The Anti-Antagonist: Once In A Lifetime

Adam Gorzelsky

WWE WrestleMania 28The long and winding road to Wrestlemania is wearing me out. Don’t get me wrong…this is the best time of year for wrestling fans and I’ve enjoyed the steady buildup to what could be the best Wrestlemania in recent memory. However, as a feature writer attempting to provide fresh material on a weekly basis, such a long incubation period for major feuds exhausts the creative reservoir in a hurry.

I’ve written extensively about all three main events in the last few weeks and, frankly, this week’s Raw, while solid, provided little in the way of major developments…I hate it when Justin LaBar is right….In fact, as I discussed with Justin on Wrestling Reality this week, I feel like a kid in the weeks leading up to Christmas…The buildup has been excellent and the anticipation is at a fever pitch, but damnit, I’m ready to open my shiny new Wrestlemania toy already!

This certainly is an excellent problem to have, as it means that WWE has done its job in promoting the biggest event of the year. If we as fans weren’t chomping at the bit after 5 weeks of constant buildup, the outlook for Wrestlemania XXVIII would be notable for its bleakness.

With that said, gauging the temperature of the Internet this week has left my usual shtick feeling a bit purposeless this go round. While the reviews for Raw haven’t been particularly kind, I sense an understanding from fans that this past week was a perfect example of the calm before the storm…A willingness to see how the Granddaddy of them all plays out before casting judgment.    As the Anti-Antagonist, this leaves me without a particularly controversial topic or piece of negative vitriol to address and/or counteract…. Depressing times, I know.

Facing this reality, I decided to go in a slightly different direction this week in an attempt to generate some discussion. Amid all of the hoopla surrounding Rock/Cena, one aspect has stood out to me in regard to historical implications…the tagline “Once in a Lifetime.” I honestly can’t say if it appeared in any of the promotional posters prior to this week, but for some reason it caught my eye on Monday.

I certainly understand the marketing strategy behind using such a phrase and thus am not going to nit-pick the validity of its literal connotation. Suffice to say that these are two of the biggest stars from their respective generations meeting on the biggest stage in the business…That’s a pretty damn big deal no matter how you feel about either individual’s place in wrestling history.

However, what I find so interesting about this tagline and the match in general is its timing. This year is the 10th anniversary of another “Once in a Lifetime” Wrestlemania match that involved the nearly identical concept of generational icons colliding. The Rock played John Cena’s current role in that match against Hulk Hogan, even drawing the unexpected ire of the fans in one of the most memorable Wrestlemania moments of all time.

The stars truly had aligned during, but especially prior to that fateful night. The idea of Hulk Hogan burying the hatchet with Vince was an entirely foreign concept prior to 2002…But it happened…And as a result, a fabulous moment in time has been etched into the collective memories of all who are proud enough to call themselves fans.

This 10-year reflection isn’t meant to steal any thunder away from Rock/Cena. In fact, a step further back into history is a sobering reminder that “Once in a Lifetime” clashes are rare, even when every piece of the puzzle appears to be in place. Ironically, this year is the 20th anniversary of a major missed opportunity involving one half of the Rock/Hogan bout from Wrestlemania X-8.

Wrestlemania 8 had the potential to be the backdrop for a previously unthinkable confrontation. I was too young at the time to understand or appreciate the significance of Ric Flair joining the WWF, but the significance of the biggest star from the NWA/WCW jumping ship is not lost on me today. Without question, Flair/Hogan at Wrestlemania was the “Once in a Lifetime” match that marks of that day dreamed of seeing. It was a no-brainer…Vince’s ultimate creation vs. the “Real World Champion.” 

But it didn’t happen…Whatever reason you want to believe as to why such an opportunity was missed, the fact remains that the moment was lost…A stark reminder that the margin of error surrounding such potential awe-inspiring moments is excruciatingly thin, no matter how many stars appear to be aligned.

This brings me back to Rock/Cena. Barring some type of catastrophic injury, this match is going to occur in a little more than a week…It’s going to occur 10 years after the success that was Rock/Hogan and 20 years after the failure that wasn’t Hogan/Flair.

My question is this…What happens 10 years from now? If the transient pattern holds true, we should see another “Once in a Lifetime” match with John Cena potentially playing the role of the returning star from a previous era…Or will we? Is the message from Hogan/Flair a cautionary tale that such dream encounters are difficult to come by?

More importantly, is John Cena the man to play that role of a mega-star from a prior era making a triumphant return? First of all, would he walk away from the business or the WWE soon enough to make a return a reality? Even if he did, is his current image sufficient or salvageable to allow him to play that sort of role in the eyes of the fans? If not Cena, then who?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, nor do I know that this type of match could or would even occur at Wrestlemania XXXVIII. However, given the interesting 10-year parallels that exist regarding Rock/Cena, it certainly is an interesting topic for discussion.

So what do you think?

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