On April 1st 2012, in front of a capacity crowd filling Sun Life Stadium in Miami, The Rock lay motionless in the center of the ring. John Cena was seemingly moments away from escaping Wrestlemania with the victory in this “Once in a Lifetime” match, a win John Cena professed he absolutely needed. John Cena however managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, momentarily throwing his ideals and humility out the window, in favor of arrogance and disrespect the likes of which we have never seen from this John Cena. In an attempt to mock The Rock, he fell victim to a devastating “Rock Bottom” and was pinned in the middle of the ring, 1-2-3.
Three seconds. Only three seconds had passed, but so much had happened as a result. John Cena betrayed his mantra of Hustle, Loyalty and Respect, and it cost him big time on the biggest stage of his career. To this point in his career, there is nothing that John Cena hasn’t been able to muster up the will to do. He has been uncompromising and unstoppable for so long, that seeing him in a matter of moments, betray himself and come up short in the “Once in a Lifetime” match one year in the making, was a stroke of narrative genius. It was poetic, it was tragic, and it was wonderful theatre.
No one was more thrilled than I, not only because I’m a huge fan of The Rock, but because I’m an advocate of great storytelling. As much as people have complained in the past about “Super-Cena” and the WWE’s unwillingness to ever really make us believe that he was truly in peril, a moment like the one we were all privy to witnessing at Wrestlemania XXVIII makes it all mean something more. I know that the WWE didn’t plan it this way from the get go, but regardless we will be able to watch the most powerful narrative that the John Cena character can provide play out before our eyes: “The Plight of John Cena”.
It is universally understood that every great hero falls. From movies to television series, comic books to literature, hell even real life, we as human being revel in the demise of a hero. It isn’t because we are sycophants who enjoy seeing the reputation people (fictional and real) have worked hard to create be destroyed and distorted, and it isn’t because we delight in the suffering of others (well most of us anyway). The reason that it is human nature to be captivated by the fall of a hero is because it shows us all that no one is infallible. We take comfort in knowing that heroes, as perfect or brilliant as they seem, are not invincible and face the same harsh realities of mortality.
Take the fall of Batman, a character I’ve often compared John Cena with. He seemed at times to be unstoppable. Sure he’d be backed into a corner, and at times all would seem lost, but he always found a way out, a way to win and keep Gotham safe. That was until the acclaimed Knightfall storyline, where Batman was outsmarted and left broken by Bane. The Knightfall storyline was one that completely engrossed the fans of the character, and got people excited to continue reading. They were essentially witnessing the plight of Batman. He had been truly defeated for the first time, left paralyzed with a broken back by Bane, and had fallen from grace.
This is where John Cena is right now as a character. He went one on one with The Great One, and finally encountered a mountain he couldn’t climb. Furthermore he let the WWE Universe and the other Superstars on the roster know that what was once uncompromising, could now be compromised, and what was once unstoppable could be stopped. In an industry full of sharks, with everyone striving to be the most dominant, John Cena’s blood was now in the water.
Since Cena’s Wrestlemania defeat at the hands of The Rock, we have seen John beaten by Lord Tensai, ravaged for weeks John Laurinaitis’ hired gun Brock Lesnar (which includes a savage beating like we’ve never seen Cena take at Extreme Rules) and suffer a loss to “Mr. Excitement” Big Johnny at Over The Limit. While I may have changed the order of these events (it felt weird having Brock come in and lose to Cena despite beating him ruthlessly during John’s first big post Wrestlemania bout), and refrained from making these PPV matches more important than the top Titles, I agree with the overall theme for John Cena since Wrestlemania. He’s falling, and he’s yet to hit bottom, so we’ll continue to see him stumble forward, while everyone fights to steal his spot. The key to the plight of John Cena is seeing how the character deals with the issues he is encountering. True character is revealed in times of strife.
How wonderful would it be to have Superstars from Cena’s past return to try to take advantage of a Cena who seems to have lost something since his loss to The Rock? You’ve already started with Big Show, next logical person who’d try to pick the bones is Jericho, maybe Wade Barrett, and hell if you could swing it, try to get Batista back for a while to get himself a piece of a weakened John Cena. All of this should happen to get Cena to his lowest point, so that he can break through to the inevitable next chapter in the plight of John Cena… The Rise.
You see, as much as watching the downfall of a hero captivates people, because it helps them to cope with their own mortality, they are also enthralled in the fall from grace because it creates an opportunity for a person to rise. In Knightfall, Batman recovers, refocuses, and rises to reclaim Gotham from evil. The rise is not guaranteed (especially in real life instances of the fall from grace) but in many ways the climb to redemption is more riveting, mainly because we can live vicariously through the character’s rise, and it makes us feel like we can overcome our own hardships, no matter how terrible things get.
Michael Vick’s return to football and eventual rise with the Philadelphia Eagles is a prime example. Sure some people will always hate him, but his return to prominence in the NFL was mesmerizing to witness. Tiger Woods is in the same boat. People want to seem him rise, as evidenced by the excitement whenever he wins a tournament. Should he ever catch and possibly pass Jack Nicklaus in Major Tournament wins, the story will be made even bigger because of the way he rebounded from his scandal.
The WWE has for years been begging each member of the WWE Universe to get behind Cena with moderate success. They have finally figured out that the best way to get people to really accept a character is to put them through a compelling and familiar narrative that tests them and reveals their true character to us. The hero is born, the hero falls, and the hero rises; a story as old as time. Its hard to predict what will happen once John Cena rises from his current plight, but if the WWE plays this right and actually strives to evoke true sympathy during the tragic fall of John Cena, he will gain an unprecedented level of support (at least for him) during his eventual rise.
At the end of the day, despite some missteps mainly due to the order some events have taken place, I give this angle a B, and hope that the WWE isn’t too scared to allow their top star to look weaker before he returns to dominance.
There you have it, but what do you think? Are you enjoying the Plight of John Cena? Do you agree with my grade? Could you see yourself getting behind the character during his eventual rise?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying how great have the NBA Conference Finals been? Both series Knotted at 2 wins apiece, I couldn’t ask for more excitement! Go Spurs Go!