Ranking WrestleMania main events worst to best, #18: John Cena vs. The Rock II

WWE.com

Ranking each of the 29 WrestleMania main events from worst to best. Up next is the sequel that never reached the level of the original.

TWICE FOR A LIFETIME OF RESTHOLDS

(THE ONE WHERE ROCK RIPPED HIS ABS 5 MINUTES IN BUT STILL PUT ON BETTER MATCH THAN BATISTA WILL AT WRESTLEMANIA 30)

The year was...well, last year actually. But let's back up.

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The year was 2012. The Rock had just beaten John Cena clean in the middle of the ring in what was, looking back, the climax of his big comeback period. Cena and Rock had put together a good enough match that was given the entire final hour of WrestleMania 28. The pre-match spectacle, video packages, ring introductions, all of it added up to a real "main event" feel. That match will show up a little later on the countdown, but the ending is where we begin this article.

Cena, defeated, rolls out of the ring (barely selling the affects of Rock's finishing maneuver) and stares out at nothing in particular. The electric guitar of Rock's theme thundered around the stadium as the camera cut back and forth between the triumphant legend and the vanquished challenger. For an entire year, cutting through all the bad promos, stupid jokes and "via satellite" nonsense, the one prevailing message of both John Cena and The Rock was "I must win."

Rock had to win to prove he was still The Great One.

Cena had to win to prove he was on Rock's level.

In case you forgot, the Rock challenged Cena to this match. The Rock instigated this match by interfering in Cena's WrestleMania 27 snorefest. Rock was the heel on paper.

And when it came time for the match, the heel went over. Rock would, of course, vow to carry that momentum to a WWE title victory (at some future date) and then jet back to Hollywood.

Cena meanwhile was left to continue performing full time, while also being the "loser" in the biggest feud he was ever engaged in.

The year between WrestleMania 27 and WrestleMania 28 had a very clear ending point. How we got there was irrelevant, as long as it ended with Cena vs. Rock colliding in Miami.

The year between WrestleMania 28 and WrestleMania 29 was loaded with unanswered questions, speculations, theories and ideas. From a creative standpoint, though I'm sure they had a pretty solid idea for each of the major beats of the story, it still had to be a very exciting thing to sketch out. The obvious endgame was Cena getting his win back over the Rock in New York, but the story to tell along the way had so much potential.

So how did it turn out so badly?

The possibilities for Cena were endless. Still reeling from his loss to Rock (a former full timer turned Hollywood superstar), in comes Brock Lesnar, in one of the most thrilling returns ever. Brock (a former full timer turned UFC superstar) absolutely pummels Cena, and sets up a match between them at April's Extreme Rules event.

With a year to come before Cena's big redemption, you have a year to bring the hero (Cena) down to his lowest point, before you allow him to rise back to the top, face his challenger and finally emerge victorious. Lesnar was the perfect guy to knock Cena down.

But of course, the phantom stretcher job happened, Cena decided to shoot on the mic (or was it a work? No one has ever really talked about it, which makes me wonder) because he thought he was legit hurt and about to take time off. Meanwhile Brock's heat was severely diminished and Cena seemingly was "redeemed" exactly one month after his fall from grace.

Wouldn't it have made more sense for Brock to destroy Cena, give him a couple months off, and let him start climbing his way back? You can still do some of the things that happened: He can win Money in the Bank, but then lose his cash-in.

Actually that's about the only thing I would have kept.

Everything else, from squash matches to BBQ beatdowns, never should have happened. Cena's big redemption at the 2013 Royal Rumble was anything but. For a guy to "come back" he has to actually "be down."

When you main event literally every possible pay-per-view (PPV), except for one, from WrestleMania 28 until your "redemption" at the Royal Rumble, that's not a "come back."

That's a "still around."

Meanwhile the Rock was anything but "around." He left after WrestleMania 28, and returned at the star-studded Raw 1000 to kick off a feud with CM Punk. And by "feud" I mean "designate Punk as the guy he would be beating." After that he was not seen until January where he and Punk would have a much more heated feud than anything Rock and Cena had in 2012. A true heel vs. face rivalry always works better than face vs. face.

