About a year ago, I wrote a post entitled, “Keep Your Head Up, Cena”. I’m not the biggest John Cena fan in the world. Not by a long shot. But as cliche’ as it sounds, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He respects the sport. He has explosive energy. I was truly amazed and inspired when he came back after major shoulder surgery in considerably less time than was predicted and seemed to be in the best shape that I’d ever seen him in. He’s young, good-looking, smart — he would seem to be the champion that wrestling fans could really mark out for big time.
So why then are we booing him out of the building? (I say “we”, because I’m just as guilty as everyone else.) I don’t like Cena.
Since I wrote the post, I’ve been trying to make sense of the “Cena hate” that seems to have followed him throughout every arena in every live WWE taping. It’s funny — I watched Raw a few weeks back and it opened with an interesting experiment. The show opened with three simple head-shots of the three main title contenders at Wrestlemania: Randy Orton, HHH and Cena. With nothing but a camera pointed and closed in on their faces, the show began with the first shot — HHH. Total face pop. The fans went crazy. Then the camera pans to Randy Orton — as you would expect, classic heel heat. But then the camera pans to John Cena… I’d like to say the reaction was “mixed”. Maybe it’s that the males are drowning out the females. But whatever the reason, they just kicked in a boo about as loud and as passionate as I heard for Orton.
It’s amazing to think back to all of the guys that we cheer and all of the reasons that they’ve given us NOT to do so. We love HHH — yet he’s probably the guy who has railroaded more guys from getting the top spot as a McMahon-by-marriage than anyone else. We love Ric Flair — but this is the same guy who was part of the crew that held down Steve Austin and so many others in Georgia. We cheer for Shawn Michaels — despite his involvement in the biggest shoot ever captured on live TV – the Montreal Screw Job. (“Shawn were you in on this?” “No Bret, my hands are clean of this one, I swear!”) And hey, I love the guy too. He might be the only reason why I’m thinking of watching Wrestlemania. And the list goes on… so many guys who get the glory despite a record less deserving of applause.
So what is it about John Cena that’s so bad?
After mulling over the question for a few days, I’m not exactly sure I have it all figured out. But there are a few commonalities with him and some other babyfaces that got equal treatment.
For one, he’s just too clean. We live in an age of the anti-hero. Tracking back the last few champions, none were as squeaky-clean as Cena. From HBK to HHH to Austin to Foley….and the list goes on. Well, maybe not completely squeaky-clean. After all, there was Bret Hart. But that was in a different era. And interestingly enough, that’s probably when the tide changed. We live in an age where just thirty years ago everyone cheered for Luke Skywalker and booed Darth Vader and now we have the exact opposite scenario. While this notion does not fully account for John Cena’s crowd reaction, I believe that the age of cynicism has contributed to it.
And then there’s the whole “Marine” thing. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing more honorable than serving this incredible country in the most elite force known to man. But he’s almost force-feeding us with it. I think it might have even been a bit more edgy if he kept a lower profile on the “American” tip and started going back to the rap angle. But even that might not save him.
And then there are the many reasons for the males who dominate WWE audiences to be jealous of Cena and boo him. Great smile. Eloquent speaker. Huge muscles. (But wouldn’t that mean that we’d be booing HHH, HBK and others for similar characteristics?)
One thing it definitely isn’t is his in-ring performance. While not the best worker I’ve seen, he definitely knows how to work.
The sneakers and jeans really don’t help him all that much. I almost view it as somewhat insulting. I’d rather see him dressed in the traditional garb than a street outfit. Sneakers and jeans? When it comes to wrestling, I’m a traditionalist and it just doesn’t sit right with me.
Cena definitely thinks he’s more clever in his interviews than he actually comes across. It really makes me appreciate guys who are good talkers. Maybe it’s the fact that he has to do the babyface part of the interview? Nah. He gets away with murder during the interviews — berating the opponents. And yet and still it doesn’t lead to him getting over.
And so I thought, and I thought and I thought some more. And regardless of the reasons I came across for the fan response to Cena, the fact remains that there are guys who are much more deserving of the boos, yet people always seem to make a special effort to boo him.
One day while smiling and shaking my head after watching the fans boo him after Raw, it dawned on me. I had been asking the wrong question. It really doesn’t matter why they boo him right now. The fact is that they’re booing him and it’s making it difficult to play out angles with him getting this incredible amount of heat with the fans in attendance. And so I asked myself, ‘if I were booking Raw I wanted to do something about this whole “booing the babyface thing”, what would I do? And the truth is, there’s only one thing you can do. I’d have to turn him heel.
While it’s not guaranteed to change the crowd reaction, it will certainly be interesting to see him work dirty. They’ve invested so much time in his character and sending him to all of the public relations events as the “presentable guy”. It could hurt the appeal of WWE to kids if Cena turns. But at this point, you almost have to. They’ll get over it. I mean, for any babyface going through this problem in the past, it’s worked. It worked for Hulk Hogan in the WCW days. It worked for the Rock. It worked for Shawn Michaels. It worked for Bradshaw (kinda.) I think you almost have to do it.
WWE has always been late the party when it comes to doing the thing that’s best for the product. Let’s see how this one plays out. I predict that since Cena has another movie coming out, they won’t turn him heel now. But by this time next year, it has to happen. Hopefully a lot sooner. It’s getting painful watching him get booed out of the building every Monday night.