John Cena: “You can’t wrestle!”


cenation

The leader of the Cenation – Source: World Wrestling Entertainment

“You Can’t Wrestle!”

There is a pervading myth within the IWC and generally the hardcore fanbase of wrestling. It’s a myth that has been heard in many towns and across different continents. Picture it, John Cena is facing off against someone when the significantly lower pitched chants start: “You can’t wrestle”.

I used to hold to this myth. When I first started getting back into WWE and wrestling in general it was early 2010, John Cena was in his perpetual and extremely confusing position of the underdog WWE Champion, main eventing every pay per view and Raw. Honestly, it was boring. Plodding and predictable matches that invariably ended with Cena beating the odds. But take a look at the opponents Cena had in that period: The Miz, Batista, Wade Barrett. Not exactly a list of the greatest workers of wrestling history. Plus there’s the underdog thing. Despite the fact that Cena’s a multi-time world champion, having beaten most of the greats of wrestling history at that point. He was even built as the underdog against the Miz!

The biggest reason for this myth’s popularity is that Cena has the infamous five moves of doom. Shoulder tackle, shoulder tackle, fall-away powerbomb , Five Knuckle Shuffle and the Attitude Adjustment. Practically every Cena victory is down to this sequence, with no variation. It doesn’t help that all of those moves are relatively simple looking. Hell the Attitude Adjustment is just an elevated fireman’s carry. But is Cena the only wrestler to have a finishing sequence that hardly ever changes and a small set of signature moves? If you ask that question on a wrestling forum you’d get flamed to hell and back but it’s a good question.

Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, HBK, Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan. All the great workers of WWE history have their sequence. It’s part and parcel of the WWE style of wrestling, its just much more noticeable with Cena because his sequence is practically never changed up, unlike with Daniel Bryan who regularly slips in new moves in big matches to break up the monotony, we never notice it but Bryan is just as ‘guilty’ of having the five moves of doom. Is the IWC seriously suggesting that because Daniel Bryan usually only ever kicks, turnbuckle flip, running clothesline, missile dropkick and LeBell lock/Busaiku kicks his way through Raw matches that he can’t wrestle?

I just find it ironic that a wrestling fan would hate on Cena for having his infamous sequence but then equally praise Jeff Hardy for his varied moves, despite him being a godawful psychologist. I’d rather watch a dozen Cena matches than a single Jeff Hardy match. True, Cena often throws wrestling logic out of the window, most memorably at SummerSlam 2010 where Cena was beat up for the majority of the match before suddenly hitting the AA on Barrett, but this was part of his character from the start till around mid-2011. Cena was the guy who rises above the odds and does the impossible. That was his role. It’s infuriating, true, but it’s also just plain fact: Cena played that role as well as The Undertaker plays the role of the invincible zombie or Austin played the role of the angry redneck. Remember “smart marks”, professional wrestling matches are not real fights.

Great matches are built around psychology, not moves. And for someone who can’t wrestle, John Cena has been involved in an awful lot of the best matches WWE has ever put out. HBK/Cena at WrestleMania, HHH/Cena at WrestleMania, the HBK/Cena Iron man from Raw, the Punk/Cena series of matches after Money in the Bank 2011, Cena/Rock from WrestleMania 28, Bryan/Cena from SummerSlam, the list goes on and on. It takes two to tango my friends and Cena played a huge part in those matches. Put Cena in the ring with even a halfway decent wrestler and chances are you’re going to see a great match. This is because despite what jaded fans tell themselves, Cena is actually a really good wrestler. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not a great worker like a Bret Hart or a CM Punk. He’s several notches below them.

Cena’s problem isn’t his wrestling; he’s very, very good at that part. It’s his character that needs to change and recently it has, despite what TNA fans tell themselves while they’re burying their heads in the sand and blaming all the ills of professional wrestling on John Cena and WWE. Since Money in the Bank 2011 Cena’s character has evolved subtly. It’s nothing major, he’s still the smiling all American guy, granting wishes and rising above the hate. But he’s not the seemingly invincible hero that terrorized the WWE main event for years on end and turned us all into ultra cynical heel lovers.

