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Home arrow Blog arrow Editorial arrow Editorial arrow The Ballad of John Cena
The Ballad of John Cena
Written by Scott Anderson   
Feb 06, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Sometimes it’s too easy to mock WWE’s “throw crap at the wall and see what sticks” approaches to storylines and characters.  Or, worse, when it seems a potentially long-running action and/or drama-filled angle gets killed due to ratings, off-screen behaviour, or because it features CM Punk.  So, as it’s becoming apparent that the 2013 Road to WrestleMania is writing the third chapter of a story that began a year or more ago, we should acknowledge genuine long-term booking and writing from WWE. 

It’s a coherent story, told in a classic three act structure.  A hero who’d suffered defeat in the biggest moment of his life, on the biggest stage.  A man who attempted to recover what he’d lost, but despite some triumphs continued to fall short, leaving himself suffering further defeats and setbacks.  But a man who has dug deep, found the courage and drive to carry on, and who, come the climax of the story will surely triumph against everything.  A man whose Road to WrestleMania is also a road to redemption from a terrible 2012.  

However, the storyline would be a lot more convincing if John Cena hadn’t had a 2012 that most other wrestlers on the WWE roster would’ve given their left arm to have had for themselves.

How bad was John Cena's 2012?  Of the twelve pay-per-views on WWE's calendar during the year, Cena appeared in all but one (missing Hell in a Cell while recovering from surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow).  And, yes, Cena did only win four of those pay-per-view matches, but that's four more than some other wrestlers. 

More striking, though, is that of those eleven pay-per-view appearances, in all but two Cena was wrestling in the main event.  And I'm using "main event" here in the proper sense of the word, as the last match on the card, rather than WWE's rather odd sense of the term (which seems to involve calling anything a main event that is either the last show on the card, involving the WWE or World titles, or one that they're focusing their promotion around).

Part of Cena's annus horribilis was that he never won nor held the WWE Championship at any stage of the year.  And, certainly, for the most consistently crowned WWE Champion of the last decade that is remarkable.  But does that really mean he had a horrible year when the man who did hold the WWE Championship during that time, CM Punk, only managed to make three of those pay-per-view main events?  And two of those three were main event matches with Cena (and the third was Hell in a Cell). 

Yes, Cena wasn't the champ, but the champ was a mid-card chump for most of the year. Cena remained the top-of-the-card star throughout.

Cena's loss to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII is being portrayed as the primary reason for his disastrous 2012, and the primary focus for his path to redemption.  And properly so; for Cena had been building to that match for a year, putting it all on the line as the representative of the modern WWE, as the journeyman wrestler working day in and day out for the fans. Cena was defending what it means to be a professional wrestler against a movie star, a part-time athlete who'd swanned back into WWE to take the current face of the company down a peg - not least by showing Cena how to really delight the fans with catch phrases and chants.

And then there was the manner in which Cena lost to The Rock.  Their match had been going on for thirty minutes, and Rock was on rubber legs. But still, even after a second Attitude Adjustment, Rock wouldn't let his shoulders be pinned to the mat for a three count.  Cena, after arguing with the referee stood and gazed out over the fans, half-raising his right hand to his face.  The fans began to boo before Cena had even begun to wave his "you can't see me," so with a shrug and a smirk Cena changed his mind and instead moved to stand over Rock's head.

Cena kicked Rock's arms to the side of his body, and the boos intensified as the fans realised what he was about to do.  Cena flicked an armband into the fans with a tired mocking smile,  then ran off the ropes intending to land a People's Elbow on the downed People's Champion. But with a last burst of energy Rock leapt to his feet and caught Cena with a Rock Bottom.  And, as Rock celebrated his victory in the ring, Cena sat on the ramp, his wry expression revealing that he knew that uncharacteristic moment of hubris, the choice to mock The Rock instead of securing the victory, had cost him the biggest match of his career.

Any sense that that loss was the significant starting point of what was to be Cena's worse year in WWE was immediately undone less than a month later when he faced Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules. This brutal, vicious match shared characteristics with the WrestleMania main event, not least a returning star seeking to topple the modern WWE's poster boy.  But where Rock brought showmanship and electrifying battles on the microphone, Lesnar brought brutal intensity and vicious bloodletting, and Cena responded with in kind.

And yet Cena won that match.  Undoubtedly it wasn't a big a victory as defeating The Rock at WrestleMania would've been, but still it raises a big question mark over any sense that Cena had a bad 2012.  Multiple pay-per-view main events and a shocking, violent, cathartic victory over Brock Lesnar?  Not so bad, really, at all.

Regardless, the path has been laid out.  Cena's won the Royal Rumble, and Rock's won the WWE Championship.  Through means either fair or foul the CM Punk rematch for the WWE Championship at Exlimination Chamber will end with Rock carrying the title out and onto WrestleMania XXIX.  And there John Cena's road to redemption will be complete, and he'll be holding his jewelled title belt above his head as the show goes off the air, The Rock this time being the one to look on wondering what went wrong.

It's both the good and the bad of the classical three act structure to storytelling.  If the first act ended with Cena losing to Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII, and the second act began with Cena defeating Lesnar but ended with Cena repeatedly failing to win the WWE Championship, then the third and final act has a clear arc to proceed along.  WrestleMania XXIX will bring the second turning point, the resolution of the arc of John Cena's character, and it won't - it can't - end on a down note with Cena's attempt at redemption being frustrated.  WWE doesn't do downer endings on their biggest show of the year.

But I can't be too negative about what lies ahead of me over the next two months.  Because on the Road to WrestleMania one has to step back and remember who this time of year is really for.  It's not for the hardcore fans who watch week-in, week-out, who discuss and moan online, who write blog posts like this one.  It's for the casual fans, who may only watch one or two pay-per-views a year. 

It's for the younger fans who invest so heavily in John Cena that they will genuinely feel that he has had a terrible 2012, even if more wizened fans like myself roll our eyes at the artifice of such a conceit. 

And maybe I'll be surprised.  Maybe Cena won't triumph unreservedly?  Maybe Triple H won't also get his inevitable revenge over Brock Lesnar? Maybe Team Hell No won't break up and put on a potentially show stealing match at WrestleMania?  Maybe Chris Jericho won't put Dolph Ziggler over, helping cement Ziggler's reputation?

Still, even if it all plays out as it seems set to do, I'm sure we'll see some great matches, some fun promos and further down the card (if you can consider the World Heavyweight Championship "further down the card") there's still scope for surprises to occur.  But I do just wish it wasn't quite so predictable.

Again, credit where credit is due: a three-act story played out over a year is a rare thing indeed in WWE.  And that is what they have done with The Ballad of John Cena. 

Still, surely WWE could they have done just a little bit more to make Cena's second-act a struggle?  Making 2012 a genuinely bad year for Cena, a year spent in the mid card, struggling and failing to get back to his prior level, leading to the self-discovery and renewed vow to triumph in 2013, would've made this storyline just that bit more compelling.  And perhaps a more overt acknowledgement from Cena that his loss to The Rock a year ago was due to his own hubris, his own failings.

But, when you're trying to run a year-long story with your cash cow, I guess you can't spend six months grinding him down and out, putting him in a position where self-discovery (and, perhaps, self-annihilation) becomes the key to a triumph in the third act.  But, still, this smarkish fan of good storytelling can but hope...

Saturday, April 19
- WWE Raw (10.15am, the BOX)

Sunday, April 20
- WWE Raw (3.45pm, the BOX)

- WWE Main Event (6.15pm, the BOX)

- WWE SmackDown (7.05pm, the BOX)

- WWE Main Event (11.50pm, the BOX)

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