The X-Factor: The Rise of John Cena

Joey MacQueen


The rise of a superstar can thank a variety of reasons. Every case seems to be different from the last. In certain cases, a superstar is pushed into the main-event, shoved down the viewer’s throats, and we feel that we’re being forced to cheer for someone. Sometimes, someone slowly builds a report with the fans that results in a slow, steady push to the top, until the superstar is getting the biggest pops of the night. And, in a few cases, a superstar falls into the top babyface role by accident. Batista’s faux-turn on Triple H in December 2004 ended up being his best move, and gave him a main-event position as Wrestlemania as the top babyface of the show. Several years ago, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s heel run ended when the fans slowly began cheering for him, even more so than his babyface opponent. The fan wants what it wants.

In the unusual (and often bizarre) case of John Cena, being the top superstar currently in the company hasn’t been the complete blessing that it should be. For a few years, John Cena climbed the ladder of success, rarely getting caught on any obstacles along the way. The push was constant, until he became the WWE Champion at Wrestlemania 21. The problems didn’t take effect until he became champion. What made a fraction of the audience turn on the Doctor of Thuganomics? Does it really matter if the audience is mixed? Do I really need to ask all these questions to keep your interest?

John Cena began his official WWE TV career on Smackdown in Summer of 2002 as one of the final remnants of the “Ruthless Aggression” era, taking on Kurt Angle on Smackdown. Cena was young and fresh, but the spark was there. It was just the beginning. When John Cena took to an actual gimmick, it was the white rapper role that we still see today, however it was in heel form initially. Finally, when the turn came, the fans started cheering wildly for the man we apparently cannot see. This lead to two United States title reign, and Cena is currently a two-time WWE champion. John Cena is set to face The Game, Triple H, at Wrestlemania 22.

Now, why has the popularity of John Cena subsided lately? Sure, Cena is over with teenage girls, we know that. In fact, I have no major problems with John Cena, despite being the same song-and-dance every week. However, it’s incredibly difficult to ignore the boos that Cena gets on a near-weekly basis. The weakest response to John Cena’s turn in popularity is that the fans can like him, and the fans can hate him. It’s their choice. Well, of course it’s their choice! It’s our choice to cheer whoever we want. I thought that was obvious. Do we really need Cena and the WWE telling us that, in this special case, we don’t have to be sheep and we don’t have to cheer the good guy if we don’t want to? That’s not the answer. This isn’t going to be a textbook case of reverse psychology, where the audience says “Hmm, now that we can boo him, it’s not fun anymore!”. A large part of the fans do not want John Cena in the role that he’s in.

Let’s go back to the beginning of what should have been the John Cena era. In January 2005, John Cena was bringing fans to their feet on Smackdown every week. When he entered into the Royal Rumble, the fans went nuts. The pop for Cena was phenomenal, and it seemed to be Cena’s year. Then, near the very end of the Rumble, Batista entered into the Rumble with a pop that was equal Cena’s reaction, and possibly beat Cena’s reaction. In the supposed era of John Cena, Cena was overshadowed by a rising Batista. What was most likely going to be John Cena’s Royal Rumble ended up being Batista’s Rumble, securing Batista’s spot at Wrestlemania, whereas John Cena had to take the Plan B route to Wrestlemania. Later next month at No Way Out, Cena defeated Kurt Angle for a shot against JBL at Wrestlemania 21.

Mere weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, JBL cost Cena the US Title in a match against Orlando Jordan. Jordan defeated Cena… he DEFEATED Cena just a few weeks before Wrestlemania! Talk about a bad idea. Then, to make matters so much worse, John Cena and JBL wrestled for about ten minutes, making up for the lack of time that was eaten up by the likes of Trish Stratus, Christy Hemme, Big Show, and Akebono. The lackluster match did not bode well for the all-new people’s champion. But, let’s face facts: anyone that was a Cena mark did not care about any of that. But, it paved the road for what John Cena would face in just a few months.

