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Will The Rock appear for WWE’s Royal Rumble at Tropicana Field?

There is speculation that he will further a storyline with his cousin Roman Reigns at the Jan. 27 event in St. Petersburg.
 
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stands on the field before Super Bowl 56 in Inglewood, California, in February 2022. The Los Angeles Rams took on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stands on the field before Super Bowl 56 in Inglewood, California, in February 2022. The Los Angeles Rams took on the Cincinnati Bengals. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Jan. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — To quote Dwayne Johnson’s professional wrestler persona, “Finally, The Rock has come back to the WWE.”

But will The Rock come back to Tampa Bay?

Johnson was a part-time resident as a child, staying here whenever his father, wrestler Rocky Johnson, worked for the Tampa-based Championship Wrestling From Florida promotion. Later, Johnson began his professional wrestling training here. After he became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Johnson bought a house in Lutz for his father, who died in 2020.

Tropicana Field is hosting the WWE’s 37th annual Royal Rumble on Saturday, Jan. 27.

With Johnson recently insinuating that he wants to compete in a match by challenging his real-life cousin Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship, there is speculation that The Rock might appear at the St. Petersburg event to further that storyline. He has not wrestled in a match since 2013.

Some fans hope that their feud will culminate at WrestleMania, the WWE’s annual signature event, which will be held in April in Philadelphia.

“They’re really teasing it,” said Gerald Brisco, the Tampa Bay resident whose 51-year career in professional wrestling included work inside the ring and backstage for the WWE before retiring in 2020. “Will it happen is the big question.”

The WWE's Royal Rumble event will be held on Jan. 27 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The WWE's Royal Rumble event will be held on Jan. 27 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of WWE ]

The Royal Rumble is considered the kickoff to the countdown to WrestleMania.

“Once the Royal Rumble starts, the entire time between those two shows is all about WrestleMania,” said Denise Salcedo, the Los Angeles co-host of Sirius XM’s “Busted Open,” which discusses professional wrestling. “The storytelling, the matches, are hyping the big show.”

The marquee attractions of the Jan. 27 event are the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches.

Each includes 30 competitors who are eliminated when thrown over the top ring rope with their feet hitting the floor. The last man and woman standing earn a match at WrestleMania against either the champion of the Smackdown or Monday Night Raw shows.

But the fun of those matches is as much about the anticipation as the finale.

The Royal Rumble begins with two competitors. A new one is added every 90 seconds, with time ticking down on a countdown clock. Fans don’t know who will appear next until the wrestler’s theme music plays. The WWE won’t release the full roster of participants.

“Personally, I prefer not knowing who is going to be in the Rumble,” Salcedo said. “I prefer to be surprised.”

Surprise entrants are part of the tradition. Sometimes a competitor comes out of retirement for the match or returns from an injury. Other times, WWE signs a new star who debuts in the Royal Rumble. There have also been surprise celebrity entrants, such as Johnny Knoxville, Drew Carey and Shaquille O’Neal.

“That’s what really makes the suspense,” Brisco said. “You’re holding your breath, wondering who is coming next, wondering if your favorite will come out.”

But there are few surprises for the wrestlers. The stories told during the Royal Rumble are scripted in advance.

“You got to have a story for everything and everyone,” Brisco said. “Will they be in there with an old nemesis? Will they have to fight a friend? Will they last three seconds? Will they last an hour? ... And there has to be a reason for the decisions ... The whole Rumble tells different stories up until those final four are standing in the ring.”

WWE Superstar Roman Reigns reacts after defending his title at WrestleMania 37 on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Tampa.
WWE Superstar Roman Reigns reacts after defending his title at WrestleMania 37 on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

There are a number of storylines for the men heading into the Royal Rumble. C.M. Punk, a popular former world champion who had not been with the WWE since 2014, recently returned. Cody Rhodes is seeking to win a top WWE championship, an accomplishment that his famous father, Tampa resident Dusty Rhodes, who died in 2015, never achieved.

The question of who the winner will challenge at WrestleMania — Reigns from Smackdown or Seth Rollins, the WWE heavyweight champion who is with Monday Night Raw — is yet to be known.

So will Johnson be in St. Petersburg?

During a surprise appearance on the WWE’s New Year’s Day episode of Monday Night Raw, Johnson asked the San Diego crowd if, when grabbing a meal later, he should sit at “the head of the table,” which is how Reigns describes himself. The obvious mention of his cousin had fans believing it would lead to a match between the two.

Salcedo is among those hoping that will happen on one of WrestleMania’s two nights.

“Will he be in the Royal Rumble? I don’t think so,” Salcedo said of Johnson. “Will he appear? I hope so. I think it’s a really good time to establish the fact that he is coming for Roman Reigns.”

If you go

The Royal Rumble is at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg. Tickets are available at RoyalRumble.com. The event can also be watched on Peacock.