Not to confuse anyone, but I'm not referring to who gets the pinfall victory. That's important to some -- just as important as The Miz retaining the WWE Championship determines how we think about Wrestlemania 27 -- but at the end of the WrestleMania 28 pay-per-view (PPV) this Sun., April 1, 2012, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida, what matters most is whose hand is raised in victory and whose theme music is playing.
I have no idea if The Rock or John Cena will be victorious this Sunday night, but it behooves the WWE that Cena, at the very least, earns Dwayne Johnson's respect and they celebrate in unison, not unlike the finish to the outstanding Rock vs. Hulk Hogan match a decade ago at WrestleMania 18.
Pro Wrestling is all about perception, and the perception is that today's wrestling is inferior to the ""Attitude Era" of the late 90's, and superstars like Cena and Randy Orton and C.M. Punk (and, until recently, Edge) are not nearly as over with the crowd as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were in their heyday. It could also be argued that the WWE'c current popularity and financial stability, along with the fall of chief rival WCW, is due to all the fans and attention the WWE received during that infamous period.
And I agree with that perception. At best the WWE has done an inconsistent job of training and promoting new wrestlers over the last five or so years, and just a cursory look at the Team Teddy vs. Team Johnny match for WrestleMania easily illustrates how barren the mid-card is. Also, the WWE hardly cares about gimmicks and storylines that last more than the three or four weeks in between most PPVs; for every CMPunk there's a bunch of Curt Hawkins' that are even more uninteresting in personality as they are in ring performance.
Finally, the march to turning the WWE into a PG Universe has neutered, to a certain degree, much of what made the WWE so wickedly entertaining to watch 12 or so years ago. Hey, I'm thrilled that wrestlers are taking less career-threatening risks in the ring, and less brain-destroying head shots, and maybe the PG rating has forced some more original and innovative crowd work.
But there is a bite missing from the industry today, and I think most wrestling fans (who can remember that far back) can feel it to, at least subconsciously.
John Cena is the perfect face of the kid-friendly WWE, and no matter how popular CM Punk gets, Cena will always be the top guy in the company. He isn't going anywhere, no matter how much people boo; if the booing were a real concern, Cena would have turned heel or adopted a new gimmick years ago. Vince and company are perfectly content with the jorts-and-fruity-pebble-t-shirts image Cena has cultivated. If anything, they want his star to shine even brighter.
Which is what this match with The Rock is all about, or at least, partially. The main purpose of this match is to make money, as well as garner media attention so that more people will watch WWE programming and take a serious interest in its product. Also, The Rock is certainly not here to put Cena over, but he's also not here to bury him. Johnson may be here chiefly to give attention to himself as well as all the movies he is and will be starring in in the near future, but I also believe him when he says he still loves the wrestling profession. I believe he does want what is best for the WWE, and will give the best performance possible this Sunday night; I believe all this because The Rock could have easily put down Cena by putting down all the competition Cena has faced, and claimed that the WWE of today is but a shell of its former Attitude Era glory. He could have done much more, but he didn't. From all the promos both men have released over the past year, it's clear that The Rock isn't slumming it by facing Cena, but instead it is Cena that is rising up to challenge of facing The Rock, playing the role as The Greatest Wrestler Of All Time.
The Rock will get all the cheers his ego can stand when he goes into his hometown that is hosting the biggest wrestling event of the year. And he'll give it his all during the match because he's around 40-years-old and he might never have a match like this ever again. I don't think he'll take it for granted but he also knows that Cena isn't jobbing for him, either. This match, in of itself, is the brass ring that the WWE wants to give Cena, to define his career beyond how many championships he wins and what kind of reaction he gets from the fans.
Both wrestlers need to come out of this match looking good, because the WWE wants to prove, in some way, that Cena is just as good (or maybe even a little bit better) than the Rock, and that today's WWE is just as good (or maybe even a little bit better) than the Attitude Era. It may not be true, but that's the perception WWE wants to create and to do so, this PPV must end with John Cena's arm being raised up in victory, either by the ref or by The Rock.
John Cena must win.