Posted by Nicholas Larks
Any long time WWE fan can tell you that the top guy in the company was the one that was most marketable and had that special gift to connect with the crowd. The top guy, in a lot of instances, was not even the best wrestler in the company. More people will rave about a Ricky Steamboat, a Shawn Michaels, a Kurt Angle, or a CM Punk match before any of the guys who were actually considered the faces of the company during these respective periods in WWE. However, people would not pay to see the show had the top guys with the marquee billing not been on the card, and with wrestling being so cyclical in terms of what the fans want, it is hard to maintain and keep a lock on the top spot for a lengthy period. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Stone Cold, and The Rock all defined what being the face of the WWE meant, but in my opinion, there is one star that outshines the others, and that’s John Cena.
Before I jump into the comparisons of John Cena to his predecessors, let’s look at what it takes to be the face of the WWE. A superstar must possess the following qualities to truly be the face of the company:
- The face of the WWE MUST have loads of charisma.
- The face of the WWE MUST know how to connect with the audience.
- The face of the WWE MUST have a character that is an extension of his personality.
- The face of the WWE MUST be a great storyteller in the ring and on the mic.
- The face of the WWE MUST be able to cross over into other media such as television and movies.
From 1984 until 1994, Hulkamania ran rampant through WWE as Hulk Hogan took the aforementioned qualities and turned them up in order to become the icon that he is today.
The audience blew the roof off whichever venue they were in every time “Real American” hit the speakers. Hulk Hogan also transcended wrestling to become a multimedia star in television and movies. However, as the little Hulkamaniacs grew older, and wrestling started shifting from the cartoonish characters of the 80s to the more edgy characters of the 90s, the fans grew tired of Hulk Hogan’s act. Hulk Hogan’s actual wrestling left much to be desired so he didn’t have that to fall back on either. Thus, Hulkamania in WWE was done as we knew it. We all know how the story ended as he went to Georgia and Hollywood was born, but I’m only focusing on his time as the top guy in the WWE.
The shift in the attitude of the fans that were sick of the cartoonish gimmicks and were clamoring for some real wrestling caused WWE to look to a new hero. In steps Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
Bret Hart was a great ring technician from Canada whose personality gave kids someone to look up to and adults someone to respect. From 1993 until 1997, Bret Hart became that new hero who didn’t need muscles on top of muscles or who didn’t need to deliver these very loud and in your face promos to get his point across. Bret would just state his business, go to the ring, and take care of his business, and he had the ability to make less talented main eventers have some of their best matches. However, another shift in wrestling became apparent in approximately 1996, and fans no longer supported the nice guy that represented all that was good. This, along with the infamous Montreal Screwjob, led to Bret Hart’s demise in WWE, and his glory was never to be captured again.
In 1996, we were welcomed to the attitude era, an era of scantily clad women, racy storylines, and anti-heroes that cursed like sailors. Needless to say, this was the most popular time in wrestling history. Gone were the days of the faces that would stand up to anyone or the heels that would talk big then tuck their tail and run when confronted. The attitude era brought about a new breed of heel that would get right back in a good guy’s face and possessed a “never say die” attitude as well. These heels became known as anti-heroes. While Shawn Michaels played huge roles in the post-Hulkamania era and the attitude era (forming DX), he still wasn’t that face that the fans were rabid for. No two superstars defined an era in wrestling as much as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock.
From the sound of the shattering glass and the “If Ya Smeeeeelll…”, the fans would go absolutely crazy for these two men. They were so cool and bad ass as heels that the people embraced them for those same qualities when they became faces. From 1996-2002 during the attitude era, Stone Cold and The Rock headlined an unprecedented three Wrestlemanias. Also, these guys crossed over into huge movie stars. Stone Cold and The Rock were not only the faces of the WWE, but they put the company on their shoulders and ran WCW out of business.
With no WCW to compete with, a larger talent pool from their acquisitions of WCW and ECW, and a farm system that was developing top notch talent, the WWE had monopolized wrestling. The attitude era officially ended when the WWE dropped the “F” and Stone Cold and The Rock began to pursue other interests. While WWE had its share of stars, they needed that next breakout star to put the company on his back. The WWE found its new face in John Cena.
John Cena had it all. He had the muscular physique that Vince McMahon was so fond of. He had charisma beyond limits, and one his first night on WWE television, he proved that he could go in the ring when he stood toe-to-toe with arguably one of the greatest technical wrestlers ever in Kurt Angle. Currently, many say his gimmick is stale, but those same people who say that are the same ones buying John Cena t-shirts for their kids. See, while the change in society’s attitude ended Hulkamania and eventually Bret Hart’s run, John Cena actually changed his attitude to accommodate the family friendly audience that the WWE caters to. Coming in during a period where WWE was still slightly pushing the limit, John Cena arrived as a brash, wanna-be Vanilla Ice, and he did it well enough to get booed out of the arena every night. However, fans quickly realized that he was not some wanna-be rapper, yet a man who was actually talented as a rapper whose character was an extension of his true self. Thus, he became embraced for his lyrics when he dissed his opponents before matches. With his trendy, urban look, his charisma, and his work ethic, John Cena rose to become the most popular guy in WWE during the post-Attitude era. He has also crossed over into movies and television like the guys before him. Even more impressive was that the WWE Championship belt was changed to a blinged out, spinner belt that became one of the biggest merchandise sellers in WWE history because of Cena. John Cena has also been involved in some of the most awesome feuds in wrestling, and has quietly put together some very epic matches. It is also noteworthy how much John Cena gives back with his Make-A-Wish work. What’s even more impressive is that John Cena has held his spot at the top longer than Hogan, Bret Hart, Stone Cold, or The Rock. It’s hard to recognize greatness and history while you’re living it, but out of all the guys that have carried the company, John Cena is the best of the best and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon.
***FEEL FREE TO COMMENT AS WELL AS TWEET ME…@NickLarks***
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