John Cena is now the United States Champion after defeating the previously ‘undefeated’ Rusev at last night’s WrestleMania. Rusev came out on a tank, and was ready and willing to destroy John Cena and retain his title, but John Cena had the spirit of America behind him, and it looks like HHH’s long planned revitalization of the mid card titles is finally happening. Cena’s journey has been a long one, and he’s had one of the most unique careers in WWE history.
While John Cena debuted in 2002, he really arrived on the scene as a main event talent in 2005 at WrestleMania 21, where he beat John Bradshaw Layfield. That date is important, because last night’s WrestleMania marked the 10 year anniversary of that title win. Cena is the most polarizing figure in WWE history. There have been more popular superstars before him, guys like Hogan, Austin and The Rock, but none elicited a response from the crowd quite like John Cena. He’s booed, he’s cheered, he’s hated, he’s loved; one thing that has always been a constant when it comes to John Cena is that everyone has an opinion on him. 10 years in the main event scene in any era is a tremendous feat, and it’s something few, if any, have done before. What makes Cena so special is that he’s done all of this during the rise of the Internet era, where promos, matches, storylines and even personal lives are overanalyzed one hundred times over. Cena can’t wrestle, Cena sucks, Cena gets too many t-shirts; if somebody dislikes John Cena, they won’t have to look too far to find something to support that opinion. I decided to look back and find out just how impressive this current run is for Cena, and we don’t have to look any further than the three biggest stars in WWE history to see how Cena stacks up to all the greats (while Cena isn’t in the main event or title picture at the moment, he did begin the year with a title match in the main event at the Rumble, and we all know he’ll be back there eventually).
Hulk Hogan: Hogan is Cena’s closest peer. Hogan won his first WWF Championship and headlined an incredible eight of the first nine WrestleMania’s. While Hogan’s popularity and crossover appeal is unmatched in wrestling history, putting a wrestler in eight of nine WrestleMania main events in this era is impossible. Wrestling in the 80s was primarily a spectacle, and the main event scene was dominated by Hogan, which meant the match quality suffered. Hogan had his bright spots, but for the most part relied on his charisma to keep the fans interested in the matches. While he continued to main event into the late 90’s, and re established himself as a popular heel, I think Hogan benefitted from the era he worked in, as someone with his skill set would get eaten alive by today’s audiences. His longevity and impact on the wrestling business should never be questioned, but Hulk Hogan trying to get his baby face persona over in 2015 would be an ugly scene.
Stone Cold Steve Austin: While Austin is unquestionably one of coolest and most popular guys in wrestling history, his career was cut far too short thanks to various injuries. Austin was just below the main event, yet had the best match at WrestleMania 13 with Bret Hart in 1997, and one year later he defeated Shawn Michaels to become the WWF champion. His main event reign would end at WrestleMania 19 in 2003, meaning Austin only main evented in the WWE for 5 years. Unlike Hogan, Stone Cold is a character that could have thrived in any era, especially this one, but his five year reign is only half as long as Cena’s, and I think John still has a lot left in the tank.
The Rock: The Rock and Stone Cold’s careers mirrored each others in both their arrivals and departures from the main event scene. Both rose to prominence in 1997, and while Austin left in 2003, The Rock departed in 2004. Rock was both an effective heel and baby face, and he did return for a two year main event run in 2012 and 2013, but it wasn’t the same. If The Rock chooses to return for WrestleMania 32, he will no doubt be put into a main event match, but it shouldn’t be judged the same as a guy like Cena who is there for 52 weeks out of the year. Similar to Austin, The Rock’s character would have fit in any era, but Cena outlasts him as well when it comes consecutive years in the main event scene.
Cena is a 15 time champion, only trailing Ric Flair, and at the 10 year anniversary of his first WWE Championship win, he started the long journey of solidifying a mid card championship and bringing prestige back to the United States title. He has literally done everything in the WWE, and I think last night the WWE officially signaled a changing of the guard. There is no doubt Cena will be back on the mountaintop before his career is over, but for now he is going to solidify the mid card while future stars like Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns battle it out in the main event. We’ll probably never see another John Cena, but it won’t be for lack of trying. I’m just not sure there will ever be another guy like him.