Upon Cena’s arrival to RAW, he was greeted with the biggest pop of his career. The Rise was over.The fall was about to begin. Now, don’t get me wrong, though. John Cena is still a success. This is not in any way an anti-Cena piece, nor am I saying that Cena is a failure. Cena is successful in many ways, and Cena is certainly one of WWE’s biggest assets. Over the next six months, John Cena had feuds with Christian, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. In between these mediocre feuds, John Cena and Eric Bischoff participated in a horrible Austin/McMahon-style feud that I believe played a large part in Cena’s downfall. In Bischoff’s last days, the fans didn’t really care about Bischoff, so Cena’s attacks on the former GM were a lost cause.

On the subject of the two major feuds (and one minor feud with Christian), John Cena worked rather well with Chris Jericho. But, at WWE Summerslam, Jericho’s fans were out in full force, chanting “Let’s Go Jericho!” in response to the “Let’s Go Cena!” chants. The lack of confidence from fans began, and the popularity declined. When John Cena got in the ring with the future legend, Kurt Angle, many of Angle’s fans cheered loudly for the Olympic Gold Medalist. Both Jericho and Angle are loved by fans, whether they’re babyface or heel, just like Austin and The Rock, and even Triple H. It’s difficult to go up against either man and expect to get all of the audience’s respect. Was John Cena put into an uphill battle from the start? If we want to talk about proven respect, Batista got a better reaction in North Carolina a year ago against Ric Flair. IN FLAIR COUNTRY! Surely Batista was in an far bigger uphill battle in that situation. My point is that John Cena was a proven talent, but for some reason, he isn’t big enough to get more respect than the likes of Angle and Jericho.

Finally, against Edge, the ratings went up when Edge won the WWE Title. Was it because Edge won the title? Who knows? The feud was short-lived, leading into Triple H’s feud with Cena. Even though Cena had a slight rise in popularity with fans, it still wasn’t what one would expect from a significant babyface champion. Edge is a true heel, without the respect that has been gained by Angle and Jericho, and still Cena’s pops weren’t as big as they could have been.

In Cena’s current story with Triple H, Hunter is falling into the same spot as Y2J and the Gold Medalist. Hunter is respected by many fans, and let’s face it: thus far, he is the only opponent to Cena to do better on the microphone. His dialogue with Cena is extraordinary, and in my eyes, this will help John Cena in the long-run. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much this will help Cena. His past opponents have been aggressive and ruthless (yes, more references to ruthless aggression), while Triple H is calm. Almost like Batista last year, Triple H is not losing his cool whatsoever in the build-up to his main-event match. At this point, I want Triple H to win the title. I think it could help John Cena, and ultimately, I think it will give us new babyface challengers for the title.

Which leads me to my solution for John Cena. It’s almost enough to make me want to break the monitor when I read the one solution everyone comes up with: turn Cena heel. That is not the answer. John Cena is not The Rock. Most will compare him to Rock, but Cena has yet to reach the heights of popularity that The Rock reached in his WWE career. Right now, John Cena is in a position that I don’t believe he has earned completely. At Wrestlemania, Triple H should defeat John Cena and Cena should take a few months away from the main-event to solidify himself further on RAW. I don’t think Cena should take a vacation, because he will only come back into the main-event, and immediately lose any momentum he may try to build during the break. Absence won’t make the hard grow fonder.

Simply, John Cena should take the Triple H road. He should spend a few months to a year wrestling other talent without any titles involved. Why not put Cena into matches with Shelton Benjamin, Rob Conway (what can I say, I still have hopes that he’ll get a push someday), or perhaps Cena could continue a feud with Edge without a WWE Title involved. I’m not saying Cena is a bad champion or a bad babyface, but I don’t believe Cena is a proven champion and needs to re-build himself. Is a spot away from the main-event so demeaning? Of course not. He just needs to make an even bigger name for himself without the added burden of carrying the WWE title.

Yes, people are booing John Cena. Will they not boo him if he’s working a match that isn’t the main-event? Of course they’ll still boo him at first. But the spotlight just needs to be taken off Cena for now. He’s being put under a bright light in the position he’s in, and absolutely no one can avoid how the crowds are reacting. It’s unavoidable in every way. And, if he doesn’t gain back the popularity he once had (he had it for about three weeks), then the talk of turning Cena heel as a solution can officially begin.

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