In just 352 days, The Rock and John Cena are scheduled to collide at WrestleMania. Two generations will be face to face and two legacies will be ultimately defined. The Rock will have his first match since WrestleMania XX in 2004, while John Cena will wrestle his first non-championship match at WrestleMania.
While the build for these two will expand and grow over the next 50 weeks, it is important to look back at the two careers. For the most part, this match will be a key piece in the ultimate legacy that both of these men will leave in the sports entertainment world.
As both men stand to see a new chapter of their legacy be added next April, let's recap and show where both men's legacies currently stand.
Being that we are so immune to the look of John Cena in the ring, it is still humorous to look back at Cena's beginnings in WWE. On June 27th, 2002, Cena debuted when he answered a challenge put forth by Kurt Angle. Inspired by a speech from Vince McMahon earlier in the night, Cena stated that he possessed "ruthless aggression" before attacking Angle which resulted in him gaining his debut match.
Cena impressed many fans that night and his close loss sent wavelengths throughout the company. Cena had made a good first impression and fought off and on during Thursday nights of Smackdown. Cena's gimmick was very bland and nobody was really sure what to make of Cena in terms of a future star in the business.
By October 2002, Cena had turned heel and began to form his villain persona. Believe it or not, his gimmick stemmed from a Halloween costume. Cena dressed as Vanilla Ice and rapped during a party backstage at the Halloween episode of Smackdown. It eventually turned into Cena's regular gimmick.
Cena would come to the ring wearing a different sports jersey and carrying a microphone. Cena would rap about his upcoming opponent, often stopping shy of saying profanity. Fans could notice that there was a change in the WWE landscape at that time. As the weeks went on, you could notice that Cena was positioning himself in a place where that was his spot to lead the company in a new direction.
Cena was a fan favorite on Smackdown, winning the United States Championship before becoming WWE Champion at WrestleMania 21. On June 6th, 2005, during the annual WWE Draft, Cena was drafted to RAW, where he has remained to this day. Cena began a feud with Chris Jericho once he joined RAW, which was when anti-Cena fans became noticeably vocal for the very first time. It had been practically all positive for Cena in the WWE up to this point.
Negativity was expected eventually, especially against a constant fan favorite in Jericho. However, anti-Cena chants continued into a feud with Kurt Angle and Cena negativity began to spread like wildfire. It eventually became apparent that it would need to be addressed. Cena was billed by announcers as "controversial", especially in the not-so-friendly confines of Hammerstein Ballroom for ECW One Night Stand.
Cena gained the WWE Championship back in September 2006 and held it for 380 days. It was the longest WWE Championship reign since Hulk Hogan's four-year reign from 1984-1988. The only reason that this reign ended was due to injury. Cena had injured his pectoral muscle on the October 1st, 2007 episode of RAW in a match against Mr. Kennedy.
There was a scheduled attack by Orton, Cena's opponent at the next pay-per-view, after the match. Despite the injury, Cena went through with the attack. The added work of the attack by Orton led to a complete tear of the muscle off of the bone. Cena was believed to be out between seven months and a year.
Just shy of four months later, Cena shocked everyone by appearing as the final entrant at the Royal Rumble, a match that Cena would win. When Cena came out as the 30th entrant, the crowd went nuts and even some of the wrestlers seemed in shock for what was taking place. Cena showed his true colors that night. While he has taken time off to film movies and to deal with pectoral and neck injuries, he comes back stronger and usually comes back quicker than expected. Cena's ability to return from a serious injury in a fraction of the time expected from him was a major plus for his legacy.
Perhaps a major minus for Cena's legacy is his place as a corporate juggernaut. Cena goes movies, TV shows, endorsements and sells a large amount of merchandise. If Cena sticks around much longer, he may run out of colors of the rainbow since his shirt seems to change color and design nearly annually.
This aspect of Cena has leaked into storyline promos. It has been a focal point for both The Miz and The Rock when talking about John Cena. I may not enjoy seeing Cena win everything, but I know how hard the guy works to get to the place he is in. His moves may be stale and ineffective but the man keeps trying to add something new to it. His constant changes in apparel suggest him being a bit of a sell out, but Cena is a cash cow and anyone would be blessed to be in his shoes.
