It’s true that the bulk of Cena’s more celebrated matches have been against rated wrestlers, the likes of Punk, Bryan, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Edge and Chris Jericho. It’s also true that his two matches with popular poster boy The Rock failed to set the world on fire. But let’s elaborate on these points a little.
As WWE’s top talent it’s to be expected that Cena would be facing top calibre opposition more than most. It’s what happens when you’re WWE’s top guy. When he first become ‘The Guy’ and for several years afterwards Cena was a limited worker who relied who a rudimentary selection of moves and employed little ring psychology. That he was so clearly limited got people into the habit of praising his opponents for any good match he had, and when Cena did improve it was overlooked because people were so used to awarding credit elsewhere.
Being in the ring with highly regarded opponents helped to create the perception that Cena was coasting or being carried through these matches. In recent times, particularly last year, he has demonstrated that he was able to carry his end of these matches. His outings with Bryan and Punk, and various six man outings against The Shield, are the obvious things to point to from Cena’s 2013. But just as impressive were his lesser regarded bouts with Alberto Del Rio and Mark Henry.
For the most part when Cena faces lesser names (a disparaging term I know, but there’s no convenient alternative) it’s usually a throwaway effort on RAW or SmackDown. WWE is not in the habit of building up any wrestler by having them look competitive against top stars. It’s just not the way things are done. During his time as the promotion’s number two name CM Punk worked just as many inconsequential matches that were nothing special as Cena did. Top stars in WWE do not have excellent matches with lesser mortals on television or pay-per-view.
|This match was as much Cena as it was Punk
My point is that just because Cena’s not having thrilling back and forths with the likes of Darren Young and Fandango doesn’t mean he’s not capable of doing so. It means he’s instructed not to. When Cena, and other similar top acts, wrestles these matches (which is rare) it’s to remind everyone how good he is by dominating and disposing of his mid-card foes quickly. That’s the case with any top liner in throwaway matches.
The pair of outings with ‘The Great One’? Yes, they were bad. But I don’t think anybody could have done better. The first of those matches was only Rock’s second in around a decade. He was out of practice and not in the shape to wrestle a lengthy match in the style he was known for. Their second match was better because Rock had picked up on his limitations and the bout was laid out with this in mind. Even CM Punk struggled to get anything better than average confrontations from The Rock, only managing what he did because of various Attitude Era style shortcuts.
I like both Punk v Rock matches. But that’s because I’m a fan of that style of match, and it was not a style that could have been employed in WrestleMania main events with John Cena.
There are still problems with Cena’s inability to sell but his recent activity opposite The Wyatt Family shows that there is hope in that area. He is a hard working wrestler in the ring. He will never be as technically gifted as a Shawn Michaels or a Daniel Bryan or even a Triple H but that’s because he doesn’t work their style of match. Cena delivers a great performance in every big match he’s in no matter who he’s against.
If he does the ten more years he plans to and stays at the same level, or continues to gradually improve, I think he’ll have earned consideration for one of wrestling’s greatest performers of all time. He’s already one of WWE’s best.