For years, John Cena has been the bane of the existence of legions of wrestling fans. Long accused of burying young talent, monopolizing the main event scene, entrenching the WWE in the PG-era, cutting painfully-silly promos, and hindering the overall progress of the company.
Once the edgy, throwback-jersey wearing anti-hero, cheered by the majority of the WWE Universe, Cena has morphed into an extremely polarizing figure, loved by women and children, despised by the 18-49 male demographic.
Chants of “Cena sucks” and, on an even more negative level, “You can’t wrestle,” became prevalent. The chants turned melodic, as haters began to harmonize “John Cena sucks” to the rhythm of his theme music.
Through it all, Cena never wavered, and stayed true to his character. Which, by all accounts, is an extension of his daily life. The current United States Champion embraced his fans while respecting the others’ freedom of expression.
John Cena’s ‘5 Moves of Doom’ quickly became common wrestling vernacular, even referenced by Cena himself in interviews and promos, and a quick Google search for ‘Cena Wins LOL’ (referencing his gaudy win-loss record) will return thousands of forums, memes, and angry blogs.
But, in 2015, a switch has flipped inside of Cena.
It began at January’s Royal Rumble, in a bout against Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. No less of an authority than Steve Austin himself has called it his favorite triple-threat match of all time.
Cena then, for the first time in recent memory, did the unthinkable. He exited the World Title picture.
Cena began a (by today’s standards) lengthy feud with Rusev, challenging for the United States Championship that the Bulgarian Brute had made relevant for the first time in a while. Through heelish means, Rusev even scored a submission victory over Cena at February’s surprisingly-good Fastlane event, bolstering the budding superstar’s profile, and setting up a big Wrestlemania rematch.
Many groaned when Cena scored his revenge over Rusev at ‘Mania, capturing the U.S. Title in the process. Naysayers saw this as Cena burying another up-and-comer at the company’s biggest show (a la Bray Wyatt the previous year), and refusing to give up his ‘spot.’
However, Cena’s U.S. Title run has been amazing.
John Cena has taken an historic belt, which has languished in obscurity for years, and revitalized its importance. His weekly U.S. Open Challenge on Monday Night Raw have often been the highlight of the show. While holding onto the title, Cena has still elevated the future of WWE, delivering lengthy matches with Sami Zayn, Neville, Dean Ambrose, Bad News Barrett, and Zach Ryder.
Cena has allowed his opponents to kick-out of his finishing maneuvers, and has even seen his adversaries apply his own STF to him.
As a viewer, belief of Cena’s dominance has been suspended, with a plethora of near falls really having you believe that he could lose the belt on any given night.
Instant classic matchups with the long-overlooked Cesaro have highlighted the Swiss Superman’s insane skill set, and quickly propelled him to a significant spot on the WWE roster, after being written off by many in the company (including WWE Chairman Vince McMahon).
Cena has proven that he can wrestle a variety of styles, from Rusev’s grounded aggressive attack, to the high-flying approach of Neville and Zayn, to the unorthodox methods of Cesaro and Ambrose, Cena always seems to have an excellent match, retaining his championship, but also making sure that his opponent loses no credibility at his expense.
And then there’s the ongoing series with Kevin Owens, where the two men have traded victories in a pair of match-of-the-year candidates. ‘Nuff said.
Cena’s ‘5 Moves of Doom’ have suddenly expanded to a vast repertoire of high-impact maneuvers: sit-down powerbombs, gutwrench variations, half-nelson neckbreakers, standing dropkicks, hurricanranas, emerald flowsions, various DDTs, and even a new finisher (the springboard stunner). Granted, you’ll still see the classic move set. But, you’ll be less inclined to groan when you do.
Not even the “You can’t wrestle” contingent can’t deny that John Cena is doing the best in-ring work of his career, and the WWE is in a better product because of it.