In 2002 the landscape in sports and entertainment changed. Out was the attitude era and in was the ruthless aggression era. During this era, several things would happen. On the way out was Steve Austin, the Rock would go Hollywood and be out more sooner than later. Just like that two of the biggest stars to ever be in the pro wrestling business were on to new situations. Now who would replace them? a day after WrestleMania eighteen, we would be introduced to “The next big thing” Brock Lesnar.
Kurt Angle would stay with the company until 2006, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit would find themselves. Chris Jericho could not and would not shut up about beating The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night. In all of this would come the most unorthodox talent ever. During SmackDown, Angle would have an open challenge to anyone in the back. Some generic porn music started to play and out came this white man. Looked like a million bucks but had a Vanilla Ice hair cut from the nineties.
First Big Moment, First Major Championship
Angle asked him “Who are you?” and with intensity in his voice he said “John Cena.” Then he said “Ruthless Aggression” slapping Angle and the match starting. For his first outing that was not a dark match, Cena looked good, but we would not hear much from him after that. Until a Halloween show where he began to rap in a Vanilla Ice costume. After this would be his rapping gimmick and he would get over to the surprise of many. A fan favorite, he would get his first taste of gold at WrestleMania 20.
A feud with the United States Champion led to a one-on-one match in Madison Square Garden. In the show’s opener Cena would defeat The Big Show and truly begin his journey to becoming the face of the WWE.
He would lose the US title off and on for the next year until the following year’s big show. Where he would capture his first WWE world championship against Bradshaw. 2005 would be a big year for Cena, as he would have done everything, he could do on the SmackDown brand. He would get drafted to Raw in a monumental shift to both brands. With this shift came another, he went from cheered to boo. Some fans would say it is because he was being pushed too hard.
Let’s Go, Cena, Cena Sucks!
This is not accurate as he was not yet the face of the company. It was just an organic change that evolved or devolved however you want to see it. But it was a mixed reaction like nothing we have ever seen before. The crowd was mixed, and this would continue until this very day. Half would say “Lets go Cena” and the other half would say “Cena sucks.” This would only make him more polarizing but more famous and sell more merchandise.
Then comes the booking of Cena, being the face of the company, he would be heavily protected. A couple of examples are when he defeated the Nexus at Summer Slam when he should have lost. Also, him winning his sixteenth world championship at the expense of a red hit AJ Styles. Are these situations unusual? No! look at Brunno Sammartino’s run in the 60’s and 70’s. or Hulk Hogan’s run in the 80’s and 90’s. they were so dominate; the biggest difference is that there was no social media to voice their displeasure.
Also, there are so many aspects now, merchandise the PG era, scripted promos. The list could go on for a while, but if you look at Cena’s run it is very impressive. He was on top as a full-time performer for fourteen years. that is triple the time of both Austin and Rock. Could his booking have been better? Sure! But you can say that about anyone in the wrestling business. The most impressive thing about Cena’s run is that his character did not change once he got on top.
There is a story that he was supposed to turn heel, but Vince McMahon got cold feet and called an audible. When I say he has not changed, I mean his character never did a major overhaul. Which you normally need to do in a business that has as much live programming as WWE does. He has excelled even in the twilight of his career, he dropped down to the mid card holding the US title again. he started a weekly US title open and put-on classics week after week.
The Undertaker is for sure the greatest character that Vince McMahon has ever dated. John Cena is the biggest surprise, the most consistent, and the greatest superstar in WWE history if you look past the numbers and look at his fourteen active years. no one has been more polarizing in dividing an audience. His presence is more important than merchandise or title reigns. He came at a time where WWE needed a face, the two biggest stars were out, and he had to fill shoes that some say could not be filled.
Accepting His Place in History
Well, he did not need to fill them, he just needed to pump his shoes up and be him. Now that he is gone, Roman Reigns may be next in line. But no one can be John Cena, the way he breaks “Make a wish” records. The competitor he is or the way he could get ripped by fans and turn it around on them. like when a crew of people in the front row had on “We hate Cena shirts.” He turned to them and straitened his shirt that said, “Rise above hate.” The situations he has been in as a good guy are truly unbelievable.
He walked into a hostile ECW arena as champ and if he would have left as champ. I truly do believe they would have rioted that night. No one has done more with less; The Rock had the athleticism and charisma. Austin was a good worker and had the promo skills. Cena had muscles, the hunger, the desire, and a dream to succeed, I guess sometimes that is all you need to be the best at what you do.