourselves in WrestleMania 40. What can we provide them with? How is it different? In what way could it differ?

And how were we able to stage the greatest WrestleMania ever?”The thing that sets Johnson apart is how violently he’s embraced his heel persona. He has taken on the reputation of a merciless, take-no-prisoners, man who is literally out for blood in his desire to make sure that he, Reigns, and the entire Bloodline are recognized and valued above all others.

The crowd, who anticipates from The Rock that he will perform in the ring in the same manner as in his peak, will contribute to some of that respect.Johnson emphasized that the most important thing is “respect,” not only for the fans who are present and watching from home, but also “for the men and women who have been busting their asses night in and night out for years.”It’s unclear when or if he will enter the ring for another official wrestling battle. However, The Rock’s impact will endure both within and outside of the wrestling arena.

Johnson informed Gewirtz, “I’m not off the board after WrestleMania.” “I will always be involved with this, and I am still on the board. We’re in it now, too. This is our passion, and it always will be.”

According to Gewirtz, this does not imply that The Rock will always be “a fixture” on Raw.

“But I do think there’s going to be a Rock presence in WWE going forward until whenever he doesn’t want to…,” Gewirtz stated. “I could definitely say that this isn’t [over a] day after WrestleMania and I’m going to go off into the sunset now.”  But after all the stops and starts on the journey to The Rock’s return, he’ll surely cherish this weekend and so, too, will the fans. Even if the wave of support for Rhodes shattered even the best-laid plans. WWE 'SmackDown': Cody Rhodes Slaps The Rock as 'WrestleMania 40' Night One  Tag Match is Accepted - Michael Fairman TVThe stage is now set for The Rock to face Reigns in a singles contest later on in a media that is full of swerves.

Gewirtz remarked of Johnson, “this whole run has really kind of rejuvenated him.” “He is not physically and mentally capable of ever being on autopilot. However, there was a sort of safe haven in the babyface area that is entertaining and well-liked by the crowd but hardly the most risque thing you can do in a microphone-equipped arena. Not to the extent of threatening his mother and dog and bloodying up the top babyface in the WWE.”

“It’s like he’s never been bigger than he is now,” he stated. He is a member of the board. Compared to when he returned earlier, when he was performing at a high level, he just seems to carry a little bit more weight now. Because it’s Dwayne Johnson in 2024, in addition to being the actual TKO final boss, this explains why the Final Boss feels so natural. It simply seems significant.” The Rock AFTER SmackDown OFF AIR ! When Cody Rhodes SLAPS The Rock | WWE  SmackDown Highlights - YouTube Rhodes said he believes the “Final Boss” character is reminiscent of when beloved legend Hulk Hogan turned heel in 1996 and formed the NWO as “Hollywood” Hogan with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in WCW. Hogan changed from being the epitome of a decent guy to a cunning, vicious bad guy.

Rhodes stated, “It’s a whole other layer,” on ESPN’s “First Take” on Wednesday. “I can assure you that’s what makes it durable. You took something and transformed it into something truly unique and exceptional.” And as the final Raw heading into WrestleMania went off the air Monday, The Rock followed through on his promise. He stripped Rhodes of his shirt — and his weight belt — and proceeded to use it to whip Cody relentlessly as he screamed, the echo of leather striking flesh reverberating throughout the arena. Even a referee got caught in the rampage.

All the while, a wry smile was on Johnson’s face, a cow-print vest the only clothing covering his muscular frame. He was back where he belonged.

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