The highly anticipated WrestleMania 29 is in the books. One year after his historic “Once in a Lifetime” showdown with The Rock, John Cena has gained his redemption and the torch has been passed. The crowd reactions he has been receiving are as controversial as they have ever been. As a portion of the audience cheers and chants his name, the rest feel sick and tired of WWE shoving him down their throats on a weekly basis. The question arises, is it time for a character change?
Now that Cena is WWE Champion again, the threat of overexposure is tremendous. I have a feeling we are in for a rather long title reign, and in that case, how would we be kept interested?
As I was watching yesterday’s episode of Raw, I paid attention not only to the crowd reactions, but to Cena’s responses. It struck me that as much as we like to complain about his on-air persona, it simply works. The character change we have been hoping for probably still needs to happen in the near future, yet I was amazed by how genius the booking of Cena has been. If we hate him do much and he takes up so much airtime, why do we still watch?
The majority of the WWE locker room consists of easily distinguishable faces and heels. If a babyface draws negative reactions, it is probably a horribly written character. If the star can find a way to transform the heat into fuel for his own persona, he is called a tweener. John Cena feeds on both positive and negative crowd response. The remarkable thing is, no matter how hated he may be, he is still the one earning loads of money for WWE.
At the end of last night’s edition of Raw, the fans cheered as loud as they could when Ryback attacked Cena, making it known that he is pursuing the WWE Championship. It is not certain whether we are observing an actual heel turn, but to me that is irrelevant. Even though we do not yet know what crowd reactions WWE will be going for with Ryback heading into this feud, it is almost guaranteed already that people will be interested.
Cena has reached the point where he can utilize both his fans and his haters to generate interest in the product. Those who despise the Champ will cheer for Ryback no matter what, and members of Cenation will boo Big Hungry on the top of their lungs. As Eric Bischoff likes to say, controversy creates cash. No matter who we are rooting for, it is the passion in our choice that makes us watch. It is a brilliant technique that WWE have been incorporating into Cena’s feuds over the last year. Many were simply glad to see Brock Lesnar beat Cena up, even though he was a monster heel. CM Punk rose to superstardom largely as a result of how much people hated Cena.
WWE seem to have realized that a star’s supporters are the most passionate when there are just as passionate fans rooting for his opponent. Much of the pleasure in watching sports comes from the unity and security of a fanbase. It is very different from the old-school wrestling approach, which has the entire world rooting for someone like Hulk Hogan. This booking method has also brought a touch of realism to WWE programming. It is not all black and white.
Does John Cena still need a character tweak? Yes, I think so. Nevertheless, WWE is doing wonders at the moment keeping the WWE Universe passionate about Cena in some way and keeping him relevant without obvious crucial (and most likely illogical) changes to his persona.
Because fans are more or less left to decide their own emotional response, I feel like Cena is more exciting to watch right now than he has been in a long, long time.