‘It was very difficult for me personally to receive boos even though I hadn't done anything wrong. To overcome that, and give my answers on the track, makes me very proud.’
Sebstian Vettel (Four-Time Formula One Champion).
Sometimes you hit an era in sports when it is dominated by one individual. When everything that happens revolves around that one person. The company is behind them and there is the ‘majority’ of the fan base behind them too. It can also be hurtful for the company. Domination. Seeing that one person, again and again, destroy all-comers and long-standing rivals. It often creates a malaise in the product which is hard to stop. In a way, it’s no-one’s fault. Certain elements are in alignment and all you can do is keep watching or switch off for a few years.
It happens in every sport. Look at Sebastian Vettel in Formula One. Four World Championships in a row. He is, quite simply, better than everyone else back in the paddock. He is the best driver in the best car backed by the best engineers. Unstoppable. This year, however, he is being booed while on top of the winner’s podium. Why? Continued success breeds anger in sport. I’ve followed F1 for years and don’t remember a winner getting booed quite so regularly. It’s strange to hear. Same with tennis in the Sampras era. Ditto with Floyd Mayweather. Or the Klitschko’s. When no-one can beat a sportsperson then it’s difficult to care. Hell, Mayweather even took on a young pretender in Saul Alvarez two months ago and still owned him. Success breeds contempt.
Look at John Cena. He gets a similar, albeit louder, reaction to Vettel. Boos and cheers. Most kids love him. Most adults hate him. It’s a deafening, passionate atmosphere when he comes out to the ring and, mostly, he deals well with it. Why is he such a polarising figure though? Surely he is our generations Stone Cold or Rock or Hogan? By and large, people look back at their dominant eras with a smile on their face even though I remember getting really annoyed that Stone Cold always won and, most annoyingly, took the title of Kane after one night and won three Royal Rumbles. He was unstoppable. Now. He’s great. He’s a legend. Back in his era though, and I wasn’t alone in this, I hated that dominance. Luckily, similar to tennis now with Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray, Stone Cold’s era also ended up having The Rock in it too so there were two legends to carve up the pie.
Does Cena have a ‘Rock’ though? To all intents and purposes, no, he doesn’t. He’s far and away the biggest name in the company. I think CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are brilliant, I really do, but they are not on Cena’s level. They haven’t dominated the product like Cena has done. Did they put the World Heavyweight Title on Punk last month? No. To elevate that title from the doldrums, there was only one conceivable person they could have put it on, Cena. The thing is, they’re not elevating it for most of us, regular fans, they’re elevating it for the fans they’ve lost in TV ratings and PPV buys. They need another strong title to bring people back to the product at large and Smackdown at a lesser level.
Cena’s domination over the product can keenly be felt when he’s not around. All of a sudden you get to the end of an episode of Raw and realise the crowd has been really quiet for three hours. That’s a combination of poor in-ring segments and maybe not really reacting to, say, Daniel Bryan as we’d hope, but it’s also because that 50/50 ear-piercing difference in opinion for Cena creates so much adrenaline. His dominance has, arguably, been pushed down our throats but, now it’s there, we need it more than ever because other wrestlers don’t get those big moments either during their entrance or in the ring.
Again, there are plenty of big-names out there but the only one that’s been built alongside Cena, Randy Orton, is currently on top. Punk and Bryan are huge fan favourites but they’re not getting new fans in. Randy Orton holds the top title but, he’s the B-Grade player when put alongside John Cena. Again, that dominance is so all-consuming that during The Authority storyline, Cena can go off by himself and loudly build up the World Heavyweight Title instead.
How did that dominance begin? He was a plucky young up-start who got backstage plaudits from Jericho, Angle, Taker and Bearer before a Halloween gimmick change to a Vanilla Ice rapper. To be honest, it was Cena’s capturing of the United States Championship against the Big Show at WrestleMania XX that made him. He defeated the monster and became the fan favourite. He was even the character who introduced a ‘new’ title with the US Spinner Belt design. Not many wrestlers get the opportunity to debut a new belt. That begins to tell the audience something. They begin to see the potential trust the company is putting in this new guy...so the audience do too. His later defeat of JBL for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21 strangely, for me, didn’t feel as big a deal as the US title triumph because by that point we could all see where Cena was heading. To the top, and fast.
