Kayfabe Thoughts: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

To be regarded as “the top guy” in the wrestling business is something all wrestlers aspire but few actually achieve. In the ring, the wrestler must be charismatic to both adults and children, possess the gift of gab, and be technically proficient enough to have good matches with competitors of all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Outside the ring, they must be able to carry the weight of being the ultimate brand ambassador and able to withstand the additional scrutiny that comes with heightened visibility and expectation.

John Cena carried that weight for the better part of 15 years for WWE. Night after night, day after day, Cena worked tirelessly to live up to the expectations thrust on him as WWE’s standard bearer. Appearance after appearance, charity event after charity event, town after town, all over the world, John Cena came to epitomize what WWE is as a company, both inside and outside the squared circle.

Young Cena shifted his persona to reflect his status. Gone were the chains and hip hop lyric insults. No more rap albums or edgy promos.

Just hustle, loyalty, and respect.

The new Cena wore brightly colored shirts to appeal to his younger fans. He kept the jorts, but they became less baggy. He learned Mandarin, so that he could speak to his fans in China. Super Cena even re-invented himself somewhat in the ring, learning some new tricks along the way to mix in among his infamous “Five Moves of Doom” in order to have more exciting matches with new, younger opponents. Cena evolved and it paid off handsomely for WWE and Cena.

But Father Time is undefeated and the tastes of wrestling fans change.

Physically, Cena is fit as ever. He has stayed relatively injury free throughout his career and his commitment to maintaining himself has clearly benefitted him. But his youthful looks are trending toward middle age and there is now a bald spot struggling to be masked by even the most closely cropped fade.

More troublingly, fan patience with and interest in the Cena character has waned. The former 50/50 “Let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chants skew far more negative. Time off to make WWE financed movies that served as expanded marketing ventures was once ok because fans loved to see Cena in action movies like “The Marine”. Today, fans question his commitment to the WWE and deride him as a part timer who only comes back to WWE to promote his films, shade a younger Cena once threw at the Rock.

While the clearest path back to relevance seems to be Cena finally giving in and turning heel a la Hulk Hogan 20 years ago when he found himself in a similar place, Mr Make-A-Wish has refused. As a result, Cena’s position at the center of the WWE Universe has drifted.

Consider his last 3 WM appearances: an injury limited appearance at WM32; a WM33 appearance hinged on completing a storyline from his girlfriend Nikki Bella’s reality show by finally giving in and asking her to marry him in the ring after their match with The Miz and Maryse; and at WM34, a 3 minute squash match loss vs the seemingly retired Undertaker. The Undertaker match felt especially weird in that it left everyone confused as to what exactly the point was of the build which featured Cena seeming less like a tough guy calling a reluctant opponent out but more like an entitled, petulant child whose parent won’t get him the toy he so desperately wants.

Cena’s spotlight, one that burned brightly and only for him, has dimmed.

So what does Cena do?

He works. He hustles.

But this time it’s the fans who are being hustled and worked, with no respect for the fans intelligence to be found.

To the surprise of no one paying attention, Cena and Nikki announced on April 11 that they would not be getting married in a matter of weeks as planned. This announcement came just 6 days after a promo for the upcoming season of “Total Bellas” teased that there was trouble in paradise and also before the release of Cena’s movie “Blockers”. All of it happened so quickly and so seemingly coordinated that not even the most cynical of fans began to wonder if something was afoot.

Still, a certain contingent of fans immediately threw around phrases like “this is heartbreaking”, “poor Nikki”, and “we must respect them during this difficult time” because “this is real life stuff, not wrestling stuff”.

In light of all that has occurred since, I’m going to go ahead and tell the Bella Army that they need to stand down, because they all just got WORKED along with the rest of the WWE Universe.

Three weeks later, it’s even more clear that the probability of all this being a work is closer to the truth than not, despite consistent denials otherwise. As the premiere of “Total Bellas” drew near, Nikki released a heartfelt vlog, makeupless and emotionally drained. Cena then made a few statements in interviews claiming he still loves Nikki and always will. Cena upped the ante when during an appearance on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, John stated that “I still love Nicole, I still would love to marry Nicole, I still would love to have a family with Nicole”. Later, during a red carpet interview on Extra, Nikki would be informed of Cena’s comments and reply with an unconvincing “Wow. I’m speechless.”

Nikki might be speechless, but I’m not.

This is garbage.

Furthermore, neither is a skilled enough actor to convince me that any of this was ever real.

