Inside The Rivalry Between John Cena And Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

At first glance, it's easy to see the similarities between John Cena and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. They both spent several years on top of WWE's main event scene in their respective eras. They are both fantastic promo men on the microphone, very talented in what they do (or did) in the squared circle, and have loads of charisma that helped them later on when they ventured out into Hollywood. Pro wrestling is a performance art that requires at least some acting ability, but few wrestlers have transitioned to acting as well as Cena and Johnson/The Rock have. (You may want to ask a certain Terry Bollea about that, brother.)

Then again, there are distinct differences between these two wrestling legends, particularly in terms of their in-ring personas. Whereas Johnson thrived on oftentimes risque promos and was just at home playing an arrogant heel as he was portraying a lovable (yet still cocky) fan favorite, post-Doctor of Thuganomics Cena has almost always been all about being the quintessential good guy to his young fans, putting a lot of focus on his "Never Give Up" motto. That's why it seemed just right that the two of them entered a lengthy feud in the early 2010s despite their shared babyface alignment at the time. That feud also happened to include a lot of real-life elements, and with that in mind, we shall now be looking deeper into Cena and The Rock's rivalry in and out of the ring.

Cena had some choice words for The Rock in a 2008 interview

Although many fans may recall that the heat between The Rock and John Cena started around the time of their in-ring feud in the early 2010s, Cena made some comments a few years prior that were very critical of the man born Dwayne Johnson. Speaking to The Sun in 2008 (via Bleacher Report), Cena called out The Rock for his increasing focus on his acting career and his absences from milestone events such as the 15th anniversary of "Monday Night Raw" as well as WWE's biggest pay-per-view event of the year, WrestleMania.

"He, at one point, loved wrestling and wanted to do this all of his life," Cena told the U.K. publication. "Explain to me why he can't come back for a 15th Anniversary show or why he can't make an appearance at WrestleMania. Simply put it's because he wants to be an actor." The then-very-active WWE Superstar went on to stress that he didn't feel there was anything wrong with that, explaining that returning to pro wrestling was something that The Rock might have felt wouldn't do much for his acting career under his real name. However, he also made sure to accuse The Rock of not being 100% sincere when he would say he loves the wrestling business. "Just don't [expletive] me around and tell me that you love this when you are just doing this to do something else," Cena said.

Finally, The Rock comes back to WWE and fires back at Cena

Moving on to the kayfabe side of John Cena and The Rock's rivalry, it wasn't until February 2011 when The Rock publicly responded to Cena's comments, albeit in the form of a wrestling promo. This marked his first live appearance on WWE programming in seven years (via Bleacher Report), and after announcing that he would be hosting WrestleMania XXVII, he tore into Cena and his trash-talking ways, mocking his "you can't see me" catchphrase by imitating it in a childish voice and comparing him to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal because of his penchant for wearing T-shirts of different colors. 

The People's Champ was clearly in the zone here, but he wasn't done yet. In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania XXVII, The Rock became more direct in addressing Cena's past remarks, saying in a pre-recorded video, "It all started with you, John Cena, publicly running your mouth about me, calling me a liar when I say I love the WWE." This came one week after Cena dished out one of his trademark battle raps, where he once again poked fun at The Rock's Hollywood career (via CBS News). "It's because I wasn't talking trash, Rock, I was talking truth. You left us hanging high and dry to play a fairy with a tooth?," read the last two lines of the rap in question.

The Rock sets up a 'once in a lifetime' match at WrestleMania

WrestleMania XXVII in April 2011 wrapped up with The Miz successfully defending his WWE Championship against John Cena. However, the fact that the bad guy won in the main event (a WrestleMania rarity, as noted by Sportskeeda) wasn't the main story of the match. Instead, it was the fact that The Rock, after demanding that Miz and Cena restart their match, effectively helped Miz retain by hitting the Rock Bottom on Cena — it was a no-DQ match, so it was all legal for The Great One. 

On the next night's "Monday Night Raw," Cena addressed The Rock's interference at WrestleMania, teasing that he had some unfinished business to settle with his fellow WWE icon. This brought The Rock out to the ring and led to a promo duel between both men. Eventually, Cena declared that the fans want to see him face The Rock in the ring, as opposed to hearing them exchange insults with each other. The Rock agreed, and with that, the main event of WrestleMania XXVIII — John Cena vs. The Rock — was set an unprecedented one year in advance. It was a "once in a lifetime" match, as WWE later advertised it, but at the time it was announced, the fans weren't exactly willing to wait that long for this supposed dream match.

The promo notes debacle and 'once in a lifetime' becomes 'twice'

Fans may have been skeptical about what would be a yearlong build to the WrestleMania XXVIII main event, but that build didn't disappoint, especially since things really heated up on the February 27, 2012, episode of "Monday Night Raw." With John Cena and The Rock again dueling it out on the mic, Cena caught Rock unawares when he referenced the promo notes underneath his rival's wrist (via Bleacher Report). Obviously, there's no denying The Rock's promo skills, but as someone who was years removed from the last time he was a full-time WWE Superstar, it was understandable that he needed a crib sheet of sorts to help him on the mic.

As pointed out by Bleacher Report in a separate article, rumors were swirling that Cena had gone off-script, though he was definitely written to come out on top in his promo battle with The Rock. It also appeared that Rock was bothered by how Cena caught him relying on his own brand of outside assistance, given how he seemed to be cursing under his breath after angrily leaving the ring. Two weeks later, The Rock responded with line-blurring remarks of his own, referencing how Cena, who recently exchanged a storyline kiss with former Divas Champion Eve Torres, was married in real life (via The Baltimore Sun).

The Rock got the last laugh by defeating Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII, but as it turned out, "once in a lifetime" became "twice in a lifetime" when WWE decided to run it back in 2013 at WrestleMania XXIX, this time with The Rock's WWE Championship on the line. Cena emerged victorious and became the new WWE Champion, and he and The Rock shook hands and hugged it out to send the fans home happy. But did that also mean they were burying the hatchet in real life?

Both men have since become friends

All in all, The Rock and John Cena's real-life feud was a very civil one in comparison to the many instances where wrestlers fought each other outside the squared circle over an actual beef. Both men blurred the lines between kayfabe and reality multiple times, especially in the run-up to WrestleMania XXVIII, but when the on-screen rivalry ended, their real-world heat with each other began to cool down. So much so that in 2018, Cena appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and admitted that he now considers The Rock, or should we say, Dwayne Johnson, as a friend. It probably helps that Cena has since taken a similar path, making the transition from full-time professional wrestler to an in-demand actor.

More recently, Cena spoke to The Sun — the same outlet where he originally unloaded on The Rock back in 2008 — and admitted that the comments he made were "stupid" in retrospect. "For me to not be able to see Dwayne's vision on what he wanted to do personally, and how his personal success could affect a growing global brand, that was just ignorant on my part," the 16-time world champion said, later on adding that he is "very thankful to Dwayne Johnson" for helping open the doors for him as a wrestler-turned-Hollywood-star.

For his part, The Rock guested on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" one day before Cena's appearance (via YouTube), acknowledging that he and Cena had some "real problems" that colored their on-screen rivalry but emphasizing that he now considers him as one of his best friends. Kimmel even compared their progression from rivals to good friends to that of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — a great analogy even if you consider pro wrestling's predetermined nature.