WWE Positive Counterpoints: How Does WWE Get Fans Cheering for Cena Again?
Most people who have read my articles know I'm an optimist when it comes to wrestling. Even when I'm criticizing something, I'm offering additional solutions and fixes. I'm not just "hating" on people and events and leaving it at that.
When it comes to John Cena, I'm sure a lot of people must think me pretty harsh, as most things I have to say about the guy are fairly negative. More than a few times, I've been lumped in with every other "Cena hater," despite working extraordinarily hard to come up with the best possible examinations and investigations into Cena's performance value that I can.
So, why not do a complete 180? I'm not a fan of him now, you see, I'm merely trying to ask the right questions to guide the Internet Wrestling Community in the right direction.
Fans are quite split on the John Cena issue. One side stays extra loyal and supports their man pretty much no matter what. The other side can't stand him for a laundry list of reasons, and it's not only the supporting side that refuses to hear them, it's also been WWE. Lately, some of those reasons have been mentioned on air by names like R-Truth, CM Punk, The Miz, Roddy Piper and now Kane.
In fact, WWE.com is even running a special dual-sided article, asking fans why they cheer him and why they boo him. If you haven't seen it, please check out the link. While it doesn't cover everything, it does surprisingly hit the major points on the nose.
With there being so much animosity on both sides, the "haters" choose one main fix: for John Cena to turn into, in wrestling terms, a "heel." In other words, a bad guy.
Say what you like about how often a heel turn article is posted on this site, and how cliche it's gotten, every week or so, to see another blurb that says "X Reasons John Cena Should Turn Heel." No matter how good or bad the arguments are, you have to admit, at least it's a solution to an ignored problem. For all the reasons Cena fans say they like their guy, you want to know the one thing I never hear from them?
How to get fans cheering for him again. Never hear about it. Not one word.
Thus, I thought that I, being one of Cena's most fervent critics, would help this side out and attempt to find ways in which Cena can be ingratiated back into the fans' good graces. Notice...I said "attempt." Unlike the bulk of Cena's title defenses over the course of the last five or so years, this article may or not end happily. We'll just have to see how it goes. I'm thinking as I write here.
A new theme song for his entrance
Arguably, this is my favorite, as it's really a great start.
Some superstars have iconic theme songs, or at least, iconic starts to their theme songs. Austin has glass shattering (would love to meet the one who came up with that idea). Rock has "If ya smeeeeeeeeeeeell..." Roddy Piper has Scottish drums that play, followed by bagpipes. Good Ol' JR has the opening drum beats from the Oklahoma State University Fight Song.
You hear these things, you know exactly who's coming. When you hear the first few bars of Cena's song, the same thing happens. However, while his song was extraordinarily timely when it first came out, it was meant to emphasize his hip hop gimmick, which is no longer a facet of his personality anymore.
Not to say he can't have a new hip hop song bring him to the ring. Something hip hop with a kind of military vibe to it, that could actually be pretty cool! So why is it guys like Daniel Bryan, R-Truth, AJ, Eve, and Dolph Ziggler get updates to their songs practically every few months, but Cena, a guy in desperate need of refreshing, has been using the same tired song for years, with that annoying tongue roll at the beginning?
A Superstar's theme song is incredibly important, as the music can help give a character personality where promos, backstage segments, in-match psychology, win-loss records and even appearance can't reach. Randy Orton's theme, "Voices," along with his slippery nature in the ring, helped develop his Viper gimmick nicely.
John Cena gets a refreshed theme, his character wouldn't have to change much, but at least fans get to hear something different. His fans may like "The Time is Now," but his critics immediately get turned off when they hear it.
Then again, his fans will stick around and keep watching with a new song, even if they're not 100 percent sold on it. They won't turn on him if they're not 100 percent on board with a new tune. But his current song is not doing him any favors.
