The Brand Extension #6: John Cena's Time is Up

The Brand Extension #6: John Cena’s Time is Up

The Fiend Bray Wyatt and John Cena

By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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John Cena has returned to WWE television with more audacity than normal these past few weeks. My tolerance of him in recent years has diminished so rapidly, it’s been in my best interests to skip most if not all appearances, for the sake of my own peace of mind. Though try as I might to ignore his impending Wrestlemania program with The Fiend, I can’t. As his words used to describe Bray Wyatt, and other nameless wrestlers, last week reignited in me quite the ire. 

For anyone unaware, the character Bray Wyatt considers his previous Wrestlemania loss to Cena as the start of a downward spiral. One that years down the line was responsible for the emergence of The Fiend. This past Smackdown saw Cena shirk off any responsibility for Wyatt’s failures. He continued by saying Wyatt, and many others who privately and publicly share the same sentiment, believe their own hype. That when the demand is too great, and the work too heavy, they blame everyone but themselves. In summary, these people, Wyatt included, are lazy. 

Such incendiary comments may last, too. They will certainly shine brighter than previous instances of when Cena has called out wrestlers for their alleged shortcomings. The backdrop of silence and empty seats in WWE’s Performance Centre will do that to many ‘Mania building segments over the coming weeks. Ironically, even with the imposed Coronavirus lockdown forcing WWE’s hand, more eyes may witness and remember this segment than normal when all is said and done. A question posed by this particular example is: could it damage Bray Wyatt even further after his controversial defeat to Goldberg at Super Showdown?

This level of disrespect surprises me, really, considering the gall with which he has paraded around in front of the WWE Universe in recent years. There was, admittedly, a refreshing mid-decade spell for Cena detractors like myself. His mid-card tour de force did go some way in elevating a small handful of wrestlers. Kevin Owens and AJ Styles respectively were two who benefited from such a “rub”. What followed, however, was an egregious exercise in self-aggrandising, and even forced self-deprecation, that undid all the good will I temporarily held for him. 

A Wrestlemania program carried on television through to April predominantly by The Miz and Maryse, only for it to culminate in Cena’s in-ring proposal. One that had as much credibility as the hypocritical John Cena presented to us by the Mizanins in those preceding weeks. Another, in which Cena’s crisis in confidence saw him emotionally blackmail The Undertaker into a match on the Show of Shows. A match whose immediate build hijacked what should have been a more momentous occasion than it was in Charlotte Flair Vs Asuka. Portions away from ‘Mania season that took more than a year for Baron Corbin to recover from, with a failed MITB cash-in and resultant Summerslam humiliation. Or Roman Reigns, with whom his fourth wall breaking mini-feud did more harm than good. Less a passing of the torch, more an unnecessary reminder by Cena that he still considers it his yard. 

The above all took place in a short timeframe, as far as Cena’s lengthy career is concerned. The list soon becomes exhaustive if you begin to delve deeper. Before (and after) his well received United States Championship run, Rusev. Zak Ryder, amidst his own popularity swell way back when, as well as CM Punk in the build to Wrestlemania. Even Nexus, arguably in its entirety, before that. On and on the list goes. This time around, then, it strikes me as par for the course for Cena to proclaim to the masses that it’s time for him to take a backseat. Only to then instantly agree to a feud against someone whose stock already took a nosedive not twenty four hours prior. 

Many argue that Wyatt’s standing within the company hasn’t wavered after being taken out of the Universal Title picture and into the Wrestlemania match with Cena. Some have even suggested that such a character didn’t need a main event championship to be an attraction in the first place. That The Fiend’s uniqueness is enough to merit a separate spotlight. Those people may be correct, but what’s done is done. And even if their reasoning for such an opinion is due to the mainstream appeal such a program will attract, that’s not to say that what makes The Fiend so special won’t be damaged as a result. 

We have already begun to see Wyatt’s “powers” – for want of a better word – diminish, through the pleading nature in which he pointed towards the Wrestlemania sign. Since when has The Fiend asked people for matches in such a polite, Oliver Twist manner? Granted, the Firefly Funhouse personality would love nothing more than for his friends to come over to play. The undertones behind those requests, however, are sinister to their very core. Regardless, both identities, whose goals are one in the same, have made his opponents’ lives a living hell. With teases, sneak attacks, feats of invincibility, and preying on them and theirs in the comfort of their own home. Does John Cena suffer the same fate? Not yet, anyway. Instead, he is shown respect by someone who John himself soundly defeated already, six years ago. 

