Face time… or how I learned to start appreciating John Cena.
Well played, John Cena. Well played.
A week after The Rock laid a Fruity Pebbles smackdown on the WWE’s top Babyface and became the talk to the town, Cena dusted off his doctorate of Thuganomics and took a big, main event-sized swipe back. And it worked. It really, really worked. It had humor… like PG-13 humor yo… and moments that made you think, just for a second, that the heat was going beyond kayfabe. It was the most compelling thing Cena has done in a long time; proving that sometimes to be different you just go back to where you began. (Or as Paul McCartney recently sang, “I go back so far, I’m in front of me.”) There has been a lot of talk about the idea of Cena taking a page from the Hollywood Hogan playbook and going heel. And it would be just that: A Hogan-sized switch. It would be about giving into the boos he already gets and breaking the hearts of those who still cheer for him. (A gap usually divided by age.) Which was exactly where Hogan was when he turned in the yellow and red for the NWO colors and that grease paint beard. Yeah, yeah, Cena started as a heel (Or as we called ‘em as kids “Rulebreakers!”), but so did Hogan. Most of Cena’s fans now don’t really remember Cena as a rapping thug turning on Billy Kidman and chasing Brock Lesnar’s title. That was 2003 after all. If you’re a purple shirt wearing Cena fan all of 13 years of age now, you were five when Cena was a “bad guy.” That’s ancient history. Cena as a heel now, would certainly work. I was on board with the idea up until the start of Raw and Cena’s Rock-rap. Now, not so much. John Cena has to stay SuperCena.
First off, the biggest thing this rap did was add a new wrinkle to the SuperCena character. Whereas he has been cutting those long-winded promos with groan inducing humor for a serious stretch of time, Cena showed that his character can still possess an edge. It’s a PG-era edge, but an edge none the less. As in any form of storytelling, characters need to grow and develop and this was the first noticeable growth in years. Cena had to respond to the Rock and I’m sure we all thought it was going to be the normal response. I was waiting for some cut away to a Titantron gag ala the Heath Slater as the Wendy’s Hamburger Logo bit. Yet Cena grabbed the mic and ran with the moment, even saying things that we’ve all thought. As much as I love The Rock and rolled around in the happiness of his return, I remember saying “Why, Rock, why?” to myself upon seeing the movie poster for Tooth Fairy. Cena’s rap wasn’t just entertaining, (and it was entertaining) it actually made you think at times, “Well, he is right.” (Punk did the same thing to Cena just a few weeks ago.) So, where last week at this time, I was ready to boo Cena should there be a stare down with The Great One. Now, I’ll have to consider some things. As an entertainment professional, I get why the Rock left to make movies. Yet as a fan, maybe I have to think Cena was right… why did you leave us Rock? There are now compelling shades of gray to this showdown and Cena now has the depth to still be the babyface defender of the castle.
Second, and this is more long term, if Cena goes heel and The Rock goes back to Hollywood (And, yes, adult children reliving the joy of 1999, he will go back.) who then would Cena be fighting against? Because if he goes heel now, it will be as The Heel. He will need to face someone on his level, someone huge. When Hogan became NWO and everyone and their cousin was turning Black and White, for the longest time it was Sting as the great holdout. He was big enough to face the dark forces of the NWO. If Cena goes heel, the balance of power in the WWE goes to the “bad guys.” Who then stands up for what’s good?
John Morrison? I know they WANT him to be a top Babyface, but, number one, he still comes out dressed like an arrogant rock star complete with slow motion posing and garish sunglasses and, second, he now has a beard. Good guys don’t have beards! Remember when Spock had an evil twin? Facial hair. That’s how you knew he was bad! Shave ol’ Johnny Nitro and give him a new outfit, you can’t root for someone with fake fur around his ankles. Look, Morrison is a walking video game character when it comes to these moves and spots he’s been executing as of late. Great idea to highlight his skills and draw people to him, but all the goodwill ends when he starts talking. Heel Cena would bury him on the mic.
