“I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.”
It is time for a change of attitude regarding John Cena.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to start gulping down Vince McMahon’s patented, branded and saturated Kool-Aid and proclaiming Cena to be a great technical wrestler or a passionate fighter or even, to latch onto the latest hype-byte to hit Raw, “the most controversial champion in recent memory”. I’m not about to rush on over to WWE ShopZone and order myself a Chain Gang pendant or a faux-fatigue shirt. Hell, I’m not even that fond of things that spin. No, at the end of the day, John Cena is not for me. If you’re reading this website then chances are that he isn’t for you either. Here’s a rude awakening though – we don’t matter. Oh, it’s true. Just accept our unexceptional status and marvel at how WWE has stumbled into potentially their most profitable ploy since The Rock went Hollywood and Austin went mental.
You see, when people look back at this in years to come they will almost certainly conclude that the Attitude Era kicked off around about 1996 and tailed off in 2002, helpfully signposted by the brand extension and a Rock/Lesnar match that turned out to be far less important than it perhaps ought to have been. Since that point, as we all know, viewing figures have diminished. However, they have not collapsed in the same manner that nearly killed the WWF after the Hulkamania craze wound down in the early ’90s. Smackdown has been the biggest ratings casualty, yet that is due to bizarre internal company policies and network confusion rather than any blanket lack of interest from the audience – as things like the Armageddon ’05 buyrate and Rey Mysterio’s marketability attest. On the whole, thanks to an increased number of PPVs, an increased PPV price, some savvy marketing and a truly phenomenal video library, the company continues to make an astounding profit (2005-06 was their most profitable year since 2003-04 and saw their biggest revenue since 2001-02). Vince McMahon even managed to finally become a legitmate billionaire this year. No, they might not be on the pop culture radar the same way they were back in 1998-2001 but the additional viewers that saw them striving for 8.0 ratings were merely tuning into a fad. They have gone and they are more than likely never coming back. After ‘hot’ lesbian action and gay weddings and mannequin sex, the company seems to have finally accepted this. True, we still get the occasional bit of madness passed off as ‘controversial’ and ‘edgy’ television – Mohammed Hassan The Wrestling Terrorist and Vince McMahon: God Beater being the two obvious examples – but these are simply due to good ol’ fashioned idiotic writing spurred on by Vince’s unsynchronised ego rather than any blatant and desperate ploy at rekindling interest in those that lost it after Austin turned heel.
On the other hand, I might be giving WWE far too much credit. They might very well still be crying out for those missing viewers to return. Since they couldn’t exactly go and tune into WCW instead, and they certainly haven’t bothered to go and watch TNA, those extra 4.0 ratings points are evidently just not interested in watching wrestling anymore, which would explain why most Raw matches fail to breach the five-minute mark. However, these days they seem to have swapped outdated Crash TV for nostalgia – still outdated of course, but it does at least help to shift more DVDs. However, nostalgia is not going to appeal to that fabled lost casual audience either. Even more worryingly, it is probably going to little more than bewilder any new audience that might somehow come their way. How is any younger viewer going to care about ECW returning anymore than people cared about the abortive NWA return to Raw back in 1998, which most of you have probably already forgotten all about? Why would they care about Shawn Michaels and Triple H reforming a stable from nearly a decade ago when all they have ever seen of the former is an old religious guy that’s going bald and the latter is nothing but a surrogate McMahon that clearly wants to live in the 1970s? And when dX and ECW come to dominate WWE programming, what is left for the younger fans to tune in and see?
While their usual arrogant and blinkered form of booking has prevented them from turning Cena heel or removing him from the main event altogether, WWE has been forced into presenting him as something of a half-face by the still-dominant older portion of the crowd that is quite happy to shoot up on nostalgia all night long and then complain about never getting anything new. This is a perfectly natural evolution of the fanbase and we’re starting to see it more and more. Just as Samoa Joe can be the most cheered heel on a TNA card, Cena can be the most booed face on a WWE card. The blurring of the face/heel divide that began with Austin and the nWo, coupled with the business being laid bare as never before, has left the crowds feeling knowledgable enough to be vocal enough to react how they want to rather than how they are told to. It has been happening more and more, with the aforementioned Rock/Lesnar match being the first major example of it, and yet it is somewhat ironic that even the fans booing Cena are doing him a favour. If they really wanted to damage his cause then they would just walk out before the main event. Instead they stick around because they can’t stand the thought of leaving his supporters there to cheer him on. They aren’t Cena marks, they are Anti-Cena marks and they are actually making him far more compelling viewing than he could ever have hoped to achieve without them. Those ECW fans at One Night Stand might not care to admit it but it was Cena who was clearly the star of that show, not Rob Van Dam and not even the fans themselves.
