The 8-Ball 12.30.13: Top 8 Ways to Convert Cena Haters
Posted by Mike Hammerlock on 12.30.2013
From making his losses matter and taking away his juvenile jokes to putting him in a tag team, sending him to NXT for some matches and more, 411's Mike Hammerlock counts down the top 8 ways WWE can convert Cena haters to Cena fans!
This week the Magic 8-Ball has decided to tilt at modern pro wrestling's biggest windmill: trying to convert John Cena haters. I proudly count myself as someone who's been rooting against Cena since the day he arrived in the WWE, so I know the enormity of the task here. He's hard to like for those of us who think he got handed his top dog status for all the wrong reasons.
So what would make us happy? Well, he's not going to lose every single match clean for the rest of his career. Banish that thought from your mind. Cena will continue to win more than he loses. He also isn't taking a heel turn. Part of that is because of merchandising. Part of that is because it would be hard for him to get more heat from the audience if he turned. Seriously, until more people root for Cena, a heel turn won't change his crowd reactions. At best it might flip-flop the marks and smarks. Also, part of it is a heel turn doesn't really make sense for his character. You'd have to plant a lot of seeds in order for not to have that hand-of-Russo feel.
All of that leaves Cena in his current position. He's the biggest name in the company and a proven money draw, but way too much of the live audience (and an absurd percentage of the IWC) hate him. The common complaint is that the WWE doesn't care about those reactions or that it refuses to listen to its audience, but I don't think that's it. My take is the WWE legitimately doesn't know what else to do with Cena. It's in a box and it doesn't see a way out. Uniting the audience in either direction seems impossible. Since Cena nominally will remain a face, the challenge is to peel off strips of the anti-Cena section. No one thing will do the trick. It's got to be a multi-front battle plan. Good thing this is the 8-Ball. Let's make John Cena beloved by the masses.
8. Losing should hurt
Perhaps the biggest problem with Cena is, even when he loses, he never really loses. He never has to go to the back of the line and work his way back into title contention. If he's not the champ, he's still the main event. He's reacted to way too many of his big losses by putting on the Shecky Cena routine. You can't actually lose when it's your world and we just live in it. Cena leads a privileged life. We can even watch it on television, Cena living in his McMansion with his precision-engineered girlfriend. Makes it hard for the average person to sympathize with the guy. Most folks are working themselves ragged just to stay in place. People suffer hardships. When things go wrong in their lives, they don't have the luxury of cracking jokes. Whenever he tries to cast himself as a working class wrestler facing off against a guy who rose to the top thanks to favoritism (Orton, Batista), it sets off an international face palming tsunami. There isn't so much as a trace of Dusty Rhodes in John Cena. I think the WWE recognizes a guy who struggles and overcomes might be the right man for these times and that's why Cena does those promos, but Cena isn't that guy. He's cut from the Hulk Hogan cloth, which made sense in the B.S.-driven ‘80s when people wanted an indomitable celebrity champ.
If Cena is going to resonate better with the guy who spent close to his last dime to sit in that seat up in the nosebleeds, then he's got to lose a big one. I'm not talking about a clean loss at Wrestlemania, I'm talking about a dust off match in a major feud. Cena needs to submit, quit or not be last man standing. Then he needs to work outside the main event for a while. Jerk a curtain. Have an actual losing streak. Superman needs to lose his cape. Cena never gets the respect given a guy who fights back from adversity because he's tasted no real adversity. We never get excited to see him return because he never really leaves. When CM Punk gets his next title match, fans will be marking out because he went through his Rock-Cena-Undertaker losing streak, rediscovered his fire during his feud with Paul Heyman and has climbed the ladder to get back into contention. Like Punk, Cena doesn't have to stop being a big deal, but his wins won't mean much until his losses have a serious impact.
7. Be in a tag team
The most dangerous position in the WWE is if you're being cast a John Cena's friend (Big E beware). Rey Mysterio was John Cena's friend and Cena screwed him out of the WWE title. Zack Ryder got over by himself, Cena locked onto him like a heat-seeking missile and Ryder got turned into a damsel in distress during what should have been his big push. Cena is booked as just using friends, not actually having them. Seriously, if Cena's the biggest stand up guy in the WWE, then where's his friends? He needs some, or at least one. In wrestling they have another term for a friend: tag team partner. The last real tag partner Cena had was B-Square. The 8-Ball isn't suggesting that Cena should drop singles wrestling and concentrate on the tag division, just that he needs a go-to tag partner for when he has a tag match (which is seemingly all the time these days). The temptation might be to pair him with Daniel Bryan since they may be brothers-in-law at some point in the future, but they'll probably face off against each other for the big belt down the road. What Cena needs is a forever buddy, someone who's going to be there through thick and thin, somebody who can drop what he's doing to tag with Cena at a moment's notice (and Cena needs to reciprocate sometimes). Kofi Kingston wouldn't be a bad choice. He's a perpetual face. He provides a stylistic contrast to Cena. He could stand someone else carrying the bulk of the promo load. The rub would serve Kofi well and he's accomplished enough to be a believable got-your-back option for Cena. Good guys theoretically make good allies and good guy alliances win wars. It's time Cena made a permanent kayfabe friend.
