WWE WrestleMania Flashback: John Cena battles The Rock at WrestleMania 28
With the 2017 WWE Royal Rumble now a thing of the past, the road to WrestleMania is all clear. While both Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live each have their own brand-exclusive pay-per-view to get to before the biggest show of the year, we’re all already looking towards WrestleMania 33, aren’t we?
Being firmly on the road to the latest edition of the Showcase of the Immortals, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best clashes in the illustrious history of the event. We’re going to start this weekly journey by traveling back to another ‘Mania event held in the state of Florida, WrestleMania 28 in Miami.
It was a match a year in the making, billed as a “Once in a Lifetime” event and hyped as the “greatest main event in WrestleMania history.” As we near the five-year anniversary of this historic encounter, let’s take a look back at John Cena vs. The Rock from WrestleMania XXVIII.
When The Rock left WWE for the bright lights of Hollywood following his tag team match with Mick Foley against Evolution at WrestleMania 20, I think most WWE fans expected him to come back at some point. I mean, that’s what wrestlers do, right? They leave or “retire” but they always come back for that one final match. But outside of the occasional pre-taped video segment, The Rock was really gone, and as they’ve done after every other big-name star is finally done, WWE just moved on and found a new star to build the company around.
And that star’s name was John Cena.
But given that The Rock had become one of the biggest movie stars in the world, you still couldn’t get away from his infectious presence and so many WWE fans always held out hope that he would someday make a triumphant to his roots for that one final moment. And the new stars of WWE, like John Cena, couldn’t escape questions about him either.
While so many others praised The Rock for what he had done for the business, John Cena had no problem stepping up to the plate and bashing him for leaving, something that Cena later says he apologized for. But it did cause a little rift between the two in the media, but no one at the time thought it would turn into anything more than that. That was until 2011, when it was announced that The Rock would finally be returning to WWE to host WrestleMania XXVII, and during his return appearance on RAW for the first time in seven years, he immediately inserted himself into the WWE Championship feud between Cena and The Miz. That resulted in Cena giving laying him out with an AA a few weeks later and The Rock returning the favor by hitting a Rock Bottom on Cena during the closing bout at WrestleMania, which cost him the WWE title.
Okay — so now what?
The two confronted each other the next night on RAW, and while maybe you thought we were going to finally see these two have a match that night or maybe at the next pay-per-view, they shocked everyone by announcing that they would indeed get it on — in one year at WrestleMania 28. And all of a sudden, The Rock was gone again.
He would return, however, that November to actually be Cena’s tag team partner in a match against Awesome Truth at the annual Survivor Series event and they picked up the victory. But tensions still ran high between the two polarizing stars and Cena was on the receiving end of another Rock Bottom to close out the night.
The Rock would make his way back a few months later to really hype up the match, leading to some epic promos between two of the best to ever get on the mic in WWE. This included Cena going off-script –depending on which reports you believe anyway– and referencing the notes The Rock had on his arm so he wouldn’t forget what to say, which is a big no-no. Now, I know The Rock is a decent actor but the look on his face when Cena brought this up didn’t seem planned at all and just added to the speculation that these men –not John Cena and The Rock, rather John Cena and Dwayne Johnson– simply do not care for one another. The Rock even admitted later that the two almost came to real blows backstage and in the ring due to the intensity of this very real rivalry. But these two are professionals and were able to put their differences aside for the betterment of the company and go through with this heavily-hyped match at WrestleMania.
So after more than a year of unprecedented hype, how did the actual match play out?
WrestleMania 28 started out with a whimper (that was the 18-second Sheamus/Daniel Bryan debacle) but went out on a high note as Cena and The Rock put on a very good (not great) match that left the vibrant Miami crowd happy going home.
Now, as much as I enjoyed seeing these two in the ring together, they tried to get the whole Rock/Hogan head turn thing going from WrestleMania X8 but it just didn’t have quite the same feel to it, did it? In any event, the crowd was scorching hot for this one and the usual “Let’s go, Cena/Cena sucks” chants were happening as expected. There’s also some “Fruity Pebbles” and “Boots to Asses” as the match progresses, but at least that’s more entertaining than the musical intros from Flo Rida and Machine Gun Kelly that preceded the match. If you don’t remember that, just go to WWE Network and check it out. On second thought, don’t do that. I just relived it when I went back and watched the match for research here and I don’t want to put you through that.
When the action finally started, you could tell that both legends really wanted to put on a good show but you could also tell that The Rock, despite the great shape his body was in, was winded pretty early on; but that’s what’s going to happen when you haven’t wrestled a match on your own in about nine years. He still looked pretty good and Cena helped him out with a bearhug spot to get him some rest. After some brawling on the outside, the pace of the match did pick up in the second half as each man got their normal offensive sets in and we got the obligatory near-falls after a finisher, which led us into the submission portion of the match. Rock’s Sharpshooter on Cena didn’t look that great but at least it wasn’t as bad as the one Shawn Michaels put on Hulk Hogan, am I right? And Cena’s first STF on Rock didn’t look all that effective either but you could tell what they were trying to do here.
While the first 25 minutes of this match were decent, I really enjoyed the last five. Cena was able to block the Rock Bottom and The Rock was able to counter the AA to hit a nice spinebuster. He was finally able to hit the People’s Elbow (his second attempt of the night) but only got a two count. Cena tried a small package for the win but only got two himself. We get another two count on The Rock following a slingshot into the turnbuckle and Cena takes Rock back for what appeared to be a big spot but is predictably knocked off as Rock attempts a crossbody. Cena manages, however, to turn into an AA with a spot that we now are very familiar with but at the time was pretty awesome. Everyone in the building thought that was the end but The Rock was able to kick out in a great dramatic moment.
The finish came when Cena got a little arrogant, which he does beautifully, and went for the People’s Elbow, only to have The Rock jump up and hit one more Rock Bottom to pick up the 1-2-3. Great finish. Cena rolled to the outside to give The Rock his WrestleMania moment but the image of Cena sitting on the ramp looking so unbelievably sad is the image that holds up after all this time. These two were able to tell a great story in the ring and the story for Cena and The Rock obviously didn’t end there and it was Cena on the ramp that made the storyline work the following year in the rematch, which obviously made the “once in a lifetime” thing a bit of a joke but we’ll let that slide.
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