At WrestleMania 29, The Rock and John Cena will clash in an epic rematch for the WWE Championship. Though they have met in the ring only once before, the careers of Cena and The People's Champion have many parallels.
Before their first encounter, each Superstar had a memorable debut, a breakout championship win, a dramatic change in persona, a Royal Rumble Match victory and wins in iconic main events on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Now, with The Rock as WWE Champion and Cena having won his second Royal Rumble Match, the return bout has all the makings of a thrilling climax.
Discover the moments that defined The Rock and John Cena's lifetimes in WWE.
At the 1996 Survivor Series, inside the same New York City arena where his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather High Chief Pater Maivia competed, Dwayne Johnson debuted as Rocky Maivia. Alongside Marc Mero, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Stalker, he eliminated Goldust and Crush. As the sole survivor of his team in the 4-on-4 encounter, Maivia proved to the Madison Square Garden faithful that he was a force to be reckoned with in WWE. ( WATCH)
The Rock wasn't the only Superstar to make a name for himself with a memorable debut. One of John Cena’s most impressive matches was also his very first. On June 27, 2002, inspired by a speech from Mr. McMahon to the WWE locker room earlier in the week, the young Superstar answered an open challenge on SmackDown from Kurt Angle, and cited the very trait the boss was looking for in a Superstar — ruthless aggression.
It took some kind of guts to stand up to the gold medalist. Turned out there was a lot more than guts in the man who seized this opportunity. Cena made SmackDown viewers' jaws drop with a slap that echoed through the arena, then nearly pinned Angle after a battery of power moves. Although he managed to counter both the Angle Lock and Angle Slam, Cena ultimately fell victim to the gold medalist’s experience. Although his bid was unsuccessful, Cena proved his abilities and earned the respect of his fellow WWE Superstars. ( WATCH)
The Rock, meanwhile, began his seventh WWE Championship reign three weeks later at Vengeance.
The Rock's battles with Triple H during The McMahon-Helmsley Era defined WWE at the turn of the new millennium. In February 1997, on a special edition of Raw dubbed "Thursday Raw Thursday," a rookie Rocky Maivia battled Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the first of their many encounters, and it was for the Intercontinental Championship. In an astounding turn of events, The Connecticut Blueblood set up for a Pedigree, but the challenger executed a stunning reversal and locked in an inside cradle to win his first title in WWE, only three months after his debut. After the bout, Rocky celebrated his victory as the youngest Intercontinental Champion in history by addressing the WWE Universe – one of the first instances in which the catchphrase king spoke on the mic. ( WATCH)
It would not be the last time the two ring icons clashed for the Intercontinental Title. Their Ladder Match at 1998's SummerSlam catapulted both Superstars to main-event status. ( WATCH)
WrestleMania XX in New York City, "where it all began again," was a significant event for the careers of both The Rock and John Cena.
Continuing a trend of going after WWE titans, Cena didn't back down from United States Champion Big Show in his WrestleMania debut. The match proved to be Cena's breakout moment. With not one, but two huge Attitude Adjustments, the challenger toppled The World's Largest Athlete to win his first title. ( WATCH)
Just as notable that evening in Madison Square Garden was The Rock, who competed in his last match for nearly eight years at WrestleMania XX. Reforming The Rock 'n' Sock Connection with longtime rival and ally Mick Foley, the outnumbered Brahma Bull and Hardcore Legend put up a valiant effort, but were unable to defeat Evolution in a 2-on-3 Handicap Match. ( WATCH) The Great One would not don the trunks again until late 2011 – fittingly, in the Garden again.
After losing the Intercontinental Championship, Rocky Maivia took a leave of absence. Having been in WWE less than a year, his constant smiles and happy-go-lucky demeanor seemed to wear on the WWE Universe. Crowds began to chant “Rocky sucks!” at arenas around the country as the Attitude Era approached its core.
