Despite the bitter rivalry, the WWE Championship match between John Cena and The Rock at this year’s WrestleMania was very tame—even in comparison to last year.
In order to look at the WrestleMania match that just took place, we must first analyze the year as a whole in relation to each superstar. After all, WrestleMania does mark the conclusion of the majority of WWE storylines.
In short, John Cena struggled throughout most of the year. Part of his yearlong struggle was caused by an injury that sidelined him for a few months—and subsequently halted the Punk-Cena feud that echoed many of the old WWF squabbles in the halcyon days. The other cause of the Cena slump was caused by creative. As 2012 closed, John Cena faced Dolph Ziggler in what seems to be a drawn out feud meant to keep the focus on these two superstars in-waiting. No momentum was lost during the winter storyline but then again, not much was gained from it either.
Ziggler and Cena’s feud ended at the Royal Rumble as John Cena won the namesake match for the second time, which began his ascension to the top where he has been notably absent for most of the year. He was poised to be the very top of his game, both for competitive and personal reasons.
Conversely, The Rock was not privy to the hands that be like Cena was; The Rock swiftly and easily interjected himself into the WWE Championship conversation at Raw 1000 when he challenged then-WWE Champion CM Punk to a match at January’s Royal Rumble. No one in the WWE Universe—save Punk—questioned the part-time wrestler/actor’s ability to proclaim himself No.1 contender months before the scheduled match.
Nevertheless, announcing the match months before the pay-per-view created suspense as to whether Punk would retain his belt until then. As soon as The Rock made his swift exit after Raw 1000, WWE teased a future rematch against John Cena since Cena was set to face Punk throughout the later months of 2012. That came to a screeching halt as soon as it as revealed that Cena would take some time off in order to recover from arm surgery. In his place was the up-and-coming, muscle-bound Ryback, who did an excellent job of making fans forget that John Cena was supposed to conclude their bitter rivalry.
Thus, Punk was brushed aside—rekindling his own story of garnering respect—to reveal The Rock vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. The match was a lot like last year’s main event bout except that the stakes were seemingly higher now that the WWE’s top title is at stake. A typical rematch wouldn’t do with superstars of this caliber.
Because neither superstar fits the traditional roles of heel and face, WWE threw in every professional wrestling trope imaginable. Their respective legacies were interjected, as evident in a segment featuring WWE legends such as Mick Foley and Dusty Rhodes. Because of this, both superstars began—at least subtlety—considering their position amongst the wrestling greats who have participated in WrestleMania.
The notion of personal struggle was also included in the buildup of the match, when John Cena declared on Raw that The Rock did not beat him. Rather, John Cena beat himself.
The technique in question is usually isolated to team sports: did Team A truly lose to the lowly Team B, or did Team A mentally beat themselves? Regardless, the technique is definitely worth a mention considering that Cena strayed way from his typical moveset in favor of a more unorthodox one, all while mocking The Rock in the process.
The buildup to the rematch also had personal undertones. Even the video package for the match included a subtle jab at Cena’s real-life divorce.
But when you combine so many wrestling tropes, there is so much the match can do until it’s diluted.
The entrances were very muted. The match, which lasted a little less than an hour, was basically split into two parts: one part anticlimactic holds and another part reversing signature moves.
The match was filled with proverbial flip-flopping of signature moves. Cena set up The Rock for an AA and The Rock reversed it to a Rock Bottom, which John Cena also managed to move away from. It happened very often.
Quite possibly the best spot of the match was when Cena set up The Rock for his own version of the People’s Elbow. Cena’s hubris grew as the fans voiced their displeasure. In response, Cena mockingly did the move with a twist. Instead of going through with the finisher he held on to the rope, a obvious ode to last year’s mistake that cost him the match.
John Cena eventually secured the victory with an AA and this time around, he did not have the displeasure of sitting on the stage’s ramp while The Rock celebrated his victory. In the end, John Cena was able to walk away victorious against The Rock to capture the WWE Championship. The pay-per-view concluded with both superstars at the stage with their hands raised in a sign of respect.
He made up for last year’s loss by winning the WWE Championship against The Rock—even though most of his in-ring actions were typically more like a heel. Now that The Rock has hyped up the WWE and its namesake title in movie premieres and interviews, Cena can focus on defending his title against current full-time talent which ideally makes the belt much more prestigious.
With a slew of films on the horizon, The Rock will undoubtedly shift his focus back into his movies. But never fear WWE fans, this will not be the last of The Rock. More than likely, he will make his return from his short-term break to build up for the next of the big four pay-per-views, SummerSlam.
His departure from WWE may not start right after WrestleMania. For what it’s worth, The Rock is scheduled to make an appearance on Monday’s Raw at the IZOD Center in The Meadowlands. Since the night after WrestleMania hits the virtual restart button on most storylines, you can bet that The Rock will find a new foe or add another wrinkle, possibly in the form of a rubber match, against John Cena.
With the way the match ended, a rubber match may not be in the works. But this is WWE; that may happen eventually. Regardless, here’s looking at the future.
Hector Diaz (iamHectorDiaz) covers sports, music and professional wrestling for a variety of sites, all of which can be found at iamHectorDiaz.com.
Check out his podcast, Pipebomb Wrestling Radio on iTunes, Facebook and Twitter.