Does John Cena really hate The Rock or is he rising above it? (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Work vs. shoot? Where does fiction end and reality begin? Those are always the big questions on fans' lips in an angle based on reality. Indeed, CM Punk got everyone talking and propelled himself into becoming the top babyface behind John Cena by cutting a promo burying WWE last June that many naively assumed Vince McMahon would never clear him to say. With the onscreen friction between John Cena and The Rock being so palpable, those questions are being asked once again.
Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch is one who feels that there is a genuine dislike and mistrust between the two WrestleMania 28 headliners, which is reflected in their biting on air war of words. On his VIP (members only) blog, Keller theorises that WWE management is intentionally playing one star against the other, believing that the real heat translates to gripping television and bigger business:
More sources this week have confirmed with me that the tension you sense between John Cena and The Rock is real. They also say Vince McMahon is doing nothing to stop it, and that he and that top circle love it.
McMahon has often enjoyed seeing top stars go at each other. He thinks viewers can sense the real tension and it adds to selling the match. In this case, I'm told WWE's top brass love that fans are picking up on this and speculating that Cena and Rock might really come to blows at WrestleMania.
Cena is clearly relishing cutting Rock down to size in this angle, because it may be his best shot at finally getting the hardcore male 18-34 fan on his side. Moreover, it earns him brownie points with Triple H who has never liked The Rock and a large proportion of the locker room who resent Dwayne Johnson for stealing a WrestleMania main event spot from a full time WWE performer, a feeling which has only grown after the disappointing Survivor Series buy rate and recent sluggish ratings for Raw. There is hope that Cena purposefully outshining The Rock will light a fire in his opponent and bring the best out in him before the WrestleMania hype is over.
But is this story simply too good to be true? The Rock was brought in by WWE specifically to put over John Cena in their feud together, so maybe he is happy to let Cena win their promo battles together, knowing that it won't do him any harm, while giving back to the company that made him. Johnson is a tremendous actor and Cena has a great poker face, so it wouldn't be beyond them to pretend to not like each other backstage, so rumours leak about them having difficulties behind the scenes like we are hearing now, in order to generate more online buzz. Indeed, Dave Meltzer's coverage of the Rock vs. Cena feud in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter so far would lead one to believe that this is a purposeful strategy by all involved to strengthen Cena as a babyface, with The Rock being thought of as so bullet proof that he can cope with whatever punishment they script for him to take. If that's the case, then they may need to tweak their strategy, as currently Rock is being brought down to Cena's level rather than Cena being raised to his level.