IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: 30 Thoughts... The Rock and John Cena
1. When this match was announced a year in advance, there certainly was a wide variety of reaction. On one end, fans of long term storylines and booking were thrilled with the idea that the main event of the biggest show of the year was already booked, thus giving the company a year to build toward it. On the other hand, this is the internet and if we were just all positive about things, then nobody would get enough attention. I recall seeing articles and columns trashing the match itself the night after it was announced. Because nothing says "giving it a chance" like berating it a full year before it's even allowed to happen. It makes those of us without visionary psychic power envious, doesn't it?
2. The Rock had returned after his last wrestling appearance being at Wrestlemania XX, teaming with Mick Foley to take on Evolution. Sporadic appearances were made, including saving Eugene from Jonathan Coachman and giving his opinion on the Hair vs. Hair match. Fans longed to hear the iconic opening lyrics of the electrifying theme, as no one seemed able to match the Great One's promo abilities and endless source of charisma.
3. The Rock was never my favorite wrestler, but I never disliked him... Except when he was facing Kane, because even as a kid, I knew my favorite had no chance against either The Rock or Stone Cold. It didn't take me long to see how the business worked. But I always liked The Rock more than Austin. If you can make me laugh, I'm more likely to enjoy you. Austin had a tremendous impact on wrestling, but he seldom made me laugh, and I think that's where Rocky had the first advantage.
4. Though never what anyone in the business would call a technical wizard, Rock was moderately above average in the ring itself. You'd never confuse most of his matches for Michaels/Angle, but he got the job done. It was normally his charisma and personality that made up the difference where the technical prowess may have been slightly deficient. However, Rock knew how to hit impact moves and make them look as crisp as anyone in the business. The moments are what people remember more than the matches themselves.
5. The promos are what became immortal and synonymous with the Brahma Bull. One of the most notable in history was shortly before Armageddon 2000, where the only six-man Hell in a Cell match would take place. As Rock ran down each of his championship adversaries, a short impression of each would follow, "Or maybe The Rock is gonna have to beat..." The most well-remembered of these five? Easily Rikishi. "I DID IT FOR DA ROCK." Meme-friendly words.
6. Once The Rock hosted Saturday Night Live, it was only a matter of time before more was to follow. He held the same stage presence as he did in the ring, and the rest of the world began to take notice. Movie roles followed, and full-time status began to be reduced to "When The Rock's around." He put over Brock Lesnar on his way out at Summerslam 2002, and returned for a great heel run in 2003, most notable for the promo battle with The Hurricane and finally winning a match against The Rattlesnake at WrestleMania.
7. While he may hold the title for greatest WrestleMania feud of all time with Austin, the most iconic matchup of the generation did not take place with Stone Cold. Rather, at WrestleMania 18. For those who did not experience this or weren't watching wrestling at the time, it is truly impossible to transcribe in words just how amazing this moment was. The Rock and Hulk Hogan, you know... Before Mr. America, before the Hall of Fame, and of course before TNA... The Rock and Hulk Hogan stood face to face, the crowd of the Skydome coming alive to levels that easily put it in that realm of special matches that only happen once every great while. Does the match itself matter? No. The atmosphere is what made that match amazing. A simple throwdown from a collar-elbow tie-up elicited a reaction that could arguably be compared to Joe Carter's Game 6 blast in the 1993 World Series in the same building. Mind you, this was the first MOVE. With a crowd like that, you can work a headlock for five minutes and the reversal will make you think that Jesus returned.
8. It was these moments that made The Rock one of the all-time greatest, and in my opinion the epitome of the Attitude Era. Austin may have been more popular at points, but it was The Rock who elevated himself the most. The Rock and Austin were two superstars who transcended wrestling like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant had done years earlier.
9. So when whispers of a guest host at WrestleMania began to swirl, people were either secretly hoping for The Rock's return, or they were simply praying to JBL that it was NOT Justin Bieber. Can you imagine the reaction of that raucous crowd? I'm not even what you would call someone who appreciates that kid's existence, but I'd argue that he hasn't done anything to be forced into a crowd that would eat him alive simply for being there.
10. It turned out to be a red herring, as one of the most memorable moments in wrestling in the past two years transpired. All of the lights turned off one by one, and when "IF YOU SMELL!" hit the PA, an ovation that shook the very foundation of professional wrestling followed, and for one moment in time, we were all fans again. Casual fans and internet smarks alike ate it up, at least for a good six hours or so before some people remembered they're supposed to hate everything. Similar to John Cena returning at the Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden. He got a tremendous ovation before the crowd remembered it wasn't cool to cheer for Cena.