I've heard this proposed before. Cena develops a bit more edge, takes his matches more serious, doesn't smile as often, maybe gets a little vicious with his beatdowns, maybe takes a ref count to a four and a half before letting go, things like that.
It would certainly put to bed the people that complain that Cena is some happy-go-lucky superstar that flits to the ring, no matter how many demonic monsters or Samoan bulldozers or evil rookie stables or hired corporate goons are chasing him down.
But would that be enough? What typically comes with a significant change in attitude? More wins to validate it?
He gets a new song and a slightly new attitude, it'll still involve John Cena winning and other people losing, which is one of the major gripes critics have with him.
Take some clean losses for a change
As a WWE Superstar, you have to acknowledge one thing above all else: the outcomes are fabricated, meaning when people "win," it's not solely on their wrestling skill. Talented wrestlers deserve to be booked to win matches, but getting into a sports entertainment company with good wrestling skill just means you MIGHT be able to sell moves better.
Jack Swagger has legitimate wrestling skill. So does Daniel Bryan. Kurt Angle won two gold medals, as he puts it "with a broken freaking neck." If he retired from "sports entertainment" tomorrow, he can go home and look at his medals and think, "dude, I am an awesome wrestler."
That's why Cena is hated by hardcore wrestling fans. Because even if some acknowledge that Cena's a halfway decent wrestler, there are still wrestlers with way better mat skills and in-ring psychology than Cena's ever had, and they feel those guys deserve to win instead.
That all being said, for Cena to continue to get marketed as the best, to get booked to always win major titles back, and to rarely ever get pinned clean is an absolute travesty.
Everyone has to take losses now and then. Everyone realistically meets their match that they can't overcome. It forces them to reassess their methods. Simply believing in yourself is great, but eventually, it won't be enough. Cena has rarely ever had to reassess himself aside from the one full year he spent as a heel following his debut.
Per Wikipedia, he debuted late June 2002. By that Halloween, he turned into a white rapper heel. By Survivor Series 2003, the following year, he was a face joining Kurt Angle's team. To my knowledge, he hasn't turned heel ever since then, and we all know how many titles and accolades he's acquired in the 9 years since turning face.
For Cena to lose so rarely is staggering. I'd love for someone to put together a slideshow laying out every one of Cena's title losses, and on the final slide? Tally up exactly how many of those outcomes were fudged, dirty, cheated, etc.
If I had the time and the dedication, I'd do it myself.
Cena starts losing clean once in a while, we may end up seeing some kind of a change in how the rans respond to him. That would involve no change whatsoever, and he wouldn't even lose favor with special interest groups, charities or sponsors. He'd just let other people win once in a while. Is that too much to ask?
Kane, Truth, Punk, Piper, Foley, Laurinaitis, Miz, everyone under the sun can challenge Cena's beliefs and ideals and say he's doing something wrong, but as long as he keeps winning, his fans will keep defending him.
If he loses, his most loyal fans will stay with him. But maybe some of his critics might come around in the process.
Which leads me to my final issue...
Get involved with storylines that don't have predictable endings
Almost a bigger issue than the winning thing, if you think about it.
WWE is a creativity driven company, meaning their prime product of wrestling programs are driven by compelling characters and interesting drama. Things you can't get by watching more "real" sports like boxing and UFC.
Regardless of Cena turning heel, I can't remember the last time Cena got into an angle that didn't end predictably.
Nexus was an interesting twist, with McGillicutty and Harris getting Cena to join against his will, but Cena obviously took the high road and fought it, as expected. Barrett and the "Anonymous GM" manipulated and bullied him by hanging his job over his head, but even when he gave it up at Survivor Series 2010, he kept appearing on TV until he was rehired.
Predictable down to the last letter.
His feud with Truth? No disrespect to Ron Killings, but how was that not easy pickings?
His feud with Miz? Even worse. Miz constantly dodging a clean victory, having inadvertent help from Rock at WrestleMania, then being forced to say I Quit in a rehash of an old Mick Foley trick that went awry?
