Sunday, 27 July 2014
Is It Still Cool To Hate John Cena? By Joey Keogh
On foot of the not-so-shocking revelation that John Cena is to Main Event at Summerslam against Brock Lesnar, Kayfabe News published a piece playing off the idea that Cena looks set to headline every major event for the foreseeable future – maybe even forever. Over the past decade, it’s become fashionable, then unfashionable, then fashionable again to really, really, really hate John Cena. However, lately even the clever “John Cena sucks” sing-along in time with his entrance theme, and the warring chants both for and against him, have become stale. Do we still hate John Cena as much as we used to? Do we even know why we hate him?
Cena may be a royal pain in the ass, but he doesn’t suck as much as we all wish he did – or at least, not in the way some of us think he does. The Miz sucks, Eva Marie sucks. The kind of heat their totally unwelcome presence generates isn’t down to great work, it’s because they’re terrible in every conceivable way and their attitudes stink. A million people have come and gone since Cena’s introduction. He couldn’t possibly be worse than all of them. The reality is we’re just sick of Cena. He’s been woefully mis-sold to us throughout his career and, as a result, everything he does tends to grate. He can’t win with us, which is kind of the root of the problem.
The main issue with the character of John Cena – as opposed to the man himself, who seems like a pretty nice dude – is that everything is predicated on him winning. Even when he was cutting promos for Battleground recently, they were all about him “overcoming the odds” yet again, but that’s what he has to do every goddamn time and what he manages to do no matter what. Permanently-excited commentator Michael Cole might be able to muster up the energy to pretend this is a new angle for him each time, but we can’t. Not now, twelve years and a hundred PPVs later.
It’s really easy to get burned out on Cena, because we know he’s not going to lose, we know it’s all just empty talk, even if it is delivered pretty effectively. Even when he was up against Bray Wyatt, who is arguably the best, and most interesting, heel on the current roster, there was that voice in the back of our collective minds that told us not to believe he could really win against Cena. Lo and behold, when his time finally came at Wrestlemania 30, after a spectacular build-up and in spite of a fantastic match, he didn’t.
The legendary, and very lovable, Chris Jericho may have been drafted in to give him a leg-up since, but their feud feels forced, as though Wyatt is just an afterthought now that Cena is occupied elsewhere. True, he succeeded against him at Extreme Rules, but Wyatt cheated and if Cena doesn’t lose clean, it doesn’t count. If Wyatt had have won against Cena properly, like he deserved, he would’ve totally blown up. All of the elements were there – he was killing it and the fans were completely on his side – but WWE are terrified that if Cena loses clean, we’ll think he’s worth nothing and as a result, Wyatt had to take the hit.
According to the Internet Wrestling Database, Cena has wrestled in almost 700 matches since his debut, including headlining over 80 PPVS. He currently has a win rate of almost 70%, including PPV and non-PPV matches. Legends such as Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels have far better records, and both, in particular Michaels, had their fair share of dodgy wins back in the day too.
It’s interesting, then, that everyone hates Cena so damn much just because he wins so often and it’s, supposedly, so easy for him. Is it purely because we still have to put up with him every single week? Lesnar was an obvious choice for the upcoming PPV, because he’s always going to be a big draw, and let’s not forget that the Network contracts will be up for renewal soon, so WWE had to hook us all in somehow. However, if Lesnar is the obvious draw for fans, is Cena in the Main Event just because he’s the kids’ favourite?
Although we’re all sick to death of him headlining PPVs and winning belts, he’s been undeniably influential in putting fan favourites over. One of the highlights of last year was when he chose Daniel Bryan out of a line-up of Superstars to face him at Summerslam. With the crowd cheering as loud as they could for Bryan, Cena slowly made his way through several obvious, and often quite bizarre, choices including Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho and, er, Heath Slater. Throughout this segment, the comparatively diminutive Bryan couldn’t even be seen behind the bigger, buffer Superstars.