Let's now turn our attention to the history of The Rock and his WWF debut.
The Rock debuted in 1996 at Survivor Series as "The Blue Chipper" Rocky Maivia. Maivia was inspired by his lineage in the company and was a very bland version of a third-generation superstar. Basically, picture Randy Orton when he debuted and put him on a pay-per-view out of nowhere.
In his first match, Rocky was the sole survivor in a traditional Survivor Series match. After three months in the WWF, Maivia was Intercontinental Champion. Despite this massive push, fans grew tired of Rocky pretty quickly. This was around the same time as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin coming into power so seeing a clean cut guy like Maivia was boring. Chants of "Die Rocky Die" began to fill the arenas and it was almost impossible for Rocky to avoid them.
The Rock that we all know and love was born after returning from injury to join the Nation of Domination. With his new charismatic heel persona, The Rock was now given a chance by many fans. His ability to cut a fantastic heel promo helped propel The Nation as a massive force in the WWF. After a feud with Austin over the Intercontinental Championship, The Rock and The Nation turned their attention towards Triple H and D-Generation X.
By this point, The Rock had overthrown Faarooq as leader of The Nation. While Nation members fought DX members, The Rock and The Game put on fantastic matches for the IC title, including one of the best ladder matches I have ever seen at SummerSlam 1998. Popularity around The Rock began to make him into a fan favorite and a face of sorts, leading to The Rock becoming the No. 1 contender for the WWF Championship in September 1998.
The Rock had become a target for Mr. McMahon in his nearly year-long quest to get rid of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin was stripped of his WWF Championship before Survivor Series, leading to the Deadly Game tournament.
The Rock became the focus of many attacks by The Corporation, facing both Big Boss Man and Ken Shamrock in the first two rounds. The Rock made it to the finals against Mankind, who Mr. McMahon had picked as his favorite to win the entire tournament. The match ended when The Rock locked in a sharpshooter and Mr. McMahon called for the bell. The ending was a parody of the Montreal Screwjob from the year before. The Rock had joined The Corporation as the champion, while Mankind was kicked to the curb.
Mankind and The Rock would put on a series of matches in 1999. From an I Quit match at Royal Rumble to an Empty Arena match on Halftime Heat, which took place at halftime of the Super Bowl, the two exchanged title reigns for the beginning of that year. With Mankind out of the way, Rock faced Austin at WrestleMania XV, losing the belt to the Texas Rattlesnake.
Rock had branched away from the Corporation and stayed a fan favorite. While often being heel still, The Rock would start feuds with other heels, capitalizing on his huge popularity. This would be where The Rock would stay for most of the rest of his wrestling career.
Within that time, however, The Rock had teamed with Mankind to form the Rock N' Sock Connection, a reference to Mankind's Mr. Socko, which he used for his mandible claw finisher. The duo won tag team gold on three separate occasions. For all of the tag team title reigns that John Cena has, not one of them was with a willing partner. Cena's only tag team partners were people he was feuding with at the time. The Rock, on the other hand, had a legitimate tag team partner and on-screen ally.
The Rock had become The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment and had taken pro wrestling to the mainstream once again. For the first time since Hulk Hogan, there was a wrestler who was known in many pop culture circles. The Rock hosted Saturday Night Live in 2000 and had recorded a song with Wyclef Jean the same year.
An appearance in The Mummy Returns as The Scorpion King led to a spin-off movie with The Rock's character lending its name to the film title. Suddenly, The Rock was more than a wrestler and with his films not coinciding with his wrestling appearances, The Rock would fade on and off of television. It is likely this season that WWE developed its own film company to get their stars into movies that they produce and keep them from getting taken off of the road for very long.
The Rock had made scarce reappearances in WWE from that point on, reuniting the Rock N' Sock Connection at WrestleMania XX and filming taped promos for special occasions. His movies kept coming out and the man once known as The Rock was beginning to refer to himself as his birth name, Dwayne Johnson.
Suddenly, after wishing for it for many years and hearing rumors for many months, The Rock reappeared to be the host of WrestleMania 27 and began a feud with John Cena, which leads us to today.