I once said that to my mind, the wrestling business works like a stock exchange, with every wrestler bought and sold based on the audience’s confidence or belief in him. Under this analogy, The Rock is the ultimate blue chip commodity, he’s untouchable, he’s Apple. John Cena is valuable, but he’s more like the top performing stock in a smaller part of the market; he’s like John Deere, the best at what he does but no household name outside of wrestling circles.
So it falls to WWE Creative, and likely Cena himself, to inflate his value in the eyes of the fans, to make him seem like a legitimate contender to The Great One. To mine and most of the Internet Wrassling Community [IWC], they’ve actually been succeeding to an extent. Cena’s actually been allowed to perform as something other than a Hogan-esque rainbow-coloured Superman cracking homophobic jokes. By shifting his persona to a snarkier one, smirking his shit-eating grin in The Rock’s face at every opportunity, he’s showing the audience that his character has more dimensions than we previously thought, while The Rock’s cracking the same bits he’s been cracking for ten years.
What will make things interesting by the time they hit the ring in April is whether any of it will make a difference. I suspect it won’t, because the reason Rocky’s been cracking the same bits for ten years is because they never stopped working.
In the vacuum of the IWC, we notice that Cena’s been holding up better on the mic live, our jaws hit the floor when Cena sonned Rocky by drawing attention to the notes on his wrist, we’re the ones following all the backstage scuttlebutt over whether that moment was a work or a shoot [on one hand, Dwayne did look flustered in the moment, and WWE has taken down all ‘official’ video of that moment; on the other, given the quality of the WWE TV product, nothing happens unintentionally on Vince’s show; the cameraman and The Rock practically hung a neon sign to draw attention to the scribbles on his wrist], but to the bulk of wrestling fans who just check out the show every week and don’t read dirt sheets or gossip sites, it flew over their heads, because they don’t care. Listen to the crowd the moment Cena makes the crack about wrist notes [skip to 20:27, embedded video won’t let me skip ahead, apparently]
There’s a smattering of Oooooh’s from the crowd, but the response was not nearly as loud as…well, anything The Rock said, juvenile or not. In part this is because, at its core, Cena’s beef with The Rock makes no sense from a storyline perspective [you’re mad because The Rock only comes back to plug a movie, while you’re there every week putting in work. Sooo, you’re whiny, essentially?], but it’s also because, well, The Rock’s Apple and Cena’s John Deere. The crowd don’t care if Rock’s best promos on RAW last week were pre-taped, because they were awesome. They were funny, and well acted, and coherent. Converesely, Cena’s tortured, empty arena, ‘this match is EVERYTHING,’ promo was a snoozer.
To muddle my analogies even further, think of hip-hop. In rap, you have guys who are great freestylers and guys who are studio rappers [think of Drake freestyling off his Blackberry]. Just because Cena can go harder off the dome doesn’t mean he can make a hit record. Rocky makes hits in his sleep. The WWE audience doesn’t care if he reads off a cue card to do it.
I don’t mention any of this to undersell what Cena’s accomplished in the last month. The fact that he’s gotten the portion of the crowd who consistently booed him to pay attention to what he’s saying, especially among the IWC, is no small feat. And it’s doing the job of making the show interesting enough to consider buying on the strength of that one match alone [which is really the whole point]. But as far as having a split crowd in Miami by showtime, nuh-uh, friends. Because what The Rock is saying is right, and what Cena’s saying works against him: yeah, Cena’s the guy who’s there, week in and week out, so why the hell am I going to be excited to see him at Wrestemania? Wrestlemania is special, Wrestlemania is when I should be seeing guys like The Rock, because it’s the biggest show of the year. Win or lose, Cena goes on to his next feud with, I don’t know, Jack Swagger or somebody. He ain’t going anywhere, and we all know it, which means he ain’t the attraction. Sorry.
Which brings up an interesting point: how should they book the finish? Neither of them ‘needs’ the win, as it were, a victory doesn’t boost either of their standings. Arguably, Cena should win, being the guy staying and the future of the company [just as Rocky beat Hogan at WM 18, and you know I’m not the only guy drawing that comparison], he should get put over. But does a win just lead to the fans who’d become more forgiving of Cena resenting him all over again? I honestly don’t have a clue how they’ll play it out, which is rare in today’s wrestling world, and still the reason why they get me to watch after all these years.