It should be the match of the decade. But after booking John Cena against The Rock a year before it’s scheduled to take place at WrestleMania XXVIII, did WWE create a creative headache for themselves?
I’ve already written about the need for a John Cena heel turn. An epic battle between good and evil at the biggest show of the year would be great. But even with two babyfaces in the main event—a la Hogan-Warrior at WrestleMania VI—it’s a huge opportunity for WWE to make history with one of the most important matches for years, between two icons.
The problem, of course, is that times have changed since the days when Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior could command as much respect from fans as World Champion Hulk Hogan.
No one had a reason to resent either man—they were presented as babyfaces and responded to as such.
Today, in the aftermath of the last pro wrestling boom with the “Attitude” era, the audience is split into various demographics. It isn’t strictly superhero-loving families that would cheer on Hillbilly Jim or Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, nor is it dominated by a bunch of beer-drinking college students baying for blood, breasts and breathtaking stage dives through tables.
It is, in truth, a mixture of all these. Thus, some cheer Cena while others jeer him.
Booking 101 tells us that if you want to get a wrestler over as a face, you must do two things. First, martyr him by having him victimized, bullied, outmatched or outnumbered. Second, have him flirt with the seductive dark side to tease a heel turn, then stand firm and dedicate himself to the fight for good.
This current storyline with Kane achieves both of these things for John Cena. It affords him an opportunity to not only gain sympathy, but also demonstrate more aggression before proving he’s the “real deal” by remaining a good guy and running onward and upward, shedding the stench of fan resentment and, in turn, reducing the boos.
But what then?
Almost a year ago, Cena shook hands with The Rock to make it a done deal: they’d face each other in 2012, and Rock was expressing hope that Cena would arrive at WrestleMania XXVIII as champion.
This means that, first of all, WWE are at risk of reducing the importance of their top title if they book Rock and Cena at the top of the card without the belt on the line. On the other hand, if the belt was at stake, only two outcomes would be feasible: either Cena retains, or the part-time Rock wins and drops it soon afterward, which is counter-productive.
There’s also the problem of priorities for WWE. Is this match being crafted to carve Cena’s legacy in stone by going over The Rock on the grandest stage of all?
Cena has to go over, and Rock is generous enough in his world view beyond the confines of WWE to happily put over Cena.
This may be why Rock was booked to be so incredibly dominant at Survivor Series with no signs of ring rust—albeit at the expense of full-timers Miz and R-Truth: to form a basis of a balancing act at WrestleMania where Rock, sharp as ever, still loses to Cena, the man he’s ridiculed for over a year, but who earns his respect.
The Rock putting over John Cena clean, though, would also be counter-productive for a babyface who’s been booed so much in recent years—it would reverse whatever he’s gained from his feud with Kane and incite hatred from a “WWE Universe” so in love with The Rock.
That’s why if Cena goes over, he should do so as a heel, which also affords Rock the luxury of having lost to Cena due to cheating or interference, and launching a whole smorgasbord of creative opportunities in a fresh WWE landscape.
Of course, WWE may just do what they usually do—sit tight for the ride along the status quo. Cena may well beat Rock as a babyface and leave WrestleMania XXVIII respected by some but still booed by many.
Written for the Bleacher Report.