There’s an element of genuine doubt now whenever Cena is in a big match, seeded along the way by the master manipulator and John’s greatest rival; CM Punk and reinforced by his loss to the Rock in Miami. Before MITB it was painful to watch and listen to the build and commentary in Cena’s matches because anyone above the age of 8 just knew that Cena would win and nothing that Michael Cole could say would change that. Ever since he lost to Punk in Chicago the facade has been broken. No longer can you order a WWE PPV safe in the knowledge that John Cena is definitely winning whichever match he’s in.

Seriously, think about it: would Cena and Bryan’s classic from SummerSlam be half as dramatic and exciting if you didn’t have some feeling that Bryan could genuinely win that match? That belief is there because of the evolution in Cena’s character, because he has faced that situation before and lost. Think of Money In The Bank 2011 and the following SummerSlam, matches that Cena just had to win. He lost. Think of WrestleMania 28, where Cena just had to win. He lost.

Another part of the myth is something that I’ve alluded to in previous articles for this blog. The idea that Cena is unwilling to put someone over, to let someone rise to the level he’s at. That he’s another in the long line of top guys who just wants to protect his position. Another Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash. To this I have two names: CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Perhaps the two most unlikely (both former ROH World Champions, both ‘undersize’ by WWE standards) WWE main eventers in history are in their spots now because they beat John Cena. Interesting fact, both Punk and Bryan won their first WWE Championships by pinning John Cena. Bryan even had the gall to do it completely clean. It’s not a long list but Cena has put people over when the time came.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Cena deserves a hell of a lot of credit. Much more than fans are willing to give him. Not only has Cena been involved in a score of the best matches in WWE history, he’s playing a crucial role in the transition of WWE, onscreen and off. John Cena can wrestle.

Steven Forrester

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11 thoughts on “John Cena: “You can’t wrestle!”

  1. I wouldn’t go so far as to call John Cena this generations Hulk Hogan. Yes, that is how he is booked, but his accomplishments are not comparable. When The Hulkster was the “face of the WWF,” the promotion went from a regional promotion, to a national promotion, to a global phenomenon. Hulk main evented eight of the first nine WrestleMania’s. You can define each WrestleMania of the era by Hulk’s match. With John Cena, you have to stop and think, was that WrestleMania when he fought Edge and The Big Show, or was that the WrestleMania he fought Batista? Was that the year he was played to the ring by a marching band, or a color guard, or a choir? They all blend together.

    Hulk also proved he could reinvent himself in 1996 by becoming part of the n.W.o. and actually kicking WWF’s butt in the rating while Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker were the focal point of the promotion. It wasn’t until Steve Austin ascended to the main event, that the tide of the Monday Night War turned. John Cena debuted the year after WCW and ECW folded. He has been the “face of the WWE” during and era without competition. TNA proved they are not competition with their failed attempt at a Monday Night War in 2010. In age of the DVR, you can’t steal viewers away from WWE because fans can watch both shows at the same time, so TNA never stood a chance. John Cena has no accomplishments that are equivalent to how Hulk Hogan built the brand in the mid 1980s and how Steve Austin reinvented it in the late 1990s.

    WrestleMania XX was the year that Vince McMahon gave the people what they wanted. Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit (I’m no longer a fan of Benoit). WrestleMania XXI was the year that Vinny Mac gave the people what HE wanted. John Cena and Batista. The new Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. Bodybuilders who rely on should tackles and compete in matches with simplistic psychology. Get beat down, Hulk Up, and win. The “Chain Gang” was clearly meant to be Cena’s “Hulkamaniacs,” but you can’t force something like that. If the WWE had competition, Cena’s run may have lasted as long as “The Lex Express.” The “Cenation” has faired slightly better than the “Chain Gang.”

