“The reason why I don’t want to change is because I’m happy with what I stand for. It’s taken a lot of conscious thought and I’ve had to take a lot of comments on the chin, but I’ll take them because, at the end of the day, I feel like I’m doing a greater good.” John Cena – John Cena’s Greatest Rivalries, 2014.
At his peak, whenever Hulk Hogan took of his mask and presented us with Terry Bollea, he’d always take on a refined, dulcet tone, one about an octave lower than his character’s voice and he’d sit and convince you that what he was saying was genuine. He has equally as compelling as the in-ring performer but spoke with a calm and inviting candidness – as if he was taking you to one side, putting an arm around your shoulder and saying “son, did I ever tell you about the time…” There are few who have the kind of charisma.
John Cena has it.
In much the same manner, the unmasked Cena speaks in a soothing baritone that sells you on just about any subject. He tells you about the greatest work of his career in a way that commands your attention and your respect. And yet what he doesn’t have is that unmistakable sincerity of those who have long since left the company – Edge, Shawn Michaels, Jim Ross. He still speaks in sound bites. He still has the script memorised. He still says the right thing.
That ‘conscious thought’ that he refers to is still very much part of his makeup. Rather than say something controversial, he’ll say something good; something nice. Actually, it is more than likely that he’ll say something definitive yet unmemorable.
Many of you reading this won’t want to buy this DVD. To some extent a good John Cena match has a ceiling in terms of how good it can be. Maybe once you’ve seen a few, you’ve seen enough. But John Cena is as consistent a performer as you get in WWE today. If you look back through Observers at Cena’s matches you would have to go back as far as 2010 to find anything under 3 stars. Most matches are above 3 ½ stars. Many are above 4. And this is true of much of his career.
His consistency is perhaps what makes him so undesirable to fans: in many respects, he’s always the same. He rarely surprises you.
On this DVD set, you can watch Cena against Eddie Guerrero, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, JBL, The Rock, Triple H, Edge, CM Punk and Randy Orton. The matches are good but the sit down interview and build up around them is really rather meagre and really fairly dull. It’s worth noting that Kurt Angle ought to be on that list but it’s clear as to why he isn’t right now.
Cena is extremely self aware, however. You wouldn’t get to his position, I suppose, if you weren’t. On several occasions he refers to his limited ability in the ring – in that, he has limits. “I’m quite the lumbering individual” he notes, stating that working with people like Eddie Guerrero and Shawn Michaels were learning curves.
On Eddie, Cena calls him the “overflowing book of knowledge” who had a “chicken soup recipe” that you didn’t really want to mess with because he’d got it down to a fine art. Whilst on Michaels, Cena finds how he “prides himself on making everyone look great – fighting him was like taking a night off […] at times, you just want to stop and watch him”
Refreshing too, in what is not a career retrospective, is what he highlights about others with regard to their style of work. On Randy Orton, “He’s gifted and is one of the smoothest performers inside the ring. I don’t have that, he does.” And on JBL, “he’s like Vince Lombardi was to the Packers – a drill sergeant who is uncompromising. I’ve never had the crap beaten out of me more than with JBL […] his style is ‘hit hard and often’” And on that point, it’s disappointing to see that his match with JBL from Judgment Day 2005 didn’t make this set.
Cena’s respect is perhaps given out most deeply, though, to the likes of Jericho, Edge and Michaels. He talks a lot about ‘chances’ and ‘getting your chance’ and praises Jericho for giving him the time of day back in 2002, “he was my first ppv match […] I owe a lot of my early success to Chris. Most people said I was no good, he stuck up for me.” While for Edge “I like his story because whether he knows it or not, he wasn’t supposed to get his chance. We called each other ‘old shoe’ because working together was always as comfortable as putting on an old shoe or old baseball glove” And again, their match from Unforgiven 2006 really ought to have made the cut.
The matches on display here are varied in terms of when they fall on the timeline of John Cena’s career. The kids will no doubt find it strange to see Cena (then as Prototype) v Batista (then as Leviathan) from OVW in 2002 and may well baulk at its graininess and lack of HD gloss. Arguably the finest are those against Triple H (who Cena calls “the measuring stick”) from WrestleMania 22 – which he likens to “a rite of passage” – and those against Edge (from Raw in 2006 and Backlash 2009) and Michaels (two Raw matches from 2007 and 2008) – what is not included is often as good if not better, in this instance.
The greatest of his latter day feuds – with CM Punk – is buried, on the no doubt lesser-purchased Blu Ray, under ‘extras’. No love lost between WWE and Punk there then. But Cena’s comments are more interesting about Punk than most, “I think he loves wrestling, maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know […] People say ‘the machine wants you to believe in Cena’, but Punk offered you something different.” Amusingly, he likens his matches with The Rock (only the first of which is on this DVD collection) to Rocky Balboa v Apollo Creed. You can tell that it’s the verbal exchanges between the two that last in his memory and made that feud ‘great’.
If Cena can ever take off the shackles of WWE and wriggle out of the straight jacket that 300+ days a year for the last 12 years of living and breathing this brand has encased him in, we might just get an interview that lacks that aforementioned ‘conscious thought’.
Even at 37 years old, the company are still afraid to beat him and, at 50, he’s still afraid to beat them. It might not be in the next 5 years, or 10 years or even 15 years but somewhere along the line, we might just see what John Cena really thinks – ‘might’ being the operative word.