On Monday 14th February The Rock returned to WWE.
It was the first time he had appeared live in the ring since 2004. Receiving the loudest, warmest reception of the night 'The Great One' proceeded to do what he still does better than anyone else: cut a promo that electrified fans both in the arena and at home.
He did it well. He still had it.
It was during this promo that the war of words began. Rock, the star of yesteryear, went out of his way to single out and insult John Cena, the star of today. Due to the hatred fans have towards Cena, The Rock's comments were very well received. Cena's retort the next week, in which he exhumed his "freestyle" rapping promo style, was given a frostier reception.
The barbs continued to be traded hack and forth between the two for weeks, Cena live in the ring and Rock in pre-taped segments we were told were live via satellite (they weren’t).
It was compelling stuff. The issues both men had were grounded in reality, making them something the audience could easily follow, enjoy and understand. For The Rock, the problem was that he'd left an adult show and returned to a PG one, personified by bouncy, smiley, colourful no-sell merchandise machine John Cena. For Cena, it was about the acceptance he had never gained from long-time fans and confronting The Rock for what he saw as desertion at a time the business needed him most.
Outside the ring Rock did his part to hype his return to WWE and the WrestleMania pay-per-view, with his interviews producing the same stuff you'd get from anyone else on the roster: WrestleMania would be the biggest event of the year, it’s the Super Bowl of wrestling, it will be the biggest ‘Mania ever. Anyone who’s watched WWE hype more than one such show will know the drill. But The Rock surprised fans when he was asked if his return to WWE meant he'd be stepping back into the squared circle. He was surprisingly open to the idea. This was a stark contrast to previous occasions he'd been asked the question, when his stock response had always been that he "quietly retired" at WrestleMania XX.
Cena and The Rock met face-to-face in the ring on the March 28th RAW from Chicago. Rock once again made fun of Cena's entire embarrassing act. Cena's response was that he would not apologise for being himself or for being popular with younger fans. Following a physical confrontation between The Rock and WWE champion The Miz, Cena emphatically ended the segment with an Attitude Adjustment to 'The Brahma Bull'.
Cena had made things physical.
At WrestleMania The Rock hit Cena with a Rock Bottom, allowing Miz to get the pin and retain his title. It surprised no one: from the moment Rock had indicated his willingness to wrestle again it was clear he was on a collision course with John Cena.
I would like to see this match held off for a year and used at WrestleMania XXVIII. Realistically I think we're more likely to see it happen at SummerSlam. Rock has always had a fondness for the event, and it's WWE's second biggest pay-per-view of the year. For the last few years it’s not been treated as such, so John Cena v The Rock would be a nice way to help the show regain its lustre.
Whenever it happens the match will do huge business. The feud has an air of credibility to it that is both rare and desirable on today's WWE programming (and even rarer in relation to Cena). It would take an incredibly poor booking decision to ruin this match.
Rock has been worth every penny he's paid. He delivered the highest RAW ratings in years, entered a solid performance on PPV, and, alongside Cena, has created a heated feud people are intrigued by and want to pay money to see resolved. The Rock’s cookin’ smells like success, just like it always did.