Monday 14 September 2015

John Cena's Sweet Sixteen

Over the last year much has been made of the fact that John Cena's next world title win will tie him with Ric Flair's record of sixteen. Ever since he lost his fifteenth world championship at SummerSlam 2014 we've been hearing rumour through The Dirt Sheets™ that WWE wants to have Cena's next win and the reign it kicks off be big deals. We heard it mentioned on-screen leading up to SummerSlam this year, Cena's first title shot since January's Royal Rumble, with him specifically name-dropping Flair and announcing that he wants to reach that milestone.

This makes sense. With only one man having been as prolific as Cena when it comes to winning world titles it's entirely understandable that WWE would want to focus on that journey as a story. Cena equalling a record tally is a logical, understandable plot for wrestling because it focuses on wins and losses and the importance of titles. It's also something that has never really been done before in wrestling, at least not in the exact circumstance of someone tying Flair.

The thing is that Cena's world title win won't see him equal Flair's actual record. It will see him equal the WWE approved record, the one that discounts a number of 'Naitch's' early NWA world championship victories. For what it's worth Flair is said to privately consider himself something like a twenty-one time world champ. Not that Flair's private feelings or the legitimate number of title reigns he's had actually matters. What matters is that Flair is known as a sixteen time world champion and Cena's next win will see tie this.

The once and future champ.
When it comes (and it will come) Cena's next WWE championship reign needs to be something memorable1. Running through standard issue title defences against Rollins, Kane and Orton won't cut it if WWE wants to do the story they're going for justice. What is the story they're going (or will be going) for? That in winning sixteen world championships Cena, who is frequently lambasted as a poor wrestler with little understanding of selling and ring psychology, is every bit as good as Ric Flair, who is frequently held up as the greatest professional wrestler ever.

A long title reign will be needed to do this story justice and for a long title reign WWE will need plenty of challengers. Right now there are very few people who could believably defeat Cena on pay-per-view. The number who could defeat him for a world title is even smaller, especially such an importantly numbered title. And if a long Cena title reign is to work in 2015 or beyond then the audience should be able to feel that Cena could lose in any defence, adding to the drama of each match, therefore heightening reactions and making the achievement of each successful retention seem greater.

Had one of Cena's allegedly star-making feuds against Bray Wyatt, Rusev or Kevin Owens gone differently over the last eighteen months things could be different. Had Cena left any one of those feuds without getting a victory then the opponent in question would be perfectly positioned as a title challenger for 'Big Match John' come his next world title reign. They could have been presented as the only man of the last decade Cena had failed to defeat and a favourite in a title match against him. Basically, Cena losing more in these programmes would have made a victory for him at a later point a bigger deal.

Rusev in particular could have been great in this role. Had WWE thought enough about it 'The Bulgarian Brute' could have been built up as Cena's gateway to a sixteenth world title. Had Rusev dropped Cena on three or four straight pay-per-views he would have been established as a juggernaut and a natural contender to the WWE world title. He could have won that from Rollins, either in a singles match (in the right city Rollins could have played the face) or a three-way including someone like Ambrose, Lesnar or Reigns to give people a face to get behind, and gone on to have a few months as a dominant world champion. Cena could have gone on his undercard quest to find himself (the Open Challenge thing could have worked as Cena testing himself instead of as a US title reign) before challenging Rusev to a world title match and beating him. This would have seen Cena finally getting the victory that had eluded him, ending Rusev's undefeated streak, and equalling the sixteen title reigns record in one match.

But, sadly, nobody in WWE seems to think that far ahead.

The good news is that Cena's next world title win is unlikely to roll around until next year.  Roman Reigns seems like the natural choice to take the belt from current champ Seth Rollins, likely at WrestleMania 32 Star in Texas next April. It's unlikely Reigns' inaugural world title run would last less than four months, which would take him through to SummerSlam, a fitting stage for Cena's big win. Next August gives WWE plenty of time to rebuild Rusev, Owens and Wyatt, along with preparing other acts like Cesaro, Stardust and Ryback, giving Cena the stacked roster he needs to make his sixteenth world title reign the success it deserves to be.


1 The irony here is that Flair's final WCW world title reigns were massively underwhelming. The fifteenth world title reign of Ric Flair began on an episode of Nitro and lasted seven days, ending when he was stripped of the belt by Vince Russo. Jeff Jarrett then won the title later on the same show and lost it the following evening to Kevin Nash at a Thunder taping. 'Big Sexy' then handed the title back to Flair on the following Nitro2, with Flair going on to lose the title back to Jarrett later on in the show.

Yes, that means Flair's famed sixteenth world title reign began with Kevin Nash handing him the belt and lasted less than two hours. Woooooo!

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