EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 16: John Cena attends a press conference to announce that MetLife Stadium will host WWE Wrestlemania 29 in 2013 at MetLife Stadium on February 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)
I'm equal parts shocked and amazed that WWE's plan to get John Cena over in the face of The Rock's towering presence is actually working. As my esteemed colleague Jesse Holland put it, "The ship's taking on water, Captain."
Indeed it is after tonight's (March 5, 2012) episode of Raw in Boston. For the first time in forever, a live crowd actually turned on Rock -- not completely, but they definitely turned -- and favored his opponent. Granted, it was basically Cena's hometown but this is a group that has been mostly against him throughout the years.
The night started strong for Rock. They showed four pre-tapes total, three for Rock and one for Cena. Rock's were jokey "history lessons," where he took us through Boston and all its historic landmarks to bag on Cena in the hilarious way he knows best. And he was good, too, far less campy and catchphrase overblown than before.
Cena's pre-tape, meanwhile, was a terribly cheesy idea. They had him sit in the arena while it was empty and talk to himself about the ramifications of the match at WrestleMania 28 on April 1 in Miami. Had they presented it as a legitimate interview -- maybe in a documentary style -- it would have gone over wonderfully. Instead it reminded far too many of us of the South Park episode poking fun at pro wrestling.
When Cena came out to greet the crowd later, he received a mixed reaction, as usual. The boo birds were loud and proud, though, and clearly dominated the arena.
But Cena won them over.
He did this by taking a page out of Eminem's book in 8-Mile, as so many of you helpfully pointed out in the Raw live blog thread, and took all of Rock's talking points away. He buried himself before giving Rock the chance to. He made fun of the way he dresses, notably making sure to mention the fact that he wore knee pads when all he was out to do was talk.
It was a brilliant way to steal Rock's thunder. Take the comedian's material away and he's left with nothing. Make him say something more than a silly catchphrase or a mention of his ability to instantly trend on Twitter. And that's what Cena did, outright telling fans that when you strip away all the funny from Rock's bit, there isn't really any substance.
It's all nonsense designed to make you forget one thing -- Rock isn't really all that great.
So when Rock's music hit and he came out looking like a bull hard charging at his prey, we expected him to spit hot fire at Cena. And he tried to, he really did.
But, shockingly, the crowd -- and Cena -- wouldn't let him.
Fans at the TD Garden Arena chanted all throughout the confrontation, starting with Fruity Pebble, very briefly, before moving onto Tooth Fairy. Cena made sure to point this out while Rock did his very best not to lose his cool. He did all the right things. He looked intense, he spoke of Cena being afraid of losing everything he's worked so hard to achieve for all this time by a guy who's been in Hollywood living off his WWE starpower.
He even got inches from Cena's face and told him that when you strip it all away, he's just a 6'4'' 260-pound beast who is going to destroy him at WrestleMania. It's what he needed to say. And the crowd reacted to it, too, oohh-ing and aahh-ing.
But they didn't buy it. Not here. Not in Boston, at least.
It helped that Cena refused to wipe that goofy smile off his face, that he refused to take Rock seriously, even though it's so dangerous to play with a hard charging bull. But that's what made it so damn incredible.
Cena was the matador tonight, waving the red cloth while Rock charged and found nothing but air and frustration. And the crowd exploded with delight. Cena even took a bow when it was all over, knowing full well he had taken yet another round in this heavyweight battle.
That makes Cena - 3, Rock - 0.
Next week: Rock Concert vs. Cena Rap. See you then.