Pruett's Blog: Ten Years of John Cena Part 4 - John Cena searches for, and finds, his equal at WrestleMania XXVI and XXVII as Batista and The Rock take his attention
By Will Pruett
This is part four of a five part series looking at John Cena's ten WrestleMania matches that will air Monday's on Prowrestling.net.
Click here to read Part One.
Click here to read Part Two.
Click here to read Part Three.
John Cena was, at this point, the established number one wrestler in WWE. No one was bigger. This is usually stated as if it is a good thing. John Cena was on top. What could go wrong for him? Well, it's lonely at the top and John Cena was feeling the loneliness more than anything else here.
To fully explain why, we need to look at the era before John Cena's. The Attitude Era was dominated by two top stars: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. At no other time in history have two men shared the top spot in the wrestling industry, but here, in this moment, two did. Rock and Austin proved, through their various hiatuses, equally capable of carrying the bulk of WWE's story-telling and money-making load. When they were on the roster together, one man usually had to turn, because there wasn't room for two number-one babyfaces.
The fans in this era, grew accustomed to having two top stars. They always knew The Rock and Austin were equals and, when they clashed, they knew it was a big deal. Their existence was symbiotic. The Rock elevated Austin and Austin elevated The Rock. Perhaps they became the two biggest stars of the biggest era in wrestling history because they constantly pushed each other.
Now, let's return our gaze to John Cena, tasked with the responsibility of following Rock and Austin. John Cena was elevated to the top of the wrestling business in 2005 and, aside from a few short breaks for injuries, never really descended from this peak. He main-evented show after show, and even if he did take a bit of a backseat at WrestleMania for a couple years, was still the most used star in WWE.
During all of this, a fan rebellion began. Fans, who were accustomed to their choice of two top guys to throw their unbridled support behind, were suddenly seeing just one. While it has been this way for most of wrestling history, coming out of an era with Austin and Rock caused fans to look for an equal for Cena. In a sense, the rebellion was as much about wanting (and not getting) an equal for John Cena as it was about Cena himself.
In these two years, we see John Cena in search of his great equal. Batista, the man who shared the new star spotlight with him in 2005, was the closest main roster equal he had. The Miz was nowhere close to being a convincing equal. It took to arrival of one of the big two from the previous era to give John Cena the equal he desperately needed.
WrestleMania XXVI - John Cena vs. Batista for the WWE Championship
At WrestleMania 21, John Cena won the WWE Championship. On the same night, Batista won the World Heavyweight Championship. Both men, crowned as world champions for the first time on the same night, had fairly parallel career paths. They were kept on separate brands for most of the five years after WrestleMania 21. Cena and Batista were used similarly and even used as partners multiple times throughout the years.
This changed at the end of 2009 when Batista seemed to blink first by turning heel. Although a certain sect of fans had outright begged for a Cena heel turn for years, Batista beat him to the "becoming evil" punch. This was a good thing, as it breathed new life into the tired Batista character. Instead of simply being "The Animal" in suits having wrongs done to him, he became a parody of celebrities like Kayne West who demanded the spotlight.
This new spotlight-loving Batista captured the WWE Championship after John Cena won it in an Elimination Chamber match. Batista had a Money in the Bank-esque moment without a briefcase being involved. Vince McMahon owed Batista a favor and Batista was able to cash it in. A beaten and battered Cena tried to fight, but he failed. Batista took what was John Cena's.
In the weeks to follow, Batista would get the better of Cena both physically and verbally. He discussed Cena being anointed as the "chosen one" in WWE. He discussed their concurrent paths and where they changed. Batista discussed being second choice in WWE. He drew a picture of Cena getting everything Batista really deserved. It's possible Batista could have been expressing real life frustration as this feud seemed rooted in both fiction and reality. Who knows? Maybe Batista really did believe he should have been the face of WWE. Maybe he did resent Cena for taking the number one spot.
At WrestleMania, Batista entered with his new spotlight and his WWE Championship. John Cena made it five awkward WrestleMania entrances in a row as the Air Force Honor Guard did their customary gun twirling routine before Cena's music hit. It was another awkward moment where John Cena, who was never a member of the United States armed forces, attempted to garner some babyface praise by endorsing them. It's just a strange thing for Cena to do and it was a strange entrance with a mixed reaction.