5 Stars From Last Night’s #RAW & The Unnecessary Hole The WWE Has Dug Themselves For The Main Event of WrestleMania
The final Raw before WrestleMania aired last night from Los Angeles, and for the most part was a pretty solid show. Every WrestleMania match has been made, so Raw served as a platform to tie up any loose ends and get the final fight/promo out of the way before WWE’s biggest show of the year. Just like last week, all hands were on deck, including Sting and Brock Lesnar, and one of them was utilized correctly while the other one still has me puzzled. I’m going to make this a joint article with the regular five star setup followed by what happened to close Raw.
1. This IS Sting
Sting opened up Monday Night Raw last night and it was a breath of fresh air. I can’t remember the last time someone other than a member of The Authority started Raw, so not only was Sting a sight for sore eyes, but he had a lot of energy and finally explained why he was in the WWE. Stephanie McMahon is so evil and played her role pitch perfectly, including the damsel in distress after her slap backfired. It’s clear by it’s use both as Fast Lane and last night’s Raw that the sledgehammer and the baseball bat will come into play for Sting and HHH’s match at Mania, but how that will happen is anyone’s guess at this point. Not only is Sting in great shape, but he really seems to be enjoying himself. He’s at the stage in his career where he’s going to get a huge pop no matter what arena he walks into, and I fully expect Levi’s Stadium in San Fran to blow the imaginary roof off the stadium on Sunday. If he can, I’d love for Sting to stick around for one more year and finish his career off in Dallas for next year’s Mania, but for now I’m going to enjoy him Stinger Splashing HHH on Sunday.
2. Have Yourselves A Match Nikki & Paige
Raise your hand if heading into Raw you thought Nikki Bella and Paige would have the match of the night. Raise your hand if halfway through Raw you thought Nikki Bella and Paige would have the match of the night on the same show that included Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler. I’m assuming no one has their hands raised. This isn’t a knock on Nikki or Paige or any of the Divas, but the WWE hasn’t exactly inspired us with confidence when it comes to the Divas division. Nikki and Paige were given enough time to tell a story and have a solid match, and look what happened: they told a story and had a solid match! I’m hoping this will lead to a Fatal Four Way or Triple Threat match for the Diva’s title at Mania, because not having the championship defended at your biggest show isn’t right. If the match stays as is, they should have enough time to at least have a good match (it is a 4 hour show), and I expect Paige and AJ to feud shortly after Mania.
Besides the Diva’s match, my other personal highlight was Rusev killing Jack Swagger and John Cena. Props to Michael Cole for pointing out that Lana is usually the one who stops Rusev from going too far post match, but since she’s not here, he’s basically a monster without a leash. I fully expected Cena to come down to the ring and toss Rusev around and leave him running up the ramp, but NOPE. Rusev just forearmed him in the face, threw him into the barricade and camel clutched him until he passed out. My only complaint was that he didn’t drape the Russian flag over Cena’s lifeless body afterwards. The pessimist in wrestling fans came out last night when people started tweeting that now Cena is definitely going to win at Mania. How about we enjoy the show guys? Maybe Cena wins, maybe he doesn’t. The key to Rusev will be how he responds to his match at Mania, and while a loss will definitely hurt him, if he comes back strong he’ll be fine in the long run. I really hope he is fine in the long run, because he is far and away my favorite character on the show right now.
4. Bray Wyatt
Welp, there’s a new face of fear. This was SO GOOD. SO GOOD CAPTIAL LETTERS EXCLAMATION POINT. When the thunder and lightning effects kicked in I thought we’d get another Undertaker voice over, but it looks like Wyatt has literally usurped The Undertaker as the WWE’s resident poltergeist. He now has The Undertaker’s powers, and as good as Heyman has been hyping up Lesnar/Reigns, Wyatt has been even better. Heyman at least has someone beside him in Lesnar and someone to play off of in Reigns. Bray Wyatt has stood in the middle of that ring and single handedly sold us on a WrestleMania match with The Undertaker. The most mythical and holy match in the history of wrestling, and Wyatt’s done it on his own. If you still doubt Wyatt after that promo, you’re an idiot and don’t under pro wrestling.