While I am absolutely in favor of personal, real life situations being kept out of the wrestling realm, all of this has taken place very publicly in front of the WWE Universe. Everything that has been presented for consumption within the confines of WWE produced television is subject to criticism and speculation. Anyone saying otherwise is engaging with the product on a level that makes me uncomfortable.

Fans were right to question the entire Cena/Nikki engagement from the beginning. Cena had long portrayed himself both on “Total Divas” and “Total Bellas” and, most tellingly, IN REAL LIFE as someone who’d rather set all of his cars on fire than subject himself to marriage again or children. I think John Cena’s nightmare’s all begin with him finding himself on the set of “Maury” with the host hanging on the verdict of whether or not he is a father.

So why the change? Certainly not for love, but instead for the love of one’s self and the spotlight. Plucking at the heartstrings of easily manipulated fans landed Cena a heavily promoted spot at last year’s Wrestlemania, so mission accomplished. Maybe a breakup will pop “Total Bellas” ratings and help push along those pesky contract negotiations with NBCU. Heck, maybe Nikki can even sell some more Birdie Bee product by playing the clueless girl one more time!

Either way, the warm spotlight Cena loves and has come to crave so much returns.

There is a famous line uttered in an equally famous scene by forgotten and delusional starlet Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) in the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard” that comes to mind when I consider where John Cena is now and what track he seems to be willing to take in effort to return to the spotlight.

In my mind’s eye, I can see today’s Cena backstage at RAW, the Cena who continues to stick with the jorts and bright tees because that’s what his fans used to love, the Cena with a fuller bump card and less full hairline, the Cena who apparently traded loyalty and respect for notoriety and a paycheck. He marches with purpose down the hallway, flings the door to the room where creative meets to discuss upcoming storylines open and announces to Vince and everyone inside: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr McMahon.”

Thanks for reading!

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Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Once and Future King

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

As Wrestlemania neared, it appeared that Brock Lesnar would be leaving the WWE to return to the UFC. Lesnar, who had held the WWE Universal Championship since defeating Goldberg at the previous year’s Wrestlemania, found himself as the ire of many fans due to the attraction nature of his booking and the resulting sporadic defenses of his championship. While it seemed that the equally (if not more) reviled Roman Reigns would be the beneficiary of Lesnar’s departure, fans were at least happy that 1 of the 2 most high-profile championships in the company would begin to make regular appearances on TV and at PPVs again.

But of course, in the words of Uncle Dave, plans changed.

Lesnar and WWE came to terms on a new deal that would allow Lesnar to work UFC dates in addition to his WWE deal just hours before WM. Not only did Lesnar retain the title vs Reigns at WM, he also prevailed in the subsequent rematch at The Greatest Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe.

The Mayor of Suplex City hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since and unfortunately the legit contenders are few it seems.

In their last head to head encounter, Braun Strowman, the current monster of the WWE, ate the pin clean. I’m all for Braun getting a title run and I think that getting it by absolutely destroying Lesnar would make a statement in the process. However, it seems like if WWE creative wanted to protect the Monster Among Men mystique, he would have beaten Lesnar already.

Samoa Joe is in almost the same boat as Strowman. Despite building a program last summer between Lesnar and Samoa Joe around Joe’s persona of being a legit badass, the Samoan Submission Machine came up short against Lesnar at 2017’s oddly named Great Balls of Fire event in one on one competition and again in a Fatal Four Way match that included Strowman and Roman Reigns at Summerslam.

In my opinion, the challenger who made Lesnar look most vulnerable (and most like the Lesnar of old) last year was AJ Styles at Survivor Series 2017. However, unless the WWE wanted to do some sort of title unification bout with the Universal and WWE Championships, it’s unlikely to be revisited.

Is there a light at the end of the Brock Lesnar tunnel?

In a word: YES!

In 3 words: YES! YES! YES!

Daniel Bryan should be the guy.

I understand the WWE’s hesitance to re-insert Bryan into the main event picture. Bryan’s health issues derailed the last 2 high profile programs Bryan had before his retirement, when Bryan was WWE champ and again during his brief return as Intercontinental champ. The potential disaster for Bryan and WWE to have to deal with another head injury warrants all the caution that seems to be taken right now.

But man, what a story it could be.

When Bryan announced his return in March, the entire sports world, not just the WWE Universe or wrestling fans, stood up and took notice. The news of his un-retirement sparked a reaction that isn’t seen often within the IWC: universal happiness. Paying off the “Believe in your dreams and your dreams will believe in you” idea with a win over the reigning, defending, undisputed Universal Champion Brrrrock LLLLesnar would punctuate the story with a what might be a bigger moment than Bryan’s WMXXX win over the Authority.

