With the creative funk WWE were in leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of Survivor Series, it is perhaps understandable that a very eventful edition of Raw – which contained many of the things I like most from weekly TV, not least the use of a one night story – would be hailed as a massive step forward by WWE and a shot in the arm for a Royal Rumble that has apparently seen slow ticket sales. However, as much as I agree with that general sentiment, one thing I kept seeing online, over and over again, really stuck in my craw – “wow, John Cena really makes it his business to put over talent!”
Well, to paraphrase Bryan Singer’s iconic ‘The Usual Suspects’ – “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he puts people over.”
How soon we forget! John Cena is a walking glass ceiling, a man whose palatial home includes a packed graveyard of upper midcarders who he buried six feet underground, and probably urinated on afterwards. John Cena showed himself, time and time again, to be a man without the talent to elevate up and coming main eventers, and without much inclination to, either. Even when his wrestling matches did not comprehensively bury his opponent, his mic work often finished the job.
Not convinced? Let’s step into the DeLorean.
History is not a simple thing to deconstruct, but for argument’s sake, let’s say that The Franchise Player became the undisputed master of the WWE Universe around 2007, having defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels in consecutive Wrestlemanias and seen off other Attitude Era stalwarts in Chris Jericho, Christian and Edge in the process. We can more or less ignore his work with Randy Orton, who was always booked as the yang to his ying, and who was a peer anyway, and the same for his brief 2008 programme with Batista. So, the point we might reasonably expect Cena to start elevating the next generation might run from, say, the middle of 2009.
Conveniently enough, this is where we find a prominent early victim. The Miz used his split from John Morrison to parlay into the loudmouth cocky, cowardly heel we all know and love. A mini-programme with Cena should’ve been a huge boost to an already thriving solo run, but instead, after weeks of gaining great heat by calling out an absent Cena, “The Champ” showed up and buried him in five minutes flat. Worse was to come though; after breaking into the main event ranks following a successful Money In The Bank cash in, Miz faced Cena at Wrestlemania XXVII, and retained, only to then be horribly jobbed out at successive pay-per-views, particularly at Over The Limit, where we were meant to believe that Cena could easily defeat both Miz AND Alex Riley (and as a side note, the rumour always persisted that Riley’s WWE tenure went down the toilet because he stood up to Cena in the locker room). Where did Miz’s career go after the spring of 2011? Nowhere, for a full five years. Sure, there was the odd main event, like at TLC at the end of that year, but Miz ended up turning face and wrestling for various midcard championships to little acclaim. The Awesome One did not necessarily suffer this fate because he lost to Cena; it was the WAY he lost, and the same applies to so many others down the years.
Wade Barrett was the next prominent victim; he led The Nexus to a sensational debut invading Raw, showed himself to be an excellent stick man, and looked like a star in waiting. In a piece of lousy creative which has become legendary, Edge and Chris Jericho advised Cena against the finish of the elimination tag at Summerslam 2010, only for him to go ahead with the Superman act anyway, and The Nexus were never the same. Just to hammer home the point, by TLC Wade Barrett was being comprehensively beaten, buried in a heap of chairs, which seems like an apt metaphor for his career afterwards. Dolph Ziggler, meanwhile, was the hottest commodity in the company in late 2012; he held the Money In The Bank briefcase and seemed destined to be the business’ next great heel. He faced John Cena in a ladder match at TLC where he put his briefcase on the line and won…but as was so often the case, what happened afterwards walked all over his credibility, as he lost on television time and again (and once again, rumours abounded that Cena had told the powers that be that he didn’t feel Ziggler was “ready” for the spot). Although Dolph did in the end cash in his briefcase, to this day he has never ascended to the heights he once seemed guaranteed to reach. Some of that is on him, for sure, but the encounter with Cena was undoubtedly toxic and actively harmful to his career.
Now, we might argue that Cena was still an active main eventer at this point, and that maybe it wasn’t STRICTLY his role to pass any torches. But even if we accept this point of view, what do we make of what happened when he WAS thrust into the midcard elevator role? Bray Wyatt and Rusev both suffered in consecutive Wrestlemania seasons. Both men started strong in their interactions with Cena, but in long running feuds, they ended up racking up the losses, and by the end, looking like chumps. Back in 2006 we used to say “LOL, Cena Wins”. Almost a decade later, the same thing was true, but again, this would not have been such a problem if their losses came out of Cena desperately struggling to hold off the challenges of the new young heels. But you never got the impression that it was anything other than a mild inconvenience for him to vanquish them, and that was the problem. And yet again- look at Wyatt and Rusev before Cena, and after. Rusev managed to rebuild himself purely out of good fortune by inventing “Rusev Day” and getting it over, but good lord, Bray Wyatt isn’t even on TV at the moment. When you consider how hot Wyatt was in 2013 and 2014, that is nothing short of a tragedy.
Of course, there’s always the odd example of someone who escaped. Punk (but he was in the middle of arguably the hottest pro wrestling storyline ever), Bryan (but because of Cena’s injury they never wrestled again, so the toxic “I get my win back” thing never happened) Rollins (has Triple H’s protection) and Styles (already a top guy) all went onto great things after Cena, but that is a pretty poor return based on his tenure with the company. Anyone getting excited because he let Becky Lynch talk some trash to him and praised Finn Balor after a number one contenders match needs to calm down. And goodness knows, any fans of the Irishman had best hope that they never have an extended programme together.
I think it should be fairly obvious by now that I have no patience whatsoever for anyone who thinks that Cena is a generous veteran giving back to the business. He has shown time and time again that he is the most selfish top guy in the history of the company, and bear in mind that we are talking about a list that includes 1996/97 Shawn Michaels and early 90s Hogan. I don’t even have enough time in the day to go into every career he’s negatively affected, but pour out some liquor also for Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, Sheamus, Kevin Owens and Zack Ryder.
So spare me the eulogies about Cena. I’m sick of the sight of him, and fanatically against seeing him nobble any more promising careers. The guy’s heart is not in it anymore, he offers nothing creatively. Time to go to Hollywood, John, and stay there.
This is Maverick, requesting flyby.