As the old saying goes, the only bad reaction is no reaction at all. Had the Anti-Cena marks not bothered reacting quite so passionately and left the Cena marks to just pop politely and play along nicely whenever he came out then he would not have anywhere near the longevity he will surely prove to have. In fact, he would probably be remembered as blandly and blankly as Diesel or Lex Luger in terms of aborted main-event draws. That might well still prove to be the case, but now that WWE has been forced into recognising his jeers and even managed to sell the ECW on the strength of them has made his chances of long-term success far better. Almost without realising it, WWE has turned Cena into an ‘us against them’ crusader. That’s what made things like Austin 3:16 and the nWo seem so appealing back in the day. The only difference is that the fight isn’t against the system, it’s against the other fans. Most of Cena’s fans are from a new generation, ones that have been enticed by the Chain Gang in a way that the Lex Express just couldn’t match. They view Cena as being theirs, as something original and honest and dangerous that the old generation cannot fathom and do not want. This just makes his fans want to back him even more, turning this into a mutually-inclusive system of reaction that WWE can exploit with a promotional push of gargantuan proportions. Not even The Rock got a WWE movie and his own album in addition to all the usual shite on the merch front. By the time that these fans grow older then, unless they wisen up, which isn’t that likely considering how many cheers the equally-tiresome Hulk Hogan still gets from those who back him when they were kids, they will continue to back Cena, who will receive a more and more positive reaction as the Anti-Cena brigade either accept him or give up, which will ultimately allow WWE to continue to make money and Vince McMahon to say he was right all along.
Well, unless you happen to be like me and don’t find Cena entertaining in the least beyond the spectacle of the reaction, don’t have anything to prove and would just quite like to see some good wrestling please. However, we have taken the product for granted for just as long as WWE has taken our support for granted. They know that we will continue to pay attention and try to find the odd pleasure here and there. We know it too but usually don’t care to admit it.
With that in mind, how can we possibly deny the kids their right to support their kid champion? Look at the alternatives on the line-up for the Vengeance card. The main selling point will be the thoroughly indulgent dX reunion as they take on the McMahons via the Spirit Squad. Admittedly there is a chance that Ken Doane will someday meet the ludicrously lofty expectations people are beginning to raise for him, but for his own good that should still be a long way off yet. The other main matches include Cena and Edge being kept apart in order to take on a couple of ECW guys, splintering Raw’s one truly fresh main event rivalry with a dead promotion. When I was a little kid marking out about Hogan/Savage would I possibly have cared had they started talking about the AWA and the USWA? Let’s hope that things look a little more promising by the time SummerSlam rolls around. Other than that, we have a rematch from ECW’s last PPV and a Flair/Foley match based around comments they made on one another in their respective books. Even worse than assuming the audience has read both books and cares enough about their disagreement if the fact that their disagreement stems from events that happened in WCW over a decade ago. Again, how can this possibly be relevant to the next generation of fans? How are they meant to relate to a ‘wrestling’ match between Flair at this age and Foley at any age? It’ll get by purely on the love of the Charlotte crowd but certainly won’t have any major benefits. Promising younger talents like Shelton Benjamin and Carlito are marginalised by all of the hype, left in a match with Johnny Nitro that will for all intents and purposes be ignored. The rest of the night will focus on midcard novelty acts like Umaga and Viscera and the white elephant that calls itself the Women’s Title. How lovely.
Smackdown doesn’t offer many more options. Mysterio is the closest match to Cena in the merchandise department and reaches the lucrative Spanish-speaking market like no other US-based wrestler since Konnan’s glory years (well, glory days… yeah, there were some, honest) but he is on borrowed time, on borrowed knees, reaching the end of his career. Booker T is at the best he has been since WCW but, again, is expected to retire within a few years. The Undertaker can’t possibly have long left either. Batista could last a little longer and is popular enough to get genuinely positive reactions from all kinds of fans but has yet to truly impress since being separated from Triple H and might not ever match those peaks again. Lashley and Kennedy are definitely ones to watch for the future, but to the fans their time is most definitely not now. Cena’s is and that’s just the way it is.