The fans at WrestleMania XXVI in Phoenix, Arizona didn't boo Cena out of the building, but his mixed reaction was noticeable. The announcers talked about Cena "garnering emotion" from the crowd, but they didn't discuss many members of the crowd rejecting him. This has always been odd. WWE tried to justify the reaction at WrestleMania 22, but they tried to ignore it here.
Their match started off slow with headlocks, tie-ups, and posing. Cena and Batista attempted to tell the story of being evenly matched. They took a while establishing this, then quickly moved into the portion of the match where they trade finishers and finisher attempts. This was also odd. The match had an okay first act and a good third act, but it lacked a second act. There wasn't a middle, just a beginning and an end. It felt like a chunk of the match was missing.
They each had the opportunity to kick out of each other's signature moves (the Batista Bomb and the Attitude Adjustment) before Cena was able to reverse another Batista Bomb attempt into the STF. Batista tapped out nonchalantly and the match ended suddenly.
John Cena had quickly disposed of the only man in WWE who could be anywhere close to his equal. John Cena, by winning this match, truly lost.
WrestleMania XXVII - John Cena vs. The Miz for the WWE Championship
The Miz was, quite possibly, the least important part of a WrestleMania main event in history. This is strange, because he closed the show, retained his WWE Championship, and was actually in the midst of a good heel run. While the match may be listed as John Cena vs. The Miz, Miz could have been anyone else. Replace The Miz with any other heel who worked on this show and the match feels the same. The Miz was never supposed to be John Cena's equal. He was a prop. He was a way to allow John Cena vs. The Rock (the feud) to begin without John Cena vs. The Rock (the match) happening.
On February 14, 2011 The Rock returned to WWE and was announced as the "Special Guest Host" of WrestleMania. While the role was not defined at all, it didn't matter. "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment" was back (and, according to what he said, never leaving again). The Rock, after getting through his "Finally" pleasantries, launched into a vicious promo about how WWE had transitioned from himself and Steve Austin, with their dominant catchphrases, to John Cena and his wimpy (and high pitched) "You can't see me."
The Rock launched straight into Cena in his first week back. John Cena had to respond. John Cena had to rap. Well, he didn't have to rap, but he did. He questioned The Rock's commitment to the fans and WWE. He wondered when Rock would leave again.
This may not seem as heinous, after Rock was around for the last three years, but at the time, it was echoing the major fear many fans had. Yes, The Rock was back, but for how long. Many of these fans take it quite personally when wrestlers leave. They're hardcore fans and wrestling is a pseudo-religion for them. Leaving the religion is frowned upon (like Scientology, but less creepy). The Rock left. They were afraid he'd leave again. These same fans were the ones rejecting Cena, who was speaking with their voice. The Rock was their hero they feared would leave them at any moment.
At WrestleMania, John Cena prepared to wrestle The Miz by walking to the ring with a gospel choir singing about his time being now. This was the sixth silly entrance in a row for Cena, which I think was a WrestleMania record at this time. John Cena and Miz had wrestled the quietest WrestleMania main event I can remember. They tried to get the fans into the match, but the fans knew the real story wasn't playing out in front of them. The fans knew the story didn't start until Cena's real opponent arrived. Cena and Miz wrestled to an awkward double countout (and Miz ended up concussed).
It was finally time for Cena's equal to meet him on the WrestleMania stage. The Rock came to the ring and, after thwarting Hornswoggle's attempted interruption via laptop, restarted Cena vs. Miz with no disqualifications, countouts, or crying to mom's. As soon as the match began again, Rock delivered the Rock Bottom to Cena, allowing Miz to pin him. John Cena suffered his second WrestleMania loss and his first one in a one-on-one match.
More important than the match was the story. John Cena found his equal. One night later, the two would make history.
Four-fifths of the way through the decade
Cena made some huge steps forward in this chapter. With the opportunity to stand across from both Batista and The Rock, Cena was able to shine. He rose to the level of his competition and his story on these occasions. While the WrestleMania XXVII match against The Miz was poor, it was the least important WrestleMania main event I can remember. In a way, WrestleMania XXVII was the go-home show for WrestleMania XXVIII, but we'll get to that next week.
This blog has been edited by Ryan "The Human Comma" Kester.
Want to chat with me about John Cena and this blog/series? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to interact with me on the Twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime. All interaction is welcome, as long as you're not pitching your idea for a John Cena heel turn.
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