The question then becomes whether or not Bray Wyatt was indeed damaged by the rivalry loss he suffered at John Cena’s hands in 2014. One could argue that he made a name for himself at the time. That he had the makings of a star in his own right, over and above the potential barrier his stablemates may have held him under. Yet, the storytelling device Bray Wyatt adhered to in this feud was repeated time and again from thereon in. That modus operandi of hunting a foe, warring for two or three months worth of PPVs, then ultimately losing. There was no growth in Wyatt’s character. For years. Each feud saw the effectiveness of his character in WWE’s canon regurgitate itself with diminishing returns. While such a cycle’s blame cannot all be laid at Cena’s feet, he certainly tipped over the first domino.

It took more than a year’s absence for Wyatt and WWE to work together and completely repackage him to become what we see today. A man reborn, more divisive and controversial than ever. Even with the debates over the extremeness of a character such as The Fiend on what is essentially a family show, it is like nothing we have ever seen before. Despite all of this, all the stops and starts over the years, the missed opportunities, Cena has the temerity to call Bray Wyatt lazy.

How can you keep a straight face and say such a thing? About a man who put so much thought and attention into his promos, many of which housed clues regarding his future incarnation? About a wrestler whose face turns, signed off on by The Rock and Matt Hardy, were hampered through injury? A man who won the WWE Title after years of graft, only for it to actually be a long and drawn out game of hot potato in which the less compelling Jinder Mahal was the victor? 

It’s easy for Cena to make such accusations when he had a multitude of opportunities handed to him on a silver plate. Hard work does deserve its own reward, yes, but not to the extent that Cena dominated our screens, to the detriment of many, for a decade and more. 

For those of you who have followed my work in podcast form, here comes the part where I sound like a broken record. However, I feel it is pertinent to the discussion at hand. My main gripe with WWE, above bad booking and all that goes with it, is the insistence of those from previous eras on taking valuable time away from today’s generation. Wrestlers who can only dream of reaching the dizzy heights of superstardom afforded those from WWE’s past. John Cena is one of the biggest perpetrators of this act. So much so, that he admitted to it himself on the Smackdown after Super Showdown.

I’m regularly met with the retort that these wrestlers are allowed to go out on their own terms. That they are a necessity, so as to enable them to pass the torch to tomorrow’s stars. But how many times can they bow out gracefully, when history tells us the majority, Vince McMahon included, simply don’t know how to let go? In Hollywood Cena’s case, how many times has he actually handed over the reins? And if he has, when hasn’t he done so without killing a piece of that person’s credibility in the process?

I should make it clear that I fully respect John Cena’s contributions to WWE and the wrestling business overall. Not only in how he stepped up to the plate in more ways than one in uncertain times for WWE during the Ruthless Aggression’s early days. But also in his unprecedented commitment to the Make a Wish Foundation. His appearances on countless talk shows for audiences young and old, that presented to the world an articulate, fun, and professional spokesperson for WWE. His support of and allegiance with the United States military, no doubt an inspiring attribute for a highly patriotic country to relate to. 

For years, John Cena has been Mr WWE. For that, many are grateful. I have been, too. However, purely from the vantage point of WWE’s fictional universe, that moniker now needs to be shared among others. Let Cena’s legacy evolve into that of The Rock’s. A Hollywood superstar with only fleeting appearances in milestone television episodes. Not the part-timer past their hayday and too stubborn to admit as much. Because this is where we are headed with Cena. We may see Cena deliver more sensationalised soundbites that tarnish what little credibility The Fiend has left after the controversial night in Saudi Arabia. 

If that ends up being the case, will Bray Wyatt be stuck with the “lazy” tag going forward? More worryingly, who will be next on Cena’s hitlist, the next time his acting schedule allows? How long can Cena justify that his time is now when, for the betterment of today’s stars, it should have been up a long time ago?

Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.

Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.

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