The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
Like a lot of wrestling fans over the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time talking about John Cena,frequently in a negative manner. I've never denied that Cena had a ton of talent, but I've also been open about the problems his career in WWE have caused. The invulnerability of his character hurt a lot of his opponents, ranging from The Nexus to Bray Wyatt, his promos were often repetitive and his stereotypical, almost caricature version of a classic babyface grew stale and never seemed to change. I would never say I truly hated Cena, but like a lot of fans, sometimes I wished he would just go away.
Now, in August 2018, it looks like in a way we have been granted that wish. After his awkward match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania in April, Cena has fell off the wrestling radar, pursuing more of a career in Hollywood and enhancing his celebrity status. Cena did have a one-and-done match with Triple H at the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, but that match had no build and was very much a house show match with the camera rolling. Several weeks ago, I did an article pondering some of the biggest questions in the wrestling industry for the summer, with one of the questions being what role John Cena would have at SummerSlam. Cena had been absent for months when I made that post, but I assumed that he would certainly return for SummerSlam. With that show only two weeks away, it's obvious that Cena will be absent from any serious involvement with the show.
Looking back, it's weird to think of how much time I and other fans spent discussing the positives and negatives of Cena, and how his presence effected WWE, and for the past several months Cena has been gone. Cena was such a constant presence on WWE television for so long that it seemed impossible a time would ever come when he wouldn't be at the top of the card. If Cena was old or broken down maybe, but Cena is still close to his physical prime and to my knowledge; perfectly healthy. Yet the only real "wrestling" news we have had from him recently is whether or not he has broken up with Nikki Bella.
For years we imagined what it would be like if Cena was no longer a part of WWE, and today I have to admit that I do miss the guy, something I never thought I would say. Cena has his faults as a performer, but his charisma and star presence really do bring a lot to the show and have not been easily replaced. His character could be annoying, but his energy and the reaction he generated from the fans isn't something that you are going to see on a WWE show that Cena isn't on.
WWE has attempted to replace the Cena character with Roman Reigns; with Reigns picking up the mantle as the uber-babyface who never turned heel no matter how bad the fans wanted to see it. Reigns though, is no John Cena. The push of Reigns has divided the crowd in a manner similar to Cena, although Cena was much closer to a 50/50 split than Reigns, who has received a overwhelmingly negative reaction on most occasions. Additionally, the reaction Reigns' often gets is one of disinterest; I don't care how you spin it, if Reigns is supposed to be getting cheered and the crowd is chanting "Rusev Day"; that isn't a good thing for the top babyface and shows that the crowd isn't interested. Cena, for all his faults, always demanded interest from the fans.
The old defense for John Cena fans was that at the very least, Cena made your favorite wrestler matter. A feud with John Cena was the most significant thing a wrestler could undertake in WWE; the spotlight would never be bigger working with anyone else. While that was an annoying defense only made true because WWE seemed unable to successfully spotlight non-Cena member rosters in a major light, the fact is that Cena's star presence made the careers of a lot of WWE's biggest stars.
When a wrestler would come out and go toe-to-toe with Cena, particularly on the microphone, it really meant something. Hold your own with Cena in a promo exchange and a wrestlers' star was on the rise. There isn't anyone in WWE today, not Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, etc. that has that same kind of aura, one that can make or break a push based off a few exchanges. Cena sometimes struggled to remain motivated in his promos; particularly when he had less-skilled opponents who didn't have a chance at matching his ability to control a crowd, but when pushed by an equal, Cena delivered the most entertaining and significant feuds in the company.
Think back to all of the other wrestlers over the years who have become favorites due to working with Cena, particularly wrestlers who became fan favorites for the non-Cena portion of the audience. When Edge was elevated to WWE Champion and became the first person to cash in the Money in the Bank contract, who did he beat and later feud with? Cena. When Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship for the first time at SummerSlam, who did he take it from? Cena. When CM Punk cut his pipebomb promo, who was in the ring? Cena. If Kevin Owens made his main roster debut by coming out and calling out Reigns, or Randy Orton, he doesn't make nearly the same impact as he did when he called out Cena.
It's not as if Cena has retired, never to return to WWE; he'll probably be back soon and could even make a surprise appearance at SummerSlam. His absence though, has caused a striking difference in how interesting the product is, particularly during weekly television shows that feel unimportant. Cena's consistency may have annoyed us at times, but his star power and charisma were key to aiding the legitimacy of his contemporaries, and without that RAW and SmackDown are both worse off. I hope he comes back soon, because we miss you John Cena.
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