You can make the case that John Cena could be the biggest star WWE's ever had.
Let me stop some of you now.
John Cena is not a terrible “wrestler.” If you actually believe in the John Cena who only has the “5 moves of doom” and can't tell a story in the ring, you're an idiot when it comes to evaluating in-ring talent of a professional wrestler. It's only part of the equation, but in this interview I did with legend Dominic DeNucci, he talks about what it takes to be a good in-ring performer, and to me, Cena embodies those traits.
You might memorize a lot of facts, watch a lot of shoot interviews, go to a ton of independent shows, wrestle a lot in your backyard, but you can still be wrong with your “evaluation” of Cena's abilities between the ropes. If you're still moaning in outrage, explain to me how CM Punk, Bret Hart, Stone Cold, Chris Jericho and The Rock have all gone on the record and praised Cena's abilities. I never heard anyone say CM Punk, Austin or Hart can't wrestle. I guess it takes talent to recognize talent.
John Cena, Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan. Three names I think many, including myself, would agree represent separate eras in WWE/WWF. Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan are the two names that would most rival Cena in a debate for the title of WWE's biggest star ever, in popular opinion.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was the face of the attitude era. The pop he got when the glass broke was incredible, with fans waiting to hear him drop an expletive and give a stunner to anyone who came within reach. I've always been a huge Austin fan. He was my favorite while he was an active wrestler.
Right now, wrestling has to compete against the legit appeal of Mixed Martial Arts. Chris Benoit, concussions, kids getting hurt in their backyards – all black marks critics, justifiably or unjustifiably, will quickly associate to wrestling and WWE whenever they can. Stone Cold was the top guy in the most profitable of times for the industry, but John Cena has sustained a positive, charitable image in pop culture in the midst of many challenges for the genre.
Stone Cold had a lot of entertaining talent to work with during his run. He also was involved in entertaining stories. Today, WWE isn't known for developing the same kind of top notch talent or quality storylines – but John Cena still became a star.
I'm not going to deny Cena's had some ridiculous, heroic comebacks in matches. I do believe in “Super Cena” at times. But remember, it's a pre-determined fight, determined by those in power.
Then there's Hulk Hogan. He was the man before there were men. By the way, if you're still held up from the start of this piece on John Cena's in-ring abilities, go ahead and try convincing yourself Hogan was a better “wrestler” than him. Let me know how that works out for you.
Hogan was the first to take an attraction like Andre The Giant off of his feet and slam him. During the territory days, there were big fish in smaller ponds, but Hogan became the biggest fish in the ocean the WWE created. Reality shows and sex tapes can never erase his accomplishments. Hogan was the first to do a lot of things in the sport on a big stage. This is part of his allure. He was first.
Next came Austin. The years 1980 to 2005 saw tremendous milestones and evolution. Twenty-five years worth of trying to do something new, creative, memorable. Hogan and Austin were involved in much of this.
To me, it's all the more impressive that Cena has had to follow all of that. He didn't have the luxury of being first to take a star who was never seen on the defensive like Andre was and beat him in front of 93,000. Cena didn't have the luxury of being the first to hit his finisher on the owner of a company. The list of things Cena wasn't able to do first goes on and on. Through all of it, he has found a way to be the polarizing figure he is to the audience.
Given Hogan and Austin's status, logically we shouldn't be able to make a decision on who is the greatest until Cena's active career as a wrestler with WWE is over. Cena is 35, has years left in the tank, he is only going to continue to draw money.
In wrestling, you aim to get a reaction. No reaction to what you say or do is the worst thing possible for an in-ring performer.
Great accomplishment to be loved by so many. Great accomplishment to be hated by so many. Is it the GREATEST accomplishment to be the most loved and hated by the audience all at once?