5. Paul Heyman
Heyman started off his promo saying there’s nothing more he can say to sell us on the WrestleMania main event, then he went ahead and did it anyway. Without Heyman, this main event build would have been terrible, but I’m assuming the WWE knows that, and wouldn’t have set this match up without Heyman in the picture to begin with. He is wrestling’s best hype man, and his client is wrestling’s greatest beast. I don’t think Lesnar is going to lose at Mania, and I don’t think he should lose at Mania, which brings me to my next point…
What the hell was that ending? The WWE has done a great job lately in rallying the fans together to have the same opinion on a segment or a match, and that is the farthest thing from a compliment. At the Royal Rumble, the WWE booked the Rumble match so foolishly they screwed up their own coronation ceremony of Roman Reigns. I have no beef with Reigns winning the Rumble, or him main-eventing Mania, but what did you expect the crowd to do when Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were all dumped out of the ring by KANE AND THE BIG SHOW? You had the show in Philly! One of the smarkiest crowds in wrestling, and you end a show like that. The fans lashed out, rightfully so, and now the WWE was forced to promote the main event on their biggest show of the year from deep within a hole they dug themselves. They trotted Roman Reigns out to the middle of a ring with a microphone, his main weakness, and sat there baffled when people shit all over it. Paul Heyman became their saving grace, but come bell time Sunday night, Paul Heyman won’t be in that ring. It will be up to Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns to put on a match that is worthy of the main event spot of a WrestleMania. The preview we got for that match last night was mind blowingly bad. You have the most dominant champion of this century and his equally as alpha male opponent tussle over the belt? I understand you don’t want a large scale brawl, but they needed to do something more than that. Unless WrestleMania opens up with Lesnar and Reigns still in the middle of the ring in LA fighting over the belt, I’m not satisfied, and once again, neither is the entire WWE Universe. The excuse of “it’s three hours of TV and it’s hard to get everything right” does not apply here. This what the WWE does: they put on shows that the audience pays for and we expect to be entertained. Maybe our favorite guy isn’t in the main event, maybe their best wrestlers don’t get enough ring time, but the audience puts blind faith in Vince, HHH and the writers and we are continually disappointed. I’m going to watch and enjoy WrestleMania and I expect most of the card to be great, but it won’t be because of anything that happened in the final minutes of last night’s Raw. The WWE will once again operating out of a hole they dug themselves in, and depending how Mania ends on Sunday, they might not be able to dig themselves out.
Jon Gruden Breaks Down The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal On A Special Edition Of Gruden’s QB Camp #WWE
ESPN analyst and WWE fan Jon Gruden took a break from quizzing quarterbacks this week to break down the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Gruden does more research here than the entire announce team does on a yearly basis, and it makes for a great little segment. Axel as a dark horse and Ryback as a favorite are both solid picks, and it appears bringing back the Bunny is an ESPN thing as Bill Simmons mentioned it last night and Gruden does again here. On a side note, I love Gruden’s fascination with Titus O’Neil and his dog bark, it’s wonderful. I also love that ESPN is giving WWE some mainstream press ahead of Mania, as Grantland has always had some great WWE articles with The Masked Man, but getting guys like Gruden and Bill Simmons in on the fun is awesome. I’ll save my pick for the battle royal for the preview and predictions article on Friday morning, but don’t be surprised if Jon enters as a special entrant and takes home the trophy.