Cena is a beast. Look at his recent return from injury. Also, in WWE programming, there is no-one he can’t beat. In any situation. WWE are clearly trying to build him up as the greatest ever for, perhaps, political reasons. In a good way, Cena is a company man. A one-company man at that. He doesn’t get involved with scandal, he’s great to his fans and even when he goes through a divorce it is done as privately as can be. He is good to the company because the company is good to him. To that end, Ric Flair and his troubles and Hulk Hogan and his bad behaviour (is that the best way to describe the sex-tape incident?), whilst still true legends, are a bit embarrassing. Money problems, regular divorces, arm-wrestling Mayors suspected of smoking crack, these aren’t the things that WWE wants in this era. Yes, Flair is still around and it’s looking likely that Hogan too will return for a short stint, but that face, that person who represents their sport, needs to be someone, well, ‘clean’.
Cena’s dominance stems from this. He will end with more titles than any other superstar and will be the poster boy for all time. I find it interesting that Bruno Sammartino, another true, clean legend is back in the fold. The company need to show the outside world, and the TV/PPV fans they’ve lost, that those days of wrestlers dying young, or taking steroids or worse, are a thing of the past. Look at 78 year old Bruno as evidence and John Cena, more titles than anyone else and more ‘wishes’ granted than anyone else. They need this. They need the parents of today to see that this ‘sports entertainment’ is a good one for the kids. Who does the WWE trust to come out and make a speech about the ‘Susan G Komen Foundation’? Cena. Why? Because even the adult haters will respect and cheer him because they all know he is the face of the company they love, storylines aside, he is the man. That is what the ‘Cena era of dominance’ is all about.
Look at it another way, the flip-side to the Cena coin is Randy Orton. Yes, he’s back on top now but he can’t be trusted by the company. If he was the trusted face and thousands of parents unsure of this wrestling programme their children are watching Google his name they’ll find results for suspensions, tattoos, incidents with handbags, etc. Do the same for Cena and you’ll find his divorce, yes, but you’ll also see that, TMZ rubbish aside, it was amicable. Again, whether we as adults like it or not, WWE needs to think about the children who will one day grow up and bring their own kids to arenas around the world. To do that, they need the Cena era. His dominance.
Myself, and many others, have said for a long time that Cena has gone past the point of the heel turn. Yes, maybe it’ll one day happen but what is a heel if not someone to boo? Well, the grown-ups in the crowd have that in Cena. What it means by ‘polarising’ is that he is the ultimate face for the kids and the ultimate heel for the adults. When he smiles, the kids love it, for the adults, he’s rubbing it in. It’s perfect. To be honest, Cena turned heel for fifty percent of the audience when he defeated JBL back in 2005. The Cena era began in 2004 but his dominance began that night.
Yes, these eras of dominance are hard to stomach at the time. I love Formula One but have barely watched it for two years. Same with tennis during the Sampras era. I know what you’re going to say too, that if people switch of during eras of dominance then Cena is ‘bad for business’. The difference with sports-entertainment though is that you can focus on what you want. Am I excited about The Wyatts going after Punk and Bryan. You bet your arse I am! Cena? Not so much. Doesn’t do it for me. I’m a big fan of him but over the past ten years I’ve seen it all. The kids haven’t though. As adults we can pick and choose. The kids however, need to see Cena. They need their hero. He is the only person they want to see.
From an historical point of view, in fifty years time when the 100 Year Anniversary documentary is released, Cena will be the pivotal face of it. He is the Pele, the Ali the Bolt of his ‘sport’. The WWE needs the Cena era to be a success simply so legends like Hogan and Flair can still have their moment in the sun but not in the spotlight. The Attitude era is long gone. This is the era of stocks, shares, viewers and buy-rates, and Cena does more than any to bring good news to those elements. Who knows, in twenty years time when someone else is dominating wrestling we’ll look back on the Cena-era and say, ‘well he always had great matches when it mattered and was good on the mic. This new kid has five moves and is always smiling. I never liked him at the time but I kind of miss Cena now.’ Or maybe we’ll just always get angry when we see that picture of him holding his seventeenth world title as we sit in our rocking chair smoking a pipe and grimacing. I think I’ll be sitting in my rocking chair smiling though as I remember Money in the Bank 2011 and Cena’s role in it before drinking my whiskey and closing my eyes.
I have certain things that I stand for, certain things that I believe in, and if you don't like it and you tell me to go to hell, I think that's your God-given right as a fan. It's one of those deals where I'm that one guy who is outside of that realm of good guy, bad guy. I'm just me, and it elicits a response both positive and negative.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.