Greek God of Knowledge
In Ring Work: ***
Mic Work: ****1/2
Character Work: ****3/4
When it's all said and done, this man will go down as one of the all time greats. And he deserves it.
Here you go @Cashmere
I don't think there will ever be a more controversial top guy in WWE's history than John Cena (although Roman Reigns is closing in pretty quickly on it). The man has been at the top of the WWE mountain, or at least near it in some form or fashion. Ever since 2007, you always thought as John Cena as one of the main event talents. And you know what? I have no problem with that. I'm not a fan of his by any means, but I don't hate the man either. I have a ton of respect for the amount of work and effort he's put in through out all of these years. And he's proven himself to be a pretty talented all around Pro Wrestler too.
But does he have his flaws? Well, lets find out.
So it's safe to say that Cena's basically had two legitimate characters in his career. The Rapper, and The Marine. After that I kind of felt like Cena became just this incredibly good down to earth person who "overcomes the odds" at an obnoxious rate.
Either way, they were all pretty great all things considered.
I don't think too highly of the Super Cena thing he's been doing for god knows how long, but either way it's effective. The idea of his character was to target kids and regardless of how much the changing colored shirts drove me insane over time, I can't deny that it was pretty brilliant on WWE's part. It gives Cena a lot of life and a pretty unique identity. But the key to the character was always the good guy part of it, and Cena is more than capable of pulling it off. Just the way he interacts with the crowd and presents himself, it shows that he has a clear understanding of his fanbase and how to excite them. He knows what they're looking for and he's able to give it to them.
...I did not think those last couple sentences through before typing them.
Moving on. I think what makes Super Cena work the most is Cena's looks. He's a muscular handsome man who apparently has something against beards and facial hair (and in all honesty that's fine because fuck beards). He's not too tall but he's not short either. He's the perfect height and the perfect build. But I want to move away from Super Cena and focus more on the Marine and Rapper, because I think these are the areas where Cena was truly at his best.
I wish they never went away from the Rapper gimmick. I can't deny how well his current gimmick has gone for him but my god this character was perfect. The constant angry face he had fit what they were going for perfectly. He knew how to act the part out, hell even the walk he did was perfect. And even the way he talked was perfect. And when he was a face, he was easy to get behind. When he was a heel, it was easy to hate the guy because he was so good at making you hate his guts.
Before I go on, I want to point out that, to me, Marine Cena happened once he went away from the rapping. I know he didn't start wearing the marine gear until after the Marine movie came out, but out of pure laziness, I'm just gonna call him Marine Cena. Anyways, I found myself pleasantly surprised when I found Marine Cena to be an extremely likable character too, with a lot of edge to it but still possessing a lot of the traits you want in a face. Look at him in this segment.
This is actually one of my all time favorite moments from Cena. Here he is beating the shit out of the guy who assaulted his dad the week prior, and right in the middle of the beating he stops to eat some of the food and even acknowledge that it tastes good. That's just brilliant work right there. You're seeing a serious side of him but you're still getting a bit of a cartoony aspect as well. It's like, hey, a top guy with some god damn personality (looking at you Rollins, that one was for you @Eva MaRIHyse). And in the end I think that's the best aspect of Cena's character work: Just his ability to bring life to the show. His charisma is off the charts but really, I just feel like Cena is a light on the show. I don't mean this as he's the savior of the show or anything. But sometimes a show can feel like a black and white show just waiting to get to the end, but then Cena comes along and all of a sudden there's color. I think that more than anything is what draws people to him.
I can't really think of anything wrong with Cena's character work. He's great in his roles, being able to succeed in multiple gimmicks, two of which are vastly different from each other. He's very charismatic. He's proven he can play the face and heel roles very effectively. And he just knows how to bring life to any segments while still staying true to his character. He doesn't have to cheat it, he just goes out and does his thing. In this regard, he's most certainly a great showman. I guess a slight argument can be made that he has a tendency to overact, but given the target audience, my counter retort would be that this is the way he should be. He should be cartoony, he should be over the top, because it's one of the reasons why the gimmick is working so well for him. The amount of boos he gets does make me feel obligated not to give him five stars for this category, and for now I shall do so (I might change my mind later on the matter, but what ever). Either way, we can all agree that he's great in this regard.