During a bout pitting Faarooq against Chainz on Raw, Rocky returned and delivered a mid-match Rock Bottom to the D.O.A. thug, enabling Faarooq to claim the victory. After the match, Faarooq and Maivia embraced and saluted. Rocky was no more — The Rock had arrived, and was now a member of the faction known as The Nation of Domination. The following week, Rocky Maivia completed his metamorphosis into The Rock as he explained his transformation in a game-changing in-ring interview alongside his new allies. ( WATCH)
No, Vanilla Ice was not back to show SmackDown his brand-new invention. It was The Doctor of Thuganomics showing off his freestyle rhymes for Halloween partiers, and making sure WWE recognized that he wasn't a one-dimensional talent. Similar to Rocky Maivia's transformation into The Rock, the moment represented a significant evolution in Cena's persona. Soon every Superstar, from Brock Lesnar to The Undertaker, was put on notice that Cena brings the pain, both in the ring and on the microphone. Word life. ( WATCH)
The Rock was a fan favorite as he entered the Deadly Game Tournament at Survivor Series for an opportunity to claim the vacant WWE Championship. He defeated Big Boss Man, Ken Shamrock and Undertaker to face Mankind in the finals. But in a scenario eerily similar to the prior year's infamous incident in Montreal, The People’s Champ revealed himself to be secretly aligned with Mr. McMahon. "The Corporate Champ" embraced The Chairman and his son Shane, and became The Corporation's crowned jewel. Why, Rocky? Why? ( WATCH)
With his face printed on $100 bills that rained down from the ceiling, the smug JBL didn’t seem too worried about John Cena at WrestleMania 21. Once the pomp and circumstance was out of the way, though, the West Newbury, Mass. native wiped the smile clean off JBL's face by enduring Layfield's most vicious blows. Cena mounted a brilliant comeback to capture the WWE Championship — a milestone title that the Cenation leader revamped with his own flashy "spinner" version. ( WATCH)
Winning the Royal Rumble Match is an achievement every Superstar must add to his résumé to attain iconic status. As the 24th entrant in the 2000 Rumble Match at Madison Square Garden, The People’s Champion did just that, eliminating five Superstars — including runner-up Big Show — for the win, and scoring a WWE Championship opportunity at WrestleMania ( WATCH). Eight years later, John Cena would also win his first Rumble Match in The World's Most Famous Arena.
On an Oct. 2007 edition of Raw, John Cena suffered a serious injury to his pectoral muscle and had surgery the following day. With an estimated recovery time of seven months, Cena was stripped of the WWE Championship, thereby ending his 380-day reign — the longest since Hulk Hogan’s first reign ended nearly 10 years prior. Cena was out of sight, out of mind by the WWE Universe, until he shocked everybody with his return at the same arena where The Rock had scored his Rumble Match victory.
Shocking the New York City fans as the final participant in the 2008 Royal Rumble Match, Cena went on to win the epic contest by tossing Triple H over the top with a mighty Attitude Adjustment, showing that he hadn't lost a single step in the power department. The returning hero broke the record of the shortest time a winner has competed in a Rumble Match at far less than nine minutes, completing a return that can only be described as triumphant. ( WATCH)
In one of the most unforgettable WrestleMania moments of all time, The Rock battled Hollywood Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 in an “Icon vs. Icon” Match. The Great One claimed the hard-fought victory, but as a sign of respect for his legendary adversary, he allowed The Immortal One to pose in the ring and receive his due from the Toronto crowd. It was a spectacular moment with the WWE Universe dictating the action. ( WATCH)
At WrestleMania 22, the Cenation leader put his WWE Title up against one of his most daunting challengers when he battled The Game on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Much like JBL, Triple H refused to recognize Cena as a formidable threat — despite Cena being the champion — and claimed it would be the "easiest match of his life." Undaunted, The Champ brought out the heavy artillery — literally — for his first Show of Shows main event, and was flanked by a group of gun-toting gangsters at WrestleMania 22.
With neither man controlling the pace for long, Cena proved his mettle by cleverly reversing a Pedigree into the STF. Although The Game managed to break free of the maneuver on the first try, a second Pedigree attempt was met with the same result, this time with Cena forcing The Cerebral Assassin to tap out. ( WATCH)
When The Rock came back to WWE after filming his first major film role in 2001's "The Mummy Returns," he was given a choice: Join The Alliance (the combined invading forces of WCW and ECW) or stick with Team WWE. The Great One chose the home team and went on to face Booker T for the WCW Championship at SummerSlam. It was Rock Bottom vs. Book End, with The Brahma Bull emerging victorious to begin the first of two reigns with the defunct organization's title. ( WATCH)
At the 2008 Survivor Series, a very familiar foe – and outcome – greeted Cena in his comeback from another injury. What changed in this instance, however, was the type of championship gold around his waist. Facing Y2J for a major title for the first time in three years, Cena fought out of The Walls of Jericho, kicked out of The Codebreaker, and finally used his brute strength to capture his first World Heavyweight Championship. ( WATCH)
In the final contest of their epic trilogy of matches on The Grandest Stage of Them All, The Rock finally defeated "Stone Cold" Steve Austin after nailing three consecutive Rock Bottoms. This match ended their career-long rivalry, leaving their WrestleMania scorecard hanging at 1-2, to Austin’s advantage ( WATCH).
Still a relative newcomer to the WWE roster, John Cena was not included on the Show of Shows lineup, though you can be sure he was watching closely.
Much like The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Cena's career equal has always seemed to be Randy Orton. In 2009, Cena and The Viper renewed their rivalry with a stellar five-match series on pay-per-view that defined both Superstars’ careers. But the war reached a true boiling point at Bragging Rights in Oct. 2009.
