For the past couple of weeks, WWE has been running a promo for the return of John Cena on tonight’s episode of Smackdown Live. It’s an overly dramatic highlight reel set to the tune of his usual trumpeting entrance music, but slowed down in an ballad that builds and builds to a bombastic crescendo. It’s fitting for a guy like Cena, as it seems he’s finally getting the legend treatment.
John Cena’s Saturday Night Live episode was significant to wrestling for a few reasons. He has become an bona fide comedic actor between SNL and his role in Trainwreck. Cena is now official ingrained in american entertainment culture, joining the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Rock. He’s mainstream, which means that non-wrestling fans who have formerly referenced sports entertainment as “That Hulk Hogan stuff,” or “That thing Dwayne Johnson used to do,” have a new face of the industry to use as a generality.
Smarks may not like this concept, but it is very healthy for wrestling as a whole. If you haven’t noticed, WWE has been pushing the envelope in airing some scandalous segments. From Enzo Amore’s hotel room fiasco with Lana, to The Miz calling out Renee Young for being in bed with Dean Ambrose, it’s safe to say that the PG era is dead. And with the PG era, could go the old John Cena.
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That slow trumpet melody in that Cena promo sounded a bit like military taps at a soldier’s funeral. The Marine star always tried to subtly pretend he served in the armed forces, so this bugle tribute may be a farewell to the pandering babyface those arm -banded kids in the crowd know and love. Could it finally be time for a John Cena heel turn?
I know… it’s one of those over speculated scenarios that seems to pop up every few months, but I’ve always been pretty cynical about the idea. As much as Cena seems to be following in The Rock’s footsteps, he was never the trash talker that Rocky was, even as a face. And John hasn’t been a heel since his thuganomics gimmick as a white rapper, which was what got him over in the first place. So, it’s not as if Cena can’t pull off a heel turn.
Getting over as a heel to become a face is pretty common in wrestling. It happened with Rock, Austin, Punk, The NWO, and countless others over the years. But at what point does the pendulum swing back? If we look at history, The Rock returned from Hollywood brandishing a fancy new Samoan tribal tattoo on his shoulder and a classic evil goatee. It was a fantastic heel turn, complete with a new entrance video featuring a bird’s eye shot of the Hollywood sign. The Rock had sold out his wrestling fans!
The Rock dumped us for a prettier girlfriend in mainstream media. Do you think John Cena will turn down a date to the Academy Awards for us neckbearded ne’er-do-wells in tattered and pit-stained CM Punk t-shirts; who never appreciated him while he was with us anyway? He’s going to leave us, just like Rocky did. Oh, sure. He’ll be back once in awhile to use us and tell us that we were always his number one. That we were the ones who made him the man he is today. And when he’s at his loneliest, he’ll come back so we can build up his confidence again. And he’ll go right back to that bitch, Hollywood.
It’s funny, because I was never a Cena fan. Now I’m excited for him to return. The man can put together a great match, though his wrestling and his style was always a bit sloppy and clunky. He essentially incited the first “You can’t wrestle” chants, but you can’t deny that he can tell a good story. His mic work is effective and he can drive a feud with just about anybody, even if he does start sounding like a southern high school football coach; when he’s actually just from the same small town school district as yours truly (fun namedrop fact: his mother drove my school bus!). He is an icon, and a legend. And John Cena will return to this new WWE landscape they call the New era; a kind of fusion between the Attitude and PG eras, with its brow a bit higher than the old Vince McMahon potty humor.
For the past decade, John Cena symbolized a lot that was wrong with the PG era. But I think it’s only because he’s such a pro. He can thrive in any environment, even this one. So tonight, we just might be introduced to a new John Cena for a new era. A John Cena who’s a bit more cynical...a bit more edgy...and with a little more hustle, loyalty, and respect for his mainstream audience. He doesn’t need us anymore, and he might just let us know it.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston. He hosts the comedy podcast, "So Now I'm the Asshole" on Fans.FM and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke