John Cena is, without any doubt, the most debated WWE superstar on the roster. For years his entrances have received a mix of cheers and boos, while his merchandise sales continue to thrive. Cena was a near unrivaled force in the WWE, the recipient of all of the trust of Vince McMahon. Through this period, his victories (though often through great matches) grew tiresome and the “traditional” wrestling fans distanced themselves from the hero. Cena became a hero to some, and an annoyance to others.
During this same period, a young wrestler with a strong background on the independents began to rise through the ranks. As the story goes, his ego often rubbed his contemporaries the wrong way but his talent was so undeniable that the crowds would not allow his dismissal. His name is CM Punk, and he began to carry the banner of those who had turned their back on John Cena.
And then, there was another man. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had headlined Wrestlemania and then went on to Hollywood success. Regardless of his absence, his shadow loomed over the entire WWE roster. The Rock is a true living legend in the sport, a sport he finally returned to. Through these 3 men, and over 2 years, the WWE has crafted one of the greatest narratives in the history of professional wrestling. Though wrestling is an art that must often adjust and surely has over time, this story stands as the finest saga in years. Here’s How.
The journey starts at Wrestlemania 27, when the returning Rock screwed John Cena out of the WWE Championship. This was a turn back to the WWF of the late 90s, where interference seemed to control title changes more than the matches themselves. The next night, they would set a match between Cena and The Rock at Wrestlemania 28, playing off of the crowds already existing division.
At that point, the formula was simple, John Cena’s fanbase tended to be younger, weekly viewers of the WWE product. Though they likely knew who The Rock was, they had less connection due to his absence from television. The Rock would gain the other side of the crowd, made up of those who had watched in the past and held an attachment to him. He would also pick up the support of those who sought “change” from Cena’s dominant era. This coming change would play a big part in the summer.
CM Punk believed he was the best in the business (by his own admission, in real life as well) and in June of 2011, he made that clear. In what is now referred to as the “pipe bomb” promo, CM Punk outlined his problems with the state of the WWE.
Punk, arguably the hottest heel on the roster, had been relegated to a grudge match at WM 27 and now was already out of the main event at WM 28. Though he made many comments during this promo and in the following weeks, two points stand as the most important.
First, Punk believed that though Cena was a hard worker, he was not the best in the world and should not have been carrying the strap (Cena regained the belt after Wrestlemania 27). Punk was the deserving contender for the most important title in the world.
Second, The Rock did not deserve to wrestle Cena, as he did not put in the work that Punk (or Cena) had. Some of the crowd agreed, and this is where the story truly becomes special. The crowd had now been divided into 3 groups.
Group 1: Cena’s fans, still supporting the poster boy hero of their favorite company.
Group 2: The Rock’s fans, those who were there to see the legendary figure of the past.
And now, Group 3: Punk’s fans, a group concerned with innovation and, most importantly, the perpetual creation of new stars and stories.
3 heroes of different natures standing in opposition. Crowd reaction is the ultimate test in professional wrestling and now 3 men stood equal to each other, but above the rest of the roster. Punk would go on to win the WWE title from Cena and though briefly interrupted, would continue to reign through both heel and face turns.
Once in a Life Time
At WM 28, a face CM Punk would successfully defend his WWE title against Chris Jericho in arguably the best match of the night. Punk was on a roll and in past months had affirmed both his staying power and his importance to the promotion.
Punk was basically untouchable. The only two men who seemed as important were in the main event that night.
When John Cena faced The Rock, many predicted that Cena would triumph. It made a lot of sense, Cena was able to work a full schedule while The Rock would only make special appearances.
Cena had been the backbone of the company for years and may well have deserved to defeat an icon such as The Rock. But, he didn’t. The Rock won clean over Cena at Wrestlemania 28.
Instead of the golden boy returning to his position, it was shown that he had truly lost it. With The Rock once again absent and Cena lessened by his loss, CM Punk took his rightful place as the top competitor in the WWE.
For nearly a year, John Cena couldn’t win the big one. Not long after Wrestlemania 28, Punk would turn heel, a slick move on the part of creative as Punk’s fan base would have no problem supporting a villain.
Punk was a hero to his fans because of what he did in the ring and on the microphone, not because he was the “good guy.” His record setting reign stands as an affirmation that the WWE has not abandoned the basis of their success.
Now, it was Punk who would have his turn with The Rock. Through some of the best promo’s in recent years, Punk and The Rock built to a WWE championship match. The Rock would win this match and a rematch after it, though neither win would be clean; both finishes were built around CM Punk losing under questionable conditions.
In short, The Rock could not defeat CM Punk at his best, as Cena could not in the year prior. What Cena did do was win the 2013 Royal Rumble, guaranteeing a WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania 29. As The Rock only appears occasionally, the title was essentially taken out of play until then.
Punk wanted another re-match, but obviously wasn’t going to get one. So he challenged John Cena for his title shot at Wrestlemania. The number one contendership for the title was, for the moment, the richest prize in the game.
The now revitalized Cena accepted. They then proceeded to have one of the best matches of either career and some of those were already great. In the end, Cena walked out the victor. While this could be dismissed as another hurdle on the road to Wrestlemania, in this case it was much more.
Cena was finally able to do what The Rock could not, beat CM Punk in a competitive match, clean. With a title scene that for nearly 2 years has only truly featured 3 men, this was a huge statement. The match was near perfect, the technical side proved that Cena belonged in the same class as Punk and the story finally gave Cena something over the legend.
What you have now is a confrontation greater than that at WM 28. The once great hero who fell to change has finally triumphed over his hardships. He now seeks victory over a seemingly unstoppable legend.
While some have criticized this match as a rehash, “Twice in a Lifetime,” it is more than this. The John Cena who will wrestle The Rock at Wrestlemania 29 is a far greater threat than he has ever been. If Cena wins, this will be his “Wrestlemania Moment”.
While I don’t believe that Cena’s triumph over Punk will completely turn Punk’s fanbase to Cena’s side, it certainly drives a long-standing story point home. Cena, after his defeat of Punk, is the true representative of the WWE.
The Rock, though a great in the business, is simply not present. He will not be there every week, nor will he be innovating the business.
He is not the best pro-wrestler in world because it is not the crux of his being. For the sake of the ever developing narrative and the respect that he deserves, John Cena should stand the WWE Champion at the close of Wrestlemania 29.
Punk had his legendary rise and reign and it will be a long time before it is replicated.
The Rock is already a legend and if he is not there to serve making Cena into a great one, then the saga lacks its conclusion. It is the appropriate end to one of the greatest wrestling stories ever told.