Some believe the Internet Wrestling Community is destroying wrestling, while others believe they are a vital section of modern fans who provide feedback, whether it be praise or criticism, in a blunt but appropriate manner. Whatever the case, they are a group of people who, despite different backgrounds, ages, genders and ethnicities, are united in their love of professional wrestling, which prompts them to analyse every aspect of it in minute detail.
For example, I and every other WWE writer on Bleacher Report are part of this community. And I must say, it feels good to belong. Hopefully we are not like those rare few who ply the vast realms of the worldwide web with vitriolic diatribes about their most-hated wrestlers. Whatever the case, we strive to air our opinions in an articulate and reasonable manner, spawning articles like this.
In this series, creatively named IWC Analysis, I will analyse some of the IWC's most-prolific, most-publicised opinions. As someone who likes to ease themselves into a process, I have started with one that isn't quite known to the wrestling community; in fact, I myself had to be informed that this was an opinion of the IWC, albeit one that is rarely referenced or debated since most of the online wrestling community aren't concerned with it. Apparently though, a rare few feel John Cena can't wrestle.
So, in this, the first edition of IWC Analysis, I will attempt to answer the age-old question:
Can John Cena wrestle?
While readers on this website will hardly require a history lesson with regards to John Cena, the background to this theory is required. On June 27, 2002, Cena debuted on SmackDown against Kurt Angle, and from there he began a three-year odyssey to the main event; first and foremost, this sets Cena apart from the likes of Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger, who were gift-wrapped their World Championships while nowhere near ready.
Cena on the other hand spent three years paying his dues, jobbing to the likes of Undertaker and Brock Lesnar while building up a rapport with fans. By 2005, he was massively popular, being universally cheered by fans and even garnering respect from the notoriously difficult to please online section of fans.
He earned that.
At WrestleMania 21, this culminated in a WWE Championship match, where he ended the longest reign in SmackDown history by defeating John Bradshaw Layfield; it is here, perhaps, that the seeds were planted for this "can't wrestle" hypothesis.
It was, without doubt, a poor match, in which J.B.L, booked as a calculating coward for the majority of his reign, was transformed into a monster heel for one night in order to play up Cena's "underdog" status. He was bombarded with a fierce array of offence by Layfield, until "upsetting the odds" by reaching deep and accessing a mode that would come to be known derogatorily as "Super Cena."
Now, this didn't damage Cena's popularity, or even his reputation online; what did damage it was the fact that the formula of this match, an uninspired comeback derivative of Hulk Hogan, was soon recognised as the prototype for the majority of his title matches.
Because he rarely displayed a wide or sometimes even basic repertoire of wrestling maneuvers, the concept of him being unable to wrestle was born. Furthermore, the sparsity of matches in which he loses cleanly, which attracted an entirely new generation of young fans, compelled online fans to react against him in any way possible. Due to his obvious charisma and ability on the mic, they attacked his wrestling ability.
But are they right?
In a way, they might be.
The fact is, if Cena can wrestle, he lets himself down terribly at a great deal of televised shows and pay-per-views. At their worst, his matches are positively unwatchable, as he proceeds to be overpowered and outwrestled by his opponent only to rally during the climax and make a tedious, predictable comeback that engrosses young children while prompting anyone over the age of 12 to groan with exasperation.
It has damaged his reputation as a performer, but what's worse is that it so often undermines his opponents, who work hard for the majority of the match and may be gaining a great deal of momentum; another criticism of Cena is how often he buries those who are being pushed in a consistent way, derailing their progress and being counterproductive to good business.
But I digress. This is about his ability in the ring, not the creative decisions that give him license to defeat the majority of his opponents no matter the odds. The decisions of those creative forces will be relevant in the next slide, though.
One of the most frequent criticisms of Cena's in-ring style is how it is patterned after past wrestlers:
@mexwarrior Lol...some1 just said Cena is a better athlete than Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior! Lol are u retarded? No offense to a challenge person
Chavo Guerrero, a former colleague of Cena's and now one of his most outspoken detractors, tweeted this on September 20th, two days after Cena won a record-10th WWE Championship against Alberto Del Rio, who for the most part dominated the match. Here Chavo alluded to the common idea that Cena is no different than Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior; it is a view that does have credibility.
As main-event performers who, to be frank, were very limited athletes, Hogan and Warrior frequently resorted to using "five moves of doom" that would secure them victory after they had been outperformed by their heel opponents. It was a formula that was widely celebrated during the 1980s, during which Hulkamania was "running wild, brother!"
Now though, Cena is vilified for using the method because, in a more televised era, it is a disservice to paying fans when the main attraction of the night is repetitive and unwilling, or unable, to think outside the box when crafting a main event.
When using these reasons, the IWC have a point in claiming John Cena can't wrestle.
On the other hand though, they aren't entirely taking into account other circumstances that explain the way Cena generally wrestles a match; some are simply blinkered, while others are so impassioned in their hatred of Cena that they refuse to accept these circumstances at all.
For starters, WWE are focussing on Cena's appeal to the younger demographic, which means playing up his status as the man who will "Never Give Up." If this means having him decimated for 25 minutes before he mounts an unprecedented comeback within the space of two minutes, the executives will, and do, endorse that.
It's not only Hogan and Warrior they employed this strategy with; they also had The Rock wrestle in a similar way. It was for the likes of Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho to provide the wrestling match, while it was for main-event stars like Stone Cold and Rock to provide the spectacle. Whether you agree with it or not, that has always been the modus operandi of WWE and Cena fits their mold of main-event superstar perfectly.