    Whenever I say John Cena was handpicked by Mr. McMahon because he fit the cookie cutter mold, I’m told that Hulk Hogan was handpicked. That is “smart mark” hokum. Vince McMahon did not create Hulkamania. His father, Vincent J. McMahon dubbed Hulk with the “Hogan” surname.
    “Hulkamania” and “Hulk Rules” were used as a slogans while Hulk was in the AWA, working for Verne Gagne. Vince Jr. was just the first promoter wise enough to showcase The Hulkster as world champion. John Cena is totally a creation of the WWE market department. The 5 Knuckle Shuffle was meant to be his People’s Elbow. And don’t forget his lame feud with Eric Bischoff, trying to recreate Austin vs. McMahon.

    Anyone who thinks Cenation is making the impact of Hulkamania or the Austin Era, they’re living in a bubble. John Cena is only semi-famous outside of wrestling. When RAW vs. Smackdown! games were reviewed on the G4 channel, his name was pronounced John Sena. When he made a cameo on Saturday Night Live, the studio audience barely reacted to him as if they didn’t even know who he was.

    I know Hogan was guilty of politicking, but Cena has no need because the promotion protects his image. Before Survivor Series 2011, The Miz and R-Truth jumped Cena while wearing
    “Scream” masks. Cena beat them both down. So, then why did Cena have to team with his nemesis The Rock at Survivor Series if he proved he doesn’t need help to take on Miz and R-Truth? Cena took a Rock Bottom after that match, then rolled out of the ring. Same at Survivor Series 2012, when The Shield debuted. Cena was pinned by CM Punk, then his unconscious body magically rolled out of the ring. Like his has orders to not been seen on his back.

    He did put Daniel Bryan over clean at SummerSlam 2013, but he’s already back to being Superman. Don’t even get me started on Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler fawning over him.

    I’m sure John Cena’s an okay guy. People bring up his charity work, which is great, but that should have nothing to with storylines. Using a make-a-wish kid to get a cheap pop makes for awkward TV.

    The way John Cena is booked like Hulk Hogan, but is not Hulk Hogan. The “Cena Sucks” chants are the fans way of begging the WWE to cool it with this guy. Baby-faces are suppose to be cheered and somehow John Cena is praised because he smiles and chuckles at his failure to resonate with fans the way he’s meant to after being pushed to moon. He’s been in movies, TV show, and released an album, so keep his success in context. He was given a lot help. A little more than Hogan and a lot more than Austin.

  2. For a guy that can not wrestle, he has been in a lot of this era’s greatest matches. Sure his character is not the greatest and he is sloppy but you really do not need to be a Shawn Michaels to but on great matches. And Cena has been in some of the best matches I have ever seen in this era.

    And that is one thing i loathe about wrestling fans. This notion that you need to be a Daniel Bryan or a CM Punk to be great.

  3. Great article! Cena is definitely this generation’s Hulk Hogan and has been a part of as many iconic matches as the Hulkster. One of my favourite Cena matches is his absolutely tremendous Last Man Standing Match against Umaga (RIP) at the Royal Rumble. It was an incredible match, full of drama and excitement, and it truly felt like anyone could win.

  4. John Cena is this generation’s Hulk Hogan. The good guy who just won’t lose, telling kids to take their vitamins and say their prayers with hustle, loyalty and respect.

    The chants stemmed from the robotic “prototype” performance Cena normally gave match after match. But to say Cena had a lot of great matches… just compare those against the stinkers he’s had. The principle of probability suggests he was bound to have a good match once in a while.

    The beauty of Cena is that their is this air that he’s supposed to be the best. He’s the top guy so when guys like Punk and Bryan topple a guy like Cena, it means something.

    Is Cena a great wrestler? He’s great only when he’s put against great workers. Similar to how Bret was put against charismatic heels to compensate for his dullness.

    I’m not a Cena fan, but I can’t help then to enjoy the matches that he genuinely has a good time and when he actually tries to have a good match and throws in something new.

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