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.