John Cena has the most compelling story line of 2015. Trust me: I am just as surprised as you are. If someone were to ask me what story would be the most interesting one year ago, John would not have registered a blip on the radar.
Yet, here we are. How did this happen? Is the internet or the economy to blame? Is hustle, loyalty, and respect making a comeback?
Well, not quite. In fact, part of why John Cena has become so fascinating is largely because his star is fading.
John Cena lost the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam last year. The match has become famous for how incredibly one-sided the affair was. For 20 minutes, Lesnar beat the stuffing out of Cena, throwing him from one end of the ring to another, emphatically making the former Doctor of Thuganomics looks like a training dummy.
This is where our interest in Cena begins: The last days and times of a once decorated champion fighting his own shadow and relevancy.
John Cena has suffered three deadly personal sins on his way to a clean loss against Kevin Owens last night at Elimination Chamber, all of which involve failure.
Failure against himself, his friends, and the future.
The first sin is the most obvious. A string of losses against Lesnar, only for the young upstart Seth Rollins to steal the spotlight and eventually the title. The result against Lesnar was similar each time: a total and utter defeat. Never before has John Cena been handled in such a way.
A younger John Cena would have rebelled against his own failure. When placed in a similar situation of failure against The Rock long, long ago, Cena overcame and persevered. Now, time has become a constant antagonist that succeeds a bit more against John with every match.
The second failure occurred at and after Survivor Series, in which Cena was directly responsible for his “closest allies” being fired. Of course, this would all be revoked thanks to an odd story beat involving the attempted crippling of Edge by Seth Rollins, but the fact remained. John Cena’s now wavering ability was affecting those around him.
The third personal sin comes in the form of Cena’s last two feuds against Rusev and NXT darling Kevin Owens.
In many ways, this is where the John Cena story parallels that of Rocky Balboa. The plucky underdog turned dominant, steel-willed champion. I don’t make this comparison simply because of our aging hero is being placed up against a Russian powerhouse, though it is convenient if you ask me.
it’s an apt comparison because Rusev was a challenge that Cena overcame, but not without a struggle or failure.
Enter Kevin Owens: If the Cena/Rusev feud was Rocky IV, then Cena’s new rivalry against the NXT champion is Rocky Balboa. An aged and failing champion, flailing against the coming dark in trying to show that his time hasn’t completely passed him by.
This is where Owen’s contribution to the feud is absolutely vital as the prideful, raging demon who hides behind the mask of a good man and confident champion. This rage has been shown on NXT time again, first peeking out in Owens’ first NXT match against CJ Parker. The moment that Parker hits Owens in the nose with a palm thrust is when the world changes.
Owens sees red, literally as well as metaphorically. The monster takes control and he abuses Parker in victory. This same demon would strike later that same evening, attacking Sami Zayn and crippling his one-time best friend.
You can see this rage building underneath Owens in every interview, promo, and match. Look at the one-on-one interview with Michael Cole the week before his rematch with Sami Zayn. Owens absolutely bristles when asked about his true motives for attacking his former friend. Owens attempts to save face, putting up the facade of the man trying to do right by his family.
Yet the rage remains.
This anger would come pouring out again at the end of Owens’ match against Zayn when he powders out of the ring to grab a chair, violently screaming at the timekeeper to move. Samoa Joe made the save that night, but more of the mask was slipping off Owens.
This brings us back to Owens and Cena, a feud fueled by the pride of both men. Cena is attempting to prove his own-self worth as the veteran doing his best to lead the future, as was once done for him. Owens is the cocky, experienced champion who is challenged to prove that he is as good as he believes he is.
The motives and ambitions of Owens are once again challenged, but this time by the elder statesmen. The pieces were in place, and Elimination Chamber saw two champions collide in a war of self-worth.
In a shocking turn of events, Owens not only won, but won in dominant fashion. The young bull pushed over the old soldier and declared post-match that maybe it was time for John Cena to take a bow and leave the stage.
John Cena’s own confidence and pride have become his downfall as he now struggles to show the future that he has fight left to give.
As far as stories go, it is one of the most compelling that WWE could design for an aging Cena. All the credit in the world goes to Owens and Cena, who not only told a magnificent tale in the ring last night, but put on one of the best matches of 2015.
It’s hard to say where the tale will go from here. Logic says that Cena is going to get back his loss, leading to a rubber match down the road. The star of Kevin Owens is shining brighter than any before him, with merchandise numbers to back up the crowds beginning to chant “Fight Owens Fight.”
Regardless, I’m not afraid to admit that John Cena has not only has my curiosity, but also my attention. The United States Open Challenge has been the one thing I stay up for every RAW to see live, no matter what. On top of that, Cena has turned in some of his best in-ring work in years against the best talent that WWE has to offer.
Maybe it is time to draw the curtain on the story of John Cena, but I have a feeling he isn’t going down without a fight. Owens’ time may be now, but Cena’s doomsday clock still has a few more minutes until midnight.
Will Harrison is a journalist covering the video game industry as well as the wide world of professional wrestling. Contact him @DoubleUHarrison or firstname.lastname@example.org.