6. Go slumming in NXT
If you're like me, ideally you'd like Cena to put guys over by losing all the time, but lets be a bit realistic. He cannot, will not and should not lose every match. To be fair, he's started putting more guys over in recent years: Punk, Dolph, Bryan. Even though he didn't lose, he made Damien Sandow look great during their Money in the Bank cash-in match. No way to know if rumors about him being a vocal supporter of Big E and Enzo Amore are true, but it wouldn't hurt Cena's rep if he became a champion for younger talents. There's no reason he can't make a quarterly swing through the WWE performance center and work an NXT match or two while he's there. Bring along the next generation, show an awareness that the WWE needs to thrive after you step out of the spotlight, visibly give back to the business that made you a fabulously rich individual.
5. Stand up for your generation
During his two years of jawing with the Rock, the best promo Cena cut was that Rock was moonlighting while Cena was the guy who shows up night after night to wrestle for WWE fans. He was right. Rock was on little more than a nostalgia tour. Though they never really said it outright, the subtext of Rock's return was that my generation is better than your generation. We're lucky Austin doesn't make regular appearances, otherwise every major or upcoming player on the roster would have been made to eat a Stunner. The Attitude guys are my generation, but enough is enough. They're mostly gone. Cena fought the Attitude guys and, for the most part, beat them. He needs to make the case this generation is better, or at least equal. Cena-Orton and Cena-Punk are two of the greatest rivalries in WWE history. Cena-Edge ranks up there too. For all his flaws Cena has had a great career, but he didn't do it alone. Cena isn't the only guy who shows up night after night. Sing the praises of those other guys. Talk about how it's hard to stay on top because every year the competition gets better. In fact, have Cena do some commentary and let him put over some of the midcard players. He's been putting over his contemporaries in the ring (in losses and wins) a lot more over the past year: Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow, Randy Orton, just this past Friday Seth Rollins. It's actually gotten me to soften my historic anti-Cena stance. He's making the WWE look good, not just himself. Double down on that. Don't be the guy who dominated a weak generation (e.g. Larry Holmes or Roger Federer before Nadal and Djokovic showed up), sell the audience that you're clashing with titans.
4. Grow the hell up
John Cena is about as lost boy as it gets. Being an overgrown kid really has lost its luster. For crying out loud, lose the jorts and dress like a grown-ass man. It's one thing not to change by refusing to turn on the fans who have rooted for you all these years (that's kind of respectable), it's another to be a stunted man-child. It's no wonder that kids stop rooting for him when they get older. They grow up. Cena doesn't. Aside from dressing better, Cena could stand to act his age. One part of his routine he needs to lose is the "you can't see me" hand wave. It's tired and dropping it would send a signal that Cena perhaps has matured a bit. If he's not acting like the same overblown teenager then maybe we don't have to hate like he's still that same overblown teenager. They could tie it in tie it in with Nikki Bella and Total Divas. No one should be the exact same person they were a decade ago. It's kind of sad when people become walking time capsules of their younger selves. Send that memo to John Cena.
3. Understand your real legacy
Breaking the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak is the only thing Cena has left on the career bucket list. Well, there's the newly unified WWE title, but I think we can safely assume he'll get at least one turn with that belt. He's won everything else. He wins all the time. I'd assume his WWE career winning percentage ranks only behind Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan. Yet more than 50% of the audience on any given night is telling him he sucks. Cena can't win his way out of this one, which is why he should not get the Undertaker's streak. If anything it would only make more people hate him. The idea here is to increase his popularity.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, Cena just had his best year in the ring, putting up MOTY-worthy contests against Punk, Bryan, Sandow and Orton (the last one I give a little extra credit for its kayfabe importance). Go back and read 411's Raw and Smackdown recaps from the past year. Mr. Cena has become a bit of a snowflake collector. I'd suggest he continue to follow that path. Whenever you get into a serious discussion about Hulk Hogan, you list some of his accomplishments and then you drop in a "but …", usually followed by noting how he was a egomaniac who wasn't very good in the ring. Hogan took the financial side of the business forward, he didn't progress the sport. As an individual Cena isn't going to make any major, industry-redefining stylistic leaps from here to the end of his career, but he is part of something notable that's taking place under our noses. Raw and Smackdown are churning out high quality matches every week. WWE pay-per-views are struggling to best the company's free offerings. The current challenges for the company are to sort that out and to improve the start-to-finish consistency of all their free and PPV programs. Be part of that solution. Make that the mountain you climb. If Cena can help usher in an era where the WWE's baseline in-ring performance is *** or better, then Cena will leave a legacy far different from Hogan. Something very good is happening in the WWE at this moment and Cena's right in the middle of it. Continue to be about the wrestling and fans will notice. That's hustle we can believe in.