Daniel Bryan? As of right now, the United States champion can’t even get on a pay-per-view being headlined by Jerry Lawler. The idea that he might one day be the defender of the WWE castle is a long shot. But, hey, you know what? So was giving Conan O’Brien a talk show in 1993 and letting a farmboy from Tatooine try to blow up the Death Star.
Kofi Kingston? Remember when Kofi feuded with Randy Orton for a hot second and the program pumped some dangerous and interesting aggression into Kofi? No? Well, either does Vince.
Jack Swagger? Hey. Not a bad choice in terms of skills and presence. Maybe he could have that Lex Luger/ Lex Express summer of ‘94 turn. He stands up to Cena, slams him on the deck of an aircraft carrier, drives a bus around the country while an inspiring song plays, and then wins by count out at SummerSlam? On second thought, could luck with your future endeavors, Jack. (and it’s not his fault either. I still see a lot of misused talent here.)
Rey Mysterio Jr.? Totally!! If this was 2006. But, it’s not. Rey looks to be on his way out. I sense a future X Division title reign in his future.
The Big Show? Andre the Giant’s son (oh, I’m the only one that believed that?) is probably a babyface to stay now and he’s doing a good job of standing up for good against The Corre. Is it a far stretch to consider him putting the WWE on his back and standing up against a Monster Heel Cena? Yes. Yes, it is.
Edge? Probably the logical choice if a Cena turn happened after ‘Mania. But if you were to do something drastic like turning Cena heel, then you would probably not want him to feud with someone who A.) he’s feuded with many times before and B.) has spent a lot of time going back and forth on the heel/ face train himself.
Randy Orton? Hold on… lemme just copy and paste what I wrote for Edge. Probably the logical choice if a Cena turn happened after ‘Mania. But if you were to do something drastic like turning Cena heel, then you would probably not want him to feud with someone who A.) he’s feuded with many times before and B.) has spent a lot of time going back and forth on the heel/ face train himself. Though I will add this: Orton is younger than Edge and has the fanbase to do it. But, I dunno, there is not a lot of warmth to Randy (He is The Viper after all) and in order to be the top Face of the company, any company, you have to a certain amount accessibility. In other words, you’d have to teach Randy to smile.
CM Punk? You could get the older fans behind him for sure, but he is doing spectacular work as the maniacal mastermind heel right now. Would you want to change him? Could you? He has the skills to change gears and fight for what’s right. Punk would now how to mold it in the right direction, but I don’t think he would be a pure face. By the very nature of the character he has established now, Punk cannot be trusted. If he stood tall against Cena as a good guy, you’d just be waiting for him to join up with Cena as part of a greater plan. (Yeah, I feel it, too. I’m about five seconds away from crying “It’s still real to me, dammit.” )
Dolph Ziggler? He is being built up as a heel, but you could break him away from Vickie, have him apologize for all his sins committed against the WWE Universe, and face him off with Cena. Might actually be the best choice. It could work. It really could. Yet there is just something about it not clicking. At least not at this point. So, who else?
The Undertaker? Triple H? Chris Jericho? Kane? The Ultimate Warrior? Darren Young as a The Good Black Cena? Not a lot of viable, long term choices.
There is a theme starting to develop here. With all the youth movement and building of new superstars going on, the WWE has yet to do the one thing that is key for their future: Build a new top Face. Part of the problem is you can’t “build” one. You can’t force the fans to cheer for someone, especially on a grand scale like “Top Babface.” Yeah, sure, Vince pretty much did that with Hogan back 1984. When he pinned The Iron Sheik and started posing and flexing, we were essentially being told “here is your new hero.” And it absolutely worked, but that was a different era, different mindset, and a once in a lifetime capturing of lightning in a bottle. As was Austin 3:16 and The Rock after that. (Though I still contend Hogan was bigger to the world at large at his ‘85 to ‘87 peak.) As of right now, there is no one primed to take that mantle as The Face of the company, the defender of good in the face of evil, the hero.
No one, of course, except for John Cena.
Which is why Cena’s “vintage” response to The Rock not only cemented his position as the number one babyface, but it proved you need him in that role and it added the wrinkle to keep it going…
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