And Bryan could no doubt have a great match with Lesnar. Think back to the Styles/Lesnar match I mentioned earlier. Styles in-ring approach is so diametrically opposite of Lesnar’s that it was believable that he could keep the Beast Incarnate on his heels and perhaps pull off the upset. Bryan would be positioned in a similar way and with a larger variety of submission holds at his disposal, the potential to weaken Lesnar’s base (Brock always seems to skip leg day) can easily be established.

Imagine the pop if the biggest underdog, a man who was told he was too small to compete with the heavyweights and one who had to give up his title due to injury and retire, emerges victorious in a match with one of the most unstoppable forces in wrestling and combat sports history.

Goosebumps (or goose pimples as the great Gorilla Monsoon said)…

With one moment, WWE could go a long way to stealing back some of the magic that the stale, lazy booking stole over the last few months. And with most of the recent positive wrestling headlines going in the direction of a show headlined and promoted by a man who asked to be released by the company (Cody), this is a great way to bring some of that positivity the WWE’s way.

Bryan as champ works right into a program with longtime nemesis The Miz. From there, all the dream Bryan battles could go down (Styles, Balor, Nakamura, Joe, Zayn, Owens among others), provided his health continues to hold. Ultimately, maybe the WWE revisits Bryan/Reigns and uses Bryan to legitimize Reigns as champ like they did with their matchup before WM 31. The possibilities are endless and with the stacked roster of talent WWE possesses right now between the main and NXT rosters.

Bryan is the man that can bring the magic back to WWE.

WWE just needs to take a real look at what is going on and act fast.

Thanks for listening!

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Kenny Herzog of The Ringer – 06/14/18

Here it is listeners: the first of 2 new episodes this week! Join me as I chat with Kenny Herzog from The Ringer about his “Wrestling Story”. Kenny talks about growing up during the WWF/E’s heyday in the 80’s and 90’s, how he got into wrestling journalism, and if he thinks WWE fears New Japan even a little. Kenny has some interesting opinions and he shares a bunch of them with me! Also, keep an eye out for the nearly-lost Owen Hart episode that drops tomorrow. You won’t want to miss either episode, so hit play NOW!

THE LINKS!

Follow Kenny Herzog on Twitter!

Kenny has a website, and it includes a picture of Jiminy Glick! (it has other info too, but JIMINY GLICK!)

Here is Kenny’s LinkedIn profile. It really is quite comprehensive and is a great place to start if you want to read more of Kenny’s stuff.

“The Acute Angle” Kenny’s series on WWE’s foreign heels is really great. Click here to find everything he has written for The Ringer

Kenny also has written a TON for Rolling Stone. Here is one of my favorite articles. It’s about Cody Rhodes and his decision to become an independent wrestler.

 

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Greg Hyde (aka Stat Guy Greg) from ESPN’s Cheap Heat – 05/21/18

Greg Hyde, aka Stat Guy Greg from ESPN’s Cheap Heat podcast, is my guest for this installment of Kayfabe Forever’s My Wrestling Story series. Greg tells us how he became a fan, what he thinks is the greatest wrestling storyline of all time, and shares his thoughts on the current WWE product. Make sure you listen to the intro, as I reveal the identity of the next guest on “My Wrestling Story”. Also, make sure to tune in this Friday for my special Owen Hart career retrospective episode!

THE LINKS!

Stat Guy Greg on Twitter!

Cheap Heat on ESPN!

Check out our next guest Michel Mulipola’s stuff over at his website!

My article over at nodq.com from last week: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

My other article over at nodq.com from last week: Daniel Bryan Should Beat Brock Lesnar NOW!

My article for thechairshot.com from 05/11/18: WWE’s Vince Problem

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 13 04/06/18: WELCOME TO WRESTLEMANIA (WEEKEND)!

Unlike the stupidity surrounding the potential Undertaker and John Cena match, I’m not just teasing, I’m delivering! Join me as I talk myself into picking winners for every single match across this weekend’s most high-profile events: NXT Takeover: New Orleans and Wrestlemania 34. I also get a little cranky when talking about the battle royals and again towards the end when I discuss the whole Undertaker/Cena thing, so apologies in advance! Kayfabe Forever Episode 13: It’s What the World Is Listening To!