He wasn’t mentioned as a choice, either, with Cena teasing the crowd as he simply asked “Is there anyone I’m forgetting?” Goofy Cena is the worst kind of Cena – aside from rapping Cena, of course – but he was at his best here, utilising his sense of humour well, and he immediately turned super serious when it was time to choose his opponent. This is a great example of Cena giving someone else a bit of his spotlight and it was a remarkable moment for both of them that paved the way for Bryan to win the title.
For those of us who’ve followed this shit since we were kids, the most infuriating element of the John Cena character is that he’s never properly turned heel. As much as the WWE fear the wrath of toddlers, let’s face it, everyone loves cheering for a heel and, as Bray Wyatt’s recent attempts at cultish sing-alongs prove, you can’t keep a good bad guy down. Do the powers that be have so little faith in Cena that they assume his stock would plummet if he took a step back, or, god forbid, turned heel? Would the kids really cry their eyes out at the sight of him in black jean shorts, waxing lyrical about how sick he is of being the top guy in the company?
A Cena heel angle is so obvious, and so widely-discussed, it’s bizarre that thus far it’s only ever been hinted at here and there. Not only would it shut all of us up, but it’d breathe new life into what has become a very stale character. It’d give Cena an angle, an edge, and he would be able to form alliances with the guys he usually spends half his time scolding. It would totally reinvent him, and maybe even give him a whole new fan base. Nowadays, the main issue with him is that he’s so predictable but, as a heel, there’s no telling what he’d do next.
Considering so much of Cena’s brand, and his worth to fans, hinges on him always, always, always winning, it’s interesting to note that the matches in which he’s lost are some of the most exciting and dynamic of his entire career. In particular, his Summerslam 2011 bout against CM Punk is a highlight, showcasing the best of both participants in a lengthy, well-paced battle of strength, ability and passion. Although Cena always gives his best in the ring, he’s become synonymous with winning in the last minute or two by using a combination of the same moves. At Summerslam 2011, he brought his ‘A’ game, with several near falls during which he seemed predestined to triumph over “adversity” yet again, so when Punk beat him, it was truly glorious.
Often a victim of bad writing that attempts to somehow position him as the underdog, Cena’s match-up against the ultimate underdog Daniel Bryan, again at Summerslam, in 2013, was also exceptional. Losing to Bryan, after he delivered a stunning running knee, Cena managed to simultaneously put his opponent way over and prove that he could not win and still come out on top. WWE backtracked a little following the match – possibly out of fear of the danger of the “Cena is a loser” angle – and indeed Bryan still had a long way to go before the championship was his, but this was a significant moment, and one which epitomised the opposing strengths of both performers.
Cena’s first PPV match was Vengeance, way back in 2002. In triumphing over hot favourite Jericho, he began a path to headline, and mostly win, almost every high-profile show since. A good match, in which he and Jericho fed off each other’s energy well, it marked out what kind of guy Cena was going to be in the ring. Although he only appeared in three out of a possible eight PPVs in 2002, from his first Main Event slot in 2005 onwards Cena was a stalwart of the company, and nowadays we can expect him to headline pretty much every show of the year – including weekly Raw episodes, which he dominates.
We can’t hate John Cena because he’s champion yet again. We can hate the character they’ve made him, for WWE vicariously burying new talents through him, and for him headlining every PPV in sight, but when he’s not featured, something feels off, and the balance isn’t right. He’s a fixture whether we like it or not, and the WWE would be a very different place without him. All things considered, he’s a wonderful performer and, when in the right mode, he can be great on the mic, too. He’s the ultimate face, he’s just in desperate need of a heel turn.
However, in spite of the fact that he’s guaranteed to win every single time, it’s unlikely that Lesnar won’t defeat him after beating the streak at Wrestlemania 30 and, when he does, it may just spark the turn that’ll reignite the fuse inside John Cena, and indeed all of us. Cena may always be the Superstar we love to hate, but at least we only have a few more weeks of bullshit before he (hopefully) loses in spectacular fashion and things get interesting again for a bit.
For the moment, though, it makes no sense to hate the player when, really, we should be hating the game.