For Your Consideration Cena No Evil

Welcome to week 16 and I can promise you that this will not be a “new era” for the column. I am not going to temper my writing based on last week’s actions. I refuse to allow the atrocities that occurred eight days ago to mar my appreciation for professional wrestling.

I never viewed pro wrestling through rose-colored glasses. There is not enough sand in the world to bury one’s head from the controversies of the industry, but those controversies didn’t just pop up in the past few days. Those controversies have been there for years, decades even.

Pro wrestling is a sham organization from its inception. It’s as crooked as anything else that comes from the world of carnivals. The entire “sport” was predicated on a lie, thus all those who competed in the ring were simply perpetrating this intentional deception. No one was “clean”. Hell, most of the territories were either run by or connected to organized crime. It’s shocking to know that there were guys lying to the public and being funded by dirty money. In fact, wrestling is probably the only facet of the entertainment industry to have a checkered past.

The response from the Benoit thing has led to comparisons with OJ. I didn’t like OJ Simpson the football player because he played for the hated Bills. Sure, he might have committed the crimes in Brentwood, but whether he did or didn’t, I still watch football. I can separate the public figure from the private one. Bing Crosby’s old Christmas tunes still get played despite the fact that he used his kids as punching bags. Fatty Arbuckle’s flicks are still shown on television. Hell, go to the rap aisle and you’ll find more convicted felons then you’d find in a prison.

The point is, you have to be able to separate the performers from the people. I’m sick of the wrestling statistics about the “deaths” of pro wrestlers. Yes, there is a high number of wrestlers who seem to die when they get near the magic age of 40, but they are almost all unrelated. Wrestling isn’t a clean industry by any means. Everyone in the 80s and 90s was on juice at some point in time. Hell, most of those guys were on stuff way worse the steroids. People go into the wrestling business seeking a “natural high” and back in the day that was easily supplanted by a chemically induced high. When you take a group of people abusing their bodies every night, combine it with steroids and drugs and stretch it out over about 20 years, there’s a damn good chance that these folks are going to drop dead at an “alarming rate”. The fact that these people have a similar profession doesn’t automatically mean that the two are linked together. People make their own choices in this world, and a lot of those folks made the choice to lead unhealthy lives. They knew the risks. Any third grader who went through an anti-drug class knows the risks. Is it sad that these people died? Sure. I don’t wish bad things on anyone. But on the other hand, this “call to arms” is just ridiculous.

The WWE, who has been unfairly blasted by the media, is doing what it can to curtail the death problem. The wellness program is a step in the right direction. Just the threat of a drug test might be enough to scare some people off. Is it 100% effective? Nope. But neither is the NFL’s policy. The NFL drug policy is pretty much a joke in the eyes of players because most of them know when the test is going to be given. It’s hardly random. Why? Because they have a union that keeps it that way. Same for baseball. Imagine if there was a wrestling union? It would be near impossible to test for steroids or narcotics. And the working conditions? Jim Ross stole my thunder, but I will reiterate that these guys do not work a very rigorous schedule. Yes, the travel sucks, but they are home 3 days a week. There are people out there making a lot less money who are home a hell of a lot less then 3 days a week. And the travel? Call up a baseball player and ask them how they like road trips. It’s not like wrestlers don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. The WWE’s travel schedule is the safest thing that exists in pro wrestling. You know what’s dangerous? Working for ROH (I know I just said something slightly negative about Ring of Honor! Call the authorities). When you work for these independent promotions, you don’t have the luxury of 4 days on, 3 days off. You don’t have guaranteed time to be home with your family. When you work for an independent promotion, you have to drive from town to town and wind up busting your ass probably 6 days a week to make ends meet. It’s those guys that are the ones at risk, not the WWE superstars. When you work a Ring of Honor show, you’re working twice as hard as a WWE guy because you want to get noticed, but you’re doing it in front of a smaller crowd. Smaller crowds mean less money. Is it fair that The Miz probably makes more money then Bryan Danielson? No. But unlike the Miz, Danielson has to work more often and travel further to make less-to-equal money. That means more time on the road and longer matches. Taking that kind of abuse is what leads to injuries and addictions to pills and all the trappings that come with it.

Alright, I’m going to climb down off of my high horse here. I’m a wrestling fan and I will always be a wrestling fan. Owen’s death didn’t stop me, Eddie’s death didn’t stop me and this won’t stop me. For all you who subscribe to the notion of “don’t hate the player, hate the game”, I pity you. Wrestling exists as entertainment. Some people like watching 60-minute technical classics. Some people like watching vintage Hogan. Some folks came to this sport because of a guy like Benoit. In the end, it’s still fun to watch. Wrestling didn’t cause what happened last week just like football didn’t cause OJ. In light of that, I am going to write a column that I never thought I would write.

For Your Consideration Cena No Evil

John Cena is not now nor should he ever be viewed as professional wrestling’s antichrist.

That might be the most polarizing statement that I’ve ever written, and I intend to make my point. I won’t be able to convert some of you when this is over and that’s okay. All I ask is that you try to look at this with an open mind.

There are very few “good guys” in professional wrestling history. Everyone has a checkered past that sort of precludes them from being branded a good guy. Look back at the legends of professional wrestling and you’re going to find that each one of them has something looming overhead.

