What’s Next for John Cena?


I’m good for one wrestling column a year, and Wrestlemania is this weekend, so…

The draw this year for Wrestlemania is the return of ‘the People’s Champ’, the Rock, as the host of Wrestlemania (don’t ask what that means exactly, nobody really knows.)

Anyway, immediately upon returning, the Rock referenced having a showdown with John Cena, the current face of World Wrestling Entertainment.  The heat between them comes out of some comments Cena made in an interview saying the Rock doesn’t love the wrestling business since once he started making Hollywood movies, he never looked back.

In a series of skits since then, the Rock, one of wrestling’s great talkers (and with the possible exception of Nature Boy Ric Flair, wrestling’s greatest/funniest trash talker) has defended himself (saying he’s made it easier for Cena and other wrestlers to get into movies and other mainstream venues) while at the same time ripping apart every weakness of the John Cena character (his main fans are women and children, he’s hard working but not really a great ‘worker’, the character as a whole has gotten stale).

Now I’ll say that over time I’ve come to respect John Cena.  He’s the face of the WWE in a down time for wrestling as popular entertainment.  He’s the face of a company that is caught between wanting to be seen as ‘family entertainment’, but has its roots in the lower classes and bloodsport.  But what happens when your main attraction is getting booed by your core audience (boys and young men)?

A few suggestions…

1) John Cena, Go Away

Not meant in a mean spirited way.  Here are a few of the guys who are either gone completely or missed most of the past 12 months: Shawn Michaels, Triple H, the Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Batista.  Five well established main eventer and former World Champions.  To his credit, John Cena has been the mainstay in a transition year for the company.  There were hints of it during a ‘Cena’s fired’ angle earlier in the year, but nobody would benefit more from just being gone from TV for a few months than John Cena.  It’s just human nature, people just get bored and tired of seeing the same thing after awhile.  Speaking of which…

2) Character Development

Cena’s best promo in this battle with the Rock was when he became ‘the Doctor of Thuganomics’ again.  Even though Cena rapping always makes me laugh in a condescending way, it did remind me he wasn’t always the ‘goofy Superman’ he is now.  I’m not saying a ‘Hollywood Hogan’ heel turn is needed.  Much as the Miz has also earned my respect as someone ‘running with the ball’, I don’t think he’s ready to be the new face of WWE (yet).  Regardless, it’s way past time to adapt the John Cena character in some way.  I caught the ’50 Greatest Superstars in Wrestling’ DVD over the weekend, and damn near everyone on that list kept evolving their character until (and sometimes after) they stopped being active in the ring on a regular basis.  Hell, when people turned on the Rock when he started making movies, what did he do?  He came out in a bigger pair of sunglasses, and a golden belt buckle and become a heel you couldn’t help but laugh with and cheer for at times.  By comparison, here’s what the other three main guys on Cena’s show in the past show:

The Miz: annoying snot midcarder to ‘the guy in the gym who’s good but really believes he’s the best’

CM Punk: self righteous ‘better than you’ leader to straight out cult-type leader

Randy Orton: heartless, sadistic heel to ‘Stone Cold’ light badass antihero

Speaking of Orton…

3) Find Your Kryptonite

It’s a fair analogy in today’s WWE to say John Cena is Superman and Randy Orton is Batman.  And like in the movie world, Batman is making great movies and Superman is still not connecting to this generation.  In large part, because Superman is seen as ‘too god-like’.  Likewise, Cena needs something, anything, that can be established as a known weakness to his character.  And no, being outnumbered doesn’t count.

For example, everyone knew Shawn Michaels had a bad back.  For the second half of his career, any time an opponent went for the back, there was an instant story.  Stone Cold Steve Austin wore two knee braces and a busted neck.  (I won’t make the millionth joke about Cena’s ability to sell injuries.)  We’ll see where it goes, but Cody Rhodes spent a year building a character that was overly vain.  When he suffered a ‘facial injury’, that meant something.  What’s the one thing that can be expressed within the confines of a wrestling match that brings John Cena to his knees?  The character desperately needs that.

Man, I wrote way more than I planned on this one.  Answers may come this Sunday at Wrestlemania.  We shall see.

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