On June 27th 2002, a fresh-faced 25-year-old made his WWE debut. In his first match, he impressed fans with his sheer determination and ruthless aggression as he came up short against Kurt Angle. That wrestler was John Cena.
He found his place as an arrogant rapper, who earned the respect of the crowd with positive matches against talents like Angle, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. Like the anti-heroes before him, the cheers slowly started to outweigh the boos – in part due to his natural charisma – and by the end of 2004 it was clear that he was ready for the WWE Championship. He, along with Batista, ushered in a new generation of wrestlers when Cena defeated JBL for the title at WrestleMania 21 and Batista defeated Triple H for the World Heavyweight Title.
Over the next seven years Cena collected a further 11 world titles, which included a 380-day reign which made him the longest-reigning champion of the 00’s and put his combined reigns alongside legends like Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund. He also won four tag team titles, the 2008 Royal Rumble and the Money in the Bank match last month.
So, how did this charismatic multi-time champion become the face of everything hated about the WWE?
Few characters were as entertaining during the early noughties as the Massachusetts rapper. The rhymes he created could be close to the bone, which led to several memorable segments with guys like Kurt Angle and Christian. It earned him all-important promo time and made him stand out from the rest of the roster.
Now, here’s a quote from his latest Raw segment with CM Punk: “When the day comes when you don’t believe in yourself there’s the door, get the hell out.” When did Cena turn into Barney?
Over the last few years he’s become increasingly sentimental during non-wrestling segments, giving out ‘never give up, never surrender’ style advice to the young fans. It’s no surprise that CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have been supported during their promos when fans have been stuck with Reverend Cena since 2005. Perhaps what irritates me the most is that he seems to develop a James Brown/Jesse Jackson style of speech when he starts preaching to the crowd.
While feuding with The Rock he constantly told the crowd how much he loved the WWE, how it was his life and how he performed week-after-week for them. A majority of wrestlers do the work but they aren’t afforded the opportunities and yet he wants the crowd to love and respect him for it. You can’t emotionally bribe the audience into liking you. Steve Austin and The Rock never told the crowd to appreciate them.
There is no doubt that at his best John Cena can deliver some of the most original and charismatic promos, but not when he’s in preacher mode. Perhaps that’s why some fans hope for a day when he returns to his rapping roots.
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