ROLL back several years – to the creative doldrums of the non-stop John Cena era – and I was one of the “Cena sucks” naysayers.
But John Cena has wrestled me – and many like me – into submission.
Not with his weak-looking STF, of course, but his incredible work rate – and because in recent years he’s been having the best matches of his career.
The fans might still sing “John Cena sucks” when he hits the ring, but now that’s just part of the pantomime.
They know that Cena’s better that he’s ever been – he’s earned their respect as genuinely one of the best in the world.
But his burial of Rusev in their recent feud and flag match – and Cena’s impending burial of WWE Champion Jinder Mahal – is Cena at his absolute worst.
It’s a return to the kind of thing that caused fans to turn on him in the first place – steamrolling through opponents and stopping their momentum dead.
Yes, Cena sucks again.
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The fan backlash against John Cena started soon after winning his first WWE Championship in 2005.
Fans complained he wasn’t good enough and bombarded him with chants of “you can’t wrestle” (to be fair, his punches were and still are, rubbish).
But the real problem was what Cena represented. He was handpicked for stardom – the personification of WWE’s increasingly corporate image.
He wasn’t just a wrestler. He was a merchandise machine – a brand, a product.
Even Hulk Hogan – the blueprint for the Cena persona – had the grit to get himself embroiled in the odd steroids scandal.
But Cena was a pristine – an untouchable company man and the squeaky-clean face of WWE’s transition to PG, further infuriating fans still hankered after the wild days of the Attitude Era.
Cena wasn’t booed because he a controversial choice for WWE Champion, WWE would claim to try and excuse the negative fans response.
He was booed because he was least controversial choice.
Cena also led a change in the WWE in-ring style, elbow-smashing our suspension of disbelief into oblivion.
Realistic – or should I say, “believable” – wrestling became a thing of the past, as WWE emphasised the “entertainment” aspect of sports-entertainment.
Cena’s dodgy selling, ludicrous feats of strength, and Superman-like comebacks were more like moments from an action movie than wrestling.
It led fans to complain that Cena “didn’t understand the business”.
Which is easy to say from the comfort of your living room, complaining about someone who carried WWE for a decade and wrestled 200-plus nights a year.
And let’s not forget that internet darling indie wrestlers are just as guilty of the no-sell, big spot style – it’s just how the US wrestling has changed, for better or worse.
But there was a more insidious problem. Cena’s stardom all too often came at the expense of up-and-coming talent.
The Nexus, The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Bray Wyatt, and poor Rusev. None of their careers were ever the same after being booked against – and being repeatedly trounced by – Cena.
Whether that’s the fault of Cena or Vince McMahon – who ultimately calls the shots – is debatable.
But the more it happened, the less capable WWE was of creating new stars – and the more the company needed the star power of Cena and veteran part-timers to draw ratings.
But something changed in Cena.
His US title open challenge in 2015 saw him put on stellar matches week-in, week-out.
But more importantly, he made the younger talent look sensational in matches against Sami Zayn, Zack Ryder, and Cesaro.
He even did the honours for the debuting Kevin Owens at Elimination Chamber 2015 – something so monumental that it near silenced the crowd.
Away from the main event picture, Cena did what a veteran in his position should be doing – putting his years of experience into producing great matches and getting talent over.
When he went part time (though he’d tell you he’s actually “all time”) fans suddenly realised just how much Cena brought to the product whenever he returned.
Intense promos and that undeniable “big match” feel.
His programme with AJ Styles last year made Styles a legit WWE headliner.
Styles was already phenomenal – everyone knows that, of course – but beating Cena clean in a match of the year candidate at SummerSlam was a landmark moment for Styles in WWE.
But over the last three weeks, it looks suspiciously like Cena is up to his old tricks.
Returning on the July 4 SmackDown, Cena was immediately put into a programme with Rusev, who’d been off with an injury since February.
Rusev needed the break to help fans forget the pummeling he took from Roman Reigns and his short-lived comedy tag team with Jinder Mahal.
(Though, to be fair, Jinder’s doing all right for himself.)
Drafted to SmackDown – where there’s more scope to reach the main event – Rusev had potential to come back strong and live up to his potential as a monster heel.
Let’s not forget, it was Cena who killed Rusev’s original monster heel run, demolishing the Bulgarian Brute at three consecutive PPVs in 2015.
I was gutted for Rusev (though probably not as gutted as Rusev was himself) to find his big return would be interrupting Cena’s promo on July 4.
So much for coming back strong.
Their war of words quickly turned to war of nations – the good ol’ US of A versus Bulgaria.
Which meant only one thing: it was a war that Rusev could not possibly win.
True to form, Cena destroyed him in their flag match at Battleground.
The flag match gimmick was presumably employed to protect the returning Rusev from suffering a pinfall or submission and killing his heat entirely.
But that was rendered utterly pointless when midway through the match Rusev tapped to Cena’s dreadful STF.
In a match that can’t be won by submission – so Rusev’s apparently short on brains as well as courage.
Rusev was absent from this week’s SmackDown – but no doubt this beating at the hands of Cena will leave him floundering in the mid-card once again.
Meanwhile, Cena’s moving onto WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.
Cena made it clear in his promo with the modern-day Maharajah that he’ll pretty much just take Jinder’s title from him.
He boasted: “At SummerSlam you facing super Cena… which means I’m walking out of SummerSlam 17-time champion.”
Jinder’s already struggled as WWE Champion, having been lumbered in a woefully dull feud against the terminally bored Randy Orton.
The last thing Jinder needs is Cena trampling over on both the mic and in the ring. Like Bray, Del Rio, and Rusev, it could prove a career killer.
Even worse is the news that next week Cena will face Shinsuke Nakamura in a number one contender’s match.
Nakamura is undefeated on main roster TV and could be a genuine main event superstar if booked carefully – and not squandered for the sake of a cheap TV ratings pop.
But does any really believes WWE will book Nakamura to defeat Cena next week?
And is Cena really the man to hand the rising star Nakamura his first televised loss?
This is a match that should be happening on PPV – where a clean win over Cena would make Nakamura a legit WWE headliner with a simple count of three.
At this point in his career – after 15 years of most relentlessly strong booking – a loss would mean nothing to Super Cena.
But a win would mean everything to his opponents.
Cena won over the haters because he proved that he’s better than they said he was – and he really should be better than what we’ve seen from him the last few weeks.
Being the best in the world means making stars, not annihilating them.