John Cena sliced into Roman Reigns' very heart in a relentless promo on Monday's WWE Raw.
Cena's rant wasn't built on the typical bravado-filled insults one sees on WWE TV every week. This was harsher, colder and more lined with truths than normal.
The Cenation Leader didn't just attack his opponent on the mic; he laid out his real-life weaknesses for the world to see.
Ahead of Cena and Reigns clash at the No Mercy pay-per-view on Sept. 24, the two powerhouses met to sign the contract. Adhering to wrestling tradition, things didn't remain civil. Cena and Reigns talked trash to each other, with tensions flaring along the way.
The clear winner of that exchange was Cena.
At some points, Cena went in so hard on Reigns that the audience had to wonder if he had ditched the script and begun to fire his own verbal bombs. He didn't.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc) reported that this was not the result of a deviation from what WWE had cooked up for them. Aside from one impromptu dig, this was planned and a scripted dismantling.
Three lines stand out as the truest, as the ones that spotlighted where Reigns is most lacking, echoing much of what The Big Dog's critics have said of him.
"They see a cheap-ass, corporately created John Cena bootleg."
Oof. That's rough.
That "corporately created" portion of the line refers to the WWE machine being so behind Reigns regardless of how much fans boo him. The company has committed to The Big Dog more adamantly than anyone else on the roster.
Ask a Reigns detractor, as Sports Illustrated did, and they will tell you they resent how much he is "shoved down their throats":
Reigns' critics have also often talked of him coming off as Cena 2.0. WWE books him to be nearly unbeatable. He gets just about every headlining opportunity out there. Many of his promos, especially early in his solo run, infused goofy humor that made him sound like a cartoon.
Reigns may never live down the "sufferin' succotash" line.
And while Cena's charisma has allowed him to succeed in spite of his potty humor and grade-school insults, Reigns couldn't pull that off. Thankfully, Reigns has shifted into more of a flippant, focused and entitled badass.
The only he's going to reach his full potential is to continue to carve his own path, to avoid being cast as the second coming of Cena.
"It's called a promo. If you want to be the big dog, you're going to have to learn how to do it."
During Cena and Reigns' exchange on Monday, The Big Dog appeared to forget his lines. He paused and tried to gather him himself.
Cena pounced, nailing Reigns with a shot about his mic skills.
Reigns looks the part of a WWE Superstar. He has delivered more than his share of great matches. He's a powerful, agile athlete. It's the verbal side of the game that is most lacking.
Bill Neville of the New Age Insiders podcast noted that Cena exposed Reigns on Monday:
As much as Reigns held his own to a degree, it was clear that night how wide of a gap there is between him and Cena as a talker. He's not nearly as charismatic as Cena. He seems to lack confidence at times.
And the art of improvising when reacting to a hostile crowd is one he still has to work on.
For Reigns to reach the level of Cena, Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan, his promo work needs to jump up a level. Cena was spot-on about that.
"I'm still here because you can't do your job."
Cena remains on the WWE throne.
It doesn't matter that he's not there full-time, as he pointed out on Monday's Raw. He remains the face of the company. He remains the biggest star, the man still holding the torch WWE wants so desperately to pass to Reigns.
Reigns is in the process of taking over, but he hasn't yet.
There is still a vocal portion of the audience not sold on him as a top star. There are still questions about whether Reigns can be the undisputed face of WWE. The situation remains unsettled.
And so WWE hasn't been able to fully transition away from Cena.
It will be Cena himself, though, who may be the key to that process. WWE brought him to Raw this month and made its intentions for that move clear right away. Cena is there to get Reigns over. All the way over.
This is a changing-of-the-guard feud. As David Shoemaker wrote for The Ringer: "This will certainly be a turning point for Reigns."
This is The Big Dog's time to dispute what Cena called him out on and to prove both his new rival and his unwavering band of critics wrong.