Creative Control: The Passion of John Cena (WWE, Wrestlemania XXX, Bray Wyatt, John Cena, The Wyatt Family)

Welcome back to Creative Control, which is brought to you this week by Vince Russo Meteorology. Only with Vince Russo Meteorology are you promised 65 degree sunny days followed by 15-hours of torrential downpour that is turned into ice and snow that is capped off with 55 degrees, sun, and gale force winds. If it defies all trends in nature, it must be Vince Russo.

Last week, in my review of Wrestlemania and the apparent relaunch of an all new WWE, I talked about one of the few storylines that is continuing past Wrestlemania: Bray Wyatt and John Cena. I discussed how I felt that it was wrong from a storyline perspective to have Cena win at Wrestlemania, especially if the feud was meant to continue. Cena’s victory followed by Wyatt’s continued pursuit of him diminishes the storyline and makes Wyatt seem less like the master manipulator and more like a bitter loser that refuses to accept the outcome. I stand by this assessment after the last two weeks of Raw and Smackdown, especially the last episode of Raw and the emergence of Comedy Cena and his photoshop escapades.

I felt the Wyatt’s actions in the segment were done well. No one in the Family exploded in anger or responded to the pictures until Bray Wyatt spoke up and noted Cena was returning to his jokes, trying to laugh anyone who is a serious challenge to him. This caused Cena to switch into “super serial” mode and issue the challenge for the cage match at Extreme Rules.

Follow me if you will down the rabbit hole of alternate booking and let’s, “Turn Left” at Wrestlemania. We pick up where Cena has the chair, has threatened to use it on Wyatt, only he turns and nails Eric Rowan who is standing on the apron with it. He looks down at Rowan now outside the ring and yells at him, but still holds onto the chair. Cena then turns around and sees Wyatt standing incredibly close to him and flinches. Wyatt indicates for Cena to use the chair on him, and Cena looks ready to do so. At this point, Luke Harper has gotten up onto the apron, Cena uses the chair on him and sends him sprawling as well. This time, Wyatt uses the distraction and hits Cena with Sister Abigail and secures the victory.

The next night on Raw, Cena is out doing a promo, where he talks about coming up short in his match against Wyatt, but that he is still standing strong and proud as he did not compromise who he was. This leads to Wyatt appearing on the Titantron to deliver a promo based off “For Want of a Nail.” He notes that it was because of Cena holding back that he lost. For his lack of willingness to unleash that killer instinct that he has (and Bray Wyatt knows that Cena has it), Cena showed his vulnerability. That it is only when Cena is actually ruthless and mean is he able to be victorious. However, he hides behind a mask of nobility and comedy in order to fool everyone. Bray may have won the match, but his quest is not over. He will expose Cena for who he truly is. The first Smackdown after is pretty much the same promo that actually happened.

The following Raw (which would have been this past episode) still features the photoshop promo. However, I would have Cena’s jokes appear more forced, actually make him emote and it look like he’s going through the motions. The Wyatts continue to not bite on the material, and delivers the comments about how Cena turns to jokes and belittling his opponents who pose his greatest challenges. He goes on about how if he was not so scary to Cena, he wouldn’t make the effort to get a rise out of him. This shows Cena is scared, because he is being forced to face the truth. This leads to Cena making the challenge for the cage match out of anger, actually screaming at Wyatt in rage. Wyatt is only all too eager to get Cena locked behind bars with him.

In the lead-up to Extreme Rules, Cena does fight with more anger. He tries to keep it in check, playing up to the audience, but there seems to be something a bit off in his routine. Michael Cole and the other commentators note it. They mention Cena has become more withdrawn backstage. Then, about two weeks before Extreme Rules, Cena is in the ring, and the Wyatt’s come out. Bray sits in his chair and flanked by Harper and Rowan. He talks about how Cena likes to have fun at other’s expense and puts up the photoshopped images of the Wyatt Family. Bray then goes on to note that he likes having fun with pictures and video too. And he has something for everyone to see, which he calls The Unmasking of John Cena.

