Ok, let me begin by saying, there is absolutely no way that I will be writing a similar article about Roman Reigns 10 years from now (probably because I may have to write that in a year or two) but nonetheless, it is high time that we lay some serious love and appreciation at the feet of one John Felix Anthony Cena. At least one of those names is wrong, I think. By we I mean the smart/smark fans who have suffered through 12 plus years of SuperCena, two to three years of begrudgingly watching him give marquee wins to guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, and probably another one or two years of not wanting to admit that 2016-2018 John Cena was a far better competitor in the ring and talker on the mic than we ever wanted to give him credit for. I’ve discussed this topic on more than one OTTB podcast with Javon and Cardo and we all knew that this day would soon arrive at our doorstep. It’s time to show John Cena some love.
The Wrestlemania Build
As stupid as the premise of John Cena missing Wrestlemania as a competitor may be, the man has made a pretty damn excellent show of himself with the build to his presumed Wrestlemania match with The Undertaker. First, he tried to insert himself into a world/universal title match at Mania by entering the Royal Rumble. Then, upon losing, he inserted himself into the Elimination Chamber to try to earn a shot at Brock Lesnar for the Universal title at Mania. He lost at Elimination Chamber and then hopped over to Smackdown to challenge and beat AJ Styles to win his way into the WWE title match at Fastlane – if he won at Fastlane he would be the WWE champion heading into a Mania match with either Shinsuke or a triple threat with AJ Styles added on. He lost, but on the way dropped a nugget about a match against Undertaker that got everyone riled up while Cena ultimately said he was told that was a match that would not happen. In the aftermath of his Fastlane loss, Cena decided it was time to take this Undertaker idea to a new level. He started to bait the Dead Man through ways that no one has ever really done before. He talked about Taker showing up on his wife’s IG working out. He called him out for thinking he was old and slow and finished. He went around/behind the mystique and reverence that usually encapsulates Taker and went straight for the typical Cena jugulars. It’s now Thursday, 5 April 2018 and Undertaker has not responded. However, this Road to Wrestlemania that Cena has been journeying on since JANUARY!!!! has not failed to captivate audiences along the way. This man has us clamoring for a match between a post-prime guy with a penchant for Hollywood who still wrestles at least 4 or 5 big events a year and a post-50 year old guy that legit looked dead the last time we saw him in a wrestling ring. This is all thanks to a one-sided story that Cena has told beautifully. As cheesy as Cena has been in promos over the years, he has legit sold this thing to the point that people probably don’t even care that Taker hasn’t yet responded. This has been a work of art, a thing of beauty. This might be the second-best build to a big John Cena match next to his summer of Punk feud with CM Punk.
His In-Ring Work
Five moves of doom. Look, I would hope that at this point in wrestling fandom, we can mostly agree that Cena has evolved beyond the five moves of doom critique. While it has been a fair point for much of his career, post 2011 John Cena matches have shown his ability to evolve and listen to his critics and take his ring work up a level or two. Granted, not everything he added to the repertoire worked (looking at you springboard stunner) but overall the Cena of 2018 is a much better performer in the ring than the Cena of pre-2011. Through his feuds and matches with the likes of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and more recently AJ Styles and the fantastic work of Cena’s original United States Challenge he has proven that he is more than capable of putting on classic or near-classic matches on a pretty routine basis. You can say that much of that work is being done by the other guys he has been in the ring with, but truth is if Cena was still just five moves of doom, none of those matches would be thought of as fondly as they are. Seriously, go back and watch these three specific matches and tell me that I’m wrong:
CM Punk vs John Cena, SummerSlam 2011
AJ Styles vs John Cena, SummerSlam 2017
Kevin Owens vs John Cena, Elimination Chamber 2015
I can’t decide if Cena has actually improved his mic work or if I have just gotten used to it over time. I want to say it’s the former because of two specific instances. First, his mic work in the build to this current Wrestlemania program with Undertaker. Second, his mic work in the build to his match with Roman Reigns in 2017. While his mic work in both instances wasn’t perfect, it was far more than serviceable and in both feuds was a highlight. He still has his moments of cheese, which makes me feel like in real life Cena is just a corny dude. Don’t believe me, check out his “I’m way too excited about being here” antics in the You Laugh, You Lose video as a part of the media tour for Blockers.