Cena's mic work is something that I actually have mixed feelings on despite the rating. I guess I should get the personal shit out of the way really quick.
While I acknowledge that Cena does do a lot of great things on the mic and has cut a lot of great promos through out his career, a lot of them aren't my cup of tea. The ones where he goes on long winded speeches about his passion for the business and pointing out the weaknesses of his opponent, I'm just not a big fan of them. I think it's a lazy way of telling a story. I know that's ironic because he's putting on more effort in those cases with his promos, but sometimes with promo work, I think it's a lot harder to make a statement in a shorter promo, as a longer one gives you more ammunition to work with. And when it goes on and on, some of the good things tend to get lost in the shuffle.
For me, this is Cena when he's at his best on the mic. Cut to 4:05.
This, in my opinion, was the best promo of 2016. And it wasn't a long speech or anything of the sort. It wasn't your typical John Cena promo. It was less than a minute long. That's it. Now I want to set the record straight on something, I love Dean Ambrose, and I still think to this day that the man is criminally underrated (and yes, I think he was the best member of the Shield without question). But Cena absolutely demolished him in this promo. Cena had the perfect delivery, the perfect timing, and the perfect words to say. His body language and facial expressions were perfect too. It wasn't too much and it wasn't too little. It was the exact thing that needed to be said. This promo was so effective that it actually made the crowd chant for Cena, which is impressive given his track record with the crowd. Hell, Dean at the time was getting consistent positive reactions from the crowd, which makes this even more impressive.
THAT to me is a proper showcase of how great of a mic worker John Cena is. That is him at his best.
But I would be lying if I said that the good things that were on display here weren't showcased consistently in his other promos too. But with that said, even in his rapper gimmick days (where it was actually on display more ironically), he did and still does have a tendency to be robotic and emotionless. Sometimes I think he has a tendency to undersell a feud and doesn't really tell a proper story with it. I always hated how sometimes he would get his ass kicked by someone, but then the very next week, he would shrug it off like nothing happened, as if he didn't want revenge or hated the person even more. And I always thought that took the tension out of his feuds (although that's probably more of a character thing than a mic thing...welp, there's my reason not to give him five stars in that category). Overall however, I always felt that Cena was still a great mic worker, even in his very early days when he was directionless, the signs were always there. I wish I had more to say, but honestly everything that has been said about Cena's mic work (at least from an objective standpoint) has already been said.
In Ring Work
Alright, so I'm going to start this out with a little stance that I have on in ring work and Cena's work in this department.
There was a time when Cena's main criticism was his in ring work. Couldn't wrestle, five moves of doom, looked robotic as hell in the ring, you name it. But for me? I think the John Cena we have now is the worst he's ever been in the ring, because he's fallen under the spell of "more moves, less story" and it's truly a shame.
If this analysis was happening at the beginning of 2008, Cena would most likely be getting a much higher rating, because he was actually a great in ring performer at the time. At that time, his main focus in the ring was on his character, on the things that defined him. The idea of him was that he wasn't technically gifted, and WWE had no problem acknowledging that. They knew that better than anyone. He had basic moves and he didn't have many of them. But for any competent in ring performer, this can be a great thing. And for Cena, it was.
When he hit one of his basic moves, you felt like it mattered, because it was HIS move. A one armed bulldog felt more impactful from him felt more impactful than a regular one because it was part of HIS moveset. That's the entire point of character work to begin with. Cena was a brawler, that is what he looked like, it's what he was meant to be. And it's what he should have stayed as. You see that gif at the top of this post? That is Cena performing a Tornado DDT. That is something he started doing regularly for a short while.
And that is the problem.
It is the problem that exists today with a lot of Pro Wrestlers. It's an ideology that seems to make people believe that guys like AJ Styles are one of the greatest in ring performers of all time. It's an ideology that makes people think that Seth Rollins is superior in the ring to Dean Ambrose. It's an ideology that makes people think that Roman Reigns, yes Roman fucking Reigns, is a great in ring performer. And you know what? That's perfectly fine. It's fine if you guys want to believe that. For me, however, it's fucking absurd.
