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Does A “Babyface” Like John Cena Work In 2014?

CenaneonUKThe wrestling business has lots of challenges these days. I think despite the many things you could point to the biggest issue facing the business is making the whole “heel and babyface” dynamic work. Jerry Lawler back in the day referred to crowds in Toronto and Montreal as being in “Bizarroland,” which is a reference to the comic Superman. Jerry is a big Superman fan and the reference is to that of “Bizarro World” an alternate universe in which everything was opposite from here on earth. It was his and the WWE’s justification for us screwy Canadians not going along with show and booing guys we were suppose to cheer and vice-versa. Speed ahead 15 or so years later, our bad example had made it’s way to places in United States and Europe like Chicago, Brooklyn, London and other huge WWE markets.

How is this happening? Is Bray Wyatt actually Canadian and spreading our lies to all of the people of America? Not exactly, but the guy he is feuding with holds the key to some of this problem. John Cena is everything a traditional “babyface” is supposed to be for the most part. He loves children and wants to act as a role model for them. He lives his life by a code of ethics that serve as his driving force. He never compromises from those ideals no matter the circumstances.

The problem is in modern 2014 do we believe a guy like that can be real and actually exist? For what is now a majority, as much as WWE may want to say otherwise, WWE fans see him as a phony corporate face of a company. John Cena for many is a plastic Ken doll in many respects. That makes Nikki Bella Barbie which isn’t far off either.

Bray Wyatt who is supposed to be the heel in the latest feud for John Cena. He speaks far too much truth to be that heel. The things he says about John Cena a large portion of the audience believes them to be true. Almost as if Bray Wyatt is doing a legit “shoot” promo on Cena every night.

We live in a world that doesn’t seem to believe in completely white hats vs. black hats anymore. This whole shades of grey thing we have talked about before in WWE. The whole idea of that came from the mouth of Vince McMahon himself. Shades of grey don’t always work though. You need to have someone you love and someone you hate and those shades of grey don’t always provide that.

I think what wrestling fans want is a” babyface” that is more like Spiderman who is a conflicted and very mortal super hero. C.M Punk kind of fits this as a good guy. He has the capacity to be evil and doesn’t always do the right thing, but in the end has a just cause and the best of intentions. There is a vulnerability to Punk both as in ring performer and as a character.

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This feud with Bray Wyatt they had a chance to create that vulnerability with Cena that is lacking so badly. Why can’t Cena be conflicted by all that Bray Wyatt is saying? Why can’t we have that moment or moments where he considers the dark path and deals with that conflict. If it caused him to lose a few matches even better. I am not saying Cena ever has to turn heel, but to seriously consider that path. Lose a match by disqualification,  be a bit of a jerk now and than. Have an inner conflict that ultimately the good in him will win.

Instead he laughs at Bray Wyatt half the time and doesn’t fully embrace the jeopardy he represents. Bray also is being so good, that people have embraced him. The issue is, he is playing to that and embracing them back. It all trickles down and creates this world where a large portion of the WWE audience cheers the heels they like leading to face turns and for some like a Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow sinking to irrelevance.

I am not sure, maybe just this whole concept is some how flawed in today’s society and world. It is kind of difficult to pick out the good guys from the bad guys in the real world these days. The people that gain notoriety and fame are not always good people. The line has become blurred and often times if someone looks like they are too good to be true, they often end up being just that.

Take a guy like poor Kofi Kingston he is to be the modern version of a Ricky Steamboat having a career as a life long babyface. Never quite good enough to be considered to get to that next level but always talented and the people like him.  Despite having all the talent in the world to justify it he never gets that big moment in the sun.  In the end do we get behind someone like that? We do for short stretches but for the long haul not so much.

One thing is true to find that classic “heel vs. babyface” feud in this modern world can sometimes be like catching lighting in a bottle. It isn’t easy to do and you’re not always exactly sure how you did let alone being able to repeat that dynamic. It was so much easier back in the day with Hulk Hogan. Throw generic stereotypical bad guy at Hogan and watch him win and cheer. That same dynamic in practice with John Cena causes many to grumble and some to consider pitching their remote control at the television screen.

I still think we need a world of heroes and bad guys to have things work, but they have to be compelling, have depth and realism to them if you truly want your audience to buy in. Take the roles being played by Triple H and Stephanie as the authority. Right or wrong this is how a large portion of this audience believes they are in reality. The closer you can make these characters in WWE feel like they border into a “shoot” or real life environment the better. C.M Punk’s entire success was based on this concept of blurring that line between what is real and what is not to a degree, than it became to hard to tell. After awhile no one bothered to try and figure it out. They just assumed if CM Punk said it, there was a good chance it might be legit truth.

It’s a complicated world to try and figure out. Heck I look at actual society and have a hard time understanding why the people in real life are popular and successful. I just know for me the people that resonate the most with me in both life and wrestling are the ones that come off as genuine and honest. If you have those qualities, no matter how you are cast by public or in WWE world the creative team, I will be loyal to those people. No matter how hard you fight it, the real life aspects of these characters will always shine through. Daniel Byran’s amazing journey and more recently series of extreme highs and lows rings true to people and make them really want to support him.

Triple H in storyline called this the “Reality Era” and he is right in many ways. Reality and not that stuff on “Total Divas,” but the actual real life stuff is the driving force behind a large portion of the audience. That is what motivates them. The WWE has the tough task of trying to make the real life bleed into their over the top unrealistic world. That is the challenge that lies ahead for them. A challenge that is far easier to achieve on smaller platforms. Just look at the success of NXT as an example. The chant “Ole” still for Sami Zayn who they all know was once “El Generico” in Ring of Honor.

The reason why a number of the best stars in this company come from Ring of Honor is they have learned how to connect with this modern world of hardcore wrestling fans. They understand what it takes to get over with them. What they learn to do in WWE is refine that in a way that they can have longer careers doing it.

John Cena stopped relating to this audience along time ago and they see right through his lies when he claims that he hasn’t. Was that me doing a Bray Wyatt line for a promo, or was that actually the truth it is hard to tell isn’t it.  Even Hulk Hogan had to eventually trade his white hat for a black one. I just have a feeling at this point Cena would rather trade his white hat for a seat on the sidelines with all the money he has made.

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About James Borbath

James has covered the NBA and Toronto Raptors for 6 years for various publications as well as his own website. A native of Hamilton, Ontario where he attended the first ever Royal Rumble, James is a life long wrestling fan and has decided to trade to slams of a different kind in pro wrestling. He hopes his transition will be more successful than Dennis Rodman or Karl Malone. Among his talents is a better than average Randy Savage impression. Follow him on Twitter @condoonthemoon

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