John Cena is in the midst of a heated rivalry with Bray Wyatt in WWE. The enigmatic upstart formerly of NXT has led his family into war with Vince McMahon's No. 1 Superstar. And that war is being waged on TV for the whole world to see.
Bray has thrown everything he can at John. He has questioned his integrity, criticized his motivations and challenged his position as the company's most popular man. Yet through it all, John Cena has not changed in the slightest, his character remains fully intact. But it is that static character that will eventually damage John's long-term WWE legacy.
WWE fans have seen this before. And for the most part, we know how the story goes.
A heel emerges from the crowd to step up and throw his hat in the ring against John Cena. He's bad, he's tough and he means business. Like most heels, he's convinced of his superiority and more importantly he's convinced he can be the man to finally put John Cena down.
Edge, Randy Orton, and CM Punk are just three great examples of this. Each man had his own reasons for challenging John and each man did everything possible to defeat not just the man but the myth. They wanted to bust Cena down to size.
All three men had the talent and the characters to tell great stories with Cena. And those stories could have ended with different layers being added to John Cena's character; a visible change in how he walks, how he talks and the way he conducts himself.
Yet John never changed; not even once.
In fact, he has always prided himself in that. Cena's refusal to change has become almost as legendary as the man himself. It's one of his calling cards, one of the defining aspects of his character. And that character is perhaps one of the most static that fans have ever seen.
It's for that reason that many are likely having a very difficult time envisioning Bray Wyatt being able to actually effect change on John Cena. The man is seemingly unaffected by everything that comes his way. Good or bad, right or wrong, John is exposed to characters and drama that could potentially change him or add some depth to his character, yet it never happens.
John is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And what does that say about his legacy?
What does it say when WWE's No.1 guy and top moneymaker of his era has a flat character that has not evolved with the times? How can the company justify presenting Cena in the same fashion they have for so many years without showing some sort of texture, of grain to his personality?
Why does WWE insist upon keeping John Cena in a holding pattern and never allowing him to advance his character?
The easiest answer is John's aforementioned role as WWE's top money man. After all, if a formula works, why would the company or anyone in it, ever want to change it? A heel turn could potentially damage John's ability to draw and that would affect the company more negatively than any fan critique of Cena's character ever could.
But as it pertains to John's long-term legacy in WWE, it's a very open-ended discussion.
Hulk Hogan for example, did change. He was perhaps never that well received in WCW so when he turned heel and formed The nWo, it was a huge shot in the arm for that company as well as his character. His career had new life and a new edge that he had arguably not seen since his prime era in WWE.
Despite any criticism that could be leveled at Hogan for any number or reasons, it can never be said that he was not willing to change. Hogan stayed current and he still remained on top because of the work he did as a heel. Hulk Hogan's long-term legacy reflects his time with The nWo and the insane popularity that group had was thanks in large part to his efforts.
However, that does not mean that Cena must turn heel to save his WWE legacy. Perhaps a moment of doubt, of hesitation on his part would be enough. Maybe a week or two away from TV as he attempted to find himself would be plenty.
Even a controversial tapout loss to Bray could symbolize John's desire to give up the good fight and begin fighting for himself. Under the circumstances, it's unlikely that his fans would be upset at all if he adopted a new attitude and changed his routine. It could all be done in the name of necessity and not necessarily for shock value.
It could represent a moment in time when John was forced to evolve, to do what was needed to win the day against his opponent. When the rivalry with Bray is over, John could return to business as usual and that edgier side of his character would not need to return until the situation called for it.
But as of right now, Cena's predictability translates to unbelievable.
Will John Cena's static character have a long-term impact on his legacy in WWE?
The fact that no storyline changes him, that no heated rivalry has a long-term effect on his character, is perhaps too ridiculous to be true. It has had more of an effect than likely anyone even realizes. What will that mean fro John Cena years after he leaves the game?
Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho each have their critics. As much as they've accomplished and as popular as they still are, each man is of course not infallible and has his imperfections.
But the truth is that no matter what criticisms are thrown at them, the words "stale characters" are likely never used. The reason for that is because each man added layers to his personality and kept fans interested in what he was doing. The crowd was able to emotionally invest because they cared about what happened to them and they went along on the ride themselves.
Will the same be said for John Cena? If his character never evolves, if he continues on the same path he's been on for so many years now, how long before the WWE audience no longer cares about what happens to him?
Have we reached that point now?
When the final chapter is written in the story of John Cena, it will certainly reflect what he did for WWE. It will show the immense popularity he reached that ultimately led to his face turn and the main event career that followed. It will also show his incredible slide in the eyes of fans that had grown tired of his usual routine and wanted something more.
Yet WWE would never give it to them.
If that is indeed John Cena's fate, then an asterisk could be attached to his WWE legacy that will perhaps never go away. And that will inevitably damage him in the long term.