11. The Rock cut a promo like only the Great One can, but his main target appeared to be, of all people, John Cena. In the Promo That Launched A Thousand Chants, Rocky said he looked like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Now history has shown that The Rock could say something as ridiculously stupid as "Kung Pao Bitch" or "Roody Poo Candy Ass", and the crowd will sing along with it. Point being, The Rock returning added an immediate sense of urgency to see WrestleMania, and anticipation was high.
12. The Rock spawned Team Bring It, and predictably screwed John Cena out of the championship against The Miz at a rather underwhelming WrestleMania, and the wheels were in motion. Everyone knew of the match that would be rumored to take place, but I don't think anyone expected it to be announced so soon.
13. The very next night, WWE rolled the dice and announced the main event to WrestleMania 28 a year in advance. Then, they were interrupted by a meaningless run-in from The Corre (remember them?), before returning to re-affirm that the match would indeed be taking place. The handshake was made, the match was set, and though it would mostly be a one-sided buildup, they had a year to do it.
14. Rock made sporadic appearances, but actually returned to wrestle at Survivor Series 2011 before a very pro-Rocky crowd. When Rocky was in the ring, it was like he'd never left. Even arm drags seemed to be hit with such precision that the electricity could be felt. After the match, Rock hit Cena with the Rock Bottom, and the short-term alliance of "I can't beat these guys on my own, except I totally just did beat them on my own before the Pay-Per-View" was over.
15. Once WrestleMania season hit, The Rock was all over WWE programming. Some of it better than others, The Rock has managed to kick it into full gear going into this match. From throwing Cena's merchandise into Boston Harbor to Rock Bottoming Mark Henry to send a message, we've seen a good strong two months from The Rock as he prepares to face John Cena at WrestleMania 28. Not all of it has been great, but some of it has been classic Great One. But The Rock being around has done something to someone else's career more than it has his own...
16. John Cena has spent a lot of time on my annoyance list. He even caused me to stop watching wrestling for a time when I was at the height of smarkdom. After seeing him beat Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania, I was just about fed up and quit watching for a few months. It wasn't until I spent time in the actual industry and started to comprehend just what John Cena was about that I started to change my opinion.
17. I didn't always feel that way about John Cena. When he first came up and seemed to be in an alliance with Rey Mysterio and Edge, he seemed decent enough. When he was a heel rapper, I genuinely got laughs from some of his promos. Remember what I said before; if you can make me laugh, I'll be more likely to enjoy you. I even remember attending a House Show in Hershey and Cena cut an anti-Pennsylvania promo. Being from Cleveland, I didn't mind the slightest and had no problem cheering it loudly.
18. A big moment in the transformation of Cena that I recall was when his music hit the night he was drafted to Monday Night RAW. The Cosby Show-esque theme was still fresh, and he hadn't completely distanced himself from being edgy and everything else that made the internet hate him quite yet.
19. I, like many people, got tired of the good guy act really quick. The championship seemed to stay with him for extended periods of time. Even when someone would win it away from him, he'd only face Cena until he won it back, and away we'd go again. I remember at Vengeance 2006 where the world title match actually didn't involve John Cena, and it was so relieving.
20. Cena, mostly starting at WrestleMania 22 had started facing some hostile crowds. One of the two most notorious of these hostile crowds was ECW's One Night Stand 2006, where the crowd was 100 percent in the corner of Rob Van Dam, and the atmosphere was unreal. Cena's shirt was thrown back, and chants that were very un-PG were unleashed from the Hammerstein ballroom. To Cena's credit, as he proclaimed on Monday night, he has never let that change who he is or how he reacts. It's sort of an unwritten rule of wrestling that you change with the crowd reaction, but Cena's held steadfast and remained true to what he is.
21. And who can blame him? Who can blame the company for not wanting to be rid of the best ambassador to the public they've ever had? Especially after the black eye they got from the Chris Ben... Lord Voldemort incident? I may not have always cared for John Cena the Wrestler, but John Cena the Human Being may be why we still have a WrestleMania to watch. Without a face to bring goodwill back to the industry, we may not recognize the product we so dearly love today. A company guy who has stayed clean, kept himself out of trouble, and gives back so much not only to the business but the outside world is someone worth having around and being the face of the industry. We are LUCKY as wrestling fans to have a man like John Cena represent us.
