After a seven-year-long career, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson retired at the top of his game at the age of 32 back in 2004. At that time, John Cena was still a newcomer in the WWE, but his rise in the ranks would continue to grow as years past. At the height of John Cena’s fame within WWE, the former WWE Champion criticized The Rock for leaving to go to Hollywood on multiple occasions, basically saying that the former WWE star didn’t care too much about the business. Of course, WWE wanted to capitalize on this story, and given the popularity of both characters, it was a smart business move to have The Rock and John Cena fight. When The Rock returned after a seven-year absence, it felt special, and him calling out the Doctor of Thuganomics set the stage for something incredible. After a lame main event at WrestleMania 27 that saw The Rock cost John Cena the WWE title, the two finally confirmed a match one year later.
Granted, this was your typical WWE-style promo segment complete with John Cena basically no selling the fact that he lost a huge title match on the biggest stage in professional wrestling. Still, the reason that Rock attacked Cena was sound. The former WWE Champion criticized Johnson’s love for the business, and he was simply pissed about the statements. There was the unnecessary Rock & Cena vs. The Miz & R-Truth tag team match at Survivor Series that didn’t really move the needle in their feud. There was never any doubt that the two biggest icons in the last two generations were going to lose to The Miz and R-Truth. Plus, it didn’t make sense for Cena to choose The Rock from the beginning. This is the man that he despised for leaving the WWE universe behind. Also, this very same man screwed you out of the WWE Championship, why would John Cena have any incentive to trust The Rock? Oh, wait, because money needs to be made. I’m not criticizing the booking of the match itself. There was no way that Rock and Cena should’ve lost. However, R-Truth and The Miz just weren’t a credible threat. The company did its hardest to build up these two guys to seem like formable opponents, but they simply aren’t on the same level as Cena and Rock.
Why not have The Rock avenge his WrestleMania 20 lost by getting Randy Orton and another guy to main event against the two stars? Orton is on the same level as Cena, and generally feels like someone who could actually beat The Rock and John Cena. Plus, he has history with both men. Financially, WWE did strong numbers. In fact, for every Rock/Cena appearance, the company was a success, so when it comes to making money then WWE did everything right. But the building blocks to getting towards the once in a lifetime match was lackluster at best. Rock giving John Cena his finisher following their match at Survivor Series didn’t do anything to progress the feud any further. It just reminded everyone that they’re rivals. The build consisted of childish (though admittedly entertaining) insults from both Rock and Cena until it was time to get serious towards the end. It certainly wasn’t on the level of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns playing tug of war with the title bad, but it didn’t give the feud heat necessary to really side with one man. Both came across as heelish in this feud because it was being handled by two grown men acting like high school bullies towards one another.
The main reason that John Cena and The Rock were able to coast by with the lackluster build is due to the fact that the two biggest stars in the company were finally going one-on-one. And they did have a match. An very average one, but it felt like the biggest WrestleMania main event in years. With the success of the first match, it wasn’t particularly a surprise that a rematch was scheduled. However, John Cena’s nice guy route interfered once again. How can we truly invest in a story when Cena doesn’t show any frustration over losing to The Rock? Cena didn’t need to be crazy about his loss, but some type of character development should’ve happened. That’s the biggest issue with this entire feud. These two went back and forth on being the good and bad guy that their characters weren’t exactly defined. Both men had motivation, especially Cena. But it felt as if the company was afraid to move past petty insults and the occasional finisher on each other. The story of doubt over being able to beat the Rock could’ve provided Cena with an interesting layer to his character. And with The Rock winning the WWE Championship, perhaps he could’ve been a bit more arrogant or dismissive of John Cena as a threat. Either way, the wrestling books will put their two match trilogy as a success, but in the end, The Rock vs. John Cena was a disappointing rivalry that didn’t capitalize on several opportunities.