At the top of the list is Hogan. Hulk Hogan’s been the poster child for how to manipulate a company. His greed and lack of a desire to put anyone over was a major contribution to the death of WCW. He used his political clout to hold down a bevy of talented wrestlers, not to mention the fact that his nepotistic behavior lead to about 20 different Ed Leslie pushes. Under Hogan you’ve got Flair, who in his own book admitted that he was a philanderer and a pretty crappy father to his kids. Piper ’nuff said. Warrior was a basket case, Nash was an egomaniac, Austin’s a wife-beater and let’s just say that there was a reason that Sting needed to be born again.

In the WWE there are few “good guys” still around. The Rock wasn’t the worst role model for a wrestler to follow. He wasn’t the best in the ring but he was more then serviceable and could step it up when needed (Wrestlemania Seventeen anyone?). He played politics like everyone else but was still willing to put people over for the good of the company. The knock on the Rock is that he fled for the greener pastures of Hollywood.

The Rock’s foil, Mick Foley, is an interesting case study. In his books he likes to paint himself as a cheapskate who whines a lot about storylines and match lengths and has repeatedly quit the company. He’s a guy that is generally just happy to be there, but when things don’t blow his way, he’s gone.

John Cena is so blindly hated by people that they fail to see what we have before us. When John Cena first pulled out his wigger rap character, the “smart” fans cheered for the guy because he was “edgy” and “funny”. He had the potential to be the second coming of Edge & Christian. Unfortunately, as is normally the case, the smart-ass heel was turned face by the crowd and John Cena’s “edgy” raps became nothing more then toilet humor and cheesy sex jokes and the smart fans abandoned him for the most part. Those that stuck around watched as Cena and his limited in-ring skills finally unseated the unbelievably unpopular John Bradshaw Layfield. JBL, as you know, was so despised by the IWC that it led to Scott Keith to giving up recapping Smackdown!, so when Cena beat him for the title, there weren’t too many people complaining. JBL’s rematch with Cena was the “I quit” match, which was arguably one of the best matches of the year. When Cena was moved to RAW, the boos began to seep out. Was it a case of overexposure or was it the fact that the WWE was dubbing the crowd’s reaction on Smackdown!? Either way, the myth of the Cena crowd reaction was born.

Women and children cheer Cena while men boo him, right? Why is that still the case? John Cena is the model citizen in the WWE. He has done everything the way that you’re supposed to. He came up from the development territory. He got called up to Smackdown! in a lame generic gimmick and, like Jim Ross always bitches about, Cena created his own hype. He was given about thirty seconds of television time on a Halloween special and he turned it into a character. When Cena was given the ball, he ran with it. He didn’t suffer any major injury that sidelined his push. When he was given chances against Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker, he did as much as his limited talent could do, but unlike other green guys pushed to the moon (cough-Lashley-cough), John didn’t embarrass himself.

When John Cena was moved to RAW, the fans took great pleasure in ripping him to shreds. They did it because, hey, they’re smart. They don’t want to just cheer the guy that they’re supposed to. These are the people that turned Austin face, damn it, they will not be lead like sheep! Boo to you Cena! We’re not saying Boo-urns! You’re not a technical wizard in the ring and you pander to the masses! Go to hell!

John Cena cut an album that wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but he did it because he’s a company man. Not only did he record the album but he worked his ass off to promote it. He traveled the globe pimping the CD and serving as a WWE ambassador. Remember the work schedule I mentioned above? Doesn’t apply to John Cena. The guy was relentless when he needed to plug his album. And he didn’t just do television show interviews, he did meet-and-greets all over the place. He did charity events. He did everything that a guy like Hulk Hogan used to do, only he wasn’t doing it to amass more power backstage. There was no ulterior motive. John Cena was a wrestling fan that wanted to be at the top and stay there, and he was willing to do whatever the company was willing to ask of him.

He went to Iraq. He went to Afghanistan. He did press tours in Europe and South America. He made a movie and promoted it tirelessly. He did all of this and still delivered in the ring. No, he wasn’t always the best in there, but he never half-assed it in the ring. The guy isn’t Lou Thez but he’s tried hard to step up his game. Even Cena haters have to be impressed with his matches with Shawn Michaels.

Last Tuesday night, John Cena competed in the first post-Benoit match against Johnny Nitro. Cena and Nitro had one hell of a match, and it became apparent that John Cena wasn’t the whipping boy people wanted him to be. Yes, they boo, but at least he gets a reaction out of the fans. People that love him really love him and people that hate him really hate him. They don’t ever sit on their hands when he’s in the ring, whether it’s against Umaga or Kevin Federline.

As for him being Hogan? Cena’s been willing to job whenever he was asked. There’s not reports of a Cena tantrum. He was willing to drop his belt to RVD at One Night Stand because it helped to put over ECW. He was willing to drop the belt to Edge multiple times. Yeah, he probably knew that he was getting it back, but so what? When did Hogan do that? What about Austin? How about Shawn Michaels?

Contrary to this apparent love-fest, I am not an adoring Cena fan. In fact, I was one of those people that loved to listen to the fans boo the guy. But now, after what happened last week, I have a new appreciation for the guy. He’s a true role model. He’s a role model for kids to look up to. He’s a role model for up-and-coming superstars. He produces in the ring and gives back outside of it. He’s one of the few guys willing to sit down and talk with agents about how to improve in the ring. Most importantly, he delivers a reaction every time he’s out there. He doesn’t mask the fact that people boo him. He takes it and tries to turn them to his favor. He’s great on the microphone and manipulates the fans like a latter-day Rock. He’s the closest thing that the WWE has to a total package, and thankfully he’s no Lex Luger.

This has been for your consideration.

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