The Mother Brain Files: Disguise the Hate
By Mother Brain
Ever since I began writing these wrestling-related blogs, Iâ€™ve been very vocal about the displeasure of watching John Cena as the number one star in the WWE. Iâ€™ve pointed out almost every reason why kids love him and most adults despise him. Thereâ€™s no need to be repetitive discussing his character flaws. Instead, I have come to a revelation after spending weeks seeing the buildup to his Wrestlemania 28 match with the Rock followed by his unforgettable encounter with Brock Lesnar on Raw the night after the big show: John Cena is the most revolutionary bad guy in recent wrestling history since Hulk Hogan joined the nWo. Donâ€™t believe me? Just follow the facts.
The heavily mixed reaction to Cena began in 2005 after he made the jump from Friday Night Smackdown to the a-show, Monday Night Raw. With most of the Attitude era stars either gone (Steve Austin, Rock, Brock Lesnar, etc) or fading into the background (Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, etc), Cena was the companyâ€™s chosen one to lead WWE into the next decade. The casual wrestling fans (kids and some adults) saw Cena as another version of the Rock because of his ability to freestyle rap against his opponents and cheered him no matter what because like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, he wins a lot of matches and titles. More on that later.
The anti-Cena fans felt that Cena was a phony. When Cena dropped his rapper gimmick to become more of an indestructible good guy, they had a hard time believing that a guy in jean shorts and sneakers who cut bland promos with a limited wrestling maneuver set could defeat such seasoned veterans like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels. At first, he tried to talk people into not booing him. But as time went on, he chose to stand his ground rather than giving into the haters by turning heel like many other superstars have done in the past.
Over the next 5 years, Cenaâ€™s Superman persona remained intact. Regardless of the overwhelming trash talk by fans in the major cities and of course the internet, WWE management and Vince McMahon had every excuse to keep Cena on top. His colorful t-shirts and hats sold like hot cakes and he donated countless hours to charities and military functions. But most importantly, WWE needed to escape its raunchy past so they could return to the family friendly days of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage with Cena as the centerpiece. Their hope is for this generation of fans to look back at the Cena era as something special so they can empty their wallets in exchange for retrospective DVD compilations 10 years from now.
But the Cena/PG era has not been as lucrative as the Attitude era. Ratings have been stagnant and PPV buys have dropped dramatically. While the blame canâ€™t be placed exactly on Cena, the lack of elevating younger talents to Cenaâ€™s level as well as lackluster booking made clear to WWE management that serious risks would have to be taken. Even if it meant getting their hands dirty again.
The change in tide began last summer when Cena feuded with a soon to be departing CM Punk who lashed out against the company that was holding him back only to be resigned and turned into the number one merchandise draw. That same year also saw the return of the Rock who challenged Cena to the main event of Wrestlemania a year in advance in hopes of drawing up the biggest crowd in WWE history. The was no way Cena could play the typical babyface role in those scenarios. So he tried to let loose on the mic by attacking both men of abandoning the fans for their own selfish worth (i.e. Rock leaving WWE for Hollywood success, Punk doing hard negotiations to become a main eventer, etc) while continuing to portray himself as the loyal, underdog superstar who comes to work every week. But doesnâ€™t any of this sound less like company friendly Cena and more like Triple H?
This is where I have to separate the babyface Cena who pleases the kids from the heel Cena who tunes out the adults. A rumor leaked out 2 years ago that WWE creative pitched Vince McMahon an idea to turn Cena heel to the adult crowd while keeping his clean cut image with kids intact. A tactic similar to what was done with Bret Hart in 1997 when he turned against the American audience while retaining his popularity overseas. Vince reportedly rejected the idea. Yet, these past few months have given us clear signs of Vince changing his mind about it.
As babyface Cena, he engages in monster feuds with the likes of Kane, Alberto Del Rio, Nexus and The Miz just to name a few. Those feuds are typically booked like old school Hulk Hogan storylines because the heels are made to be over the top and often put Cena in comic book-style situations (i.e. the ambulance match with Kane at Elimination Chamber, the Nexus making Cena join them for a month, etc) where he can come out on top looking like a million bucks and laughing all the way to the bank. Then the kids go buy more shit.
Then thereâ€™s the heel Cena hiding behind the babyface persona. A man who refuses to change himself no matter how badly fans want it. A man who has won as many titles as legendary heel characters as Ric Flair and Triple H which is unheard of for a babyface. On top of all this, he becomes the most hated man in the building the minute he steps in the ring against Rock, Punk, Triple H, HBK, and Lesnar. He doesnâ€™t try so hard to win over the haters by then. He accepts his spot regardless of the outcome an aggravates the fans by not giving them what they really want.
And how does WWE feel about Cena today as opposed to 5 years ago? When the company decides to make t-shirts saying how much Cena sucks, their agenda is clearly money. But itâ€™s also a clear sign that they are fine having him swing both ways. You heard me right.
But what makes Cena even more of a revolutionary character is the way in which he can easily manipulate the public. Numerous fans praised Cena in giving better promos than the Rock in the buildup to Wrestlemania. But like Hoganâ€™s bald head, Rock was restrained by the company from dropping his own pipebombs on Cena. As I mentioned before, I believe much of Cenaâ€™s punchlines came from Triple H who still remains bitter about Rockâ€™s mainstream success even though heâ€™s the next in line to run WWE. Therefore, the Game is using Cena as a wooden puppet to channel his own hate. Now with Lesnar back, it puts Cena in the exact same scenario of facing another past superstar except now heâ€™s dealing with a legit mixed martial arts fighter as opposed to a wrestler-turned-Hollywood actor.
The bottom line: John Cena will stay around for a long time and WWE has fully embraced his tweener status. No matter how bad ratings and PPV buys get, they will continue to invest in the future by keeping him strong for the kids while finding every imaginable way to get adults to buy tickets and PPVâ€™s just to see him get his ass kicked by far talented opponents. When his t-shirt says â€œRise Above Hateâ€, he truly means it. Itâ€™s his own version of Steve Austin sticking up his middle finger on TV. The only difference is heâ€™s not giving the finger to Vince McMahon.