Sunday 29 January 2012

Embrace the Hate

It’s taken over five years of mixed reactions for WWE to finally begin teasing a John Cena heel turn. The main reason they’re (finally) taking this approach is because they know Cena is going to get some very rough treatment when he walks into Miami to face hometown hero The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. He is unlikely to officially turn anytime soon. WWE are simply giving themselves more creative freedom with the Cena character, which is a good thing. ‘The CeNation Commander in Chief’ is going to need an edge to him if he’s going to be working with ‘The Great One’ over the next couple of months.

Not only does it give the creative team some freedom but it allows Cena to change his character a little and give a more serious performance. Anyone who’s been paying attention to his performances over the last few weeks will have seen evidence that he’d make a very convincing heel. His facial expressions have become far less cartoony, more focused, since he was first encouraged to “embrace the hate” by Kane on the December 26th RAW.

His treatment of Josh Mathews on the January 23rd RAW was noteworthy too. When asked for a response to Kane’s vicious assault on ‘Long Island Iced Z’, Cena knocked the microphone from Mathews’ hand and gave him a menacing stare. That was not the standard Cena response.

The beating he gave Jack Swagger the week before was a good example of Cena’s ability to work as a heel too: had the face-heel dynamic been switched during that squash match Cena would have been booed out of the building and ‘The All American American’ would have been an incredibly sympathetic character. If Cena were to turn tomorrow and give one-sided beatings like to that on a weekly basis he’d be one of the most detested men in wrestling (for the right reasons).

Of course, Cena’s heel potential should be clear to anyone who remembers the beginning of his WWE career. After he’d killed a few months working as a bland babyface in the lower mid-card the future WWE champion was given the chance to reinvent himself as an antagonistic, baseball shirt-loving rapper on a Halloween episode of SmackDown. The character was different to anything else WWE was doing at the time, and Cena’s crisp promos and amusing putdowns helped establish him as “cool heel”.

Eventually Cena became so cool that he had to be turned face. That may sound surprising now (even to those who were watching WWE at the time it happened) but there was a time when Cena was so popular he simply wouldn’t work as a heel. His character has softened over the years (partly because of the PG rating, partly because the material Cena was using just couldn’t be used by a babyface) but he is still essentially playing the same character.

Will we see Cena stick to rising above hate at tonight’s Royal Rumble? Or will he embrace it and batter Kane? As I said above, I can’t see him officially turning. At most we’ll get Cena edging slightly closer to the dark side, getting himself disqualified and then standing around afterwards doing his usual “heavy breathing/confused look” selling. Anyone who knows Cena should know the sort of thing I mean.

An official heel turn before WrestleMania? I can’t see it happening. A heel turn before next year’s supershow is a far more real possibility.

Rise Above Hate: how much longer can John Cena keep on doing that?

Turning Cena will create fresh matches and change the dynamic of WWE’s TV and pay-per-view output. Cena’s been the number one face for so long that RAW would feel incredibly different with CM Punk or Randy Orton being presented as the company’s lead star. It would be a move for the better though: Cena would have something new to do and his replacement would have new matches and feuds to experience. Theoretically new talent would have the chance to rise up the card. Star building is something WWE needs to be getting on with in a big way.

When the time comes for Cena to finally stop being the good guy I think the best way to do it would be to pit him against the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Cena has been presented as unbeatable for so long and has beaten everyone there is to beat. If WWE were ever going to end ‘Taker’s ‘Mania streak Cena would be one of the favourites to get the win. If that match were to be announced most fans would instantly realise that Cena is a genuine threat to the streak. Anyone who thought otherwise could be convinced with some strong booking.

If Cena were allowed to dominate the Undertaker in the weeks leading up to a WrestleMania match WWE could convince people Cena was going to win. It wouldn’t be a stretch to have Cena dominating an opponent, even somebody on the level of the Undertaker. He dominates everyone, no matter their position on the roster.

 A match in which Cena went to increasingly heelish lengths to beat ‘The Dead Man’ would draw amazing heat. Have ‘Taker kick out of the AA. Then kick out of a second and survive the STF. Cena could survive choke slams, Last Rides and even a Tombstone without a single change to his character: he already survives everyone’s finishers anyway.

The reason that match would work so well is that both men survive so much in their matches. With Undertaker it’s the character’s gimmick, and people love and respect him for it. With Cena it’s because he simply doesn’t grasp the concept of selling, which makes people hate him. These facts would make a WrestleMania encounter between the two magnificently heated and a fitting addition to ‘The Phenom’s’ legacy. It wouldn’t be the most technical match of the legendary streak, but it would have an amazing “big fight” feel to it.

This match obviously isn’t going to happen this year. This year Cena will tackle ‘The Great One’. But when the time comes for him to turn heel a slow burn storyline between Cena and the Undertaker, two of the company’s most successful and memorable characters, would be a great way to kick off Cena’s run as the most hated man in wrestling.

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