If you're wondering why the disdain between John Cena and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson felt so real for two full years, well, it's because a lot of it was.
Cena and Johnson fought in back-to-back main events at WrestleMania 28 and 29, but the rivalry went beyond the ring. Cena acknowledged in a Q&A session at Salt Lake Comic Con last year that things got "pretty personal" when he traded verbal jabs with "Rocky."
"I said some things that were less than nice. He said some things that were less than nice," Cena said (via Wrestling Inc.). "And I can assure you, in our line of work, there is a gray area where imagination becomes very real and we were right in the sweet spot of that gray area, each watching the other's every move and not too happy with the other party."
But time heals all wounds. The 39-year-old leader of the "Cenation" now has a much different perspective after a few more years in both wrestling and show business. Cena has followed the path Johnson helped create, finding his comedy chops in major motion pictures alongside Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in "Trainwreck" and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in "Sisters."
In a recent chat with Sports Illustrated, Cena admitted it was wrong to portray Johnson as a sellout for jumping in and out of his WWE career when it didn't conflict with his acting schedule.
"It was stupid of me," Cena said. "It genuinely was. That was my perspective at the time. When you’re involved in the daily grind of WWE, and that’s something I never will let go of — I promise you that. I just love it, and I don’t think I need to say that, ever again, or have somebody question my allegiance to a brand, not the sport of professional wrestling, so to say, but a brand. I love the WWE. 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.
"We have our blinders on, sometimes, in these daily situations of life, and, to me, my thing was, 'Hey, man, as a fan, I loved you performing in this venue all the time, you left us high and dry, why aren’t you back here? It’s obvious you’re still healthy and obvious you’re still capable.'
On the other side of the fence, I didn’t see the man who is so driven to crush the stereotype of 'pro wrestlers are just pro wrestlers, and they can do nothing more, period.' Here we are, when Rock left in 2002, it didn’t happen overnight for him, and through 15 years of hard work, he is the No. 1 box-office draw in the world. There is not more of a foot in the ground that you can stake your claim in and say, 'WWE superstars are so much more than WWE superstars, and here’s proof.' I was foolish and ignorant to not see that, because I just wanted him, selfishly, on 'Monday Night Raw' and on 'Smackdown Live.'"
Johnson became the highest-paid actor in the world after earning an incredible $64.5 million in 2016, according to Forbes. That level of stardom means Johnson can't commit to wrestling full time, but it also clearly brings more exposure to WWE's product and sheds a light on guys like Cena.
"I’m very thankful to Dwayne Johnson," Cena said. "His success has gotten me a lot of opportunities that I’m extremely thankful for, and certainly wouldn’t have without him. I don’t think it will happen in my generation — but hopefully a generation removed, people will view WWE superstars as much more than they are. That’s my ultimate goal. It’s not, 'I want to be Dwayne Johnson and I’d like to do this.' Dwayne’s success really helps WWE in letting everyone know that we are more than just WWE superstars."
It's good to see Johnson and Cena bury the hatchet on a personal level, but let's not lose the fire that gave WWE fans some of the greatest matches they've ever seen.