When The Rock and John Cena were headlining WrestleMania in back-to-back years, their on-camera rivalry was based on real-life criticisms each had made about the other.
Nearly four years removed from their final encounter at WrestleMania 29, Cena's opinion on The Rock has changed.
During an interview for Sports Illustrated's "Extra Mustard" feature, Cena discussed his past criticisms of The Rock in both interviews and promos and said, in part, that he "was completely wrong."
The Rock made his return in 2011 when he was announced as the guest host of WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta, an event that ended with The Rock delivering a Rock Bottom to Cena, costing him his title match against The Miz and sparking their rivalry, which would play out over the next two years.
“I like the fact that I talked enough trash that he eventually came back, and he hasn’t really left,” Cena told SI. “He periodically shows up, and the fans love him now, and they always have—it’s just that he’s around a little bit more. At the same time, I’ve apologized to him in person, I’ve apologized to him publicly. I was completely wrong in the approach that I took. It was one-sided and selfish, and I’m glad the way it worked out, but I apologize for not being able to see his side of the fence.”
Cena openly mocked The Rock on multiple occasions for leaving WWE for Hollywood... ironic, in retrospect, given that Cena now has a regular stream of appearances on TV and in films.“It was stupid of me,” Cena told SI. “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.’ "
Cena also praised The Rock for his part in opening opportunities in mainstream media for other wrestlers -- including Cena, whose resume includes hosting an episode of "Saturday Night Live" and multiple recent appearances as a host on "The Today Show."
“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.”
Cena also noted that, if not for The Rock being involved in WrestleMania last year, he probably would have not appeared on the show. Cena had been out for months recuperating from an injury, but made a surprise appearance to help The Rock fight off the Wyatt Family.
"I was ready, healthy, and one-hundred percent activated by early March, and I was told that I would be assisting The Rock in WrestleMania," Cena recalled. "Quite honestly, if it weren’t for The Rock’s involvement in WrestleMania, I would have been told that I would have been sitting out WrestleMania. [People ask] why don’t I just go in there and say, ‘I want to do this’? Last year, I should have said, ‘I want to do this,’ but that’s just not what I do. This is why I love what I do. You sometimes get an off-the-beaten path request, and it’s your job, as a professional, to make it interesting and make it the best you can. To be quite honest, way, way, way back, AJ Styles was an off-the-beaten path request, and I loved that. It brought out the best in AJ Styles and it brought out the best in me. I’ll always try to do the best with what I’ve got.”
Cena has yet to be officially announced for this year's WrestleMania, which takes place April 2 in Orlando, although a mixed tag match pitting himself and real-life girlfriend Nikki Bella against The Miz and his wife, Maryse, has been rumored. When asked by SI about his plans at WrestleMania 33, Cena only said, "As far as WrestleMania is concerned, whatever I’m supposed to do I’m going to do to the best of my ability. I can reference last year as a great example."
Prior to last year marked the first time Cena had had a match at WrestleMania in every year since 2004.