2. Hometown pride
Cena lacks a hometown advantage for a lot of reasons. One of them is he has committed great sins in terms of getting over with fans across the nation. You see him in that Yankees jersey above? People in Boston remember that. A quick Google search and you can find Cena in Lakers shirt too. Once upon a time Cena muled around the country wearing whatever the hometown team's jersey was every week. I think I even made a joke during his initial WWE title run about how they should have billed him as being from New Jersey. It made him look like he was for sale. To be fair, of course he's for sale. He's trying to get people to spend money to watch him wrestle. Still, that has its limits. Think you'd ever catch Punk in a Green Bay Packers or St. Louis Cardinals jersey? Cena surely breaks into a smile if you say the words "Bird steals the ball" and gets gloomy if you say "Buckner." He sent Big Papi a WWE replica belt after the Red Sox won the World Series this year. He probably hangs around with Tom Brady every now and again. It wouldn't kill him to wear his fandom on his sleeve a bit more.
However, it goes beyond sports with Cena. He sounds more like he's from Virginia than Massachusetts. Most people here (I'm a Bostonian) don't speak with a Masshole accent, but Cena's developed a bit of a twang in his voice. Honestly, if they didn't bill him as being from West Newbury and if he didn't have his family and a few friends show up for Boston shows, you'd have no idea he was from here. He was raised on fried clams, moon pies and street hockey. He's clearly tight with his family and friends, and those bonds are tied to a place. That's the real core of the man, not his latest t-shirt slogan. Cena's buried too much of that in his quest to be a generic good guy. Maybe corporate thinks it would turn off too many fans, though Cena's already done that. Maybe Cena wants to keep some things private. Everyone involved needs to get over that. Cena is a Boston guy. If he showed it more, made it clear that's where his loyalties lie, then it would mean more when he talks about loyalty. It's a problem that the supposed biggest face in the business gets booed lustily in his hometown. Rectify that.
1. Respect the ladies
Pro wrestling has a misogyny problem. The mouth breathers love it and wrestling promotions feed it to them in heaping platters. Cena might be the best in the business at running down the ladies. When the above video happened (same night as his Rock promo, it was his best and worst on display), I watched it sitting next to my daughter. What she saw was a muscle-bound bully wearing a hypocritical "Rise Above Hate" t-shirt, goading 10,000 people to yell "hoeski" at a woman. She now hates John Cena. He needs to stop being a bunch of empty slogans. The third word in his current motto is "respect" and it means nothing until he shows some respect to the other gender. Yet how does he change his spots? Respecting his girlfriend and her sister won't really do it. What he needs to do is pass up an easy target. In the current WWE there is no easier target than Vicki Guerrero. One of the more interesting dropped threads over the past year was when the McMahons fired Vicki from Raw and Ryback consoled her backstage. It was like, whoa, Ryback might be an actual human and not a guy suffering from roid rage. That of course went nowhere.
Revive the "respect Vicki" idea with Cena. Let another face start ragging on her and have Cena rise to her defense. He can talk about how her husband was one of the greatest performers Cena ever had the privilege to work with and how she deserves credit for stepping up to take care of her family after Eddie's tragic death. You know, the truth. "Vicki, I usually don't agree with you, but it says ‘respect' here on my shirt and I'm trying to take that more seriously. I respect the Guerrero name and I respect how hard it is to be a woman in this business." Forget about not taking shortcuts in matches, stop taking shortcuts in promos at other people's expense. I wish I could say this would win over the "Cena sucks" crowd. It won't. Maladjusted adult males will double down on their spite for Cena if he stands up for a woman just because it's the right thing to do. However, I've got to believe a healthy segment of the anti-Cena crowd would recognize actual respect coming from Cena and show some respect in return.
I take requests.. The purpose of this column is to look forward. What could be? What should be? What is and what should never be? What would make more sense? If there's someone or something you think should be given the 8-Ball treatment, mention it in the comments section. I might pick it up for future weeks.