We can bitch and moan all we want to and, really, that’s pretty much what we have to do if we want to watch at all. There’s no point in trying to short-circuit your pride and get on board the Chain Gang. You’d look as foolish as an elder statesman politico trying to woo the youth vote by announcing he has the Attic Monkeys and Frank Ferdinand on his NP3 playlist. If you really do want to continue to watch WWE then you will simply have to face up to the fact that John Cena is not going away. Barring any unforseen circumstances, the WWE Championship will be his property as much as it once was Hulk Hogan’s for the next decade. That’s in between Triple H’s remaining reigns of course.
But hey, at least Edge has replaced Randy Orton as Cena’s nemesis of choice. Hey, as I said above, we take our pleasures where we can… and sometimes we have to really look quite hard with an electron microscope and beer goggles…
Or you could just not watch at all. That’s your choice.
Mine hasn’t been made yet…
“People come up to me and say, ‘What’s wrong?’ Nothing. ‘Well, it takes more energy to frown than it does to smile.’ Yeah, you know it takes more energy to point that out than it does to leave me alone?”
Tonight also sees TNA’s second Slammiversary PPV. Depending on when this get posted and when you’re reading it, the show might well have been on last night instead, or in the distant past. Time is a strange constant, moving only in one direction and never changing. For a whole host of reasons this means you can expect to hear a whole load of repeated and interchangeable complaints about how Sting, Steiner and especially, emphatically, hilariously Nash are ruining TNA, but that is not really the case. It isn’t really true to say that TNA is ruining itself because there is so little there to actually ruin. Really, Paul Heyman’s comments about TNA this past week were not criticisms but truisms, which always hurt the most. In case you missed it he said:
“I don’t think TNA is even a consideration to anyone in this industry. I wish that they were, but the problem with TNA is they never branded themselves. Instead of taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity, they complained. They said, `I’ve been held back. I wasn’t given an opportunity. I didn’t get this. I didn’t get that’.”
All perfectly true, as where his comments about failing to make Abyss and Samoa Joe their own branded stars – though it isn’t too late for Joe yet. Jeff Jarrett’s response was:
“Paul’s being Paul. I knew Paul when he first came to Tennessee years and years ago. He literally idolized Eddie Gilbert, Tommy Rich, Austin Idol, Jerry Lawler and he’s carried that with him since the day he left Tennessee. Paul is a guy that just needs to worry about Paul. He’s got a lot on his hands right. Vince McMahon is running ECW. He’s gonna run the show up there. Re-quote the first part of the quote because Paul needs to really worry about Paul because I don’t think Paul has a clue what he’s talking about when he talks about TNA…[after the quote is re-read]…It’s not a consideration to anyone in this industry? Go ask Rhino that. Is Rhino not in the industry? And if we’re not a consideration, it sort of boggles my mind that every opportunity WWE gets to file off any kind of legal letter, they do. It’s truly a David vs. Goliath story. That’s their prerogative. That’s how Vince McMahon does business and he has all of his guys that work for him with that mentality. Vince is very successful. He’s going to make ECW successful in spite of Paul.”
Afterwards, Jeff wandered off down the street working the name ‘Paul’ into every sentence he spoke, claimed to have the best workrate of anybody in the world and was then thrown off his bus home for lobbing a guitar at the driver. I know that in actual fact both Heyman and Jarrett are insecure idiots. They have to be after being in the wrestling industry as long as they have been. Heyman’s caught up in his own hype yet can’t really consider himself to be a ‘creative visionary’ when he didn’t have the balls to start TNA or even ROH and is too shit-scared of being bankrupt again to take a stand against Stephanie McMahon, even whilst booking ECW2. Jarrett clearly comes off looking like the biggest idiot in this little exchange, failing to realise that Vince McMahon merely gets his kicks from winning any legal battle presented to him and that TNA truly isn’t and never shall be a consideration to the ‘wrestling industry’, a phrase that is purely code for ‘WWE’. As Jarrett apparently also wants to have himself a babyface ‘respect’ run similar to what Triple H is currently getting on Raw it is clear to see that Planet Jarrett has a very low gravitational pull.
