WWE Parallels: John Cena and the Heel Turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin
WWE Parallels is a new series that links the present and the past of the WWE. This is a series in the sense that I will revive it whenever I see a topic to discuss. It isn't a series that I have planned out in multiple parts.
John Cena is the most polarizing figure in WWE history. For half a decade he has maintained his status as the most popular superstar on the roster. He is undoubtedly the face of this era.
However, throughout this time, he has garnered increasing negativity from a contingent of fans who consider themselves "mature wrestling fans". They dislike the direction Cena has led the company in, and despise him as an on-screen character.
Over the last few months, with the rise of CM Punk, the hate for John Cena has become apparent, with the simultaneous boos and cheers seemingly even. He has completely divided the wrestling fan base, and draws an audience regardless of whether they want to see him win or lose.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is arguably the most influential and important wrestler in the history of the WWE. Austin rose to the top of WWE to counter WCW's ratings domination.
With his first world championship victory at WrestleMania XIV, Stone Cold ushered in the Attitude Era, the most beloved period in all of wrestling. Over the next three years fans bore witness to more edginess, violence and nudity then had ever been seen before in the world of wrestling.
However, the success of the Attitude Era was in actuality a result of the depth of talent the WWE retained, and the quality of storylines the company was producing.
Spearheaded by Stone Cold Steve Austin, this era saved WWE, and brought about the most financially successful period for the company.
Initially, it may appear that John Cena and Steve Austin are two very different superstars. From a general standpoint this is true. They wrestle differently, look different, and their motives and values are quite different.
John Cena is the "superman" of the WWE who stands for hustle, loyalty and respect. Steve Austin was able to draw the casual fan through his redneck persona. He was the superstar who would brutalize his boss, drink beer and raise hell.
However, their roles in the company are virtually identical. Both Cena and Austin have been faces of the company. While the eras they led were polar opposites, their position was the same. They have both been merchandise superstars, selling thousands of pieces of memorabilia.
John Cena and Steve Austin were responsible for carrying the company, and were known as the biggest stars in the industry.
As such, the way they were portrayed on TV was the same. As the faces of the company, both Cena and Austin were booked to appear above everyone else. Neither man has often lost clean in a match. They only put others over on occasion. This was their role in the company.
Shortly after Austin's return from injury in 2000, Stone Cold was booked in the main event of WrestleMania X-7 against The Rock in early 2001.
This match became known as the "infamous Austin heel turn". Stone Cold aligned himself with long time rival Mr.McMahon to unfairly defeat The Rock. As Jim Ross brilliantly stated; "Austin has sold his soul to the devil".
This heel turn, and subsequent run as a heel, has often been discussed. Many believe the entire heel run of Stone Cold was mishandled. Personally I enjoyed it, although being too young at the time, I have only watched videos of it years after.
Regardless of the quality of this heel turn, it was necessary. Some within WWE have stated that the audience simply didn't want to see an Austin heel turn. Whether they realized it or not, it had to happen.
During Austin's entire run as the main event face of the company, he was a face. Of course he was an anti-hero, but the crowd absolutely loved him regardless. At some time or another, all main event talents need a change.
Austin required a heel turn to refresh him. He had been dominating WWE as a face for years, and sooner or later it would have grown tiresome. A heel turn added another dimension to Austin, and when he turned face six months later, he was better for it. The crowd fell in love with him yet again.
Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Rock and Randy Orton have all portrayed faces and heels during their main event careers. It helped keep the superstars exciting, while simultaneously allowing them to carry their characters past the one-dimensional babyface role.
Perhaps the greatest heel turn of all time, from the greatest babyface of all time, came from Hulk Hogan in 1996 at WCW Bash at the Beach. Hogan's long anticipated heel turn reinvigorated the whole company, and signaled the domination of WWE that would come over the next few years.
A heel turn greatly added to the legacies of many legends and current superstars.
The one man we have not seen a heel turn from is John Cena. While he was a heel during his time as a rapper, he has never been one during his main event run from 2005-present.
As I stated before, Cena, like Austin, has been dominating opponent after opponent, and has been consistently in the main event during his era.
Yes, Cena's merchandise is selling incredibly well, and from a financial perspective this may not be the right idea.
However over the last two to three years Cena's gimmick has become stale and repetitive. Too often we have seen him miraculously mount a comeback, and too often he has overcome the odds. He has been a constant presence in the main event for six years despite no significant change to his character.
With his upcoming dream match against The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII, many point to the next six months to one year as the time for Cena to finally pull off a heel turn.
As Cena's character became stale over the years, so too did the WWE product. It can no doubt be attributed to a trickle-down effect from the main event, in which Cena is a staple.
It is vital for John Cena's career, legacy, and the WWE that he, like Stone Cold did a decade before, finally make the transition from one-dimensional babyface to a compelling heel. If only for a short period...
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