Another week, another big WWE show it seems. This one popped out of nowhere, and somehow for a show with two Elimination Chambers and a World Title match, ended up being almost entirely disposable. I’m not even going to recap the whole card, but I do have a HELL of a lot to say about Cena vs Owens. Strap yourselves in.
I loved this match on so many levels: viscerally, emotionally, rationally, intellectually. I can feel an essay coming on (forgive me), and honestly there’s nothing I love more than a wrestling match that can make me jump out of my chair in the moment, and then write a thousand words on once I calm down. Those are the best matches, the ones that hit both the heart and the head.
Firstly, there are two little moments in the match I want to point out. The first was after Cena hit the tornado DDT, he rolled to the corner and just kind of laid there face down, looking like he was almost praying, bargaining or pleading for something that would stop this guy. Then a little later, Cena hit maybe the springboard Stunner or some other big move that Owens kicked out of, and Cena started punching the mat in frustration. Cena…out of pure frustration…was punching the mat. He NEVER does that. When he can’t put someone away he usually either smiles in bemusement or looks shocked. He’s never frustrated. He never gets angry and starts punching things. But he did here, because this young punk, who by the way had disrespected the shit out of him, just won’t lay down and die. Won’t go down like all the rest.
JBL’s constant pushing of “Big Match John” was paid off in this result today. Because it’s true. Cena Wins LOL, I mean it’s so certain that it’s become a meme. But because Cena gives so much to his opponents, no matter who they are, guys look good just being in the ring with Cena even though they lose in the end (booking screws them up afterwards, but that’s another issue entirely). It’s become acceptable to lose to Cena, because everybody does. It’s inevitable. So you just try to look as good as you can before you go down. I’m pretty sure most people went into this show hoping that Kevin Owens would have a good showing before losing to Cena, or, if he was going to win it would be via something screwy or a DQ. The last thing anyone expected was Cena to lose clean as a sheet. But he did. And that is what sets Owens apart from the rest, from a long line of stars, and recently a long line of midcarders who have queued up to fight Cena. They have all lost in the end. Except Owens. He is something else entirely.
That’s another reason why I don’t feel there were “too many kickouts”. I think there was just the right amount. On paper it seems like overkill but this is John Cena we’re talking about. He beats everyone. He kicks out of everything. If you’re a guy who is going to come in and pin Cena 1-2-3 in the middle of the ring in your first match, you are going to need to throw EVERYTHING at him. It’s like facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania, guys hit 37 finishers in those matches because it is going to take 37 finishers to beat this guy at Mania. Cena isn’t going to go down to just anything. It took an overwhelming, relentless, monumental assault to finally wear him out. I mean, of course it took that many nearfalls. It really wouldn’t have taken any less.
On another note, I absolutely loved the way the finish was set up. Cena coming out of the corners and just steamrolling this guy with lariats. Again, Cena NEVER does that. He always sticks to his gameplan, hits his moves, and eventually he finds an opening to hit the AA or lock on the STF and win. He may bust out wacky moves in big matches, but he does it in a very Cena way, if that makes sense. Cena methodically hitting clothesline after clothesline like that was very un-Cena like. It was calculated, it was almost rudo-ish, it was Cena basically admitting that the gameplan that had won him practically every match he competes in was no longer working. He finally had to abandon his gameplan and just keep hitting this guy over and over until he died. And because it’s not Cena’s usual way, it tripped him up and allowed Steen to hit the powerbomb. This was the same thing that happened to Cena in the first Rock match – Cena basically worked heel in that match, acting like a total asshole instead of his usual self, and in the end it was his undoing, as he was caught by Rock when mockingly attempting the People’s Elbow.
There’s a really poignant message there. When Cena is himself, he wins, even against all possible odds. When he tries to be someone other than himself, he loses. It’s the perfect subtext to a Cena character that is based on an uber-babyface morality; if you stay true to yourself, work hard, do what is right, you will succeed. If you act like a dick, take shortcuts, betray your beliefs, you will fail in the end. This is Cena’s whole ethos, and it plays out in all his matches.
It kind of puts into perspective every chance they had to turn Cena heel. If you stop looking at it as “WWE turning Cena heel” and think about it as “Cena choosing to turn heel” (in other words, if you think about it WITHIN kayfabe and not as a booking decision), it begins to make perfect narrative sense. Seriously, ask yourself, why would Cena turn heel? Why, in storyline, would he choose to become an asshole and turn his back on his fans? Why, when being a good guy has always worked so well for him? He always wins! Cena’s way works! He works hard, he’s loyal to his fans, he does the honourable thing, he fights fair, he Never Gives Up, and it ALWAYS gets him everywhere. He always wins being the good guy, even if nobody in the room likes him at all. And as it happens, the one time he tried being a “bad guy” in the ring (vs Rock I), he lost the match he swore he wouldn’t lose. Being a heel doesn’t work for Cena. He was born to be the pure-bred, white meat, goody two shoes Captain America. Anything else just doesn’t fit.
And therein lies the message. Cena is true to himself. People may not like it, in fact he is often booed out of buildings and everyone constantly cries out for him to abandon himself and become someone “cooler”. But he remains himself. So kids, don’t worry if some people don’t like you for who you are. Don’t give into pressure from others to be someone you’re not. Just be yourself, and you will succeed. Just like John Cena.
For a medium as inherently shallow as professional wrestling, that’s a pretty profound philosophy that they’re threading through. John Cena is often accused of having a superficial or one-dimensional character, but I think his character is the most fascinating in all of wrestling.