Maybe his feud with Punk this summer wasn't entirely predictable, but to know that Punk's two victories over Cena had ever-so-slight asterisks next to them means that Punk didn't gain all that much as a result of beating Cena. Maybe he'd be in a better position as a top star if he had. The storyline itself was somewhat unpredictable as to where it might go, but the most unpredictable parts were mainly Punk's, not Cena's.
When did Cena do anything unexpected in terms of his reaction to Punk's verbal attacks? Never. He stayed 100 percent in character from beginning to end.
Cena's now in a feud with Kane that some are predicting may lead to a heel turn. Problem for some may be that if he doesn't turn, it will have been a waste of time. If he changes a little, it might be worth a little, but as I said, if his changes are minimal and it leads to more wins, his critics won't change their tune.
So far, it's proving unpredictable that Kane's had Cena's number from the beginning of this feud, and that's at least refreshing to see for a start, however it's only been maybe four for five weeks. That tide can change drastically if one thing happens.
They have a match in which Cena wins. Matches are the most typical payoff for any wrestling feud conceivable. Along with a good story, they're the basis for what makes the action interesting.
Cena winning over Kane in a formal match is likely the most predictable ending to this battle. And Cena's critics will not cheer for Cena knowing he's once again risen above yet another seemingly impossible to conquer obstacle.
This feud needs to go the unpredictable way. Kane should go over clean. And if that doesn't happen, then Rock should go over clean at WrestleMania 28. One or both of those things is not too much to ask.
Maybe all hope is lost...
There are lots of things WWE can do to John Cena that change him, and then again, there are things they can do to him that don't change him all that much.
At the end of the day, WWE may have to resign itself to the fact that they may not be able to get Cena's critics on board. He has a sizable fanbase, and that's great. But those critics, those "haters," those who boo, they're getting more and more impatient, on top of feeling that WWE is deaf to their constant pleas.
Many have already left watching wrestling altogether because they refuse to put up with the same formulas rehashed, reheated and re-seasoned with the same batch of ingredients. One of the reasons ratings are lower than they have been in a long time.
Many people herald the split reaction Cena gets as innovative. It's not really innovative, so much as it's humiliating for WWE. Because as a fan, there is nothing you can say to a new and budding fan that explains Cena's fan response to build it up as alluring. Not a single thing.
If he were a heel widely despised and booed and jeered by everyone in the WWE Universe, you could explain his good-natured past and describe the actions he's taken to lose the fans' favor and become hated.
If he were a beloved babyface cheered and supported by everyone, you could tell a new fan about Cena, explain "what the big deal is all about," and possibly sell them on why he's so cool, getting him, and WWE as well, a few new fans in the process.
With his fan response being so split, that can't happen. WWE will not make any upward or forward movement as long as their top star, the very face and idol of their entire company and image, doesn't garner a consistent response from fans.
It's one thing to have a single match where some fans root for your top guy, the rest root for the other guy, and after the match, they both get cheered. But that's not what happens with Cena. On a nightly basis, the reaction is largely split, and extremely often, the jeers win out. At least on TV, which millions see every week.
To end this on a positive note, I give my word that from now on, I will do my best to not be so vocal (at least in articles) specifically decreeing for Cena to turn heel.
I just want his reaction to finally UNITE fans instead of splitting them. Bottom line? If he was still cheered by everyone, I'd shut my mouth. That's what I did with the Rock back in the day. I used to hate the Rock, but he brought in fans and everyone loved him, so I didn't complain.
Whatever happens in Cena's near future, the "controversy" needs to stop. The split Universe needs to finally unite, in whatever direction it collectively feels is right.
The real truth is...a heel turn isn't NECESSARY. It's just the easiest way to get everyone on the same page.
WWE fans desperately need to unite. It takes all of us if we're going to increase our numbers to what they were years ago.
And in order for that to happen, change needs to occur.
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