And it seems that, at some point, John Cena developed that mind set, because in 2007 he was a completely different in ring performer...which leads us to our bonus section.
John Cena's 2007 Run
Now for the sake of context, I'd like to point out that for all of the time Cena was active this year, he was the WWE Champion. And it was at this point that people started to noticeably turn against him. But to me, this was when John was at his best.
Now watch any one of those matches. Any of them. Pick one. And you'll notice immediately a distinct difference in the way Cena performs in these matches compared to now. You see a lot more story-driven action, a lot more character work, a lot more build up and selling, and the matches don't seem to be as spot driven as the matches we see from Cena now. Want an example of what I'm talking about?
There was a time when I thought these were both great matches. But the thing about them is that they're a different prototype of Pro Wrestling, one that I've gotten used to by now. But when thinking about this from an objective point a view, they actually aren't all that great. In fact they're actually kind of a giant mess.
To me, Cena in the early days up until about 2011 was a great, GREAT in ring performer. He knew how to tell a story, he knew how to bump, he knew how to make others look good (until lolworthy booking decisions fucked his opponents over. Also in before Nexus mention). He knew how to stretch out a match properly, and he understood the importance of build up and anticipation for key moments in a match. And those are most certainly on display in his matches with Michaels. And the pacing of his matches were always on point.
But the thing is, he went away from this mindset, and that's why he gets the rating he gets from me, because any Pro Wrestler would know better than to let the fan criticisms make them change the way they perform in the ring. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But in Cena's case, he took the things that weren't broke and made them worse.
Granted, there are some aspects of his work that he improved on. He did learn to sell better (I do think his selling gets blown a bit out of proportion since I think it's mostly a booking thing, but there were moments where his selling was downright awful), and his execution got better too, which was something that was a problem for him at the time (he still can't do a dropkick worth shit though). However, overall I think he has regressed as an in ring performer. He's become more like a spot monkey with less focus on storytelling and his pacing is horribly inconsistent. Otherwise, he's still pretty good at making his opponents look good, and when he's working a slower pace and allowing things to be built up, his matches are noticeably a lot better. And his match with Styles at the Royal Rumble is a perfect example of it.
All in all, I would say that Cena is the perfect representation of why the moves you do in the ring simply do not matter as much as people like to say it does. He was much better when he didn't have a bunch of them and was forced to focus more on the aspects of in ring work that truly matter the most. But now, he's the modern day Kurt Angle. And I'm sure people will disagree with me on that, and again that's perfectly fine, but right now they're both the same to me. Obviously with different ways of performing in the ring, but with very similar mindsets. The John Cena that we have gotten ourselves today gets a three star rating from me. However, if I was doing this in 2011, he probably would have gotten something within the 3.75-4.25 range.
I think when just going off of the talent aspect, it's not hard to see why Cena has gotten to the point he's at now. He most certainly is a great talent. He's a good in ring performer, a great mic worker and is a great character worker. It's no secret that he has his flaws, and when you compare him with other people who were top stars like Flair, Austin, and The Rock, he certainly doesn't match them from a talent standpoint. But then again, lord only knows what more he could have done if he stayed the in ring performer he was before. And lord only knows how he well he could have done under the circumstances The Rock had when he first started out (where he straight up bombed in the Rocky Mavia gimmick).
I think it really just comes down to Cena's passion and dedication to the company. He was an incredibly hard worker and loved the WWE, and we all know this. These can be the results of that hard work. This is what the payoff can be. And for Cena, that was most certainly the case. Kevin Durant once said that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. And in this case, while Cena wasn't the most talented around, he was most certainly the hardest worker, and in the end, that's all that mattered.
Cena likes to constantly bury talent: While there are some moments of questionable decision making on his part, such as the Nexus fiasco, even in that moment he realized afterwords that he made a huge mistake. Cena loves and cares for the WWE and understands that he can't be the only guy at the top. I think it was more so a case of WWE making a lot of very poor decisions with Cena and not understanding the impact he had on other wrestlers, such as the infamous Zack Ryder storyline. And we've seen Cena lose clean a number of times through out his career. So this is something I simply do not believe.
Cena was never over as a face: This is completely wrong. I've already explained it enough times so I'm not going to bother with it again. Just understand that this is 100% wrong.