Before this article gets underway, let me just say I understand this will probably incite some heated and passionate responses. Keep it clean and try to avoid the tired 'Cena sucks' response. I look forward to any comments and any feedback you are willing to give.
The Raw opening has aired and the fireworks have been set off. The crowd is waiting in silent anticipation of the night's first act. Then, without warning, his entrance music explodes over the PA system and the WWE Universe erupts. The majority cheer the impending appearance of their favorite Superstar while others, mainly members of the ever-valuable 18-to-35 demographic, can be heard jeering him. Like a bullet ejected from the chamber of a nine millimeter, he shoots through the curtain and out onto the stage. He salutes the fans and takes off on a sprint towards the ring. The excitement in the arena is at a fever pitch. He is adored by many across the globe and despised nearly as much by others.
He is John Cena and like it or not, he is the best wrestler in the world.
There is a common misconception made regularly by fans across the internet. The term "best wrestler in the world" is often applied to outstanding in-ring workers such as the current United States Champion Daniel Bryan, the currently-on-hiatus Chris Jericho, or any number of performers employed by Total Nontop Action, Ring of Honor, or Dragon Gate. While these athletes deserves accolades for their in-ring performances, none can convincingly lay claim to being the best wrestler on the planet.
Often times, largely within the internet fan base, it is forgotten that professional wrestling is so much more than the display of technical prowess, the use of submission holds discovered in MMA camps and forty-five variations of the suplex. It incorporates the interviews leading to the matches, the marketing done to promote the events, and the outside media projects that allow the performers to gain more exposure and, as a result, help the company grow.
In reality, despite what many may believe, the in-ring product is but a small fraction of what makes a wrestler the best in the world at what he does.
The most common of criticisms regarding John Cena is his apparent lack of wrestling skills. Some even say he wouldn't know the difference between a wist lock and a wrist watch. Those same critics have clearly forgotten the the wrestling "masterpieces" engaged in by the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, and Mick Foley. All four men were lacking in wrestling ability. The main event matches they appeared in were either brawls or punch and kick affairs with little or no sign of actual wrestling ability. Their best matches were often the ones in which their opponents had a more varied skills set.
Cena on the other hand, has proven his ability to have very good, or in some cases great matches with a variety of different performers. The matches he had with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Randy Orton and Edge were as good as expected and are fondly remembered today. But good matches with Superstars like those four proves nothing. It is Cena's early-to-mid 2007 string of matches that serves as evidence of his greatness inside the ropes.
The majority of 2007 was interesting for WWE. With major injuries sidelining mega-stars such as Triple H, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker for significant periods of the year, Cena was trusted to carry the company on his shoulders. The question was, who was left to challenge him for the championship?
The answer would come in the form of two very green newcomers and a veteran in-ring performer who had yet to fully get over as the monster heel he had been positioned as. Rather than share the ring with established, veteran ring generals like Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Edge, Cena was forced into matches with the likes of Umaga, the Great Khali and Bobby Lashley. To this day, Cena's matches with these men remain, individually, the best matches of their careers. As a matter of fact, many consider the Last Man Standing match with Umaga at the 2007 Royal Rumble pay-per-view one of the best in the historic event's history, as well as the only major competition to the Cena-Michaels series for match of the year.
A year later, Cena had a phenomenal match with Batista despite suffering from a neck injury. In 2006, Cena had what can be surprised as the single greatest performance of his career as he defended the WWE Championship in a very good, Attitude Era-esque match against Rob Van Dam in front of a bloody-thirsty, riot-threatening pack of ECW fans in New York. John Cena's abilities to get the very most out of a lesser quality opponent or a hostile environment is just a sample of what makes him the phenomenal performer he has become. He is a craftsman and artist that has mastered a formula that has catapulted Rock, Austin, Hart, Michaels and Hogan to the top of the industry.
John Cena learned a long time ago to camouflage his weaknesses to the point that you could not see them and then accentuate his positives. He is a believable face who can create sympathy when he is on the receiving end of a beat down and excitement when he finally makes his Herculean comeback. And for the critics complaining about his aura of invincibility, that he always manages an explosive comeback no matter who or how many have beaten on him throughout the match, there are several well-known, highly-decorated Superstars who established themselves and made a career out of following this tried and true formula.
Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock have all played the role of "main event baby face who overcomes the odds to emerge victorious." From Hogan single-handedly defeating the Big Bossman and Akeem after his tag team partner abandoned him, to Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart withstanding a major beating from and ultimately defeating wrestlers much larger than them, to Stone Cold and The Rock tearing through the members of the dastardly Mr. McMahon's Corporation, all five legends in the professional wrestling world have achieved the level of success they have because of the same formula Cena utilizes today.
These men used the formula to their benefit, telling a story the fans could understand and willingly bought into and invested themselves in. The heel worked the face over before the ultimate good guy stormed back with a series of signature move set before the finishing move sent the fans home happy. These men stayed at the top of their craft until there was a new star ready to take their place. John Cena finds himself in that spot, telling the same story. Whether the formula is flawed is an entirely separate argument for an entirely separate article. But it is both insane and irresponsible to put the blame of a tired formula at the feet of one man.
Luckily for Cena, he is not left to the mercy of the formula. His out-of-ring presence has led him to become perhaps the most immediately recognizable star the business has left.
It is nearly impossible to flip through any of the hundreds of channels provided by your cable company without seeing John Cena's image. Whether it be a pay-per-view event spot, a Gillette razor commercial, a Mattel action figure ad or the re-airing of any of his three WWE Studios films, Cena is everywhere.
He has graced hundreds of magazine, video game, and DVD covers. He is the face of Topps' WWE trading card line. He has played guest analyst on ESPN's Sports Center, College Football Live, First Take and Sports Nation. He's been invited to several major sporting events and served as the grand Marshall of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and TCU.
Cena's continued presence in multiple forms of media has allowed the outside world to familiarize themselves not only with Cena himself but also with his employers, the WWE. His real life superhero/G.I. Joe looks and his rather wholesome appearance allows parents to trust that he is a positive role model for their children.
John Cena has become an idol to fans across the globe. Much like Superman or Batman or any other DC or Marvel comic book superhero, Cena teaches kids that if you stick to your morals and work hard, you can and will succeed regardless of any obstacles or road blocks put in your path. He is the pure good guy that any fan can relate to. He beats up the bad guys and does not back away from a fight.
For the two or three hours he is on the screen every week, fans can forget whatever else is going on in their lives and escape reality. They can cheer Cena because his character is a symbol of hope that no obstacle is insurmountable. It is a character as simple as Cena's that is why we became wrestling fans in the first place.
It remains unknown whether or not Cena will drive in the ratings, the pay-per-view buys or revenue that his predecessors did. Where Cena takes his place among the all-time greats is also unknown. What is known is that Cena's greatness cannot be measured by the flawed system employed by the majority of smart marks populating the internet. It is about the culmination of every facet of the industry into one complete package.
Hulk Hogan was that package in the 1980's and Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the 1990's. John Cena is the greatest wrestler in the world today because he goes above and beyond the call of simply performing night in and night out inside the ring. He is an ambassador for the sport, and one day, when Cena is no longer performing for the WWE fans, each and every one of those who took the time to sit back and appreciate his work will respect him for his greatness and the legacy he left behind.