Maybe the cheese will always be a part of the Cena package, but at least we’ve seen more of the good stuff than the bad in the last few years.
He Makes Other Guys Matter
Go back and look at the list of wrestlers that I mentioned in the section about Cena’s ring work.
AJ Styles – better for having feuded with Cena
Shinsuke Nakamura – better for having fought Cena
Keivn Owens – rocky for a while, but overall better for having feuded with Cena
CM Punk – seriously, his Cena feud launched a record-breaking world title reign
Seth Rollins – better off
Main event caliber wrestlers that spend more than five to seven years as main event guys are diamonds in the tail end of their primes and into the post-prime/part-time segments of their careers. These are guys who are so solidified in their success that they can take losses to guys who need it. When the guy that you are beating in title matches or to earn your way into title matches is a 16-time world champion and without a doubt WWE’s poster child for almost 15 years, the rub from such a victory is almost priceless. A win over Cena at this stage is the closest thing to beating Undertaker’s streak. It’s not something that has never happened, but the potential benefit of such a victory is almost immeasurable. So when you see your favorite guy or your new favorite guy getting penciled into a feud with Cena and see a legit opportunity for them to beat Cena, embrace it, love it – be thankful that we are in a post-SuperCena era – and know that that wrestler clearly has potential in the eyes of the McMahons.
SuperCena is Dead
We know the refrain. We have all been there before. It happened with Bray. It happened with KO. It happened with countless others. It’s almost impossible to count how many times a guy would have benefited from a win over Cena and the WWE just let Cena rumble onward. It’s indefensible and will always be that way. The one caveat I will make is that it seems like SuperCena is now officially dead. Go look at the losses he has piled up in big matches this year alone (bye-bye Big Match John). Lost at the Rumble. Lost at Elimination Chamber. Lost at Fastlane. Cena has been taking a fair share of Ls as of late. Combine that with his losing streak at SummerSlam over the past few years and you come to see a picture of Cena as no longer being this unbeatable and unbearable wrestler. In allowing Cena to take losses, it has allowed WWE to showcase Cena as being a legitimately hungry and desperate wrestler again. Not in the vein of taking a boatload of beating in a match but still winning. Cena instead is able to be poised as a top-notch veteran who is desperate for a few more big matches but seems to be not as capable of winning those matches as he was before. It finally provides some nuance to a character that has long needed it. Now, I accept the argument that WWE should have latched onto this concept years ago, but in the vein of better late than never, Cena has been doing some of his best work coming from this angle. It’s not always perfect and he will need to win some of these but the era of SuperCena is over which makes him a whole lot more fun to watch in this stage of his career.
Wrap it Up
I know it’s hard for a lot of longtime WWE fans to parse their feelings about John Cena at this stage of his career. He was the posterchild for far too long but his commitment to the business allowed WWE to maintain its position while the game changed around them. They had a guy they could always trust to drop the title back on or put into a top level feud to attract eyeballs, no matter how many of those eyeballs were those of fans who hated the man. The duel of “Let’s Go Cena” and “Cena Sucks” chants have almost fully migrated to respectful the way that Kurt Angle’s “You Suck” chants are. Is Cena perfect? No. Is he the best wrestler in WWE? No. Has he had the best matches of anyone’s career? Probably not. What he is and has been though is a cornerstone for WWE during a time when Stone Cold took his ball and went home, The Rock eschewed the WWE ring for Hollywood dreams, CM Punk told Vince McMahon and HHH to screw off, Batista realized his heart was not in wrestling, Randy Orton became a wellness policy violation problem and a wholly unsatisfying babyface, Undertaker entered his post-prime fully and embraced being a once a year competitor and Brock Lesnar came back to become a suplex machine with increasingly one note and infrequent matches – when you consider all of that, it is truly difficult to not appreciate what Cena has meant to the business. While I typically don’t buy into the notion of you’re going to hate the frequent and predictable winning of an individual or team (no, I am not going to miss Brady when he is gone, piss off Cardo false god) I do believe that what Cena has been, particularly in the latter portion of his WWE run will be missed and will be just as hard to replace as Stone Cold, The Rock, Hogan and others have been.