Creative Miscalculation: The Issues with Booking John Cena on the Road to WrestleMania XXX


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John Cena vs Randy Orton

The board is set and the pieces are moving, as a popular fantasy character would say. From the returns of Brock Lesnar and Dave Batista to spontaneous creative decisions, such as Daniel Bryan’s alliance with The Wyatt Family, WWE programming has provided much to get excited about. Even though the Royal Rumble pay-per-view is still three weeks away, to an extent it feels like the Road to WrestleMania XXX has already begun. Management is currently under increased pressure to finalize contracts, particularly for part-timers, in order for the creative team to come up with concrete plans for the biggest event of the year.

The most important recent development that will have to be considered when it comes to booking the top matches at WrestleMania is the unification of the company’s most valued titles. It was evident from the hype surrounding Randy Orton and John Cena’s match at TLC that establishing a reputation for the new WWE World Heavyweight Championship was a top priority. The 30th annual staging of The Show of Shows, the one night of the year when WWE has the attention of the whole world, has to convey the concept that whoever is in possession of the belt is the true face of the promotion.

WWE has been in the process of restoring prestige to the now defunct WWE Championship for a couple of years now, starting with CM Punk’s historic 434-day title reign, and most notably, the WrestleMania rivalry between John Cena and The Rock. Their match last year in New Jersey acted as a passing of the torch between the most recognizable wrestling name in mainstream media, a moniker formerly held by Hulk Hogan, to WWE’s current top guy. Here we are in 2014, just twelve months after what the company wants us to consider the biggest victory of John Cena’s career, and some tough decisions need to be made.

A rematch between Cena and Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is scheduled to take place at Royal Rumble on January 26th. Having The Viper drop the title following a month-long reign would be about the worst thing to do in terms of maintaining the credibility of the belt. Furthermore, such a loss would diminish much of the progress achieved by the likes of Cena, Punk and The Rock over the last few years. On the other hand, if the champion retains at the end of the month, where does that leave John Cena for WrestleMania?

WWE will be put in a position where they either have to do another Cena vs. Orton match at The Grandest Stage of Them All, or exclude their biggest draw from the title picture. The idea that WrestleMania should be a unique spectacle, a night when WWE delivers a show of superior quality, the first option would not be desirable, not because of a lack of confidence in the two performers’ abilities, but because of issues of repetition. When the title unification bout was first announced for TLC, a portion of fans was quick to voice its displeasure over a main event that had been done on multiple occasions, despite not in the last several years. Following their rematch at Royal Rumble, another one at WrestleMania would be overkill.

Booking Cena out of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture for WrestleMania would be far from disastrous for the show itself. On the contrary, it would open plenty of doors for both workers to put on matches that the fans would be eager to see. Batista’s return, as well as Ric Flair’s appearance at the upcoming “old school” edition of Raw, has sparked speculation over whether WWE wants to do a storyline with the former members of Evolution. In addition to The Animal, Brock Lesnar’s character has also expressed his intentions of pursuing the title. The same goes not only for the champion, but for John Cena, whose options extend from the aforementioned part-timers to other top names such as Alberto Del Rio and up-and-comers like Damien Sandow. These opponents would certainly appeal more to those who feel burnt out from Cena’s overexposure in the main event.

Nevertheless, pleasing that big part of the WWE Universe would also bring about continuity issues for those who care to analyse character development. Just one year after his huge victory over The Rock, something even Randy Orton would presumably never be booked to achieve, how would anyone explain a position in which he is neither holding nor challenging for the title? This is one question that many are bound to ask themselves, especially those who only tune into WWE programming for that big night of the year. At WrestleMania XXX, they will be expecting to see Cena carry the company.

Sometimes creative miscalculation is rooted not in the nature of decisions, but in their timing, and WrestleMania requires special attention to timing.

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