Now that TNA has somehow survived for four years we’ve got the usual bunch of numpties coming out and claiming that “dey must be doing sumfink write lain?!”. Yeah, they signed a bunch of good wrestlers. No great mystery to that one. Kudos to A.J. Styles, Jerry Lynn, Christopher Daniels, Raven, James Storm, Ron Killings, Chris Harris and Abyss, among others, for proving that the occasional triumph of talent over turbulence can be more than temporary. Just how long TNA lasts as a promotion depends on which lasts longer – Jarrett’s desire to meet his ego’s expectations and make TNA a national mainstream commodity, or the interest of the niche market that they should be chiefly concerned with satisfying. Now that they’re going to start hosting PPVs outside of Orlando it could still go either way…
So, yeah, Slammiversary? I’ll download it, watch Joe somehow combine the Bored, Hungry and Pissed looks into one that remains solely his domain, laugh at whatever happens with Nash, feel slightly bad for Christian, and then delete it. Maybe that’s a bit harsh but I just spilled rum on my trousers and it’s a far bigger concern.
“Not all drugs are good. Some … are great.”
Why is David Flair holding his junk and staring at the minister’s arse with such determination?
Why is Reid Flair seemingly assisting him in this endeavour?
Is that DAVE obscured by the pole?
Could anyone else other than Ric Flair get married in sandals whilst wearing a white suit?
Do you get the impression that Flair and Triple H are supremely bored and just want to run off somewhere and blade one another?
Flair marries a hummer and has three superfluous hummers as bridesmaids? No wonder he looks fed up…
On a trip, Jimmy spent as much time on a train as on a bus. The train averaged 50mph, the bus averaged 35mph. If he went 105 miles more on the train, how far did he go altogether?
“It’s great to be back here. Wherever the hell I am, I always have a great time when I’m here.”
And, yes, I am well aware of ECW2 kicking off this past week. Without wasting any time, WWE has already tried its hardest to ruin this new brand from the off due to yet more unnecessary political in-fighting among the writing staff. Honestly, isn’t it about time that the non-wrestlers on the promoting side became as culpable to the locker-room court as the wrestlers are? It seems that we have Heyman coming up with the script for the show, the Raw writing team having input over the content after this due to NBC wanting as much Raw/ECW crossovers as possible, Brian Gerwitz and Michael Hayes looking out for Raw’s interests at the expense of ECW’s credibility, Heyman’s long-standing antagonist Stephanie McMahon as the official supervisor for the project, and Vince McMahon having his usual last word on everything (including his usual random whims, such as wrestling zombies).
Already the positives are being outweighed by the negatives. Let’s see:
POSITIVE – Kurt Angle is being protected from further injury by being allowed to wrestle a more mat-based style than Raw or Smackdown would allow him, which leads to him having more technically proficient scientific wrestling matches.
NEGATIVE – Kurt Angle works more dates in front of less fans for less money and inevitably piles up more injuries anyway.
POSITIVE – Vince McMahon’s regrets over not pushing The Big Show properly back in 1999 are met with Paul Heyman’s obvious enjoyment of big strong guys and give us a truly dominant, truly impressive Big Show for perhaps the first time ever. Really, those two should go out on the town and check out the available big men on a manly bonding session. It’d be keen.
NEGATIVE – The only person that could believably beat Show at the moment is Kurt Angle. Time will tell if anybody else rises to the challenge, but with Rhino and Joe out of reach it will require a brand new face…
POSITIVE – Rob Van Dam finally gets to call himself a World Champion.
NEGATIVE – He gets to do that thanks entirely to Edge, a move that has not been explained whatsoever. It also reduces RVD and his awarded ECW title to the background of the ongoing Edge/Cena rivalry, which is clearly where the money is.
