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On the Apron: Rock v. Cena

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Welcome to a new weekly feature on Heave, On the Apron, in which features editor Dominick Mayer talks about the latest developments in pro wrestling. Starting next week, you’ll be able to find it every Tuesday.

I’ll start here: I’ve been watching professional wrestling, specifically WWE, for a long damn time. Since I was about 4, to be exact. From the time my mom would show me territory wrestling at all hours of the day, teaching me about the Von Erich family and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, I’ve been hooked. I’m now 24 and about to finish grad school, and I’m no less into it now than I was when I was sitting in front of a TV that didn’t have a remote. I’ll return to this theme quite a bit within this column, likelier than not, but not in some nostalgia-grabbing, HEY GUISE I REMEMBER WHEN I HAD A SET OF JOHNNY MNEMONIC POGS kind of way. This won’t be my only overarching m.o., but I’ve always been interested in the divide between people who get into wrestling as kids (it’s wrestling from now on, sans “pro”) and then stop, and those who attempt to write a grad school thesis on it, who stay devoted even once they figure out how bullshit the whole enterprise is.

Also, one last disclaimer: This’ll be a WWE-heavy column. I don’t care to watch TNA, though I keep up with it, and if I had the money to keep up with Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate or especially CHIKARA, I’d likely be writing about that instead, but I’m broke, so here we are.

This past Sunday, as you’re probably aware, was WrestleMania 29, live from an outdoor arena in the Northeast because that was a good idea. A lot happened that I’d love to run down, but there’s limited time before this stops being evergreen. (Such is the beauty and tragedy of writing about wrasslin’; you have about two days before the thing itself invalidates your observations about it.) My primary area of interest for now is the main event, in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson continued his press tour for Pain & Gain while, you know, being the largely absent face of the WWE for about three months against John Cena, a guy wrestling fans act like they hate after they’re 12 because it’s as much a cool-guy posture as saying you totally figured out the ending of The Sixth Sense before it was over. Actually, imagine someone doing that in 2013, and you’re on the road to understanding why the Cena-bashing is so tedious.

To qualify: I’m not by any standards the world’s biggest John Cena fan. Compared to the way that kids, a handful of female fans and a bunch of dudes who’re basically still small children freak out over him, I’m more or less a smark, that term for online “wrestling hipsters” who hate on the guys that WWE wants to be popular. (It happens; ask anybody who watched the Royal Rumble with me what happened when I watched CM Punk, a major personal favorite, have his 434-day title reign ended by THE GODDAMN PEOPLE’S ELBOW. Ahem.) While the whole mentality of “Cena sucks because he’s the most popular guy in the company” is reductive, ridiculous logic, it’s not without foundation. Cena’s been a white-bread good guy for a long time now, a babyface (good guy, and I promise I’ll stop over-explaining vernacular eventually) for roughly eight of his 10 years with WWE, which in wrestling years is a long damn time to never have your character change. He’s been given edge, allowed to toe the line, but the “Hollywood” Hogan turn longtime fans crave hasn’t happened, and likely won’t for some time to come.

That’s not to say that I didn’t hope, against all logic and everything I’ve learned in 20 years of watching WWF/E, that Cena would turn full-blown evil at WrestleMania. This is the power of WrestleMania that no other show can claim in WWE’s calendar year; it convinces you of things you’d normally never bother expecting, like a Cena heel turn or Dolph Ziggler finally cashing in the Money in the Bank instead of on television the next night. But at the end of the day, Evil Cena would be ruinous for WWE in a lot of ways, from his huge presence as a Make-A-Wish Foundation contributor to the fact that he’s a cash cow and the closest thing to a genuine crossover star that they currently have. Complaining about a guy like that accomplishes nothing, because as long as the market calls for Good Guy Cena, so he shall be. And yet, given how terrible The Rock has been during this most recent run, proving that there is a point where you become so swole that you can’t move like a normal human being, one could only hope that this stagnant feud would find new life thanks to Cena embracing the hate, as was once posited on TV for like half a month.

What the discerning fan got was actually worse than expected. Expectations going in = Cena and Rock have a passable match (as with their WrestleMania 28 match last year, which also closed the show), Cena regains the title so Rock can go back to making more money as a movie star, crowd goes home miffed but aligned with their expectations. What actually happened = Cena and Rock manage to fall below expectations, both injure themselves (Cena with food poisoning and a busted thumb, Rock with torn abs and a sports hernia because he’s basically a gigantic lump of whey protein on top of a pelvis at this point), the New Jersey crowd shits all over the whole affair because their reward for two years of a disinterested part-timer and the guy they’re sick of headlining the show is a phoned-in dud of a main event.

Probably the dumbest thing by far, though, was the aftermath. Despite being the guy who just won the fucking world championship, ostensibly the highest fucking honor a WWE superstar can achieve, Cena actually left the ring so that the giant lump of whey protein could play to the crowd, the crowd he didn’t show up for during a nearly month-long span previous to this, while being the last guy to hold the highest fucking honor a WWE superstar can achieve. Then, in what I’m sure was supposed to be a passing-of-the-torch moment, Rock tried to make the already hostile crowd cheer for Cena by giving Cena some of his shine. First of all, Cena being sold as an underdog victor in need of some shine is total bullshit, but that’s another column for another time. More importantly, the crowd that’d spent the prior 25 minutes of endless rest-break headlocks booing Cena out of Metlife Stadium reacted as you’d expect: They started booing the both of them.

Last night on Raw, a show I sadly missed, a smaller version of the same Jersey crowd took over the show, hollering “Same Old Shit!” at Cena as he tried to get his 57th incarnation of his “The champ is HERE” speech. That’s the saddest thing about the end of WM29 right there: Rock gets to go back to Hollywood, where nobody can tell him how much he sucked, and Cena gets to walk out every Monday night.