22. One thing that John Cena has sorely lacked is an equal. Some would argue Randy Orton is close, but I won't go there. Orton is not on Cena's level, regardless of how close he may be. The trouble with this is that every megastar in the business previously has had an equal. Without an equal, it's hard to sell championship matches and build new stars. CM Punk may be fast reaching that area, but it'll take a huge WrestleMania performance to solidify that status.
23. Once John Cena had an equal in The Rock, things started to change. It was hinted at in the buildup of WrestleMania 27, where Cena not only went old school once and brought back the raps, but just brought so much passion and energy that we were confused if it was the same guy by whom we'd been annoyed for the past five years. He seemed to bring something different to the table when he had someone with his credentials, and with someone who could work the mic like The Great One. The two embroiled in promo battles that made the WrestleMania buildup one of the best ever.
24. In the Summer of Punk, a new star was born almost overnight when CM Punk let loose his worked shoot. Once again, Cena had to walk into a hostile environment, and what transpired was a rare five-star match. With a few losses to CM Punk, Cena had to admit that someone finally had his number, and it made him more watchable and likable than the guy who either had the title or was about to get it back. The dueling chants remained, almost out of habit at this point I'm sure, but the evolution of Cena's character was finally starting to come through.
25. Once WrestleMania season started getting closer, the truth in John Cena's words started to hit home. The passion, the energy, and the frank honesty that he brought to everything he said started to connect with even the most jaded of haters. A year ago, one would've thought that Cena would walk into Miami like he did at ECW One Night Stand, but something truly incredible has taken place in the last few months.
26. John Cena has bested The Rock on the microphone; something that I don't believe has ever been done. The Rock is still The Rock, and he's been great at points, but John Cena has just been something else. If he's out first, he's throwing down lines and cutting passionate promos that make it almost impossible to respond. If he's cutting off The Rock, he's taking everything he said, and spinning it back to make The Great One look like a fool. Cena has been amazing this WrestleMania season, and the crowds have started to take notice. Some crowds that seem to be split or even heavy on the Cena heat have been turned into Pro-Cena crowds in one promo! It's truly been something that has to be seen to believe.
27. No physical confrontation has taken place since the end of Survivor Series. Each man will go into WrestleMania with strength and momentum. Each man will go into WrestleMania likely performing in the main event because hopefully they learned their lesson from WrestleMania 18. The atmosphere is expected to be electric, hopefully challenging the aforementioned classic showdown of icons from the previous generation. I've written it before; this could be the show that defines a new generation of wrestling, which is something sorely needed by a stagnant industry on the brink of possibly starting a new era.
28. Why John Cena should win: No one ever really passed the torch to him. He made the best of a situation where there were no megastars, and has been on top for several years. The company is starting to catch up with him, and he's moved to the point where Rocky was in 2002 where titles are no longer really pertinent to his character. A win against The Rock can turn him into a special attraction, a taker of all challenges without having to contend for championships and such. Possibilities like The Undertaker and even a rumored rematch at WrestleMania 29 lay at his feet, and it would be good for business to have someone on that level who is still in his prime.
29. Why The Rock should win: Is John Cena in a position where one loss would bury his character? Would it be a better story if Cena had to overcome his loss and finally seek it back for another year? I don't have the answers to these questions, but I know we would find out if The Rock won. Would it be a bit odd that someone who has had one match in seven years beats the guy who wrestles every week? Sure it would, but it would be unexpected. Seeing how Cena reacts to a big loss after his high-and-mighty attitude going into the show would have him similar to Shawn Michaels after first losing to the Undertaker; obsessed with getting that rematch and righting the wrongs created by that transgression. Would a rematch be as big? It could be, if done right.
30. Why the rest of the WrestleMania card needs to step it up before these two: Everyone knows that this match is going to be off the charts in atmosphere. Some complain that it's stealing attention away from the other matches, but this is where the big stage comes into play. Every single match on this card, save for maybe the Divas, has the potential to steal the show, at least before the main event. See: Owen/Bret before Razor/Shawn. What better career-defining night could one have, if not to make an impression when so many new eyes could be watching? The Rock vs. John Cena will be remembered, but maybe a Dolph Ziggler, a CM Punk, a Miz, a Cody Rhodes, a Sheamus, a Daniel Bryan could steal the spotlight for a time and make a huge name for himself at the expense of all the attention on the entire show before the main event? This could be the best WrestleMania since 17, and it's certainly the most stacked card in recent memory. If the rest of the card can deliver, and the main event goes off without a hitch, we may finally be on the verge of a new generation. And those who tuned in just to see The Rock may bear witness to the genesis, and fans may start coming back. Never doubt what one amazing night can do to change the world.