A video then plays, showing Cena’s most vicious moments, with creepy music in the background. Between the shots of violence are snippets of Cena promos and interviews where he presents himself as a stand-up guy. For example, show a clip from the Cena/JBL I Quit match from 2005 followed up by Cena in a suit and tie on a talk show. Include Cena’s beating on and humiliating Michael Cole by pouring barbecue sauce on him and then cut to Cena doing a “Be A Star” advert or function. Show a clip from Total Divas with Cena talking about his feelings towards Nikki Bella only to show some of the more salacious headlines surrounding his adultery and subsequent divorce from his first wife. When the segment finishes, Bray comments about how the beauty of his piece over Cena’s is that he did not have to alter anything. Cena, is unable to respond and just stands there, almost looking defeated.

This brings us to Extreme Rules and the cage match. It is actually a brutal affair on both sides. Wyatt not only continues his creepy routine, which still throws Cena off his game, but he is equally vicious and punishing. He screams at Cena that if he won’t become the monster, he will fall to one. In the end, Cena is victorious in the match, but it comes following a particularly brutal finishing sequence including locking Wyatt in the STF after the bell and holding onto it until multiple referees come in and force him to break it.

The night after, on Raw, Wyatt comes out to proclaim victory in showing Cena as the monster he is. That all his talk of “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” are a sham as when given no choice, the hero is just a frail man, driven by his petty desires and rage. Cena comes out to retort it was a cage match, of course it was brutal. He discusses the nature of the match and what it entails. Wyatt just laughs and tells Cena to say whatever he needs to in order to live with himself, but they both know the truth. After all, Cena wanted the cage match to keep Harper and Rowan at bay. It was Cena’s choice to take advantage of the nature of the match. If he was the true hero, he would have kept his actions in check and just wrestled. Instead, he went overboard. However, Wyatt is feeling generous and wants to give Cena one final chance to defy his true nature, and offers a match at Payback, one-on-one, no one else at ringside.

In the intervening weeks, the Wyatt Family continues their mind games against Cena. They intimidate anyone and everyone who has been close to John Cena. They bring beaten down wrestlers to the ring in the midst of a Cena match. They do tag matches where Cena never gets a chance to come in, taunting him to break the rules to save his partner. All this time, Cena becomes more and more enraged. He hardly talks. In a backstage segment, he is bumped by a roadie who gives him lip and Cena grabs him and looks like he will beat on him, only to stop himself. JBL does an in-ring interview and pokes and prods at Cena, eliciting a reaction out of him. All signs point to Cena becoming unhinged.

At Payback, the match opens with Cena being incredibly vicious and ruthless. The first part is on the outside, where he beats on Wyatt from pillar to post and from ringsteps to announce table. All the while, Wyatt laughs and eggs him on. Finally, Cena shakes his head and throws Wyatt in the ring and tries to have a regular match. Each time Cena tries to wrestle straight up, Wyatt takes advantage and taunts Cena about how he needs to be more ruthless, more vicious and accept his true identity. Cena again appears to only get the upper hand with nasty, uncharacteristic moves. Slowly though, he starts to find success in regular moves, including his Five Moves of Mediocrity. He goes for an Attitude Adjustment, but Wyatt slips free and hits Sister Abigail, scoring a surprising upset.

Standard storytelling would dictate that Cena win the third match and prove he can be victorious without compromising his principles. However, in this case I think having Cena losing the war against Wyatt, but being able to walk away with his character intact is the better storyline. First, it puts Wyatt over huge in being one of a few people in the last several years to have a clean victory over Cena (the last one to do so was Daniel Bryan). This moves Wyatt into main event status and a legitimate threat to the current WWE champion. Next, it actually gives Cena some character and evolution. He has faced his demons and come out the other side, his morals secured. He can even spin it into a “One To Grow On” promo to his little fans to talk about the virtue of being able to lose gracefully. It also makes him appear vulnerable and not superhuman, which is probably the biggest knock against him by a lot of his detractors. It then easily sets up his next feud as a heel wants to capitalize on the suddenly very human Cena and make a name for himself in beating the current legend.

A lot of this is still possible given what has already happened. However, I think it is much more effectively told had Cena lost at Wrestlemania. His attempts at jokes and trying to shake off what happened have a lot more depth with his loss. It also makes Wyatt that much more creepy as it sells the storyline better that maybe Wyatt is right and that Cena can only win by going against his “code” and being nasty and ruthless. I would love to see WWE have the guts to do the video package showing Cena at his lowest, to sell Wyatt’s ability to manipulate perceptions. I doubt they would as they are probably afraid that such a montage would hit too close to home and undermine their poster-boy. But, when you are an entertainment business, sometimes it is taking the risks that create the best stories.

Until next time, I relinquish creative control.

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