As we approach one of the most highly anticipated WrestleMania matches ever, it's easy to get lost in the hype and believe the feud between The Rock and John Cena has been building over the last 12 months when, in fact, it began at least three years ago.
Cena's passion for WWE isn't questionable, even if his abilities are—considering his appearance schedule, the man's conditioning is incredibly impressive, and despite what may be the most grueling routine in WWE, there are few stories of tantrums or backstage heat, let alone injuries.
His dedication just endures, albeit in his own somewhat mediocre manner of in-ring performance.
In fact, Cena's such a "Yes Man" for Vince McMahon's monolithic monopoly of the pro wrestling industry, he's probably missed chances to use his pull for the betterment of himself and those around him.
With that in mind, when Cena finally reached the pinnacle of WWE as the dust settled on the "Attitude" era, he looked at The Rock—at the time re-branding himself as very much an ex-wrestler in Hollywood, shooting movies under his real name Dwayne Johnson—and publicly spoke of him in interviews as somewhat of a sell-out, having dumped the business that made him a household name despite being, like Cena, technically limited and lacking credibility in the ring.
What Dwayne Johnson had all along was charisma—bucketloads of it—and the gift of the gab, with an uncanny ability to recite lines written for him by Vince Russo and others as McMahon pushed the third-generation wrestler to the very top, very fast.
It was the Rock's rapid rise to wrestling's peaks that prompted him to pursue other forms of entertainment elsewhere, beyond WWE's ridiculously punishing schedule with no off-season.
With less risk of injury while retaining his gift for sticking to a script and acting well, Dwayne Johnson sought success in Hollywood, because that monster push he had saw him achieve essentially everything he could achieve in WWE, by the time he'd only just entered his 30s. It's hard to blame him for pursuing pastures new.
Cena's gripe—as has more clearly come to light in media interviews in recent weeks—is that Rock distanced himself from WWE rather than defended it, in the aftermath of the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide and the hysterical media frenzy about absurd "'roid rage" claims (when, as we've since seen—albeit to little press attention—the only abuse Benoit's body suffered that could have prompted the deaths were severe concussions and brain damage).
Cena's got a good point about that. It seems hypocritical for The Rock to talk about being loyal to WWE when, in fact, he wasn't there for the company when it needed him the most.
At the same time, though, Rock had people around him in Hollywood—business partners, advisers, agents—who were certainly discouraging him from tarnishing his blossoming big box office acting career by fighting battles for his former company. Rock has recently suggested that he holds some regrets about that.
It could be argued that it's easy for Rock to say this now, when the bad press has died down. But it's also easy for Cena to say, since it's hard to believe that—had he possessed acting talent and charisma that took him beyond the failing WWE Studios division—Cena himself wouldn't have pursued opportunities to work with the biggest superstars in Hollywood, and gain fame, fortune and credibility he's only ever dreamed of, despite his love for wrestling.
Rock's not lacking in love for the art form, either. A third-generation wrestler, he's repeatedly stated that movie acting could never compare to the adrenalin rush of performing for the live crowd. His goosebumps are real—even if they've got promo notes scrawled over them.
How much of this nit-picking, petty back-and-forth for the last year is legit, may remain unknown. It's certainly difficult to believe that there's enough there in the first place to warrant real heat without the fires being stoked by McMahon himself.
Cena, like the rest of us, will never know what it was like to be in Rock's shoes.
But one thing is for sure: if an association with WWE didn't do Rock any favors when he was making it big in Hollywood, it doesn't really do him any favors now, either: he doesn't need the million Pay Per View buys to gain exposure...he doesn't need the million-dollar paycheck...he doesn't need the headaches from the boys backstage or risk of injury during the biggest Hollywood run he's ever had...he doesn't even particularly need another big WrestleMania match to add to his resume.
Maybe we can measure The Rock's loyalty to WWE by this last run, even moreso if he puts Cena over on Sunday. Let's face it: even if Rock loses the battle, he still wins the war—because he'll have proven that, all along, Cena was wrong.