Of course Rock went over at Royal Rumble, and then again at Elimination Chamber. Rock vs. Cena II was a foregone conclusion, not only because of Cena's Rumble win but also because of booking 101. Rock beat Cena. Cena now beats Rock.

But man what a match Cena and Punk had on Raw. It was basically a WrestleMania main event match. Had that been the match to close the big show, we're talking about a top five WrestleMania main event. Had Punk been inserted into the WrestleMania 29 main event, his presence could have lifted it to the top 10 of this countdown. The storyline was there. Punk more than deserved it. The booking made sense.

Alas, it was not to be.

And unfortunately, the main event we got was much worse than the 2012 version. The match was just not good; what saved this main event from being lower on the ranking was everything on the periphery.

The atmosphere was great. The New York set design is maybe my second favorite WrestleMania stage. The starpower was more than befitting such a spectacle; Rock and Cena didn't get any less over in a year. The storyline of Cena's redemption over Rock certainly was the right one to tell, even if the many months before it were wasted with Cena standing tall over and over.

Everything around the match was top notch. But the match itself suffered thanks to Rock still not having the cardio of his 2001 self, and then unexpectedly getting hurt early in the match. The pacing was off, there were too many rest holds (enough to take the crowd from agitated to almost hostile at a couple points), both guys seemed to be moving in slow motion for most of the contest (likely due to Rock's injury) and the finishing sequence just didn't have the kind of excitement the two created a year prior. The finish was basically Rock trying to hit a Rock Bottom over and over, but Cena constantly worming out of it.

Finally, Cena hits an AA out of nowhere and wins the match.

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Cena wins (lol), Rock and he have a congenial moment in the ring, hands are raised and the show was over. It was a main event befitting the show, since the show was (other than CM Punk vs. Undertaker) largely underwhelming and mostly disappointing.

What could have saved the event? Rock not getting injured for one thing. That might have picked up the pace and allowed them to call a better match. Even then it's unlikely they would achieve the same level they hit the year prior (which wasn't exactly a classic contest either). There's really no other match that could go on last. Brock vs. Triple H II certainly wasn't. Punk vs. Undertaker ended up being the match of the night, but that's not the "main" event they were building the show around. The title match was the money-maker; it had to go on last.

Giving Cena a better "story" to tell between his WrestleMania 28 loss and 29 win would have done wonders. Imagine if Brock beats Cena (after pulverizing him the way he did) at Extreme Rules. He doesn't have to get a pinfall. just have Brock pulverize him as he did and then have the refs call the match after 20 minutes of brutality. Would the fans hate a non-finish? Yup. But I think Brock being Brock would make it okay. Cena takes a month or two off. Comes back and wins Money in the Bank, but fails the cash-in. He then gets a return-match vs Lesnar at SummerSlam and wins it. He then gets a title match with Punk that fall but loses. Up and down, never over the hump. Until the Rumble win which he rides to victory. Much better story than BBQ sauce, Big Show and cage matches with Johnny Ace, no?

As I said, adding Punk to the mix might have helped, and certainly the workrate would have improved, but this story was always about Cena and Rock. Cena had to get his win to complete the story; it's just a shame so much of the build up to that moment was handled so poorly. It really dragged the whole event down a notch.

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Sound off, Cagesiders. This was last year's main event, but doesn't it feel like it happened ages ago? To me at least, the gap between Miami and New Jersey was short, probably thanks to Punk's reign and heel-turn halfway through the year.

The gap between WrestleMania 29 and this one, though it's allowed for the rise of some incredible new main event players (The Shield, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Bray Wyatt), has felt much longer. Maybe it's because there seemed to be less momentum coming out of this WrestleMania than the one before. Cena losing and Brock returning was much fresher than Cena winning and Ryback turning.

What do you think of the placement of this main event on the list? Too high or too low? Let us know in the comments below.

Tomorrow's main event features the ultimate mulligan. See you then!

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Previously:

- Ranking Mania main events #19: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
- Ranking Mania main events #20: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

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