It was the turn of a new decade and WWE was in a very interesting spot. They were a couple of years into the PG Era and John Cena, as he had been for the past half-decade, was still the franchise player of WWE at his peak. However, there was one extremely interesting angle in 2010 that people still can’t forget about.
There has been a constant love for invasion angles. Though WWE has had an unsuccessful past in terms of invasion angles (referring specifically to 2001), this was still something that was fresh and exciting. Back in 2010, NXT was still at its infancy and the concept was entirely different from what it is today.
It was a game show comprising of a series of “rookies”, including one Daniel Bryan who had already been one of the world’s best for years prior to that. Wade Barrett ended up winning the NXT competition and while it was assumed that all the other members would depart, it turns out they were all signed to proper contracts.
In the middle of 2010, one of the most shocking endings to RAW had taken place as John Cena and other superstars at ringside got beaten down by these NXT rookies, who touted themselves as a faction named “The Nexus”. However, Daniel Bryan accidentally choked Justin Roberts too hard with his own necktie, allegedly forcing WWE to release Bryan temporarily (it was supposedly due to an issue that a sponsor had).
Over the coming two months, the Nexus would make a habit out of beating down others, whoever they were or wherever they were. There was naturally a lot of intrigue to the angle because if there’s anything that WWE fans love more than anything – it’s chaos. Whether it was ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin wreaking havoc in the Attitude Era, Braun Strowman destroying and manhandling people in the late 2010s or more.
The chaos would ultimately lead to Cena confronting the Nexus, who offered him a place in their faction. When he refused, he was beaten, battered and scarred, forced to form an alliance with allies and even some rivals of the past. Eventually, he assembled a 7-man team comprising of himself, Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, John Morrison, The Great Khali and R-Truth. After Khali was beaten down, The Miz was offered the position but he didn’t confirm until much later.
So the day had come and the first SummerSlam main event of the decade was set. It would be the 7 NXT “rookies” vs Team WWE – filled with veterans and experienced locker room members alike. Naturally, the sentiment among fans was that Nexus should have logically won. They were a new faction, they needed to make a big impact and giving them a win over such huge names would naturally boost their status quite a bit while also establishing Wade Barrett, the faction leader, as a proper main event star.
It was clear that Barrett in particular held the brightest future in the group and this was something that should have been capitalized on. Edge and Chris Jericho revealed later that they wanted to put over The Nexus and didn’t see the sense in themselves winning. On an episode of Talk is Jericho, Edge and Jericho discussed the conversation they had with Cena and how they fought for Barrett to go over. (H/T Cageside Seats)
Jericho: It was WWE Team vs. Team Nexus…and the finish boiled down to you [Edge] and me [Jericho] were in there, but it was Cena against a couple of them. John wanted to do things a certain way and we told him ‘you’re wrong’. Remember that? And he did it anyways, and it sucked. And then afterwards he came over to us and said ‘I should have listened to you, but I wasn’t seeing it that way. And sometimes you just don’t see it that way, you know?
Edge: It’s one of those things…where he was adamant about what he wanted to do. And I remember, I was like, ‘fine, I’m out of the match by that point’.
Jericho: [Laughes] Exactly. He wanted to get DDT’d on the floor by Barrett, then kick out and beat them both. And you and I were like, ‘that’s the dumbest thing. That’s just throwing it away for no reason’.
Edge: They should have gone over because they were so hot.
Jericho: We were fighting for Barrett to go over. And, in all fairness, where’s Wade Barrett now? They should have listened to us.
Right as the match was about to start, The Miz finally revealed that he was willing to join. However, Cena rejected him and replaced him with his NXT “rookie” Daniel Bryan, who returned just months after being released from the company. As it turned out, it was quite a great match but the finish had many, including superstars backstage question Cena’s decision.
As read above, Cena instantly regretted his decision to go over in his usual “Super Cena” fashion and fans detested him more for it. It ultimately boiled down to Cena and Barrett and Cena ended up submitting the young British superstar. In a Q&A much later on, Cena doubled down, but did slightly defend his decision. He said:
In that particular moment, it was too much. I think if presented in another way, it could have been a little more palatable. But I can’t change the television show, I’ve never had that power and that’s something I don’t do. If you look at a laundry list of my opponents, you can tell that it’s exactly how I operate. I guessed wrong on the way that the story was told, and I guess that’s why people are so up-in-arms about it. But we tell so many stories. I was wrong once.
Justin Gabriel and others have openly stated that they knew it was the wrong call. Gabriel, in particular, revealed that they only found out two hours before, but since they were rookies, they didn’t want to be too pushy about it. Unfortunately, in this situation, it all went downhill for The Nexus from here. They never regained that initial momentum that they had and it became a huge missed opportunity for WWE in the long run.
It was the kind of story that could have played out over the course of another year atleast, but even with the spin-offs from the Nexus, it was never quite the same again. They missed the boat on making Barrett a huge main event star and that’s something that’s well-known backstage. However, Cena shouldn’t get the sole blame as WWE failed on their part to help Nexus regain that lost momentum.