Here’s a quick history lesson for all of you. I’m sure you probably remember it quite well considering it was only a year ago: Bray Wyatt debuted. Bray Wyatt gained momentum. Bray Wyatt got over. Bray Wyatt lost clean to John Cena at WrestleMania. Bray Wyatt beat John Cena at Extreme Rules, but only did so by cheating. Bray Wyatt lost again to John Cena at Payback. Bray Wyatt lost his momentum. Bray Wyatt became lost.
Now let’s swap out Bray Wyatt with Rusev, switch a few matches around, and see what we have: Rusev debuted. Rusev gained momentum. Rusev got over. Rusev faced John Cena at Fastlane and beat him, but only by cheating. Rusev lost clean to John Cena at WrestleMania. Rusev lost to John Cena again at Extreme Rules. Rusev lost momentum. …
Rusev will soon be facing John Cena in an I Quit Match at Payback. I don’t know whether Rusev will defeat Cena or not, but it is a lose-lose situation either way. If Cena wins, Rusev will have expunged all of his credibility and momentum that he had gained since he debuted as a skilled brute that can’t be stopped. He will be lost. If Rusev wins, then it does him little favor because he looks like a fool for not being able to beat Cena clean in a standard one-on-one match.
Is this always going to be WWE’s plan with John Cena and rising stars? Is he going to beat them multiple times and completely derail the momentum that they had gained over months of hard work?
WWE still sees John Cena as a world-beater, a guy who overcomes the odds and can defeat any wrestler that steps in front of him. That’s all well and good if he’s beating guys like Kane, Big Show, Randy Orton, and Triple H; those guys are all established veterans who can take the loss and not have to worry about losing any momentum because who cares? They’re veterans; they don’t need to prove their worth to the crowd anymore because the crowd accepts them as veterans.
What is happening instead is that WWE has John Cena beating hot up-and-comers on multiple, particularly consecutive occasions. WWE are sacrificing the credibility and momentum of those rising stars in order to build up the credibility and momentum of John Cena. Herein lies the problem: To think that John Cena still needs to be built up is absolutely ludicrous.
Over the past ten years, John Cena has accomplished practically everything there is to accomplish in WWE. He has had multiple World, US, and Tag Title reigns, won the Royal Rumble twice and the Money in the Bank briefcase, and has feuded and beaten legendary wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Kurt Angle, and The Rock. The only realistic box that hasn’t been checked off the list is a match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania, but even that has lost considerable appeal due to The Undertaker’s streak being broken and his advanced age. There is really nothing left for Cena to do. He doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone anymore.
But WWE does not see it that way. To them, John Cena’s worth as a wrestler is the equivalent to Jason Statham’s adrenaline level in the movie Crank. It’s constantly on the decline, so Cena needs to constantly replenish it by beating other wrestlers. And so WWE gives him these younger guys—who do need their worth to be built up because they are not established veterans yet—to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, nor will ever exist given Cena’s permanent position as top dog of the company.
Even when the rising star does get a win over Cena, the victory isn’t as impressive because they have to cheat to win. Bray Wyatt did beat Cena at Extreme Rules in a Steel Cage Match. But how did he do it? Did he simply pin him 1-2-3 after a hard-fought match? No, a demon child with a distorted voice distracted Cena long enough for Bray to capitalize. Rusev did beat Cena at Fastlane. But again, how did he do it? Rusev had to low blow Cena in order for him to lock in the Accolade and win.
There’s the classic way of thinking that a heel always has to cheat. But consider this: Wouldn’t Bray or Rusev’s status as a heel be even more potent if they did beat Cena clean? They could hold that over Cena’s head, taunting him and all of his fans with it to no end. “John, I knew I was better than you and I proved it fair and square,” or something along those lines. Not only would it build their credibility up with the audience as a capable force, but it could also give Cena some interesting character development: Maybe Cena begins to doubt himself, or maybe he turns up the viciousness in his matches going forward. That scenario has a lot more spice than the standard feud of Good Guy John Cena vs. Nasty, Cheating Heel.
And it’s not just Bray Wyatt and Rusev who have suffered. Look at Umaga, Ryback, The Miz, and The Nexus. Their credibility was never the same after they lost to Cena more than once. How can the crowd care about a rising star when they look like idiots trying to beat a man who has repeatedly proven to the world that he is their better? I know there are some exceptions to the rule: Daniel Bryan pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring to win the WWE Championship, as did Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. But those exceptions are small in number in comparison to the amount of men that Cena has defeated and stripped of credibility.
As I write about this, I am reminded of a moment in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from 1927. I saw the movie as part of a college course I took about the history of film during Germany’s Weimar Republic era.
The scene in question occurs when the wealthy main character Freder ventures into the workers’ underground city and comes across a massive machine. A malfunction causes the machine to overload, killing and injuring many workers. Freder, knocked back by the force of the explosion, hallucinates that the giant machine is really Moloch, an ancient demon of human sacrifice. A group of chained human beings are led to the fiery mouth of the monster, where they are thrown to their demise. Breaking his hallucination, the main character sees that a new group of workers has replaced the old one and are now manning the machine.
John Cena is WWE’s very own Moloch Machine. He’s an unstoppable goliath capable of breaking even the strongest of men. When one man goes down, another is there to take his place and eventually meet the same fate.
I know John Cena will one day retire; he can’t wrestle forever, no matter how hard he trains. His reign as the Moloch Machine will come to an end. But don’t worry, folks. By that point, chances are WWE will already have a new Moloch Machine ready to take Cena’s place: A blue-eyed Samoan with a vest, a spear, and a winning smile. Believe that.