How to Make John Cena’s Upcoming WWE Run Legendary – Bleacher Report
The WWE is a company fueled by opinions, ranging from everyone’s favorite Superstars, matches, moments and more, but there are some indisputable facts that are just universal.
There are no arguments in a discussion of whether or not Shawn Michaels is one of the best in-ring performers ever, or if The Rock is the biggest star to conquer both professional wrestling and Hollywood.
Likewise, it is inarguable that the top of the food chain in the WWE for well over a decade has been John Cena—the franchise player who has been the face of the company for an entire generation.
Cena has long left his mark on the sports entertainment industry and would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, but just because his career is winding down doesn’t mean he should be counted out.
Rather, Cena still has all the tools necessary to have as bombastic a career as he’s had before, provided the WWE sets him up to triumph.
We all would be surprised if Cena wasn’t successful, but it’s one thing to coast along as a main event player and another thing to go back to the absolute pinnacle of his profession in all facets.
With a few key elements in mind, the WWE can make sure Cena’s next run can be a legendary one.
Focus on Quality Feuds and Matches
For years, Cena was criticized by the WWE Universe for having the same exact feud with every single opponent.
Some heel would be built up as a major threat by beating Cena down, prompting him to say he’s the underdog despite nobody thinking he would lose, and before long, he’d be fighting back from a beatdown to hit the Attitude Adjustment and stand victorious.
This became incredibly boring, and it’s no surprise much of his programs seem to blur together as being forgettable outside of a few highlight reel moments.
However, when Cena won the United States Championship from Rusev in 2015, he changed his tune by having a recurring open challenge to defend his title.
This saw some particularly engaging matches come out of left field against Stardust, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and more, who would normally never get a chance to shine.
In doing so, it showcased that Cena had something to give back, and if he were paired up with some hungry stars, he could be much more entertaining than the cookie-cutter storyline template the WWE forced him to wrestle by from 2006 onward.
The first thing the WWE needs to do to ensure Cena has a great run this time around is to give him the right people to work with. People he feels he can not only have passionate feuds with, but deliver in the ring against, too.
As crazy of a concept as it seems, sometimes just letting somebody do the job you hired them to do without micromanaging can lead to a wider range of freedom and expression of creativity.
Capitalize on American Pride
Even ignoring the United States Championship and the open challenge concept, one of the most obvious aspects to take advantage of in Cena’s upcoming run will have to be his status as a symbol of American pride.
Somewhere down the line—whether it’s at SummerSlam or later in the year—Cena absolutely must feud with Jinder Mahal, preferably for the WWE Championship.
In an ideal scenario, as far as Cena’s run goes, Mahal would retain the title against Randy Orton at Battleground in the Punjabi Prison before Cena would step in to dethrone him at SummerSlam in August.
This story just writes itself, as Mahal’s shtick as of late has revolved almost entirely around bad-mouthing the American people who Cena will instinctively go to bat for, as he defends them even when they’re booing him out of a building.
It’s old-school, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still work. People still get upset when a babyface turns heel on his tag team partner, which is one of the oldest tricks in the book that we’ve seen happen recently with Big Cass, Goldust and Tommaso Ciampa.
Bonus points could be awarded if this is also used as a means to bring Hulk Hogan back into the WWE as someone on Cena’s side, not just because that helps reintroduce The Hulkster to fans, but it also keeps the storyline going that Mahal has no respect for the legends of the WWE’s past, as evidenced by his actions at Money in the Bank.
Cena standing alongside Hogan as the two biggest American icons in the WWE just makes sense, and it helps solidify his status as being another name on par with Hogan on that Mount Rushmore of sports entertainment history.
This is also an easy means to have the fans support Cena, as his standing as the true hero of the story with no gray areas to get confused about will make it easier for the crowd to continue cheering for him in future storylines that come out of this feud.
The 17-time Champion
Not only does Cena need to feud with Mahal, he also should be the one to beat him for the WWE Championship, which will fulfill a destiny that will automatically make his run legendary, as it means Cena will surpass Ric Flair’s record of world title wins.
This one is self-explanatory and doesn’t require much dissection. Breaking a historic record such as this will be monumental, and there’s no debate on that subject, as it’s another one of the indisputable facts in wrestling.
The New Day are forever etched in time as the longest-reigning tag team champions since they’ve beaten Demolition’s record, so until someone passes that, they’re already in the discussion for one of the greatest stables ever.
Likewise, Cena doesn’t even have to get his 17th title for him to be a top-tier ranked wrestler, yet if he achieves that goal, he solidifies his role as a juggernaut in the business.
When he won his 16th, it didn’t matter what event or time of the year it happened, nor did it even matter who he defeated, but just that he had done it. Losing it several weeks later hasn’t tarnished the fact that he’s tied with Flair, has it?
For this to be a legendary run, another world title reign is a necessity.
Oddly enough, though, you can make the argument that Cena needs nothing but that title reign for his next run to be celebratory, but we can do better than just that, as there’s more to unfold.
Put in the Time
The biggest problem with Cena over the past few years has been the amount of time he spends away from the WWE working on other projects.
Whether it’s a film, American Grit, hosting an awards show, or even just taking time off to rest, these things can be detrimental to his momentum.
In theory, it’s a positive thing that he can heal from nagging injuries and work in other media environments to help promote his name and the brand, but when this happens for stretches of weeks or months, he fades away from the consciousness of the product.
The amount of time Cena takes off to work on other things should be limited as much as possible to not get in the way of any feuds, particularly if he’s holding the WWE Championship.
With the Universal Championship on Brock Lesnar, who takes significantly long breaks, that belt is receiving much less attention and love than it should be getting, which hurts the Raw roster and the storytelling capabilities of the writing team on that brand, too.
Cena should stick around as long as possible to maintain momentum and put out as much quality work as he can, not just for himself, but the people around him who will make him look better by proximity.
Work the Wedding Angle
Undoubtedly, a project on the side that will be taking up at least some of Cena’s time will be planning his wedding with Nikki Bella, but that doesn’t need to take away from WWE programming. Instead, it can enhance it.
Total Divas doesn’t reach the full scope of the audience from Raw and SmackDown, but it appeals to a different demographic that the WWE can cater to from time to time.
The men and women who watch that show will be more inclined to watch Cena on the normal programming if he has such a juicy thing happening behind the scenes that may bleed over from time to time.
To capitalize on this, the WWE should build Mike and Maria Kanellis up to a level where they can eventually feud with Cena and Nikki Bella.
This is both a positive for the Kanellis duo as well as Cena and Nikki, as their feud with The Miz and Maryse garnered some considerable attention, and it would keep continuity from what current fans are used to.
Maria has wrestling experience, so she can get back in the ring against Nikki, which gives SmackDown’s women’s division another competitor to work with, while Cena and Mike can work together, culminating in a mixed tag team match on a B-level event.
This feud doesn’t need to happen any time soon, either. It could come about well after WrestleMania 34 when enough time has passed by to create a lot of tension for just when the WWE will pull the trigger to get these four in the ring together.
Mr. Money in the Bank
In a scenario where Cena takes the WWE Championship from Mahal, he has to lose the belt to someone down the line, which is where Baron Corbin can step in.
Having Cena win the top title could result in a little backlash from fans who still don’t quite want to see him as the overlord of a division, so having a younger star beat him for the title helps to undo some of that pain.
Retroactively, it will seem like the opposite of what it used to be, with Cena now being the one built up to lose to somebody else in order to make them look better.
This earns Cena some positive karma to ride throughout the next few months to follow, resetting the switch on those who were turning against him because it’s always cool to boo the guy with the title.
Money in the Bank is one of the most important gimmicks of the year that we all have our eyes on, so for Cena to be wrapped up in that storyline is just a given when trying to book such a significant run.
Dropping the title opens Cena up to more feuds like the aforementioned one against Mike Kanellis or perhaps even a month or two of random matches against lower-card talent that can prove to be exciting and refreshing changes of pace before Cena starts gearing up for what could be his most important match in years.
Mirror Him with Roman Reigns
With Roman Reigns challenging the winner of Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar from Great Balls of Fire, the SummerSlam main event should end with the inevitable crowning of Reigns with the Universal Championship.
It is going to happen sooner or later, so the WWE might as well pull the bandage off right now and embrace the boos that will come as a result of putting the title on a guy more and more people are uncomfortable seeing in that spot.
The writing team is stubborn enough not to fully turn him heel, but the writers are also smart enough to know that he may as well be, so they book him in scenarios where it’s OK for him not to have the full support of the crowd.
This is where Cena needs to enter, as he’s the only other person to feel this kind of heat at this level.
In an ideal world, Reigns can take the belt from Lesnar at SummerSlam to assert his dominance, feud with various heels and babyfaces for the next few months and get cockier as time goes on.
Then, as he’s labeled a free agent, Cena can win the 2018 Royal Rumble match to earn himself a title shot for either champion he chooses, opting to pick Reigns as his opponent for WrestleMania 34.
Cena at that point will have tied Steve Austin’s record for three Royal Rumble wins, which adds another accolade to his career, along with setting up the biggest potential match the WWE can put on at this point in time at the biggest show of the year.
It would be a match that has everybody talking and trying to figure out which side they’re on, seeing as both men have their detractors and are polarizing to audiences.
This concept was brought up in the Table for 3 episode with Jim Cornette, Michael P.S. Hayes and Eric Bischoff as a potential headliner for next year’s WrestleMania with due reason, since there’s nothing more grandiose that can be pulled off with the current crop of talent.
Whether Cena wins or loses may not even matter, as the match taking place alone will be the top story for months during its build and studied years after.
Since Reigns has been the target of more feverish hatred recently, the boos Cena gets has reduced in comparison. This means he may get the majority of the support from the audience, which would be a first in a long while.
If Cena takes time off after WrestleMania and he goes this route, it will have been an amazing run that checks all the boxes and puts him in a great position to return later in 2018 as a beloved and revered legend in his own right.
What would you like to see the WWE do with Cena when he returns? Tell us which direction you’re hoping they go in the comments section below!
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.