Shore's Blog: John Cena didn't bury Damien Sandow Monday night, but he might have buried John Cena
By Chris Shore
My colleague Will Pruett wrote in an article this week that Damien Sandow losing his cash-in attempt on Raw was best for business because now we get to see a story we have never seen told before as it relates to the Money in the Bank contract holder. While his reasoning is sound, and I do agree that for Sandow this opens up the potential for something big, I disagree vehemently that the decision was best for business. My reason has nothing to do with Sandow though. It has everything to do with John Cena.
Before I explain, I do want to reiterate that the waling and gnashing of teeth over Sandow being buried, or that he is somehow finished after this, are not only extreme overreactions but wildly off base. Sandow went out Monday night and showed that not only can he hang with the top stars--including being one of a handful of people who can have a heart stopping match with John Cena--he can also show great aggression and draw real heat outside of his easy "better than you" gimmick. Sandow came out of the opening of Raw with more chance for stardom than he has had to date.
But while Sandow may have looked great in defeat, John Cena's Superman gimmick received another booster shot. The situation was made worse by Cena's refusal to give anything close a near fall, starting to kick out as the ref was coming down for two even after Sandow hit both of his finishers, and tweaking his knee just before the final spot of the match. WWE and Cena announced to the world, and not for the first time, that Cena doesn't overcome the odds as much as they like to sell that. They plainly stated that the odds are never not in his favor. He will win, every single time, no matter what.
This damages WWE in two ways. First, there is the Daniel Bryan effect in reverse. WWE made it clear there was no reason to hope for a Daniel Bryan victory, and they have made it equally clear not to expect Cena to lose a title match. The ultimate message is the same: Do not bother to watch; you already know what's going to happen.
The second problem is the Superman effect. Superman, like John Cena, appears near the top of both the "most loved" and "most hated" superhero lists. Cena and Superman fans also often share a similar trajectory of fandom. They find these heroes as kids, are mesmerized and inspired by their ability to overcome anything, and then turn on them in their teen and young adult years as they realize that invincibility strains credibility and often comes across as an insult to their more mature tastes.
Both issues lead to the same phenomenon. WWE is bleeding viewers. One set of fans is no longer watching because they can't be surprised anymore. The other set is growing up and realizing that they, like so many others before, have grown weary of Superman. While there are ups and downs from week to week, the overall trend is a decline, albeit a slight one, from year to year. And while WWE will continue to attract new Cena fans, especially young ones, they are not doing so at a pace that is stemming the tide of those leaving.
Turning Cena isn't the answer, even as much as I would like to see it personally. His value to the company is as a babyface. His merchandising revenue, earned both in direct product sales and, probably more importantly, his endorsement deals, is gigantic and not to be dismissed lightly. (Incidentally, this is also why a return to TV-14 material is a terrible idea, no matter what the diehard fans of the Attitude Era may think.) The answer lies in actually telling the story visually that the announcers try to sell every time Cena is in the ring.
Cena actually does need to overcome the odds every once in a while. He actually does have to show vulnerability to make the comeback and win mean something. Hanging his arm from the side as if it was dead and limping on a knee are good pieces of the puzzle, but they are only small pieces. We needed more. We needed something different. He came back after two months from a four to six month injury and immediately won a title. That's not different. Cena needed to lose Monday night, not to help Sandow, but to help Cena.
Most Money in the Bank impromptu cash in matches have come once someone other than the contract holder has done the dirty work. Sandow walked out, called his spot, and ruthlessly beat down Cena. A win after that begins to make you wonder if Cena came back too soon. It makes you wonder if he might have met his match--especially after the performance they put on in the ring. In other words, it changes the expectation. That means when he finally does come back and defy the odds our expectation has been proven false. That's what makes good storytelling. And good storytelling is what is best for business.
Questions? Comments? Anyone, anyone? Let me hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @TheShoreSlant with whatever is on your mind.
And read my first work of fiction: The Following Contest is a Dark Match available exclusively on ebook for all eReaders, smartphones, tablets, and PCs for only 99 cents.
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