John Cena, the face of WWE for more than a decade, appeared on the latest episode of Corey Graves' After The Bell podcast where he discussed some of his favorite matches and his opinion on the state of WWE. He said the current era of programming needs one defining figure, but doesn't know if that figure can be produced.
"It needs what I'm not sure it can produce, and that's...just the state of where everything is now, which is weird because it kind of always corrects itself so we're in a day and age where it needs a frontman or woman," Cena said. "It needs one, maybe two, definable characters to absolutely be the reason, and that's what will be able to define what the era is because it takes on those personality traits of its top star. Like I said it before I don't know if, all things considered, the crowd is so mixed, that if the company puts its faith behind an individual, the knee-jerk reaction of the audience, even if they liked the guy last week, is to say 'f--k you, you're not going to tell me who I like.' So the audience is also tipping the scales of this not being able to happen. Universal popularity will never happen because someone will see it and get on to it and be like, 'he seems to be getting popular, let's stop this right now,' or, 'she seems to be getting popular let's change this right now,' and I've seen it happen with guys who are really darlings of that underground crew make it, and as soon as they make it, the rug is pulled out from under them.
"It's difficult because it's like a 'Super Friends', because the audience is so segmented, some people will embrace that underground dude. Some people will embrace the top person. Some people will embrace the midcard. Some people will embrace the cruiserweights, and then there's the split between like, 'I like SmackDown, I like RAW, I like NXT.' It's just really difficult to get one definable figure to stand at the front and be like, 'okay let's go.' I mean, I don't know, so I don't know. That's where the business is, and usually if it pushes too far in one way, the pendulum finds a way to come back, but I really don't know because the program is so socially active, and your social emotions are not what they are in the arena. I know that first hand, dude. When you're at the edge of your seat, and you're lost in a championship fight and something happens and you think maybe a title is going to switch and it doesn't, you stand and you catch yourself going, 'nah,' and you tweet like, 'that was BS,' or whatever. Your keyboard emotions aren't necessarily the same as watching it live."
Cena said many of the current generation of WWE performers caught his eye, praising the overall potential of the group, but that the performers need to be willing to take risks to maximize that potential.
"I look at Sports Entertainment different than everyone else," he said. "I think a lot of people, that's why when I say like, 'oh there's no one person at the front,' that's also not bad. I think the business can, it's reaching farther than ever, it continues to reach farther than ever. So although I'm comfortable in the environment I just explained, maybe we've gone into a different thing and I am just romanticizing about those moments that I enjoy. I think we're fine with a segmented group of performers, Roman (Reigns), Braun (Strowman), Sheamus, (The) New Day. The SmackDown roster, the RAW roster, the NXT roster, you don't have one person you go to see. If you go to NXT, you go to see eight or nine people. You go to a RAW, you go to see eight or nine people. You go to SmackDown, you go to see eight or nine people.
"I don't think there has been more potential under one roof than right now. I think the best scenario, and take it from a guy who has done pretty well for himself off of this scenario, when they tell you, 'I don't know what we want tonight,' like that's when the rap guy was born. That's when things like the U.S. challenge were born. When they don't know what they want, they are giving you the freedom to create something. Oh my god, it's the best, because you can walk into imagination land and do whatever you want. But once again, it takes being brave and doing stupid things and hoping they get over, and maybe they will and maybe you can wear wristbands when you're 43 and actually have it seem comfortable. So, I don't know, like I said I just have a different perception than everybody else, but I do think there has never been more athletic talent under one roof than right here, right now."
Cena said the notion the locker room is not concerned with the emotional aspect of wrestling is wrong, but that they need to find a way to bring it all together. He said desperation breeds creativity, but he's not sure how much desperation the current generation of WWE talent has.
"We're all human, man," he said. "To say there's a locker room of emotionless people there is ignorant. All of us feel pain, all of us feel love, all of us feel happiness, anger, shame, guilt, you name it the whole gambit. We all know it's just a matter of getting people to be brave enough to embrace that stuff. Here's the thing, if we can get even just one or two, because everyone is so athletically gifted it takes it to another level.
"So I'm optimistic in thinking that hopefully they will listen to this podcast and hopefully be inspired, but if not I just have a feeling someone, some one or two people will achieve that self-awareness combined with that athletic ability I will never have in my entire life, and a locker room full of it, and then it's like another resurgence, another period of growth, another golden era. It just takes the right set of circumstances. Keep in mind, I was about to be fired before I actually knew what was going on. I failed tremendously the first opportunity I was given, so it's not like you got to hit it out of the park immediately. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and then it took for me to be told, 'you're probably not going to be doing this anymore,' to be like, 'okay I don't care anymore, I'm going for it.' Had I never been told that I would have probably squandered in low level mediocrity for as long as I'd have been around, which wouldn't have been long.
"So I think desperation also breeds creativity, and I wasn't kidding. Back in my day, there were literally cuts twice a year. They fired people in November and they fired people in May, because we had just taken on a lot of talent from ECW and WCW, and they just had to sift through it all. They still had a developmental class too, so there were seasonal releases, and justified, we just had too many guys. Not so much nowadays. So there is maybe, and I don't know, I don't know the business, armchair quarterback is the easiest spot in the field, but I do know desperation breeds creativity. I know also when I was past those cuts and actually had some success, we really championed for SmackDown to be better than RAW, and it was like a thing the brand took pride in, and I developed such a camaraderie and a friendship with the workers on SmackDown. I remember we had an idle Monday, and it was the Monday I was drafted in St. Louis, and they were all playing mini golf. I'm like, 'oh I can't make it, I'm going to work out.' I'm in St. Louis getting drafted to RAW, and when I came out every one of them, I was watching my phone, blew up, 'traitor, Benedict Arnold,' you name it, everyone was so pissed because we genuinely had put our heart and soul in making the brand better than RAW, and we took pride in that, and that was our desperation of like we are the second tier show. No, not anymore, and we're going to change it, and in doing so it elevated all of us.
"So once again, desperation spawned creativity, the birth of Edge as a singles superstar, you know stuff like that. I don't know today how much desperation is out there. I think there is desperation to want to be in a main event spot like, 'I'm being overlooked. I'm not getting pushed. They are doing nothing with me.' So what are you doing? Like what are you doing to push your vehicle forward? Have you exhausted all options? If you have, then I'm willing to listen. If you haven't, then go to work. Maybe that's why the state of things are the way they are."
John Cena will face "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 36 this weekend. New subscribers can sign up for the WWE Network today by clicking here and get their first month for free, which includes both nights of WrestleMania 36.
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.