In all likelihood, WrestleMania 28's headline match between John Cena and The Rock will be highlight of this Sunday's show, but it could be in spite of the way the WWE has been building the match over the last year.
Judging by all of the promotion, hype and appearances on Raw over the last month-and-a-half, it would seem that the WWE has been relying almost solely on Cena and The Rock's popularity and personalities to sell the match instead of giving them a proper feud with a solid storyline to support them.
The "Battle of Past and Present Superstars" booking has worked in the past and is the way many MMA and boxing matches are booked, but one of the most appealing aspects of Professional Wrestling amongst its fanbase has always been the stories that wrestling attempts tell and the lack of any real passion between The Rock and Cena has been the biggest weaknesses to their rivalry.
Since returning to the WWE after a seven-year absence last year, The Rock has accused Cena of being a wannabe superstar, undeserving of the opportunities that he's been given and the championships he's won and is here to set to the record straight that The Rock is the biggest WWE superstar of all time.
The problem with The Rock's arguments is that Cena never claimed to be anything more than an entertainer doing his best to put on a good show and focusing on being a great wrestler once his film career never took off. The Rock's rabble-rousing has forced Cena to be on the defensive, and their brief physical altercations last March (including The Rock costing Cena his title match against The Miz at last year's WrestleMania) seem to hold more shock value than having actually been provoked.
While both men (and the WWE) realize there is great interest in seeing them square off against each at a major event, there has been little build to the match outside of The Rock calling Cena a "fruity pebble" and Cena countering back. It's a shame, because there was potential for the feud to have a very compelling meta-element of "Attitude-Era" vs. "whatever we're calling this era" that could have given this match truly epic proportions.
Cena has touched on The Rock's absence a number of times. He has come close to outright stating that the booking of this match sets up a dangerous precedent of allowing retired Superstars an opportunity to come back and take spots away from current Superstars who have worked all year to earn their place on pay-per-view cards. And while Cena hasn't attacked management on screen, his attacks against The Rock seem just as directed at WWE booking as it does at The Rock personally.
Cena may have legitimate reasons to feud with The Rock, but The Rock's lack of any real motivation only highlights the fact he has not "come back" to teach Cena a thing or two about a thing or two but because he is only looking to reignite his fanbase to come out to see his movies and to collect a big paycheck.
That Rock needs the WWE (and the WWE needs The Rock to boost PPV buys in return) has led to this WrestleMania match being booked isn't a bad thing, but there has been little attempt to build this match into anything more than The Rock nostalgia tour with The Rock trotting out his old catchphrases and guitar. The Rock still has the charisma and abilities that made him a star over a decade ago, but with seemingly little to motivate his return, he appears weak against a Cena who has all the reason in the world to beat him.
This rivalry has presumably played out just the way the WWE has intended it to. Casual viewers have returned to the fold to see The Rock do the things that they enjoyed seeing back at the turn of the century and will hopefully purchase the pay-per-view to see The Rock in the ring one more time. But this match has done nothing to enhance the rest of the company's storylines which have largely been pushed aside in the last month-and-a-half.
"The Rock vs. Cena" is still very much a match worth watching and may very well be one of the best matches ever featured in a WrestleMania event, but it's build-up and lack of any real progression or tension in the two men's rivalry have been disappointing to a large portion of the year-round audience. It could also set up a dangerous precedent for the way any future "come back" bookings will play out, such as the rumored Stone Cold Steve Austin return which could headline next year's WrestleMania.
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