I am a day late because I had to find a replay to watch Cena vs Owens II before it got spoiled. Gonna be honest, much like last time this is less a review of a PPV and more the next volume of my ever-expanding thesis on The Psyche of John Cena.
I said about the first Cena vs Owens match, regarding all the bombs and kickouts, that facing Cena is a lot like facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania: they’ve been built up so much that realistically speaking, you’d need to hit about 37 finishers in order to pin them clean. That isn’t the only way in which I find myself comparing Cena to Undertaker now. In fact Cena’s whole existence since Wrestlemania 31 eerily reminds me of The Undertaker’s “End of an Era” journey.
That journey was all about mortality. Undertaker was ‘The Phenom’ for decades, building up this unsurpassed Streak of mythical proportions. As the years went on it got bigger and bigger, and challengers went further and further trying to end it. At the same time, Undertaker was getting older and older, and finding it harder to defend the Streak that had become so huge it defined his whole existence. Guys started kicking out of his finishers, kicking out of the Tombstone…Undertaker was literally losing his powers inch by inch, his moves were becoming less effective and it took more of them for him to beat guys who were wrestling the match of their lives trying to end The Streak. Taker survived these matches but they took a toll on him that he could never recover from, not now, at his age. It only became a matter of time. Then he ran into a monster of a man in the prime of his career, a lethal weapon called Brock Lesnar, and it was all over. But it was a loss five years in the making.
Cena’s current run since Mania is kind of the same thing, only sped up to fit into a couple of months. He is John Cena, the undisputed Man in WWE for a decade now. The Being John Cena Title is the biggest prize in WWE much the same way that Undertaker’s Streak was. He’s been defending it for so long against so many guys, and done so successfully. BUT…he can’t go on winning all the time forever.
The first clue was just the change in his role this year. Usually, especially at Mania time, he’s in main events fighting for the World Title. At Wrestlemania 31, he won the U.S. Title. As crazy as it sounds, John Cena is now a midcard champion. And you kind of get the feeling that Cena has been fantasising about this for a while, thinking “Man, if I ever got the chance to win the IC or US belt, I would defend that thing every week, be a fighting champion, take on all comers, do it on Raw, Smackdown…” (in my dreams John Cena the character has these fantasies…). So he won the belt and, because he’s John Cena, he comes out and says that he’s going to defend it every week on TV. He can finally be the kind of fighting champion that he always envisioned, but could never be himself because he was always the WWE Champ and that involves PPV main events and bullshit and so forth. The midcard belts can be defended whenever, and he’s going to be the hero, as always, and take on all comers.
Sounds simple right? He’s John Cena, he’s hardly going to have trouble knocking off the Cody Rhodeses of the world every week. That’s pretty much business as usual. But it’s entirely possible that Cena has, in fact, bitten off more than he can chew. These midcarders don’t get a chance to win a title off John Cena every day, so now that they have a golden ticket they’re going to go all out trying to beat him (in the same way that guys pulled out all the stops trying to break The Streak, just on a smaller scale). It’s pressure, it’s constant battling every week, and it takes its toll on him. The Cena of old probably wouldn’t have had as much trouble with Zack Ryder as he did recently, but it’s a symptom of the load Cena has taken on that Ryder did give him a run for his money. Taking on all comers may have been a bit easier a year or so ago when Cena was still in his physical prime, but now that he is finally starting to show his age, now that the cracks are beginning to show…he has taken this challenge on just when he may not be physically equipped to handle it anymore.
And so we come to Elimination Chamber where the dam breaks, Cena comes across The Bridge Too Far in Kevin Owens, someone who is a big enough threat, coming in at just the right time when Cena is vulnerable, and he beats him, just like Brock beat Taker. Now the difference here is that Cena’s career wasn’t over the minute that he lost the Being John Cena Title, but it does feel like a significant fork in the road of his career in terms of being the invincible Superman. Cena is starting to look like a veteran, like a guy struggling, for the very first time, to hang onto his spot.
Seeing that struggle play out is fascinating to watch. In the first match Cena was showing visible signs of frustrating by punching the mat after kickouts. Here in this match he got a long two-count off the FU and carried on with the referee for like half an hour like a total dick. This is John Cena…he NEVER acts like that. But already, not too long into this match, he was throwing a tantrum because the FU didn’t work the first time. It’s like he just wanted the match to end there so badly, just get the win and get out of there, because he knew that otherwise he was in for a very long night. Cena becoming frustrated when things don’t go his way is an entirely new development from him, purely a symptom of this new challenging part of his career. It was easy for him to stay cool, calm and collected when he was on top of the world, but now that he’s finding it harder than ever to actually win these matches, his stoic exterior is finally starting to show some cracks.
Cena has never been tested like this before. And “Never Give Up” has never been more crucial an idea, because as Cena continues to try to keep up with a younger, more dangerous generation, and as his powers continue to slowly fade with age, is it possible that Cena will find himself wanting to give up? When, where and how could that happen? What would Cena giving up look like? And if he ever did, what then?