John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt: Projecting Cena's Character Change After Extreme Rules

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John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt: Projecting Cena's Character Change After Extreme Rules
Credit: WWE.com

Don't expect him to grow a black beard and start playing air guitar, but John Cena will step out from the steel cage at WWE's Extreme Rules a new man.

The psychological and physical battle with Bray Wyatt will shift Cena's character. He'll grow to be angrier, and more serious, plowing through his foes with a sneer.  

Imagine him borrowing from both Bruce Banner turning into The Hulk and a post-spinach Popeye, at least for awhile.

Cena is just too valuable in the world of public relations, granting sick children's wishes and selling merchandise, to become a villain. The strain of his struggles with Wyatt can't leave him untainted, though. Wyatt's needling and double talk will bring an edge to Cena.

The Boy Scout in him won't go away, but it will be pushed down for a time. 

WWE fans saw a glimpse of that on the April 28 Raw. Before Wyatt led a youth choir down to the ring, Cena addressed the crowd. He was far from his usual jovial self.

He questioned why fans would choose to put him in a Handicap match against the entire Wyatt Family the week before. In response to fans' increasing support for Wyatt, Cena wondered aloud why they would go to "The Eater of Worlds" and leave the Cenation leader behind.

He didn't quite bare his fangs, but he offered peeks at them.

As Mick Foley pointed out, it felt like the children's choir was symbolic.

This is just a precursor to what WWE has planned for CenaMike Mooneyham believesas he wrote for The Post and Courier, "Wyatt could transform Cena into something darker."

He's not alone. 

That's the process fans are witnessing. The entire storyline with Wyatt has been about the darkness Wyatt believes Cena has hiding inside him.

It's largely a reprise of his feud with Kane in 2012. Kane attacked Cena's friend, Zack Ryder, and stalked him, mocking him with psycho-babble much the way Wyatt is today.

These events managed to make Cena embrace his anger, but it never did turn him into something new.

Cena reacts to one of Kane's attacks on Ryder.

Wyatt's words are cutting deeper than Kane's, though. Cena has shown fear and frustration, and at WrestleMania 30 struggled to hold back a desire to destroy Wyatt.

Cena has changed in the tiniest of increments so far. That transformation is going to pick up speed inside the steel cage at Extreme Rules.

Wyatt is allowed to execute any viciousness he can dream up in this match. As violent as he has been in standard bouts, one can only imagine how torturous he will make this experience with sharp steel surrounding him.

Wyatt promo from inside a steel cage

Like rites of passage that require young men to experience great suffering to carry them into the next stage of life, Cena's latest battle with Wyatt will be transformative.

Any significant adjustment of Cena's character would be a bold, wise move. While Daniel Bryan grew from nerdy mat wizard to anger-management patient to gutsy underdog, Cena hasn't moved. He's been the same incarnation of himself for years now.

It's no surprise that the IWC has been so vocal about wanting to see him pull a Hulk Hogan and turn heel.

While WWE has too much to lose with that proposition, adding layers to who Cena is would add intrigue. It's an interesting path to take him on while he remains away from world title contention.

That makes the timing for his shift in character ideal. The more Cena is affected by Wyatt, the more powerful the leader of The Wyatt Family seems going forward. When he took Kane away at last year's SummerSlam and kidnapped Bryan, there was too little aftereffect.

It was as if his victims simply shrugged off their abductions, making tangling with Wyatt not all that frightening.

So far, WWE has gotten it right this time around. Cena is jumpy, unsettled and forced to examine himself.

Promo video for Cena vs. Wyatt at WrestleMania 30

Expect more of that to come. Expect Extreme Rules to haunt Cena, serving as the cocoon from which he emerges anew.

He will be more warrior than jokester after the event. He'll showboat less in the ring, instead focusing on where to send his fists. Think Kofi Kingston during his feud with Randy Orton in 2009.

Still, Cena maintains that he will always be himself.

His sense of self is being tested as it never has before. Extreme Rules offers the most daunting test in this trek so far. 

That night will change him, even if it isn't as drastic a change as some will be hoping for.

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