John Cena Is Right About WWE's Biggest Issue—And Time Is Running Out to Fix ItAugust 7, 2021
It isn't often a superstar transcends their sport and can freely comment on it without fear of consequence.
A handful of those have done so across the board. Tom Brady's doing it right now. The Rock did it after he left WWE. A name like LeBron James can do it. Ronda Rousey too.
And now, finally, John Cena.
Cena's back for a fun throwback feud with the heel Roman Reigns in what should be a pretty entertaining affair. Like the Rock before him, he's gone full-blown Hollywood, remains a big draw when he returns and has Vince McMahon and Co. over a barrel.
Which makes his recent comments about WWE so good.
Out promoting the movie The Suicide Squad with Brian Truitt of USA Today, Cena dropped an eyebrow-raising comment on the state of the roster: "Man, I wish there was some sort of fountain of youth where I could be a full-time contributor. The longer they continue to bet on an aging prospect, that makes [WWE's] future a little bit less stable."
Which, for those who have been following along, is something B/R—and big portions of the WWE fanbase—has been saying for a long, long time.
Less stable is a good way to describe WWE's incessant overreliance on part-timers and aging Superstars while botching the next generation.
Cena's back and moving the ratings needle as expected. But only temporarily. He's the good type of part-timer usage. So would a brief Brock Lesnar return.
But the rest has been blah. Goldberg is back for the umpteenth time, this time to fight Bobby Lashley for the WWE title. He's been sling-shotted past the rest of the roster into the main event of one of the year's biggest events because WWE can't build its own Superstars. After the horrific botch-filled match with Undertaker at Super ShowDown in 2019 and forgettable bouts with guys like Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, Goldberg is back yet again.
Even worse, he isn't moving the needle that much in the ratings department. Ratings are up for recent episodes of Raw, per Paul Fontaine of F4Wonline.com, but it's hard to see WWE taking a victory lap when All Elite Wrestling, just a few years old, is already nipping at its heels.
Elsewhere on the ratings front, maybe the television folks invested in what WWE puts on programming prefers a Goldberg to a McIntyre or other up-and-comers. Fine. But that doesn't much explain the release of well-known guys like Bray Wyatt, leaving an even bigger void once the part-timers have their matches and leave again.
Other part-timer appearances don't do much or even backfire. Ric Flair was in odd segments before his recent release. Hulk Hogan gets booed at 'Mania. Undertaker is gone mercifully. Batista isn't coming back. Rock doesn't seem interested.
Notice something? There aren't many legends left.
Which is what makes Cena's point so emphatic and WWE's handling of its Superstars so disappointing. The company ruined Drew McIntyre after a lengthy title reign. It has 100 percent dropped the ball on Karrion Kross, making him lose right away upon call-up. Keith Lee, another juggernaut of an NXT talent, is an afterthought in midcard purgatory.
And then there's Aleister Black. WWE stunningly released him after horrific misuse, even blundering and forgetting to update his non-compete clause. He went over to AEW and just had an unforgettable victory over Cody Rhodes on an episode of Dynamite. It gifted AEW another headlining star with an Undertaker-style mystical element. WWE could have done the same thing easily and benefited for the next decade or so, but instead dropped the ball on the basics.
From the sounds of it, history could repeat itself in similar fashion soon now that WWE apparently doesn't want to extend the contract of Adam Cole. The company then shockingly cut Bray Wyatt, robbing itself of another unique character sure to find success elsewhere. Don't forget letting go of names like Braun Strowman, letting Daniel Bryan slip away and apparently missing out on the eventual return of CM Punk.
Cena has often seemed like an invincible character who can accomplish any feat. But he alone can't prop up WWE indefinitely, and his comments about the state of the company suggest he sees the same things we do. It's also just plain interesting to hear a guy who has always been a company man be so candid about the situation.
And as much as it might hurt to hear, maybe this is what WWE wants. Why build stars when the television contracts are so lucrative? Why waste the energy on long-term storytelling when it can do a goofy segment that pops numbers on Twitter and YouTube?
The problem for WWE is, over the long term, there's a company strongly moving into the niche it used to occupy, and it's growing exponentially. At some point, the landscape could shift. WWE still has a deep roster, but when everything feels like it's just in holding-pattern mode for the next big part-timer moment, it might not be able to dig itself out of the hole it seems intent on continuing to dig.
And if Cena's honestly commenting on it while also in a major program for WWE, flexing a bit of his immunity, it isn't just some exaggerated issue amplified by a loud portion of the fanbase.
But like Cena, if WWE is intent on fixing the issue, we haven't been able to see it yet.