Six seconds. That’s all it took for Dwayne “The Rock" Johnson to win his last competitive bout in WWE. Pitted against The Wyatt Family’s Erick Rowan, this impromptu bout at Wrestlemania 32 allowed him to pick up the fastest victory in the event’s illustrious history. Garlanded as one of wrestling biggest stars before he began his siege of the cinematic world, the third-generation superstar is quick to accredit his every success to the foundations that were laid under Vince McMahon’s tutelage.

“First shook hands w/ Vince when I was 11yrs old”, he revealed in a 2017 tweet. “At 25, he offered me the bare minimum @WWE contract. Said, 'You can go to WCW for more money but here you’ll earn every dollar.' To this day, Vince is one of my greatest mentors & trusted advisors." Although that level of graciousness is a key component of his public persona, there’s no denying that the affection “The Brahma Bull” feels for his roots in the squared circle is authentic. It’s probable that The Rock doesn’t want the last time he laces up the boots to be for a throwaway segment - not when he still wields the power to give something substantive back to the industry that forged him.

Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The question of when he’ll step back in the ring is a foregone conclusion in every press junket, though the answer is normally shrouded in ambiguity. At least that was the case, until his promotional duties for Skyscraper in July 2018. In a wry tease to the fans, he spoke to WWE correspondent Cathy Kelley on the red carpet and insinuated that we hadn’t seen the last of him between the ropes. “I can't wait to get back to a WWE ring...People always ask me 'what's it like being in a WWE ring?' I always tell them there's nothing like it” he declared. "There's nothing like being inside a WWE ring because there's a certain live crowd acumen that is second to none.”

By contrast, the gauntlet of interviews that he’s recently undertaken for Hobbs & Shaw—which features WWE superstar/The Rock’s cousin Roman Reigns in his film debut-- saw the box office behemoth suggest that he’s stepped away from sports entertainment for good. “I miss wrestling. I love wrestling,” Dwayne told Live With “Kelly & Ryan. “I quietly retired from wrestling because I was lucky enough to have a wonderful career and accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.”

But in an industry that thrives on informational sleight of hand and misdirection, could this all be a clever ruse to throw audiences off the scent as he gears up for one last foray into the ring?

George Napolitano/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Well for starters, let’s look at some contradictory evidence that would cast doubt on his status. Typically, when a legendary wrestler’s time has come to an end, the WWE will hasten to induct them into their lauded Hall of Fame. This explains why figures like Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and Booker T hold that coveted ring whilst Brock Lesnar, Kane and The Undertaker have yet to be honored. In spite of the last year's buzzing rumor mill, The Rock has yet to be immortalized in the Hall, thus leaving the door open for another match.

Barring freak incidents such as Edge being forced to retire after capturing the World Heavyweight Title, wrestling’s unwritten laws stipulate that you must go out on your back - a rule that informed Kurt Angle’s shocking loss to Baron Corbin at Wrestlemania 35. Despite losing to John Cena back in 2013, Johnson still notched a win in his last official bout against Erick Rowan. Now, the window is open for him to return and set a modern-day talent on the path to legendary status by being the man that retired The Rock. What’s more, the WWE are in dire need of it. As reported in Vince’s Q2 conference call with investors, revenue, attendance and TV ratings are down across the board, even with the looming renewal of Smackdown! Renowned as “the most electrifying man” that the industry has ever seen, there’s no better time for Rocky to don the trunks one more time for the good of both his legacy and the company’s fading fortunes. 

Prior to the heartrending reveal of Roman Reigns’ leukemia diagnosis in October 2018, it was rumored that the wheels were in motion for The Rock to return, win the Royal Rumble and challenge “The Big Dog” for the Universal title at Mania. Seeing as Roman has once again reasserted himself as a major player, these plans may be taken off the back burner at any moment. When asked about possibly facing off with his relative, Roman told The Mirror that there’s only one stage befitting that contest. "I can only see me and Rock going at WrestleMania” he remarked. “Not only because of his schedule, but just the level of that match and the level of superstar that he is and you know, where I'm trying to get. But we also have a deep family tie."

Ron ElkmanSports Imagery/Getty Images

Well-versed in competing against stalwarts of tinsel town, Triple H has also been forthcoming in his desire to square off against the proprietor of the Smackdown Hotel in this modern era. Teased time and time again, a Facebook Live in 2017 saw The Game announce that “It's something we've discussed. It's just making the schedules work, he's pretty busy and I am too. But hey, right place, right time? I'll dance one more time with The Great One, Rock." However, the “King Of Kings” hardly needs to retire The Rock to solidify his legacy. For another match to be effective, Dwayne needs to utilize his status in order to propel a new talent into the hearts and minds of the mainstream audience.

Over the past couple of years, an array of vastly different superstars have garnered The Rock’s adulation. In April of 2018, he proclaimed the gravity-evading Ricochet to be “the leader in ushering in a new era of our wrestling business” before telling TMZ Sports that “The Scottish Psychopath” Drew Mcintyre has “a great look and a great build.” In a call-back to his last match against Erick Rowan, it’s also notable that The Rock’s words to Bray Wyatt that night—"you got it all, the ability, the charisma”—were anything but scripted. In a light-hearted Twitter exchange that referenced the run-in, Dwayne praised the newly rejuvenated star of The Firefly Funhouse for being “batshit crazy. And. I. Love. It.” With each of these four candidates at the top of their game, they’d all be worthy of the mantle of “the man that ended The Rock’s career.”

Although his perpetually hectic schedule won’t make it easy, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has it within him to give a hugely beneficial parting gift to a company that he’s been indebted to for his entire career. And if ever there was a time to do it, it’s right now.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images