Chair Shots: Is WWE WrestleMania 29 the time to finally turn Cena heel?
By WAYNE CARTER
Mar 04, 2013 | 1:49 PM
In 2001, WWE held arguably the greatest WrestleMania of all time in the AstroDome in Houston, with a shocking twist in the main event that no one saw coming.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, who really since WrestleMania 13 four years earlier, had become "the guy" in WWE, defeated The Rock, the man who had become 1B to Austin's 1A, for the WWE Championship by siding with Vince McMahon and turning heel. It was, arguably, the second biggest heel turn in professional wrestling history. The only one that surpassed it was when Hulk Hogan traded in his red and yellow for nWo black and white.
Hogan and Austin are two of the biggest names in pro wrestling history, which is why making them "bad guys" seemed so shocking. For Hogan, it worked, and the nWo was the hottest ticket in town for WCW, until, ironically, Austin came along and shifted the momentum back to WWE. When Austin turned heel, it was the failed "Invasion" angle from WCW -- again, somewhat ironic -- that seemed to temper the momentum.
So, here we are, five weeks out from WrestleMania 29 with a rematch for the ages, John Cena vs. The Rock for the WWE Championship. Of course, Rock and Cena met in the main event of last year's WrestleMania in a match that was billed "Once in a Lifetime," in which the Rock won clean. It was a result that practically no one expected. Everyone assumed that Rock, representing arguably the greatest era in WWE history, would return to put over Cena as the star of the current generation.
Just as, now, everyone is assuming that Cena will "get his win back" against the Rock this year. And truthfully, he should. That would be a common sense approach to the narrative. Remember, Cena lost last year in a moment of weakness, when he thought it more appropriate to mock the Rock's trademark maneuver, the People's Elbow, rather than go for the kill.
Not that I expect this to be brought up as part of the narrative heading into WrestleMania, but do you remember what Cena did in the months before the Rock returned for their WrestleMania match? He had a feud with Kane, which was based around the Big Red Monster trying to convince Cena that, in order to defeat the Rock, he needed to "embrace the hate," of the members of the WWE Universe who boo him, no matter how hard Cena tried to be the good guy.
Maybe Kane was on to something. Maybe, clean cut, white meat babyface John Cena can't defeat the Attitudinal Rock. Cena needs an edge to do that. And what better place for Cena to finally embrace the hate than New York-New Jersey, where the so-called "smart" crowd is expected to be very anti-Cena?
The Rock, after all, says he is the People's Champion and that he represents the WWE Universe. Maybe those "smart" members of the fan base aren't universally fans of the Rock, but most of them are, and I suspect that at WrestleMania, he will garner a lot of cheers -- as long as the fans don't turn on both competitors a la Goldberg and Brock Lesnar the last time WrestleMania was in New York.
Perhaps then, it will be Cena who has had enough, and finally gives in to the jeering. He gives in and bashes the Rock repeatedly with a steel chair, a la Stone Cold during the finish of the epic WrestleMania 17 match, using every advantage he can to exorcise the demon that is the Rock.
Admit it, it would make damn compelling television, just as Austin's and Hogan's turns did. The key, however, is in the follow-through.
Part of the reason Austin's turn didn't work is because the fans weren't quite ready to boo him. Austin had just returned a few months prior from a major knee injury. Fans hadn't quite gotten enough of Austin that they wanted to boo him. And once the Rock was out of the picture, I don't think WWE fans really had someone to get behind as a top babyface. And WWE loyalists weren't going to cheer for the WCW invaders, who were essentially positioned as bad guys during that angle. Of course, the rumor is that the plan was to turn Triple H babyface to challenge Austin before the Game tore his quad, but I don't know how that would've been received either. There was also the issue that, in the Attitude Era, acting like a heel didn't really make you a heel.
The first problem isn't a problem for Cena, just as it wasn't for Hogan. Long-time fans have tired of Cena's act just as they did Hogan's. However, there is a piece of me that wonders if the "Cena sucks" crowd won't suddenly become fans and cheer him if he were to turn heel, just because it has nothing to do with Cena the man, just Cena the character they take issue with. But assuming a turn re-energizes the Cena character, the question is whether there are enough babyfaces to make it work, including that one key babyface who will knock him off, the way Sting and later Goldberg were positioned to do with Hogan, and to a lesser degree, Kurt Angle was for Austin after Triple H was hurt.
The answer? That depends.
I don't think WWE has much faith in CM Punk to be "the guy," despite his lengthy title reign. Could he turn face again and be well-received? Sure. But honestly, I don't think WWE trusts him. He didn't move the needle in a big way during his past year as champion. Whether you want to assign that blame to WWE Creative or Punk himself, I don't know, but my guess is it's probably a little bit of both.
Ryback might be that guy, but WWE seems to have soured on him lately too and I'm not sure why. Granted, he was given a violent push into the main event against CM Punk this fall when John Cena was injured. And his match against Punk at Hell in a Cell actually spiked a decent buyrate for that show. But after he lost, his mystique seemed to disappear. Since, he's been embroiled in a blood feud with the Shield, although even that seems to have gone by the wayside in recent weeks as Sheamus and Randy Orton, for some reason, are taking the lead against those guys.
Orton? Sheamus? We've certainly seen feuds between them and Cena before although in both cases, he was the babyface and they were the heels. There is also talk of turning Orton heel. Having both Orton and Cena go to the dark side, while intriguing, would probably kill WWE from a merchandising standpoint. Could Sheamus be the top guy in WWE? In a word, no. His character still seems a bit too gimmicky. And that's the same reason I don't think Ryback will ever be "the guy." Orton has a better shot at being "the man" but he's one wellness strike away from being fired.
Daniel Bryan? Dolph Ziggler? I like them both and think they could both potentially have a future as top stars and eventually be "the guys." I just don't see it happening right now or even in a year's time. Both have all the tools, but neither possesses the "it" factor of a John Cena.
And so, the truth is, WWE still doesn't have that one member of the roster who could fill John Cena's shoes as the face of the company. And until they do, Cena won't be turning heel, no matter how great the short-term payoff might be.