Aug 30 - John Cena
John Cena is the Best In-Ring worker in the WWE
I expect a lot of criticism for this opinion, and honestly I wish it weren’t true. I want to name other people who I prefer much much more, but it’s just not possible. So, before going off and assuming I’m writing something controversial for the sake of it, try to read this piece. I’m not expecting all of his detractors to suddenly switch opinions, nor is this what I’m trying to do. I am so conflicted about this subject, and have been for years, but facts are facts. I know we are talking opinion here, so I’m not saying any other opinion is wrong. I just think that people who trash Cena do so for the wrong reasons with incorrect facts. This is a column idea I’ve had for a while, since I was disputing this with Blunt Force Balls and Sidgwick on LOPforums, but the recent column posted by Mr. Tito about the top 10 workers definitely spurned the rush to get this out.
So, please, if you’re just going to spout vitriol in the feedback to this column, just stop reading now. You’ve made up your minds already, and you won’t change your mind from this. But, if you have even the slightest of open minds, read on. I’m hoping the feedback will be along the lines of “I never thought of it this way, but I still prefer _______.” That’s fine. This blog isn’t about controversy or amassing a large amount of comments/feedback to prove my worth. I’d rather you ignored the column altogether. I want a solid discussion with your own opinions from this.
Oh, and this isn’t the case of “PEN15 is right, you’re wrong” mentality. I’m repeating myself here, but my goal isn’t to antagonize or start riots. No matter what your opinion of me has ever been, trust me when I say I just want to give the reasons I believe this to be true. Agree or not, that’s your choice.
On with the show…
I am hoping my introduction calmed some nerves, but there’s one more thing that should be mentioned to help push that even further. I believe that in time, Daniel Bryan and/or CM Punk will prove to be superior. In fact, I think these guys have the tools to prove themselves to be better overall in-ring workers. But that will take time, and variety.
That’s the BIG part of what makes Cena such a great talent: Time and Variety. He’s been main eventing for almost 10 years. In that time frame, he’s shown he can have awesome match ups with so many different opponents in a lot of different match styles.
Again, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells here trying not to offend, but I truly feel and believe that if CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Randy Orton, or Dolph Ziggler were to have been given the same treatment (push, booking, opponents for almost a decade) my answer would be quite different. John Cena started his rise in 2005 working with a brawler in JBL. Over the years, he’s shown that his best matches tend to be brawls with these sorts of opponents. After kick starting this trend with the former Bradshaw, consider Cena’s work against Umaga, Batista and Big Show. I am not going to claim that they were all barn-burners. What I will instead ask you to do is remember if these opponents had better matches with other opponents? With Umaga, some may say the Jeff Hardy angle over the IC led to better work. With Batista, it’s hard to get over what he accomplished vs HHH in 2005 when he had his own rise to super-stardom. And Big Show has been working since 1995, so there’s been a lot of strong matches over the span of almost 20 years. My point is that Cena’s matches are among the best of their careers. Maybe not the #1, but always in arguable competition for that spot.
Moving on from JBL, Cena had to contend with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. This was an obvious change for Cena, as he was now working with a much more technical brand of competitor. I am not going to claim Jericho and Angle had their best matches against Cena. I will instead point out that these matches are better than you’d expect or imagine. A common complaint against Cena from those who chant “You can’t wrestle” is that he only has 5 moves. This is a very ignorant statement, as not only does he have more than 5 moves, but that most successful WWE top stars purposely use a limited amount of maneuvers. It was quite a shock when I viewed Japanese footage of Hulk Hogan wrestling overseas. For a different audience, Hogan brought a different arsenal to the ring. Hogan will never be compared to Bret Hart in terms of technical ability, but the Hulkster showed he was much more than a bot and leg-drop.
The general WWE fans have an attachment to the movesets displayed by their stars, and therefore react to them for a variety of reasons. For example, Jericho had a very fitting quote in a recent interview that was covered by the LOP main page concerning his matches against Fandango:
“...It's working with a guy that nobody's ever seen before at a WrestleMania. There's your challenge, end of story. When you think of WrestleMania, you think you know what's the best match I can have, Undertaker, CM Punk or work with John Cena you know, but instead it's like "no you're not working with any of these guys you're working with a guy nobody has even seen wrestler before" It's a challenge, nobody knows him. Nobody knows his moveset. The basic principles of having a great match is working on the false finishes that people know. So say Punk, you've got the Go To Sleep, he's got the anaconda vice, he's got the bulldog outta the corner, he's got the spinkick, the elbow off the top, there's like ten things you can work with, that people will be buzzing about as soon as you start going into it.”
That’s why most WWE wrestlers use what is commonly referred to as the “WWE style.” John Cena wasn’t the originator, nor is he the biggest culprit of falling into too strict of a pattern. As the face, he’s never going to be demanded to have a whole bunch of holds and moves. The general (and not just WWE) wrestling style is for the heel to work a majority of the match time in control, while the hero plays victim to the onslaught. Eventually, the hero gets the advantage, and that’s where it’s up in the air as to who will win.
