It might be hard to believe now that we’re all eagerly anticipating Once In A Lifetime 2: Rest Hold Boogaloo, but there was a time not that long ago when John Cena’s character was really good. It was 2011, and in the stretch between Money in the Bank and Extreme Rules 2012, WWE put a lot of effort into redefining his character into someone the audience could actually get behind, rather than just telling us he was a good guy and leaving it at that.
I’ve written about this before elsewhere, but the Cliffs Notes version is that Cena, as the homegrown embodiment of the WWE, was pit against enemies that were able to turn his status as the golden boy face of the company into something that needed defending, rather than the reason his endless string of wins are so tiresome. CM Punk, with his “pipebomb” threats of taking the WWE Championship to All Japan or Ring Of Honor, was played as an outsider, the indie wrestler who was trying to destroy the WWE despite the fact that, you know, he’d been working there for six years at the time. The Rock was essentially the Ghost of WrestleMania Past, a challenge to today’s top guy from the top guy in a time when pro wrestling was at the height of its popularity. Brock Lesnar was touted (and Tout™-ed) as bringing “legitimacy” back to WWE, reflecting the battle for demographics between pro wrestling and MMA. Cena’s struggles against those three opponents, the losses and victories he went through and the way they all went down, rebuilt his character into something that worked better than it had in years.
And then there was Kane.