Sometimes the WWE gets things right…
Brock Lesnar destroyed John Cena at SummerSlam.
It’s what should have happened.
It’s what needed to happened.
It was brilliant, and it should have been clear to both Vince McMahon and Triple H that life can continue on without John Cena as their heavyweight champion. It should have let the WWE hierarchy realize that re-setting John Cena’s “Super-Cena” character was the way to go. It was a chance to create the type of layers in the Cena character that so many detractors have been wanting for years, and they could do it without turning him heel.
It was set up beautifully six months earlier, when Brock Lesnar shocked the world by dismantling the Undertaker at Wrestlmania 30. As the always brilliant Paul Heyman pointed out several times since, “Brock Lesnar is the one, because Brock Lesnar is the one in 21-1.”
Daniel Bryan was crowned the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion that same night though, and it appeared as though Bryan and Lesnar were heading towards a David and Goliath run later that summer, with Lesnar returning for a SummerSlam run carrying the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania mantel.
Lesnar had been booked horribly since his return to the WWE on a part-time basis. Instead of creating the “beast-incarnate,” he most prominent “Heyman-guy” had been stymied by a sporadic two-year schedule and a 1-2 record in his first three matches back, losing to both Cena at Extreme Rules 2012, and Triple H at Wrestlemania 29 in April of 2013. Since that loss to Triple H, the WWE has slowly rebuild Lesnar into that immovable object that dominated the wrestling world from 2003-2004.
Who knows what the intentions were with Lesnar prior to Daniel Bryan’s injury. Many suspected that he would return at SummerSlam and beat Bryan for the belt, and carry it all the way to Wrestlemania, setting up a scenario in which Bryan, Cena or perhaps even Roman Reigns could challenge him not only for the World Championship, but perhaps even grab that Undertaker-like mantle as the match-of-the-year-maker.
With Bryan out of the picture, the door was kicked open for a Lesnar run, even when Cena won the belt at Money in the Bank in June. It almost made too much sense.
Then Lesnar destroyed Cena at SummerSlam, and “Super Cena” was in a place that he had never been before. Standing in front of him was a legitimate bad-ass. Standing in front of him was the wrestler that seemed unbeatable in his 2003-2004 run. Standing in front of him was the former UFC Heavyweight Champion. Standing in front of him was the man who beat the Undertaker’s streak. Standing in front of him was the man fronted by the best mic-worker in the WWE in years. Standing in front of him was the man who undressed him in front of the World at SummerSlam.
Standing in front of him was Brock Lesnar.
Is there a better story to tell than that?
Every fantasy booker on the planet was probably salivating the night after SummerSlam when Cena didn’t show up. The WWE couldn’t screw this up, right?
So how in the hell did they?
Cena misses the next full week of programming because he’s hurt, and he’s likely scared.
They were booking this right!
Then the proverbial WWE train jumped off the tracks. Now, I want to preface this that the whole story isn’t told yet. We could yet see another Brock Lesnar/John Cena decimation. We could see the total deconstruction of John Cena’s infallibility.
I just can’t figure out why the road leading to that has been booked so damned poorly.
Cena returned eight days after SummerSlam in response to the first annual “Hall-of-Fame” panel, which consisted of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. Instead of limping and lumbering his way to the ring wrapped in tape, selling the injuries suffered in the vicious beat down provided just one week ago,”Super Cena Hustled, Loyaltied and Respected his way to confront the panel looking as though he had spent the week in Cabo. Two-thirds of the panel tried to sell the “no-chance-in-hell” booking that seemed to emanate from SummerSlam when Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair both explained to the world that Cena couldn’t win.
Leave it to Hulk Hogan, who was Cena long before Cena, who blathered on-and-on about how Cena could win. Good ole’ Hogan…the former Super-Champ himself.
Surely the WWE wasn’t about to re-issue the latest Superman version of Cena. Surely the WWE wasn’t going to ruin their Slam-destruction by recreating Cena in exactly the same image that had been created and recreated time-and-time again over the past eight years. Surely they….
Then Cena destroyed Bray Wyatt. Then Cena destroyed all of the Wyatts.
Sure, he ranted and raved and sounded a bit out of sorts, but he destroyed the Wyatts.
Now I don’t want to get into the whys or why nots regarding whether or not the Wyatts should or shouldn’t have gotten squashed. I’m perfectly fine with that. But did it have to be Cena…who should have been selling his suplex-laden defeat just eight days prior?
Of course not.
The past few weeks haven’t been a total wash for Cena. He has had two of his best promos in years going up against Paul Heyman, who has been doing his promo-ing best to tease a potential Cena-heel-turn. They were seriously brilliant over the past two weeks, with Heyman tempting Cena with “the Dark Side. His Darth Vader-esque promos poking and prodding Cena were nothing short of spectacular, and Cena actually sold the hesitation. You could see it ebbing and flowing throughout his being, that he could unleash hell if he wanted, but instead, he unleashed a promo straight from the heart, which are always his best. The Jedi-motif was outstanding, but everything else felt all wrong. Lesnar, the ultimate bad-guy, after beating Taker and dominating Cena, was positioned to destroy the “Super-Cena” character….again…
Instead, we get the same ole’, same ole. Super-Cena is back, standing in the ring with that dumb-ass smirk on his face, with Lesnar backing up the ramp.
Sure, a lot can happen over the next week. Cena could walk into Night of Champions, and have Lesnar just hand it to him once again. That would reinstate some of the luster into this angle, and perhaps allow Cena to recreate his character with that depth I mentioned a bit earlier.
But imagine if they had kept it going after SummerSlam.
Imagine if John Cena had missed two weeks, then limped onto the show three weeks after being decimated and accepted his rematch after being forced to wrestle again at Night of Champions.
Imagine a visibly shaken Cena saying that he’s “not ready.”
Imagine a Heyman-swagger-promo mocking Cena as the ex-champ, afraid of Lesnar.
Imagine Cena backing up the ramp.
Imagine, if you will…
…Super-Sized-doubt from the former 15-time champ.
You remember that human feeling that you have after…say…you were thrown around like a rag-doll for 20 minutes in a nationally televised Pay Per view just a few weeks prior…for only $9.99.
You see, in the real world, it’s okay if John Cena loses the title. It’s okay if John Cena isn’t a superman. It’s okay if John Cena not only loses again to Brock Lesnar, but loses in such a way that he’s never the same again.
But unfortunately, Vince McMahon doesn’t want or need Cena to be human. Instead of becoming an interesting character, McMahon needs him to be something completely different.
While the WWE isn’t quite in a precarious position with regards to their economics, the hit they’ve taken over the past several months is undeniable. The WWE Network, while far too early to be dubbed a failure, has been far below expectations. The company has been shedding the fat over the past several weeks, and can ill afford to take a hit with ANY draw that they have.
Vince needs Super-Cena.
With Daniel Bryan out of action for the foreseeable future, will
thugonomics economics keep the WWE from running an angle that might project long-term, for the short-term safety of another John Cena run? If they do, what kind of damage will a 16th World Title provide for Cena long-term, who will officially tie Ric Flair at the top of the ranks as the only two 16-time World Champions in the history of professional wrestling (for recognized World Championships here in the United States)?
Of course, will it really damage Cena’s overall character any more than it already has?
But what kind of damage with this do to Lesnar, and the Undertaker…by proxy?
Detractors of this piece will point to Cena’s drawing power over the past several years and say that “you can’t hurt John Cena’s character,” and they’d be right. You can’t, but is the WWE better off because of it?
Is John Cena better off because of it?
Imagine Cena on a visible journey after getting destroyed again during Night of Champions. Imagine the WWE placing Cena in an angle in which he doubts himself in the coming months against new opponents. Imagine a scenario in which Cena is a tried and true underdog, who slowly builds his way back to credibility.
