It was 2002. It was Hollywood Hogan vs. The Rock. Now it's 2012 and it’s Hollywood Rock vs. John Cena. As far as I can see it, WWE creative don’t have many options in resolving this one.
When Hollywood Hogan jobbed to The Rock ten years ago, it went down as one of the biggest bouts of all time. Fans foamed at the mouth as The People’s Champ officially took the WWE throne and we saw the return of The Immortal “Hulk” Hogan. Seeing Nash and Hall beat down on Hogan post match, only for The Rock to make the save, pushed The Rock to the moon and gave the WWE fans what they truly wanted: the return of Hulkamania.
As we close in on what is being billed as the "new" biggest match of all time, John Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 28, I can’t help but see WWE as having backed themselves into a corner. They are facing a potential lose-lose situation, where I see only one-way out: a big damn change for John Cena.
Please allow me to explain.
Leading into Rock vs. Hogan, there was a very clear definition of face v heel. The Rock was riding an unparalleled wave of popularity after leading WWE to victory over WCW, while Hollywood Hogan had made his return as the corrupt leader of the nWo. Although both left this battle as a baby face, there was no doubt about the way each man was billed. This is what gave WWE creative room to move.
Although the crowd longed to see the return of Hulk and began to demand it throughout the WrestleMania match (by booing Rocky and cheering for Hogan), it was still a clear “good” against “bad”. With The Immortal Hogan being urged to turn, and a champion that could win the crowd over like nobody before him, WWE could afford Hogan losing and still please the fans on every front.
He loses, passes the torch to The Rock, the current face of the organisation and keeps “The Millions” happy. Hogan turns face in doing so, joins forces with the Brahma Bull and reintroduces us to Hulkamania, to the adoration of the Hulkamaniacs, thus largely rendering the actual loss irrelevant.
It was simple, but it worked because the clear use of heel vs. face left room for both to walk away over with the crowd. Just to top it off, they have the men pose together in an ultimate showing of respect. “The Millions” of Hulkamanics ate it up. How on Earth can they match that now?
This time around, we have a full-time poster boy whom countless fans hate and an ex-wrestler come Hollywood actor, whom we all expect to disappear back to the world of red carpets and premieres. This creates a problem in a couple of ways.
Firstly, is the Rock really going to risk the reputation he has carved out for himself outside of the WWE by coming back and coming off second best to Super-Cena? In his shoes, I wouldn’t dream of it. Secondly, whilst John Cena is heavily booed everywhere he goes, he is still a Super-Babyface. With The Rock also being built as a returning hero face and the obvious lack of respect being highlighted between the two, something has to give.
While face vs. face battles can work, this is a situation I don’t see playing out well. If Super Cena gets the win and The Rock shows the appreciation that Hogan once bestowed upon him, those who currently boo Cena will lose their minds and their disdain for a man that “won’t change who he is” will not only be amplified but extended to the WWE as a whole.
He will go on to gain more heat and alienate the large section of fans that are tired of Cena rising above, while the Rock will not only have weakened his own reputation, but will have done so to put over a guy that so many want to see turn heel.
However, if Cena loses to a veteran who has been away from the game for 8 odd years, who has followed through on his words, his whole character, reputation and standing in the business is undermined and WWE have diminished one of their biggest assets.
How could John Cena return to RAW the following night without changing following this loss? WrestleMania buys aside, how does the WWE win here if either man win and Cena remains Super Cena?
If the Rock wins, Cena has no credibility as the character that entered WrestleMania. If Cena wins, the WWE Universe will be up in arms. Although “this means everything” to Cena, he has no choice but to walk away a different man. As I see it, the change needs to be a big one too. Something to the tune of a heel turn should do it.
Despite all this, WWE has been doing it’s best to win Cena more support with the fans by allowing him a little more room to move when he cuts promos and giving him ammunition (Rock’s wrist notes) to unload on Rocky. But do they seriously think there is anything they can do to put Cena over?
This is the Rock we are talking about. He is being booked as a face, up against a man taking serious heat, in his adopted hometown. Whilst I rate how well Cena has performed during this feud, he does not stand a chance. Instead, how about allowing him to take his new edge and energy into a new, villainous personality?
Or will the WWE ruin things by not allowing a clean victory…
As an alternative to a clean win either way, the WWE have been rumoured to be running interference during the match (Miz, many are looking at you). If anything of the sort occurs, more fans than you could think of will be left with a sour taste in their mouths and, subsequently, a total lack of respect for the WWE. This is the biggest match of all time? If that is true, it needs to finish clean. Anything else would be a catastrophe in the eyes of far too many and hurt WWE far too much.
As I have said, I can only see one way out for the WWE when Cena meets the Rock at WrestleMania 28: for John Cena to radically change his WWE persona. There will be too much heat directed at both superstars if Rocky simply passes the torch. This, as an attempt to have them both walk away credible faces, would just burden “the face of WWE” with even more heat and jaded detractors. Then again, nobody expects the WWE to let go of merchandise machine Super-Cena and allow him to lose.
This is, in essence, the lose-lose situation of which I speak.
The only credible way out of this corner for the WWE creative team is to capitalise on the huge contempt held toward John Cena and either re-invent him completely as a new type of face or to take the road so many want to see and turn him to the dark-side. To me, it is the only logical step available which offers any kind of “win” situation.
As I did often in my last article, WWE Recycling: 5 Ways WWE Benefits from Recycling the Past (Pt. 1, Stables), I provided hypothetical situations to support my theories. Please allow me to finish here by doing the same.
Imagine this: During their match, The Rock gets the upper hand and begins to beat down Cena. He slams him to the ground and begins to impersonate Cena doing the 5 Knuckle Shuffle. The crowd love it. As he bends down to do the “You Can’t See Me”, Cena snaps. He eye gouges, gets up shouting “I will no longer be disrespected!” and unleashes hell on The Rock.
The Rock fights back to the point where Cena snaps even further and, inadvertently, knocks out the referee. Given this chance, he then turns to using a chair, brass knuckles or the like to take to Rocky.
From here, anything could happen. A young up and comer can come to the rescue to help his climb up the ladder (Sheamus perhaps?) and give Rock a chance to win clean or Cena wins through his dirty, heel-turn ways and sets up a rematch for Summer Slam or WrestleMania 29. Ultimately, it wouldn't be a "clean" finish, but it would be a credible one in my eyes
Post match, Cena cuts a promo attacking the Rock for disrespecting him and then turns on the WWE Universe for the same thing. This would shake the WWE universe up big time and quite frankly, I think it’s the only way they can go. Everything else just seems too weak.
Time to take a page from WCW (turning Hulk Hogan heel at Bash at the Beach) and change things, WWE. Turn John Cena heel and witness a whole new era of excitement.
Would love to know your thoughts. Please leave me a comment on what you think will happen. Thanks for reading!