WrestleMania 28 is in the books and, for the most part, it lived up to the hype. The final match of the evening, The Rock versus John Cena delivered on multiple levels. Most WWE fans assumed that John Cena would win that match. When he did not, many of us were stunned and giddy, all at the same time.
However, while Cena may have played up in promos leading into the match that he had to win or his legacy would be ruined, I find myself, after reflecting on the event, reaching the opposite conclusion.
John Cena's defeat at WrestleMania 28 might actually help his legacy.
And here is why.
It dawned on me that the "Once In A Lifetime" clash at WrestleMania 28 between The Rock and John Cena reminded me of another WrestleMania classic that, perhaps not so coincidentally, happened exactly 22 years earlier.
It was on April 1, 1990,at the Skydome in Toronto, Canada that the Ultimate Challenge between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior took place. For those who followed the WWE back then (when it was known as the WWF) and who still follow it today, there are several key similarities between Hulk Hogan and John Cena.
In 1990, Hulk Hogan was felt to be practically unbeatable. It was almost impossible to fathom the thought of Hulk being pinned cleanly by anyone. But, going into the main event of WrestleMania 6, even the most hardcore Hulkamaniacs acknowledged that little tingle in the pit of their stomach, that little sense of uncertainty that they had not felt before.
Like it or not, we all knew that the Ultimate Warrior could win that match even if we did not really think he would. It was this possibility, usually completely absent from Hulk Hogan matches, that made the Ultimate Challenge such a memorable match. And, we all know, that Hulk did lose cleanly, 1-2-3, right in the middle of the ring.
And what happened to Hulk Hogan after that defeat? Did he vanish into pro wrestling obscurity? Hardly.
Instead, he turned into the "Immortal" Hulk Hogan. In defeat, Hulk Hogan's legacy reached a level he might not have ever attained in victory.
Because he stopped being the super-hero and he became a man. The same as the rest of us. Capable of being beaten and capable of making mistakes. Never again did WWE fans assume Hulk Hogan would win. After the Ultimate Warrior pinned Hulk Hogan, there was always that little element of doubt. It enabled the fans to suspend their disbelief more than they had been able to do with Hogan for many years.
Now, fast forward back to WrestleMania 28 or, for that matter, to any WrestleMania from 20-27.
Hasn't John Cena been made out to be this generations Hulk Hogan? Yes, he has—and the fans absolutely hate him for it. From WrestleMania 20-27, Cena competed every time and he was never really beaten cleanly, 1-2-3, in the middle of the ring.
It had gotten so far that the whole notion of "Super Cena" was created. It did not matter what Cena was put through in just about any match. It did not matter what legend was placed in his way, be it HBK, or Triple H, or even multiple foes.
Cena was a super hero and he would always win. Even when he lost, such as at WrestleMania 24, there was a moment where his status as Super Cena was solidified, such as where he held Orton and Triple H in position for the Attitude Adjustment. Never was this more apparent than in his feud with Batista. The manner in which that was handled, in my opinion, was a key reason why Batista left the WWE.
The longer this went on, the fans just got sick of it. Why do so many people hate John Cena? It's not because he is a phony, or a muscle-bound boy scout, or any of that.
It's is because he is boring. There was no sense of mystery when he stepped into the ring. It was just assumed he would win and the thought of him losing cleanly was just difficult to imagine.
Now, I am not saying John Cena is Hulk Hogan, not at all. He does not have Hulk's charisma or the same connection with the fans. But, the similarities are striking. The WWE knows this and they are using that to it's advantage.
That is why Cena had to lose to The Rock at WrestleMania 28 and why that defeat might actually help Cena's legacy. Super Cena died at WrestleMania 28. John Cena may have wrestled one of his best matches ever against The Rock and he could not win. He threw everything he could at the Rock and it did not matter. The second Attitude Adjustment was as pure a Super Cena moment as you could get...and The Rock kicked out.
See, the WWE is not going to turn John Cena heel, no matter how much the fans might want it to happen and no matter the fact that John Cena could possibly be the most popular heel ever. It's just not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.
So, the best way to make John Cena appeal to the fans, without turning him heel, was to make him vulnerable, to strip away the whole Super Cena persona, and then, when his powers had been taken away from him, introduce a true monster as his next opponent.
Cue Brock Lesnar's theme music please.
Brock Lesnar's return on Raw last night, and subsequent F5 on Cena was, in my opinion, a great move on the part of WWE. Cena said all the right things last night. He was humble, respectful towards The Rock, and wanted to shake The Rock's hand. Nothing he said or did last night was going to matter though. The fans in Miami were going to hate him regardless. And all they wanted was a Brock Lesnar return, which was exactly what they got.
With all this having now happened, this likely pending feud between Cena and Lesnar takes on a whole new dynamic. Cena is going to be the underdog against Lesnar. Fans are actually going to expect Lesnar to be able to beat Cena cleanly. They might even think Lesnar will dominate Cena.Had Cena won at WrestleMania 28, fans would have expected Lesnar to give Cena a good match but, in the end, Super Cena would still prevail.
John Cena will probably win this feud against Brock Lesnar. I expect Lesnar to be the heel in this feud and the fans will cheer for him...for a while. Eventually though, Cena's sudden vulnerability will bring some fans back to him. Fans love underdogs and when was the last time anyone can recall John Cena being the underdog?
The WWE works best when the fans can suspend their disbelief in not just the storyline, but in the match as well. That is why John Cena's loss at WrestleMania 28 might actually help his legacy. When he eventually tangles with Brock Lesnar, the outcome will now be in doubt. That is what has been missing from John Cena matches for many years now.
When Cena eventually wins this feud, he will do so not as a super-hero, but as a regular man who had to overcome one of the most difficult challenges of his career.
Like it or not, that is what legends are made of.