Late in his career, Shawn Michaels was in several high-profile angles across the WWE spectrum, against Randy Orton and Chris Jericho and in Degeneration X. Michaels understood that winning was far from important with regards to his legacy. He was put in a position to build other characters, and in doing so, cemented his place as one of the top five to ten wrestlers of all-time, and a guy who loved the business more than anything else. He was brilliant at it, and while Cena isn’t the wrestler that Shawn Michaels was, he can absolutely help build other talent while rebuilding his character into whatever it becomes.
Cena has been involved in many incredible matches over the past several years, and has enhanced wrestlers like Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro and even Damian Sandow. He has it in him, and is seemingly more than willing to do it.
Cena can still main event, while not main eventing.
Cena can reinvent his character.
Unfortunately, the WWE just won’t let him.
I hold out hope that this quick-Cena rise is a swerve, and that the WWE brass will realize that in keeping Brock Lesnar at the top, they have an opportunity to build their roster without having John Cena wearing the belt every week. The title can become elusive and important again, and it would open the door to so many different things, for so many wrestlers…especially Cena and Lesnar.
Watching Lesnar with Heyman at the top of the heap for a six-month or longer run would be a blast. It would buy time for the Wyatts and the Rollins and the Reigns and the Ambroses to continue to rise through the ranks until they are truly ready to carry the belt.
It would buy time for Daniel Bryan to not only get healthy, but rebuild his run to another title shot.
It would give the Undertaker’s loss at Wrestlemania 30 even more volume, since Taker lost to truly the baddest man on the planet.
It would allow the other belts to gain some importance, while Lesnar takes the heavyweight championship with him into parts unknown. I’m a big fan of using the Intercontinental belt in the same fashion it was used in the 80’s and part of the 90’s, when it was essentially the TV Championship belt.
Remember when Hogan never wrestled on TV? It builds luster, and the WWE Network would be the exclusive vehicle for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
And in the end, it would be fun to watch others rise through the ranks to face off against Lesnar every other pay-per-view or so, only to come up short. Perhaps each up-and-comer would learn something new in a several month story-arc that would come out a week or two before Lesnar loses, as the eventual champion spells out how he’s going to beat the beast.
And John Cena could begin to rebuild his character with the one thing that will keep him from ever being considered one of the top four or five wrestlers of all time by smart fans…layers of character.
I’m no Cena fan, but how fun would it be to watch a two-year quest to win the elusive 16th title to tie Flair. Perhaps Flair recreates the Horseman to stop him. Perhaps other Heyman guys show up to get in his way. Perhaps the wrestling universe truly believes that Cena will never win another title again, not only because Lesnar is the baddest man on the planet, but because the balance has truly shifted away from him.
Imagine Cena as a layered character, who isn’t a lock to win every match. It could draw more for the WWE than the guy that can’t lose, no matter what.
And what would that payoff be two years from now when Brock Lesnar faces off against Cena in a retirement match, or a loser leaves the WWE match, when people truly doubt the outcome?
Do you think that would draw?
I do, but it would take guts to give Cena this long-term run back to the gold, or at least back to Lesnar. It would take guts to let Lesnar run with the belt for a long period of time. It would take guts to build up the rest of the roster while Cena was still “in his prime.”
Based on the past three weeks, I’m not sure it’s “guts” that we are about to see at Night of Champions, and fantasy booking aside, win-or-lose, Cena seems primed to continue his run as one of the most enigmatic superstars to ever grace the professional wrestling ring.
Sometimes the story just has to be the story. Sometimes, if a wrestler is going to lose, just tell the story about how bad he’s going to lose, don’t throw the swerve.
Sure, it will draw money, but is it the best story to tell?
A Lesnar win or a Lesnar loss, I fear that the WWE has missed this story by a Super-Cena-Sized-Mile.