Well here we are. It could be a real changing of the guard, as the monster among men looks to triumph over the beast incarnate, and the two men who have been pegged as the faces of the company over the past 13 years go head to head. Thankfully WWE aren’t wasting these momentous face offs on a B-show, so without further ado, welcome to my Wrestlemania 34 PPV Spot- what? This isn’t Wrestlemania? It’s not even a big-4 show? It’s a throwaway B-PPV at the end of September? WWE, what are you doing to us?
So, just to be clear, I’m going to focus on the Roman Reigns vs John Cena match. I could quite easily have argued that Braun Strowman should win the Universal Championship because he has lightning in a bottle right now, or gone on a rant about how the misuse of the Raw women’s division is typified by the addition of Bayley to tomorrow night’s match, but I won’t. Yet.
Instead I’m focusing on Vince’s pet project going up against big match John because I think it’s indicative of a wider issue that’s been affecting WWE over the last few months, and has led to my own personal disinterest in the product. Put simply, it’s the predominant thought in my mind that regardless of what happens at No Mercy, nothing’s going to change WWE’s landscape.
I’ll come back to that. First, I want to point out the similarities between the early stages of each man’s WWE careers (if 5 years counts as an “early stage”).
Both men started out as fairly generic wrestlers, with an obvious potential upside. John Cena arguably looked like just another guy when he answered Kurt Angle’s open challenge in 2002, but he had a hugely impressive intensity that he brought to the ring, and even from early in his developmental days boasted bags of charisma.
Roman Reigns was slightly different, in that from his first time on NXT he clearly had the look. If you asked someone to sculpt the perfect WWE Superstar, Roman Reigns wouldn’t be far off the end product. He also had the heritage that would at the very least buy him time, and at best would help him become a bona-fide star from a wrestling dynasty.
Both men also found their footing fairly quickly, establishing characters on the main roster within months of their first TV appearance that would propel them to the top of the card. John Cena of course showed everyone exactly how entertaining he could be as the Doctor of Thuganomics, which saw him win three US Championships before eventually claiming his maiden WWE Title as the gimmick was phased out. And in even shorter time Reigns became one-third of the most formidable stable of the last decade in The Shield, winning the Tag Team Championships and running through anyone who stood in front of him.
Cena, around the time he won the WWE Title, was genuinely one of the most popular acts WWE had across every demographic. And Roman Reigns, in the latter days of The Shield, was building momentum to the point fans were desperate for Reigns to topple Batista at the end of the 2014 Royal Rumble match. Ironically, based on what was to follow, that might have been the time to pull the trigger on a Reigns win, as the fans would certainly have backed new blood at that time against the stalwarts of the Animal and Randy Orton.
But as we all know, it was 12 months later Reigns really got that mega push, and by that point the fans had caught on to the project behind him, and had turned. Reigns seemed to be winning some people round during a star-making performance against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31, but Seth Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank contract scuppered any chance of Reigns’ redemption that night, and really ever since the universal backing of Reigns WWE has striven for has been impossible to get. Similarly, within a year of John Cena’s main event push, the fans had turned on him, and were cheering the heels he was up against regardless of the storyline, and just because he was John Cena.
The fan sentiment, I believe, meant John Cena didn’t get the credit he deserved. If Cena had a good match, he was carried to it in the eyes of many. It’s only in the last few years he has begun to earn mass acclaim from all reaches of fans, with his programs with CM Punk, AJ Styles and The Miz being simply fantastic, and having great matches with the likes of Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens and Cesaro. Cena is still one of the absolute best with a mic in his hand, as he has consistently shown in the last 18 months.
Reigns doesn’t have the same mic ability, but he suffers from a similar bias against him from the fans in that he can put on a really good showing and fans won’t give him credit just because he is Roman Reigns. He is smoother in the ring than Cena ever was, and some of the bumps he has taken have been nothing short of spectacular.
He had a significant role to play any time The Shield hit the ring, he had impressive interactions with Brock Lesnar before Goldberg or Samoa Joe looked like threats, his series with AJ Styles last summer did as much to put Styles on the WWE map as it did make Reigns look good, and with Braun Strowman he has real magic in a bottle that’s evident every time those two face off.
Which brings us to now. The shockingly realistic promo battle between Roman Reigns and John Cena that kicked off the build to this match was another highlight in both men’s careers, with Reigns being scripted to be the guy who is improving every week and becoming more of a match for Cena in that department. On paper, this is the perfect time to do this match. Reigns has been well established as a top guy, and is the biggest current threat to Cena that Cena hasn’t already defeated in a main event level match. Cena is still around often enough and has been performing at a high enough level that while the hints all indicate Cena is slowing down and entering the twilight of his career, he should still be able to go at 100%. On paper, and in storyline, we should be about to find out who really is the best out of Roman Reigns and John Cena.
However, and this is where I come back to my opening point, who wins really doesn’t matter. In storyline, if John Cena wins, is he going to be seen as even greater than he is? No. Would Roman Reigns be knocked down a step from the elite level of talent on Raw? No. Would it signify a halt in the project to coronate Roman? No. If Roman Reigns wins, is he suddenly going to be the greatest superstar in WWE history? No. Would it spell the end of John Cena? No. Even in storyline, is there a title shot imminent for the winner? Not if Reigns wins. Nothing has been laid out at all. Good though the lead up to this match has been, there are absolutely no consequences to this match. It is very much a throwaway feud, only it’s between the two men WWE hope will define at least two decades of their product.
I know why this match is happening – John Cena’s gonna be leaving for a little while, and with Roman Reigns set to face Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania they want to do it while they have the chance. But from a booking/storyline perspective, it makes absolutely no sense to do it right now. This should be a special match, on a special stage. All I ask as a fan is that WWE gives us a reason to care. And why should I invest in the product if WWE are going to be so blasé with their top stars that this match is put together with a shorter build than The Miz vs Jason Jordan?
It’s no coincidence that the most protected stars in WWE are the most over. So why is it that WWE doesn’t protect it’s own product? They don’t protect half the women’s division on either show, with stop/start pushes and burials for half the roster. They don’t protect their championships, when someone goes from jobber to world champion within two months. And they don’t protect their money matches, when we get John Cena vs Brawn Strowman at no notice for no reason on Raw, and John Cena vs Roman Reigns with no consequence.
Sometimes when I write these spotlights involving wrestlers as evenly portrayed as this match does, I find it hard to predict a winner. That’s not the case here (I actually have a sneaking suspicion Cena will win). I just don’t care. And with stars as big as John Cena and Roman Reigns, that has to be a sign that WWE is doing something very badly.