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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Finally, the time for boasts, for promises, for Q-and-A’s and point-counterpoints has come and gone, scattered to the winds of New Jersey like the last scraps of confetti blasted into the East Rutherford sky. Finally, the doubters have been silenced, the haters quelled and a restless heart given peace. Finally, redemption has come, because when all was said and done, when all the pyro smoke had cleared and the final count slammed to the mat, John Cena hoisted the WWE Championship for the unprecedented 11th time, having fought tooth and nail to defeat The Rock in a titanic clash the WWE Universe had only thought they’d see once in their lifetime.
Victory did not come as simply as 1-2-3, though. The odds were stacked against the Cenation leader from the get-go, as the MetLife Stadium faithful rained boos down on him and lavished The People’s Champion — whose history in New York and New Jersey is long and storied — with praise typically reserved for visiting dignitaries. Adding to Cena's woes, fate initially seemed to share the partisan mood of the crowd, handing The Rock the advantage early on in the match. Although Cena struck first, it didn’t take long for The Great One to seize control of the contest, halting the Cenation leader’s momentum and sending him scrambling outside the ring to regroup within the bout’s opening moments.
That trend continued well into their WWE Title Match at the 29th Show of Shows, as Rock’s initial burst of dominance led into a blunt-fisted beatdown of Cena’s torso, followed by a vice-gripped headlock to the redemption-seeking challenger. The strategy cut off Cena’s head of steam before he could even build to full power, threatening to derail his bid for redemption and leaving him looking, at least for a while, like he wasn’t sure what to do next.
Cena’s hesitation, while unusual, perhaps shouldn’t have been all that surprising. The seeming finality of The Great One’s triumph over Cena in their WrestleMania XXVIII grudge match sent the 10-time WWE Champion into a tailspin from which he vowed — though not always convincingly — to recover from in 2013. But since staking his claim to The Brahma Bull’s WWE Championship, the Cenation leader’s dour body language and facial expressions had begun to take on an air of desperation in the weeks leading to The Show of Shows.
Ironically, however, Cena was the first of the two Superstars to come within victory’s grasp, rallying from The Great One’s onslaught to execute the Five Knuckle Shuffle on the prone People’s Champion, reversing the People’s Elbow into the STF only moments later when The Great One was poised to reclaim the advantage. The Brahma Bull’s power saved him from Cena’s clutches, but the challenger’s
apparent underestimation of his opponent’s resolve nearly cost him the bout again. Rock sprang up from the mat and slammed the stunned Cena with a Rock Bottom, but the Cenation leader kicked out. Not to be outdone, The Great One kicked out of Cena’s Attitude Adjustment moments later.
As their battle progressed, the two Superstars abandoned all pretenses and cued up the heavy artillery, tossing signature maneuvers at each other in the hopes of keeping the other down. For a moment, it seemed like Cena had the advantage again when Rock nearly fell victim to the same hubris as his opponent last year, attempting Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle and running straight into Cena’s waiting arms for an AA. The Cenation leader later used the same history to his advantage when he suckered Rock into another AA after faking him out with a façade of the same People’s Elbow endeavor that cost him the bout last year.
Victory would not come so easily at the cost of The People’s Champion, though, and the barrage raged on with epic aplomb. With dogged determination and steely resolve, the two combatants traded Rock Bottoms, Attitude Adjustments and more than a fair share of People’s Elbows to no avail. On and on they went, with no clear victor in sight … until, suddenly, one emerged.
To the audience at home and the record-breaking crowd at MetLife Stadium, it wasn’t immediately apparent what was the catalyst of Cena’s ultimate deliverance from the personal hell of WrestleMania XXVIII. Perhaps The Rock finally let his guard down. Perhaps Cena was just a bit stronger, a bit bigger, a bit faster and a bit more determined than the man who clawed his way from an eight-year hiatus in Hollywood to reclaim the WWE Championship. Perhaps, like so many quests for redemption, it came down to the tiniest bit of luck.
Whatever it was, The Great One attempted a fourth Rock Bottom and Cena, sensing opportunity, writhed free of the maneuver. As the WWE Universe held its collective breath, Cena jettisoned The People’s Champion into the cool New Jersey sky with an Attitude Adjustment. A three-count later and redemption was his.
The bout — and Rock’s reign — was over, but the evening was not yet, as Cena recovered from the initial shock of his victory to share a heartfelt, private exchange with The People’s Champion in the ring. In the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship, Cena yielded the spotlight one final time to his potentially greatest foe, saluting The Great One as he strode back to the locker room in defeat. Proving himself as gracious a loser as he is a champion, The Rock ceded the final moments of WrestleMania 29 to the triumphant new champion.
Quite simply, John Cena has finally beaten The Rock. But, of course, next comes the question that every man must face when he scales his personal mountaintop: