As previously noted, WWE Superstar John Cena was recently a guest on E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness. During the fascinating interview, Cena shared some insight into many pro wrestling topics including working with AJ Styles, helping to showcase performers, why so many performers struggle when they transition to WWE, Shinsuke Nakamura's early struggles on SmackDown Live, "complacency" in the WWE locker room, bringing out the best in his opponents, and the perception of burying talent.
With respect to the current WWE United States Champion, AJ Styles, Cena indicated that WWE signing Styles was the "culmination" of the company's effort to recruit top independent talent. Cena went on to say that he derives great pleasure from debuting new WWE talent and the onus is on said talent to perform.
"AJ was kind of the culmination. For years, we began recruiting very gifted performers in a physical aspect. I think you can date the calendar all the way back to CM Punk. With Punk and Daniel Bryan and then signing a lot of guys from Ring Of Honor or the indies. I think it's just generally assessing your playing field. Like, a match with me and Brock Lesnar or Braun Strowman is not going to be the same as a match with me and Kevin Owens or AJ Styles. I'm at a point where I do need to showcase my abilities, but essentially the goal is for a guy like AJ to show he can hang with John Cena. And to do that, he really has to show what he's made of, so we have to do our best to showcase what those guys have."
Cena continued, "I really loved the chance to be able to showcase guys for essentially the first time. Like, I know Chris [Jericho] worked with AJ before, but I don't think he really got a proper chance. He debuted at the [Royal] Rumble and didn't really do much. And that's kind of what I based my argument on and we kind of butted heads a little bit, but I really wanted him to be able to showcase what he can do because, man, he is just super, super good. And a guy like Kevin was the same thing. He came in and there [are] a bunch of those names, where not only do you let those guys talk and let them make a statement, and I thought any of those guys, whether it be Punk, Bryan, and the list goes on and on, and Seth [Rollins], and Kevin, and AJ. And I think, pretty much any of those guys that came from traditional roots of pro wrestling who made it to the dance and got a chance to brush up against me, I think they did a great job of explaining themselves on the microphone. I think it [has] all been some of their best promo work and it [has] all been some of their best performances. So I don't know, man. I just try to be the best chameleon I can, I guess."
According to Cena, performers struggle when they arrive in WWE because all other pro wrestling promotions cater to hardcore fans of the genre. While it may be possible to get over on in-ring ability alone, even in NXT, that is not the case with WWE.
"I'd go as far as to say NXT is a different animal. All those promotions that [Edge] mentioned, I'll include NXT in that fold, those are [fans] that actively gravitate towards 'professional wrestling' and that's why certain styles are appreciated and certain performances are appreciated. And then, you get to WWE and I think that bundle of responsibility that you talked about also includes using your skills to tell those stories to a general public, a global mass, who [say], 'oh man, I'll see what's on WWE tonight. I'll see what's on RAW or SmackDown tonight,' not necessarily that pro wrestling fan that'll tune into everything because they love everything and they love everything pro wrestling. And I think that's the biggest challenge that a lot of the guys face when they come up even they'll have sort of the same environment in NXT and then they'll make it to either RAW or SmackDown and they really will have a period of difficult adjustment. And sometimes the hardcore audience gets upset because they feel [that performer is] not being used right, but I've seen it a number of times firsthand. It's the guy's inability to grasp what's going on and the audience just got so much bigger and their depth of field just got so much longer and they just can't conceptualize it just yet. There are those that eventually make it and those that shake the cobwebs and move on."
In Cena's view, the more Nakamura is exposed to the masses, the more he will have to explain who his character is. Cena claimed his is on the lower end of in-ring worker before suggesting that 'The King Of Strong Style' will have to deepen his character to appeal to the WWE audience.
"Well, I think with [Nakamura], there's no doubt he's very skilled and extremely interesting, but with a character like him, you eventually need to explain what the interesting is. And I know he's diligently working on trying to convey to our audience better and cut better promos. I love his entrance."
Cena reflected, "I'm like on the low-end of even mediocre when it comes to all these guys because they're all so very gifted, and the women as well, like, it's amazing what they can do! But, literally, I think the absence of that marquee personality is… there's a giant Grand Canyon of relationship between Superstar and audience and I don't know who a lot of these guys are. And with Shinsuke, I think the allure of Nakamura is that he was different and interesting. But the longer he stays on television, the more he is going to have to let the audience in on who he is."
Also during the conversation, Cena stated that there has never been a better time than now to be a transcendent WWE Superstar, but that level of complacency in WWE locker room is "staggering".
"Man, this is probably why they don't let me out of the cage to do podcasts because I'm going to be flung from the tallest tree, but the amount of complacency is staggering. I mean, these guys are all so gifted and there [has] never been a better time ever to make a name for yourself in WWE. With all of the platforms that we have with RAW and SmackDown, with NXT, we're increasing our number of pay-per-views, we're throwing so much content at the [WWE] Network, it's obscene. We have so many guys that have so many chances. I just don't get it."
Cena professed, "we are in the business right now of holding onto a lot of guys, so, like I said, and I mean this: there [has] never been a better chance for someone to be a WWE Superstar, a WWE megastar, than right now. Like, it is wide open, throttle wide open, foot to the floor. If you ever thought you can do it, step up right now. And I don't know. I think the guys right now just feel like a piece of the system rather than this creative force."
Additionally, Cena addressed the criticism that he buries young talent, saying that a lot of his opponents do their best work with him and then get lost in the shuffle.
"If you look at any Superstar, when they get in there with me, they do their best work. And I have this notorious, crazy reputation for burying guys because they get so lost in the shuffle after they're done with me. I think their perspective is skewed because I bring that out of them, whatever it is they need to find, I bring it out of them." Cena elaborated, "a lot of these guys that I face are getting the chance to make a name for themselves and after they face me, they can't recapture the energy and that's why they get lost in the shuffle, because it comes from creative inspiration. Meanwhile, I get my next opponent and I'm already thinking about crazy things I could do, or say, or act, and I'm on to the next one. And they just wait for that experience to happen again and it doesn't."
The rocket strappers strike again. If you use any of the quotes that appear in this article, please credit E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness with an H/T to WrestlingINC for the transcription.
Source: E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness