The Ruthless Aggression Era will forever be remembered as a time in which WWE elevated and made stars out of several young performers that had come through its developmental system. Two such performers were Brock Lesnar and John Cena.
Lesnar and Cena took different paths to the top of the industry. From day one, Lesnar was treated as (and referred to as) the Next Big Thing. He was put in the ring with the likes of the Hardy Boyz and Rob Van Dam immediately and given opportunities early in his main roster stay that others simply were not. He was given the rocket push to the top of the company, defeating The Rock for the WWE title at SummerSlam in 2002, just four months after his Raw debut.
Cena, on the other hand, worked his way up through the ranks. His first match against Kurt Angle showed that he had the ability to be a major star for World Wrestling Entertainment. Unfortunately, the creative team was unable to capitalize on the momentum Cena built for himself during his first few appearances on SmackDown and soon, he was left to wallow in the midcard.
It was not until he donned a Vanilla Ice costume and spit some freestyle raps that he gained traction with the audience and became one of the breakout stars in the company. He would rise to prominence in WWE following his victory over Big Show at 2004's WrestleMania XX.
Speaking of WrestleMania XX, Lesnar would make his final appearance for WWE at the event, losing to Goldberg. He would not appear in WWE for eight years, during which time Cena would ascend to the top of professional wrestling and star as its biggest attraction.
Their clash at Extreme Rules in 2012 would be the first time they had squared off in nearly a decade.
On the April 2, 2012 episode of Raw, John Cena addressed the WWE Universe just one day after losing the biggest match of his career to The Rock. He joked a little, discussed the loss and then found himself cut off by the music of the returning Brock Lesnar.
The crowd in Miami erupted in support of the former WWE and UFC champion's appearance, and that support only amplified when he pulled Cena in toward him and delivered the F5.
A week later, John Laurinaitis reintroduced Lesnar to the WWE Universe, but Cena was quick to make his way to the ring. A war broke out between the Superstars, which ended up leaving Cena's mouth bloodied. The entire WWE locker room spilled into the ring to separate the competitors. The segment only further added heat to what was a very anticipated Extreme Rules main event.
On April 16, Lesnar sat down with WWE.com to explain why he came back to WWE and why he targeted John Cena. Cena, in return, squared off with the dangerous (at least at the time) Tensai in an Extreme Rules match. Showing more weakness than ever heading into his showdown with Lesnar, Cena was upset by the former A-Train to the shock (and some delight) of the WWE Universe.
Sensing that Cena was in need of a pep talk ahead of his clash with Lesnar, "Rated R Superstar" Edge returned to Raw to talk up his most hated rival on the April 23 show.
Later in the night, Cena and Lesnar signed the contract for their bout, leaving fans eagerly anticipating their titanic clash just six days later.
The Extreme Rules match between John Cena and Brock Lesnar was an exercise in brutality. Lesnar, an unstoppable beast of a fighter, dominated Cena and completely outclassed him for the majority of the bout. He cut the former WWE and World champion off at every turn and even had enough time to toy with him, treating him as though he was anything but his equal.
Unfortunately for Lesnar, his cockiness and arrogance cost him dearly. He took Cena too lightly and ended up eating a steel chain shot to the face followed by an Attitude Adjustment onto the steel steps.
Cena's win did nothing to hurt Lesnar, contrary to what some may believe. For weeks, Lesnar was built up as the perfect combination of the unstoppable force and immovable object. He knew how good he was and had no problem talking about it. That hubris and arrogance got the best of him, and he paid dearly for it.
The match was excellently worked and played upon the story that the creative team was telling leading into the show.
Even if that story was flawed.
Almost immediately following the match, Lesnar began a storyline with Triple H that would lead to a trilogy of matches between the two. Lesnar would win their SummerSlam battle, drop their WrestleMania 29 match and end the series on a high note, beating The Game inside a steel cage at Extreme Rules in 2013.
He would be joined by Paul Heyman later in 2012. Heyman would serve as his mouthpiece, something he sorely needed.
Cena would remain the top star, feuding with John Laurinaitis, Big Show, CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler to close out the year. He would redeem himself and defeat The Rock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29.
Historically speaking, the match served as Lesnar's reintroduction to a WWE and ring. After eight years away, he certainly looked like a less polished competitor but was still more than capable of telling a story and bringing his violent and physical style to the match.
He would utilize that style against Undertaker at WrestleMania 30, becoming the first Superstar in WWE history to defeat the Phenom at the Showcase of the Immortals.