Putting his spot on Raw at stake, Cena waged war with The Viper in an Anything Goes WWE Iron Man Match. With 60 minutes on the clock, the competitors who first squared off in Ohio Valley Wrestling at the dawn of the decade used every available blunt object and jagged edge to punish the other into submission. All told, 11 falls were counted before the clock ran out, with Cena forcing Orton to tap out to the STF in the final seconds to claim the victory. As the cliché goes, the Cenation leader had won the battle and the war, but standing there with his body covered in welts, the new WWE Champion looked less like a winner and more like a survivor. ( WATCH)
When Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff picked Cena as the first Superstar in WWE's 2005 Draft Lottery, the immediate reaction was an overwhelming mix of simultaneous surprise and excitement during an edition of "Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel." However, Bischoff quickly learned that just because Cena was a brand player, it didn't mean he'd play ball. The Champ butted heads with the GM, and as a result, engaged in rivalries with Bischoff's hand-picked contenders, Jericho and Kurt Angle. ( WATCH)
Nearly seven years after competing in his final match at WrestleMania XX, The Great One made a stunning return to Raw in Anaheim, and revealed his hosting duties at WrestleMania XXVII. During a live 20-minute address, The People's Champion called out John Cena, setting the stage for the greatest showdown in WWE history. ( WATCH)
Earlier that night, Cena had been on the losing end of a match against CM Punk, then the leader of The New Nexus. ( WATCH)
For the first time ever, the main event for WrestleMania was set one year in advance. And as far as main events go, this one was a certifiable dream match. All the hatred between Cena and The Rock finally came to a boil on Raw one night after The Great One had delivered a Rock Bottom to Cena at WrestleMania XVII, costing him an opportunity at The Miz's WWE Championship.
The two iconic Superstars agreed to settle their beef on The Grandest Stage of Them All, instantly making WrestleMania XXVIII one of the most electric, must-see events in WWE history. ( WATCH)
They said it could never be done, but for one night only in front of a sold-out crowd in New York City’s legendary Madison Square Garden, bitter rivals John Cena and The Rock actually joined forces. At Survivor Series 2011, months before their “Once in a Lifetime” clash at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena and The Great One forged an uneasy, "Never Before, Never Again" alliance to combat the calculating tandem of The Miz & R-Truth. And it all went down inside The World's Most Famous Arena — a building where Cena and The People's Champion each had plenty of aforementioned history.
The WWE Universe shook the Garden's very rafters after a People’s Elbow to The Miz sealed a victory for Cena and Rock, but it was The Brahma Bull’s thunderous post-match Rock Bottom to the Cenation leader that truly put an exclamation point on the evening. The temporary union between these iconic ring warriors was torn asunder at that moment, leaving Cena with retribution on his mind as he embarked on The Road to WrestleMania. ( WATCH)
After a year of trash-talking, the monumental clash between the most charismatic Superstar of WWE’s hallowed “Attitude Era” and the face of the sports-entertainment company today had an energy surrounding it that hadn’t been felt since the night Hulk Hogan collided with Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.
Entering as an outsider in front of The Rock’s hometown Miami crowd, Cena looked to shrug off the pressure early as he matched The Great One move for move in a very physical battle. But the 10-time WWE Champion’s confidence ultimately became his undoing. Arrogantly mocking The Rock’s People’s Elbow nearly half an hour into the bout, Cena left himself open for a Rock Bottom, which the “Fast Five” star executed with thunderous accuracy. After an epic back-and-forth contest, it was The People's Champ who stood tall, leaving the WWE Universe — and Cena, for that matter — breathless. ( WATCH)
John Cena’s 2012 had been notoriously tumultuous. After a heartbreaking loss to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena was busted open by Brock Lesnar, defeated by John Laurinaitis, beaten by WWE Champion CM Punk, betrayed by AJ Lee and became the first competitor to unsuccessfully cash in a Money in the Bank contract.
Determined to turn things around in 2013, the 12-time World Champion entered the Royal Rumble Match. Drawing No. 19, Cena almost instantly dispatched Heath Slater and Cody Rhodes from the ring before dumping Antonio Cesaro and finally Ryback to win the over-the-top-rope melee and firmly situate himself in the driver’s seat on The Road to WrestleMania. Cena became fourth man to win at least two Royal Rumble Matches, joining Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who won three.
At Raw 1,000 in July 2012, The Rock returned to WWE following his victory over John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII. He announced that the Board of Directors had granted The Great One a WWE Championship Match at the Royal Rumble, against whoever the champion may be at that time. CM Punk, the then-titleholder, took exception to The Brahma Bull being handed that opportunity and delivered a devastating Go to Sleep to The Rock at show’s end.
Six months later, Punk remained in the midst of a historic 434-day title reign. The Second City Savior originally emerged victorious with apparent assistance from The Shield, but The Rock demanded the bout be restarted. A People’s Elbow later, The People’s Champion finally became WWE Champion once again for an eighth time.