Last month, Nikki Bella and John Cena announced they would be ending their engagement and rattled the wrestling world. The announcement came less than a month before the couple's planned wedding date on May 5, and ended a relationship that lasted nearly six years. For now, it appears that their partnership is over.
How did we get here? Here's a timeline of one of wrestling's biggest pairings, both in the ring and out, and how there may yet be hope for the future.
2012 - The first date
They'd already been on the wrestling circuit together for a while, but Cena officially asked Bella out in late 2012 – just a few months after he filed for divorce from his first wife, Elizabeth Huberdeau.
"The first opening line was, 'Hey, do you want to go to dinner with me?' and I was kind of like, 'What? With me?'" Bella recalled in a 2013 interview. "It just kind of started out like a dinner date and I have to admit we were friends for so many years, but then when you make it romantic, I couldn't even say a word to him."
2013 - Nikki moves in with John
If only it were that simple. Bella did indeed move into Cena's home in Tampa Bay, but only after she signed a 75-page contract he created to protect himself.
“Having been through that process, here is how I view it. It is like buying a handgun for home defense. It gives you a sense of security, and it gives you a failsafe in case something happens. And those who buy a handgun for self defense pray, pray they never have to use it. Without it, it’s a dog fight," Cena said to Nikki's twin sister Brie on an episode of Total Bellas, the Divas spin-off where the sisters are the stars. "I had to have your sister sign an agreement to live in the house. And that’s – it wasn’t a one-page, it’s a 75-page agreement.”
September 7, 2014 - John Cena, soothsayer
One of the biggest topics this pair of wrestlers, well, wrestled with was whether or not they should have kids. Bella was forthright early on about her desire for a husband and, eventually, children, but Cena was steadfast in his reluctance to marry again.
“Nikki and John wanted different things,” a source told PEOPLE. “It’s clear that they had issues over what they wanted from a marriage and from family. She wants kids.”
“Look, it’s his prerogative to not want kids,” the source continued. “But in that case, all of this should have stopped so long ago. They should have broken up after a year. And really that’s on both of them: She shouldn’t have tried to twist herself into someone she’s not just to please him. And he shouldn’t have given her false hope that he was going to change.”
But Cena stressed that he’s always been open and honest with Bella about not wanting children.
“I was abundantly clear about that from our very first date,” he told Brie on Total Divas. “It wasn’t like I tried to manipulate your sister into thinking a certain thing was going to happen and then all of the sudden say ‘Ha ha.’ ”
That disagreement came to a head on a September episode of Total Divas, when Cena virtually predicted the future of his relationship.
“I’m trying to be a realist. I’ve told you that I don’t want to get married and I don’t want to have kids, and you do want to get married and you do want to have kids. So I feel like this is a time-bomb over my head.”
September 29, 2015 - A rival appears
Before she dated Cena (and after she had, unbeknownst to Cena, been married to her former high school sweetheart for a few years), Bella dated another fellow wrestler by the name of Dolph Ziggler. Seemingly aware that Cena wouldn't commit to the relationship Bella wanted, Ziggler swooped in and offered her just that, saying he could give her children and a husband.
Bella was finally able to reveal this confrontation at a Tokyo dinner in a Divas episode that aired months after the fact in January 2016.
April 2, 2017 - The Proposal
At Wrestlemania 33, just after they teamed up to defeat husband-and-wife pair The Miz and Maryse in a tag match, Cena popped the question in front of "75,000 of their closest friends."
April 5, 2018 - Trouble brewing
Almost exactly a year after their engagement (what convenient timing!) E! releases a teaser for the third season of Total Bellas hinting that, even with the wedding exactly a month away, the problems in the couple's relationship may not have been solved.
April 15, 2018 - The End
Bella releases a statement on her Instagram announcing the couple had separated.
Of course, that meant the couple's destination wedding, slated for May 5 in Mexico, was off.
“The wedding they called off no longer felt like their wedding— it was a wedding for TV, a wedding for publicity, a wedding for the fans and for viewers almost,” a source told PEOPLE. “That’s what made them able to walk away from it— it didn’t even feel like their day anymore.”
May 8, 2018 - Nikki's new digs
Nikki moved in with her sister, Brie, after the breakup and posted a video update for her fans.
“Staying at Brie’s because you all know why,” Nikki said in the video. “I just wanted to say hi to you guys. I know I’ve been MIA, and I’ve kind of been hiding out. But I wanted to reach out to you all and thank you all for your love and support. Can’t tell you how much it meant to me, especially through a really difficult time.”
Brie, who is married to and has a daughter with fellow pro wrestler Daniel Bryan, has been a figure throughout her sister's high-profile relationship, and has been critical of both parties in the past. Even still, she says she didn't see the split coming.
“I just think how busy everyone’s schedule is, and unfortunately with John and Nicole, they are two people in their careers who are really dominating what they’re doing, and in doing that, it means you’re always on the road," Brie told PEOPLE. “So I didn’t see it coming, but it’s also understandable that it’s hard when you never see someone."
May 14, 2018 - Hopes for tomorrow on TODAY
Cena appeared as a guest host on NBC's TODAY Show, to profess that he still loves his ex and would be willing to change to get her back.
“For anyone out there speculating on what I am doing with my life now, I still love Nicole, I still would love to marry Nicole, I still would love to have a family with Nicole," he said. "There was an unfortunate set of circumstances where our relationship ended. There has been a lot of speculation recently about me being seen in public and everybody is thinking like, ‘Oh, John Cena is enjoying the single life.’ No, I was supposed to be married and having honeymoon over these two weeks. So I’m willing to go back on all of these things that I say, and a lot of them I would hang onto just out of stubbornness. ‘I won’t have kids,’ and it took a very strong look in the mirror for me to be like, ‘Why? This is person is my number one and it’s something that’s very valuable to her. Of course we can do this, and I think it would be wonderful.'”
The Present - A hoax? Who knows
Doubts about whether the split was simply a stunt to promote the upcoming season of Total Bellas abound, but one PEOPLE source said that the breakup was, in fact, very real.
“Cancelling the wedding was not a hoax or a publicity stunt,” the source told People and added that Cena and Bella lost deposits on the wedding planned for May 5. “This hasn’t been a quick or cheap decision, and it was a real one.”
Still, it's worth noting that Total Divas, for which Nikki is an executive producer, has recently been renewed for two new seasons, the show's eighth and ninth. The breakup will be covered in season three of Total Bellas, which premieres May 20.
The Future - A reconciliation? Who knows
There could be hope for the couple to end up back together.
“I love her. I want to be with her. I want to make her my wife,” Cena said when he was back on the TODAY show on Monday. “I want to be the father of her children. I just want us to work.”
At her own event later on Monday, Bella indepeendtly expressed similar sentiments.
“John is such an amazing man. He really is the love of my life,” Bella told Entertainment Tonight. “I truly hope one day that we can work it out and get back together. I think there is hope.”