Again though, I digress somewhat. Evidence that Cena can wrestle is often overlooked, but it is there, no matter what anyone says. While people argue that Hogan can wrestle based purely on one match against Antonio Inoki in 1983, Cena has attested his own ability on much more than one occasion, against the likes of Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Angle and most recently and notably, CM Punk.
Of course, the IWC argues that anyone of the opponents mentioned could wrestle a mop and provide a classic match; no doubt some comment here will express the same ideology. In that case, his match against Umaga in the 2007 Royal Rumble should also be explored. That is a fantastic match against a man who, while no slouch in the ring, required a certain calibre of opponent to get the best out of him. Cena did that.
Not only has Cena himself proven he can wrestle when the occasion required it, there are other factors that suggest the "can't wrestle" concept is incorrect. Primarily, it is the fact that older fans cannot relate to his character, and even those that can would rather stick with the crowd and lambast him for being a poor wrestler.
The partisan Chicago crowd at Money in the Bank, for example, shouted "You can't wrestle" at Cena at various points throughout his match with CM Punk. He then proceeded to have the first match in nearly 15 years to be rated five stars by Dave Meltzer.
His ability to tell a story in the ring is very good; his fans wince in pain every time he is hit, while his detractors tingle with glee. That is power. It is something the likes of John Morrison or even Daniel Bryan could only hope to evoke. For all their technical prowess, they haven't yet mastered the art of connecting with an audience during a match.
Cena is no masterful technician or flamboyant cruiserweight, but he is a good power wrestler that can build chemistry with most opponents.
Of course, in this age of social media, wrestlers—like fans—are freer than ever to express their opinions about performers, storylines and matches. John Cena has always been a particularly hot topic online, so naturally his colleagues, past and present, have involved themselves as peripheral figures in the argument.
No longer employed by WWE, the aforementioned Chavo Guerrero has always been outspoken about Cena on Twitter, frequently expressing opinions about how Cena shapes up as a wrestler:
@mexwarrior Now, my opinion...Cena is better than me on the mike,but I could out wrestle Cena with my eyes closed and 1 hand tied behind my back! Truth!
Now, whether or not Chavo could outwrestle Cena "with my eyes closed" is as subject to opinion as anything else; while Chavo wasn't exactly his uncle in the ring, he could perform, and as a former professional is entitled to his views. That tweet obviously expresses the idea that Cena is a poor wrestler, and the next one also references the popular opinion that Cena is lazy in how he performs during matches:
@mexwarrior But if u think ppl believe your BS lazy comeback that u do exactly the same every match then u are mistaken. Eddie & I taught u different..
Again, Chavo is alluding to popular opinion by mentioning how Cena so often employs the "BS lazy comeback" in his matches rather than performing in a different manner with more regularity. In another tweet, however, Chavo obviously feels that Cena can perform, with him admitting that his match with CM Punk at Money in the Bank was a quality one:
@mexwarrior I'll give credit where credit is due. Cena & Punk DELIVERED
Chavo is not the only wrestler to weigh in on this debate, with the legendary Mick Foley also expressing his opinion on the ever-popular Twitter:
"The Hardcore Legend" is not alone in his assessment of Cena, with Chris Jericho, the "Best in the World at What he Does," making sure to praise Cena in the aftermath of the unparalleled Cena/Punk match at MITB:
@IAmJericho As great as Punk was and is during the whole angle, don't discount Cenas work in all this. Contrary to what some say Cena is a GREAT worker
For the most part then, wrestlers online seem to appreciate Cena as a competitor; despite his defamation of Cena on more than one occasion, even Chavo seems to acknowledge that he has ability. His main gripe seems to be that Cena doesn't utilise it often enough.
Overall, the idea that John Cena can’t wrestle is tired, lazy and insipid; while he is by no means a Bret Hart or Curt Hennig, the suggestion that he is incapable of participating in a wrestling match astounds me. Frankly, it is a relief to see that this superfluous perception is, though still virulent, slowly being replaced by the more reasonable opinion that he is a limited, but overall decent competitor.
Certainly, one can’t vilify John Cena for his in-ring performances while glorifying the exploits of Attitude Era stars like The Rock, or even Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Indeed, Cena's biggest crime as a wrestler is that he was born in 1977 rather than 1972. If he had been born five years earlier and debuted in 1997 rather than 2002, he would have thrived during the much appraised Attitude Era when the focus was on controversial, cutting-edge television that prompted anti-hero characters like Stone Cold and The Rock to emerge as legends of the business.
For the most part, Cena is a good wrestler. He is certainly as good as The Rock, who had identical strengths and weaknesses to Cena in his performances. Both athletic, both capable of telling a great story in the ring and drawing reactions from the crowd like few others, but both limited in their move set to avoid burnout and to appeal to a more casual audience.
The difference between then and now is that the Internet is more available, so Cena's detractors have a platform to air their gripes, whereas any of the Rock's detractors at that time couldn't do it in such an accessible way.
This, as mentioned earlier, is the first in a series called IWC Analysis, of which I'm not sure how many issues there will be as of yet. I am now on Twitter, so if someone would be nice enough to follow me, I'm available to converse about this article and any other articles I've written that people agree or have issue with.
Contact me @Paul_Mc7