NEGATIVE – The Smackdown audience. I’m going to include a snippet of a thoroughly fantastic yet plausible fantasy booking sequence from Ross Williams, the Steve Austin to my Brian Pillman…
“In the meantime, Vince finally announces the new GM of RAW – Theodore R. Long! In one fell swoop, the two rosters are combined, which means the RAW gets whatever dregs are left on Smackdown and Teddy announces that the two shows will still run but it’s one brand unified – WWE. From a booking point of view, you then have the winner of Edge vs Cena at Vengeance (Cena) lock it up with Mysterio in a unification match at SummerSlam. I’d even go as far as to bring back the old Eagle belt to truly make it clear it’s the WWE World Title (not the WCW big gold belt) and I’d have Mysterio shockingly win. Then Booker can squash him at Survivor Series and retain against Cena at the Royal Rumble whilst big Dave wins the Rumble match and gets the strap back at ‘Mania.
From a business point of view, this means that they can construct ONE WWE set and do a supershow EVERY Monday, thus meaning less travel for the wrestlers, a more unified WWE brand, and they tape Smackdown before RAW. This also means they don’t need to do Velocity or Heat any more and frees up more space on the big shows for the lower card guys and makes it more likely that they’ll get seen. A few people will get fired, sure, but that’s always the way. ECW opens up jobs. Then you make the ECW taping on Tuesday a multiple week taping like TNA has, it keeps costs down, gives the guys more time to recover from their extreme antics and lets them run a few house shows to keep money coming in.”
All that plus the ability not to turn away families that have brought their kids to see Rey Mysterio jumping around due to Kelly trying to take her clothes off or Sandman assaulting himself with beer. Really, who could have expected anything other than apathy for taping ECW at Smackdown?
NEGATIVE – The Sci-Fi aspect is a necessary inclusion but it depends entirely on how far they are willing to take it. Sandman beats up the nutty characters and eventually meets his match with TAFKA Mordecai. Fine, great, but then what? Open the floodgates and let them all in? And how is Heyman claiming to know that New York biting gangs are all the rage on the club scene any less lame than Vince thinking that people want to see his arse?
NEGATIVE – ECW = losers. Sabu and Sandman are the only ones to get any sort of marginal push. The rest would clearly look like ham-and-eggers even when compared to the likes of Garrison Cade or Simon Dean. This has to be rectified with the inclusion of truly talented, passionate, engaging, watchable, appealing and marketable newcomers – genuine ones, not imports from Raw or Smackdown.
NEGATIVE – This is, initially at least, a twelve week TV show. The ratings mean it will inevitably be extended by Sci-Fi (their highest rated show is Ghost Hunters with 1.2) but why not use this to establish a twelve-week storyline over the ECW Title and Rob Van Dam desperately trying to hold on to the one thing that means more to him than anything else in his career? Would that not ultimately benefit the future of this brand?
NEGATIVE – There is a complete lack of clarification regarding ECW’s status in the grander scheme of things. They had Cena note the negative reaction he would get from ECW fans but that’s about all. Vince McMahon didn’t mention much about ECW during his speech on Raw, or about an ECW wrestler holding the WWE title, yet Heyman is treating this as though ECW and WWE are at war with one another. They have already mentioned that Vince owns all three brands, so why should we care about their rivalries when he doesn’t? Why should Cena have been worried about dropping the title to an ECW guy when nobody on Raw hassled him about it? Why is the most believable aspect of this feud the announcers insulting one another? Think of the long-term, because lord knows they don’t… do ECW get onto any of the major PPVs? Do they get onto WrestleMania somehow? Do they get to enter the Royal Rumble, or the Money in the Bank? Do they get to have a team at Survivor Series? Do they ever get to have their own PPV again (actually, yes, in December, but mentioning it on-air would be nice)?
Believe me, I could have continued with the negatives. However, I’m hungry and have some drunk cooking to do. Then I have to go do some drunk gym things. You ever lift weights while tipsy? It’s awesome, you just start throwing them around and catching them in ever-elaborate dives.
I’m going to take my first surfing lesson next weekend. Chances are good I might be able to do that one hungover instead of drunk.
There might even be a column to boot.
Till then, go read some other reading material for your reading pleasure. Things like David Brashear reminiscing about Sandman’s WCW days, or Matthew Michaels and his new ECW2 blog, or Steve Murray on being a sexy beast.
Hell, you could even read my weekly comic book reviews or my interview with American Splendor’s Ed Piskor.
If you like.
If not, you must like Cena. Poopy pants, etc.