A Modest Response

So, is seems I really need to address John Cena. He’s back, in case you missed the Royal Rumble and the replay… and Raw, Smackdown and ECW… and the entire internet freaking out. Well, he was #30 in the Rumble and won. It was a great surprise and he’ll reclaim his belt shortly. That isn’t the issue.

The issue is that since he returned, he’s torn the internet wrestling community in two with divisive opinions about him. Some fans really, truly and vehemently agree he is the worst wrestler around, barely a step above Khali. Others seem to believe, just as violently, that he is the best, most complete wrestler in the world. Quite why the internet won’t consider these sorts of debates reasonably and agree that each side has a point before deciding he’s very good, but limited, is a debate for another time. For now though, I’m going to set about proving that he is in fact good, but also has his limits.

John Cena is not a terrible wrestler. He does not know many moves, but what he does know is storytelling and drama in the wrestling ring. There have been many absolutely amazing matches throughout the years that use mostly basic punches and kicks, along with excellent timing, selling and storytelling to make the match work. If you don’t believe me check the 1980s classics of Magnum TA, Stan Hansen, and even Terry Funk. For more recent examples, check Steve Austin (around about 1999), Mick Foley and Triple H circa 2000. If you truly believe these weren’t great workers, feel free to stop reading now. A terrible worker couldn’t have gotten a very good match out of Khali, regardless of how simple it was, nor could they have had a match reach the heights of the two Cena vs. HBK matches. Cena had, simply put, a great year, from memorable matches with Edge, Michaels and Umaga, to better than they had a right to be matches with Khali, Orton and Lashley. The argument that Cena is terrible in the ring simply has no basis in reality.

Cena is alternately, not God’s gift to wrestling. He can absolutely work, but he is, as far as we know, entirely limited to the WWE style of main eventing. Everyone from Lance Storm to Kurt Angle has already confirmed that. We know he can do one type of match, but that match type is run literally nowhere else in the world save for TNA, so his versatility is greatly lacking. Within this style he can have good matches with varied opponents, but even there he falls short of true greatness. Yes, he carried Khali to a watchable match, but Kevin Nash, not as green but certainly nothing approaching good was carried to a near five star match by both Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. His matches with Michaels were great, but the Wrestlemania match suffered from some bad no selling, while the second match was held together by the fact that Cena was allowed to kill massive amounts of time with very simple moves. Is it good story telling? Certainly, but to say it has the depth of a Joe vs. Punk or Nigel vs. Danielson is entirely different. Cena in his great matches, keeps the stories simple and the drama high. That doesn’t lessen their quality, but makes the difficulty in pulling them off properly stand out all the more. Let’s use literature as an example of this.

John Steinbeck was a prolific author, one of my favorites. He has received massive amounts of praise for his novel Of Mice and Men. It’s got a great plot, characters that have become iconic, and a perfect build to drama. The novel does everything it attempts to absolutely perfectly. It’s beloved, but not one of the best novels ever written.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was also a prolific author. He wrote one of the best novels ever, in any language, with The Brothers Karamazov. This novel is structurally complex, following four brothers after their father’s death, while thematically it covers everything from faith and free will to betrayal and doubt. There is the entirely clear plot, with the discourse of the spiritual drama running clearly beneath. There’s also a societal parody and discussion of several different psychologies and philosophies. It’s long, complex and incredible in scope. It’s also absolutely perfect in what it attempts to do, however what it attempts to do is far more complex than Steinbeck attempts in Of Mice and Men, therefore when comparing the two, Karamazov gets the critical praise and is the better book. It doesn’t make Steinbeck’s work worse, just less ambitious in quality. That’s Cena. He’s nearly perfect at what he does, just so are others, they just do significantly more.

Why also do his opponents get no credit? Umaga is considerred a bad worker for literally no readily apparent reason. He has unmatched intensity and brawling skill. He’s fairly regularly (along with Jeff Hardy and Shawn Michaels) in the best match on Raw. Is it any wonder an intense brawler with puro experience would work well with Cena? Michaels is one of the best and most versatile of all time, terrible personality aside. He has had great matches with guys far less than Cena. Not passable to good like Cena’s with Lashley and Khali, but great matches with a green Nash and clumsy Sid. The best other matches were with Edge, easily the best heel of his generation, a heat generation machine against a major face, which always works, and against Orton who has stepped up to have the same kind of very good, but simple matches that Cena specializes in. I am NOT saying Cena is carried or doesn’t do his part. I’m saying his opponents are being entirely overlooked without cause.

To end this, I’ve created a methodology of rating wrestlers in the ring. It is as follows:

Consistency: This rates how often the wrestler in question delivers on a good to great match as expected depending on spot on the card.

Best Showings: Best Showings is fairly self-explanatory: When said wrestler has a great match, how good is it?

Versatility: Can the wrestler work different styles? Can the wrestler work with other guys of different styles? Can they be either face or heel effectively? Not just what they can do, but how much they can do and to what level.

Top Skill: Some guys aren’t very versatile, but the one thing they’re good at, they are great at. This rates one best skill of a wrestler and how good they are at matches of that type and at that skill as compared to others.

Crowd Psychology: Crowd psychology is keeping the audience involved in the match and keeping the character work consistent and on point.

Ring Psychology: Does what they do in the ring have a reason? Are they consistently telling a story on offense and defense? Does their selling add to the match or detract?

These are the categories we’ll be rating John Cena in this week.

Consistency – 8
Best showings – 8
Versatility – 3
Top Skill – 9
Crowd Psychology – 10
Ring Psychology – 8
Total – 46

John is amazingly consistent in big matches. In every single big match of 2007 he brought it, never turning in a disappointing performance. When Cena is in the main event, the match delivers. That might be his best quality, but it’s far from a given. The problem is, Cena, in less structured and/or far shorter Raw matches, works like a midcarder at best. Some will say, “Well no one cares, so long as he delivers in big matches.” That’s not the point. Many people will not order a PPV unless the weekly shows hook them in. With Cena coming off as average on those, many less than should get to see or get excited for his big matches. There is then less going into the big matches than their should, and while he is a great draw, this is the biggest reason he has fallen short of the Rock and Austin’s scope.

His best showings are great, but really, see above. They are, despite different opponents, largely similar in scope. There are exceptions, almost entirely Shawn Michaels, but they are rare.

Cena’s versatility is bad. He can no longer work heel as the hero to children, and really he isn’t good enough to carry a match as a heel anyway. He can work different opponents, but it’s just a more complex Hogan formula. His opponent has something on him, in the case of Umaga or Khali, strength, or Edge sneakiness, so although Cena is firey, they control him. His crowd psychology in timing and making his comebacks play to his strength is his second major attribute. His comebacks are fiery and his strong ring psychology score comes from his (and the road agents) ability in figuring out hot finishing sequences to his matches. These nearly always work and elevate the match to another level. As superman comebacks, the selling isn’t especially important, but even with the relatively minor hope spots, Cena will often cease selling. His selling on defense though is great and builds wonderful sympathy, pulling that score up. He also has no adequate reason to use the STF-U, as he sets it up not even slightly in most matches.

His best skill in the ring is his brawling. He is a great brawler, effectively using that as his only offense (besides against Michaels), in normal matches and no DQ alike. The only reason he isn’t getting a 10 here is he isn’t quite up to the lofty standard of 10 brawlers like Stan Hansen and Stone Cold.

That pretty much covers Cena, then. He isn’t terrible; he is great at what he does, but is still a step below the greats like Austin, Hansen, Hart and Michaels. Thanks for joining me for A Modest Response.

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