Cena was working against 2 of the strongest technical wrestlers of not only that era, but arguably of all time. Due to the expectations of the matches by these stars, Cena didn’t compare as a worker. I will firmly admit to once being a part of this mindset. Just as I once believed JBL was a terrible choice as WWE Champion because he couldn’t wrestle. The problem wasn’t the wrestler, but the audience. We expected a certain match, and we didn’t get it, so we blamed the performers. We were wrong. I was wrong in judging JBL, because watching back now, from 1996 to his retirement after Mania 25, he is a hell of a great power brawler. As an Acolyte/APA member, he really starting proving his worth in many facets: talking, brawling, wrestling, selling...etc. But because he didn’t use 17 holds a minute, and didn’t have a Benoit-like grasp on technical skills, I kept my nose in the air.
It was Cena who changed my mind on JBL. Not because they showed amazing skills together, but rather I realized that Cena showed the same restriction in ability, but I was still enjoying his matches. Cena didn’t need to use a Dean Malenko sized arsenal of wrestling moves to captivate the audience.
Now, I have to point out that if Cena was as terrible a wrestler as his detractors claim, he wouldn’t be getting the strongest reactions night after night. He wrestles and plays into these expectations and hatred towards him very well, feeding your negative reactions along the way. He’s a master heel who is beloved by most.
Cena’s top matches per year:
- 2006: HHH (Mania 22), RVD (One Night Stand), Edge (SummerSlam and Unforgiven)
- 2007: Umaga (Rumble), HBK (Mania 23 and Raw rematch), Orton (SummerSlam)
- 2008: HHH (Night of Champions), Batista (SummerSlam)
- 2009: Edge (Backlash), Orton (Breaking Point, Hell in a Cell, Bragging Rights), HHH/HBK (Survivor Series)
- 2010: Batista (Extreme Rules, Over the Limit), Wade Barrett (Hell in a Cell)
- 2011: CM Punk (Money in the Bank, SummerSlam)
- 2012: The Rock (Mania 28), Brock Lesnar (Extreme Rules), CM Punk (Night of Champions), Dolph Ziggler (TLC)
- 2013: Daniel Bryan (SummerSlam)...
That a ****ing amazing record of solid and awesome matches. It can’t be denied.
You also have to compare to the same opponents Cena has shared with other oft-mentioned top workers. I was shocked at the feedback I received after I stated that the Rock vs Cena matches were both better than The Rock vs CM Punk. I need you to understand that CM Punk is my favorite wrestler. I always lean towards him being superior when it’s close, but it wasn’t here. His Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches were major letdowns, as was Cena vs Rock II. But the original stands as the best match Rock has had since 2003. I would choose the Orton vs Cena matches over the ones Orton has had with Punk or Daniel Bryan so far. This is a bit closer, but the 3 PPV run between Orton/Cena in 2009 was tremendous, and definitely better than CM Punk vs Orton from 2011. Cena’s work with Batista, Big Show, JBL, Edge, and HHH were better than what CM Punk had with those guys.
Now, this isn’t a foolproof argument on my part. Cena’s storylines lead to bigger matches, and stronger motivation from his opponents. I can’t deny that HHH vs Punk could have been much better than it was under different circumstances. but this is all I have to go by, and John wins. Same with pretty much all the shared opponents.
Now, it is much closer with Daniel Bryan and Brock Lesnar. I think I would take the Punk matches with those 2 over the Cena matches with the same opponent. But, again, it’s close. Looking at the entire anthology of matches involving the 3 men, Cena’s work stands out a little bit more.
I hope in 2-5 years time, we can have a different answer. A big reason Cena has such a strong record of top quality matches is because of the opportunities afforded to him from the company. I said it earlier, but if other men had the same treatment as Cena for as long as he’s been on top, I’d be singing a different tune. I prefer watching Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, along with Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton. They interest me a lot more. But when you get right down to the facts, calculating the top matches of the past 10 years, Cena’s name comes up more than anyone else. Punk and Bryan are definitely catching up, with both men earning more and more Match of the Year contenders as their careers go on. But they’ve yet to steal the show with guys who are limited, like Big Show, Kane, or Mark Henry. They both have comfort zones, and struggle in matches outside it. Thankfully, the guys outside of their comfort zone are very very few, but Cena doesn’t have the same limitation. He made ****ing Khali watchable. That alone should earn him a BJ from both Bellas at the same time.
Alright, I think I’ve said it all. I don’t like what I’ve written, but it’s true. I don’t want him to be the best, but there’s no debate. I don’t want Cena to be the face of the WWE, but he’s earned it. I wish I was as sick of him in the ring as I am with his character, but hook line and sinker, I’m always amped when the bell rings.
And that’s because John Cena is the best wrestler in the WWE.
And on that note, Peace out
Feel free to email me a comment (Email PEN15). One of the best parts of writing is the discussions that come out of it. My hope is that your response could be used in a column to publicly discuss your comments.
Follow me on Twitter if you wish, though I don't really do much with it.