For roughly a year now, John Cena has been facing adversity like never before. Whether it started with The Rock returning and burying Cena and everything he represents, or with Punk snapping and tearing down the safe status-quo surrounding Cena during the Summer of Punk, the colourful Cult of Personality surrounding Cena has been under almost constant threat of late. As his hardships and defeats become more and more damaging and testing, Cena has, for the most part, more and more sincere in his passion for what he does and represents. Where people might have seen his character as a sanguine, corporate facade, it has become clear – when he has been tested – that Cena really is that hard a worker and is that great a guy.
Cena lost to Punk. Cena lost to The Rock. And though he managed to beat Brock Lesnar, it wasn’t before he was bloodied and humbled by the former UFC Champion in a way we haven’t seen before. So over the course of a year, Cena was taken down by representatives of an alternative lifestyle, a legitimate mainstream ‘star’, and a ‘legitimate’ no-holds-barred fighter. This was well investigated by Chris Sims for Grantland (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7904055/why-john-cena-losing-rock-brock-lesnar-matters-wwe). As Sims argues, the long and deftly thought-out narrative seemed to be leading to an eventual, epiphonic, avowal of Cena and the WWE, though a Cena and WWE invaluably embellished by the influences of Punk, Rock, and Lesnar (though, for my money, mostly Punk, who’s infamous ‘shoot’ brought about a new vogue for sincerity in wrestling loosely known and partly accurately as the ‘Reality Era’).
Brock Lesnar, with his brutalism and his billing as a legitimate’ killer, seemed like the man who would finally tear the Cena banner down, even after he beat Lesnar. Following the match, an again bloodied Cena stood with his arm hanging by his side suggesting that he’d need time of because of how broken down he was. This should have been SuperCena’s final humanisation, his cult of personality was undermined and he was being forced to leave the limelight.
But then, the next night on RAW, there was John Cena, and he was booked for the next PPV, Over the Limit as if nothing had happened. This was the chink in the narrative, and rather than being a part of an evolving Cena, it was comparable to some of the biggest disappointments of Cena’s career; the disappointments that have made him so unpopular with around half of the audience. I’m thinking most specifically of the Nexus angle – one of the hottest angles in years with one of the coldest finishes in years. With the ‘winds of change’ threatening to blow, Wade Barrett of Nexus beat Cena to incorporate him in to the evil, iconoclastic group, but Cena refused to stoop to their level, fought against them, overcame, and got fired. Perhaps then Cena would be finally defeated and forced to change? Cena didn’t miss a day. He was back the next week on RAW, and soon, all was forgotten. It seemed that whatever happened, Cena would always be there, the same, stale and untouchable and so he became the most unpopular babyface of all time – not uncared about, but actively hated.
This past year seemed to be undoing all of that damage. Cena was getting beaten, and wasn’t just ignoring it but was reacting to it, was shaken by it, and was performing better because of it. He became one of the most watchable, sincere characters on the mic, and was finally winning the fans back over, even sometimes at the expense of The Rock, his ‘most electrifying’ nemesis.
Cena had won an awful lot of good will from the fans, and had he been forced away by Lesnar after Extreme Rules, his comeback to finally defeat the monster would have garnered a spectacular, memorable moment and accompanying pop. It could finally have restored him as a near-unquestioned babyface while metaphorically legitimising WWE (not that it needs it). Instead of that, he’s back, and we got the Cena of old, the Cena who survived all challenges with the greatest of ease with little struggle. Last night on the ‘Go Home’ RAW before Over the Limit, Cena came out, without the sling he wore for only a week to sell his injury from Lesnar and later from his next opponent, John Laurinaitis, to confront Laurinaitis, and so followed a surreal intervention from the new and improved Cena from the old SuperCena. Despite being tricked and beaten down by this man, Cena wasn’t phased and resorted to making jokes and trolling Laurinaitis with a ‘Loser’ chant and seemingly not taking it at all seriously. And it just feels like Nexus again, like failure snatched from the jaws of success, and if Cena prevails in this manner, he could be damaged beyond repair.
His match at Over the Limit will not be good, but there is nothing to stop the same scenario that seemed likely after Extreme Rules from happening after Over the Limit, and Cena being sidelined and returning as the over, sincere and powerful babyface. It seems like either of most likely Brock Lesnar or The Big Show will cost Cena the match and brutalise him afterward. This could be as good an opening as before to sideline Cena. Cena has earned our good will, but this week, it just seemed again like the essense of Cena would refuse to leave us, and he felt like a chore forced down our throats again. Now his troubles, injuries, and need to leave have been acknowledged on air, his continuance on our screen seems contrived. He may be the ‘franchise player’, but there are plenty of big names to make up for him, and plenty of names that need a chance at a higher level with the knowledge in mind that Cena is getting older. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially in pro wrestling, and if you remember the Royal Rumble of 2008, John Cena himself is a great example of this. Not to dwell on this (i’ve been very unsure as to whether to mention it for fear of making a connection that isn’t there), but Cena is apparently going through a lot of personal toil now with his divorce, and his performance this Monday seemed strange and desperate, as if he was going through some sort of mid-life crisis almost, and at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I wonder whether it had anything to do with his personal problems (to legitimise that awkward comment, fantastic wrestling blogger Brandon Stroud tweeted simply “Cena is in a dark place.”
I have loved the recent John Cena, but he has to leave, perhaps for his own sake, or he’ll lose the good will he’s earned, and soon.