**UPDATE** Matt’s take:
I’m starting to think that Jon Gruden lives in his QB Camp office. The two places you see him throughout the year are there and in the booth for Monday Night Football. Love the analysis here. Only Jon Gruden would know that Titus O’neil sacked Peyton Manning back in his college days. This guy knows his shit. Probably has every NFL team’s playbook memorized and still has time to practice his Titus “bark” in his spare time. “I get a sore throat watching Ryback”, not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound good.
PS – How much do you want to bet Jon Gruden thinks Andre The Giant is still alive and that he can recruit him to play in the NFL?
What a difference a week makes. While Raw was again short on the wrestling, the majority of the promos were excellent, and the matches we did get, especially Harper/Bryan and Reigns/Rollins, were very good. Jon Stewart showed up to confront Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt lit a casket on fire and AJ Lee returned to help out the enemies of her enemy. Just another Monday night in the WWE Universe. Now, let’s get to the 5 stars from last night’s Raw.
1. The Intercontinental Championship
The best thing about titles in wrestling is that they can justify any storyline. The IC belt hasn’t been relevant in quite awhile, but it’s still the second most important title in the WWE, so six different guys going to extreme lengths to obtain it makes sense. The championship is scheduled to be defended at WrestleMania in a ladder match, but the only two participants that have been announced are actual champion Bad News Barrett and R-Truth. As much as I’d LOVE to see a one on one match for the IC title between Barrett and Truth at Mania, it seems as if the WWE has other plans. Last night, we had two matches that centered around the belt: Dean Ambrose vs. Barrett and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper. During both matches there were outside shenanigans with various people sneaking in and stealing the belt, but in the ring, both matches were pretty good. While Barrett has taken a slide in the wrong direction since winning the belt, he and Ambrose can still put on a good match, and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper is incapable of being bad. Ziggler sneaking in at the end to super kick Harper and take the belt was just the icing on the cake, and it looks like a MITB style ladder match is going to determine the new IC champ at Mania. If the WWE is trying to solidify the secondary titles heading into Mania, then they’re doing a great job. With Cena most likely challenging for the US title and a bunch of stars headlined by Daniel Bryan going for the IC gold, the WWE could have some seriously interesting mid card feuds post Mania.
2. Stephanie McMahon & #Axelmania
This was all one segment, so I’m lumping them together. Cena came out and cut the same old promo (more on that in a second) and entered himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but was thankfully interrupted by Stephanie McMahon, who absolutely annihilated him. If this was any other wrestler I’d feel bad, but it’s Cena, and he deserves to be put in his place from time to time. Stephanie told Cena he can’t just enter himself into a WrestleMania match, and that maybe WrestleMania would be better off without John Cena this year (this is when the world’s biggest YES chant should have erupted). After Steph runs down Cena for not getting the job done against Rusev, Curtis Axel comes out, and I’m all in on Axelmania. It’s probably not going anywhere, but it should. What’s the difference between what Curtis Axel is doing and what Damien Sandow is doing? They’re both talented guys who were given throw away gimmicks who are making it work, and the crowd is taking notice. I know he got fed to the Cena monster last night, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the crowd is eating this Axelmania thing up. The best part is that Axel is consistently changing things up. When he first came out after the Rumble, he started the hash tag Axelmania. The next time, he had a hash tag Axelmania shirt. Now he comes out with a clock on the Titantron of how long he’s been in the Royal Rumble, and announces himself as the longest entrant in Rumble history. That’s great, and it’s a simple change that not enough wrestlers do. You want to know why people really hate John Cena? Because when his music hits and he’s going to the ring, whether it’s for a promo or a match, you know what you’re going to get. He never changes things up, or adds a new dimension to his character. If it’s a match, you know he’s going to do his five moves of doom, maybe throw a dropkick or a bad Frankesteiner, and that’s that. If he’s cutting a promo, he starts it off by saying the crowd is LIVE tonight, then depending on his mood or current feud, he’ll either make fun of his opponent or put on his super serious face and say this is the most important fight of his life. When Curtis Axel is more organic and over than your top guy, I think it’s time to switch some things up.
3. Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman makes every show he’s on better. Paul Heyman when he’s ON makes a good show great, and a great show must see. Last night, without his Beast, Heyman cut one of his best promos in years. He quickly addressed the elephant in the room of Lesnar walking out of Raw last Monday and then appearing at UFC the following Saturday by simply telling everyone that Brock Lesnar will do whatever the hell he wants. Then he turned his attention to Roman Reigns, and it was a different message then the one a week ago where he basically gave Reigns a verbal blow job. This time, Heyman sent out a warning to Reigns: if he shows up to fight Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, one of two things will happen: Brock will systematically dissect Reigns and beat him or Brock will ‘Ronda Rousey’ his ass and beat him quickly. I’m glad that when Reigns’ music hit, Heyman left the ring and we didn’t have a one on showdown between the two, because last night Paul Heyman had the ability to clip Reigns’ wings with just a few words. As great as Heyman is, the lack of good managers in the WWE is being exposed with this feud. If Reigns had a mouth piece to counter Heyman, and Roman could just beat the crap out of people in the ring, this feud would be significantly better. He’s probably not the answer, but Jon Stewart did cut a hell of a promo on Seth Rollins last night. I’ve seen crazier things happen in the WWE.
4. Bray Wyatt
Speaking of doing something different every time you’re out there, how great has Bray Wyatt been? Ever since the beginning of his Ambrose feud, Wyatt has been money both in the ring and on the microphone, and he’s single handedly carried a WrestleMania feud with The Undertaker. Has anyone ever done that? Taker hasn’t been on TV consistently for the last couple years, but he’s always shown up on Raw before Mania to address his challenger. This year, the burden has been put squarely on the shoulders of Bray Wyatt, and he’s more than delivered. I’m glad he’s getting some freedom to do different things, because his promo at Fast Lane and his promo last night were great both verbally and visually. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk about what the outcome of Wyatt and Taker’s match at Mania will be, but I think we need to appreciate the journey Wyatt is taking in this case, and watch a future main eventer spring to life right before our eyes.
5. AJ Lee
I’m hoping this ends up being a Fatal Four Way match for the Diva’s Title, but even if it ends up being a tag match, I’m glad AJ Lee is back for the WrestleMania build. She’s cuts the best promo of any Diva, and she has a different in ring style that I believe is heightened when you haven’t seen it in a while. One of the toughest things for a WWE superstar or Diva to accomplish is to avoid becoming stale. Unlike every other professional sport, the WWE has no offseason, and unless you’re injured or filming a movie, you’re going to be on every show. Everyone is forced to keep reinventing themselves, but even if they’re successful at that, certain stars can get complacent (see Cena, John). The best thing that could’ve happened to AJ was her time off, because now not only is she coming back recharged, but she’s in a main event Divas storyline with a worldwide hash tag that she can get on the microphone and promote. Nobody wants the Divas to get a chance to shine more than AJ Lee, and I’m glad she’s back.
There has been constant random booking and mainly NO TIMING when it comes to the main roster Diva’s and more specifically the buildup to WrestleMania, and I believe I have a unique idea that could possibly help reignite the Diva’s division as a whole. The concept is an adaption of the “King of the Ring” but instead would be referred to as “Queen of the Ring” for obvious reasons. The finals of the tournament would be contested at Wrestlemania.
Now there would be about 20-23 diva’s involved in this match, including most of the “Main Roster” Diva’s and some of the NXT diva’s, but also leave some room for any returning and/or debuting talents as the tournament went on. Here’s the best part about the tournament: the current Diva’s Champion would ALSO be thrown into this tournament with every tournament round match she is placed in being a championship title defense, which in turn will bring more prestige and excitement to the division.
Personally I’m sick and tired of watching the diva’s division not only get pushed to the back burner by WWE but also the fans in general, because these women have so much potential but barely get to showcase due to time restraints or poor booking.
Hey! What do I know I’m just a wrestling fan!
– Jake Buchanan
Thanks to Jake for the guest post. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter, @ImTHATGuy_KJ
Last night was the first Raw to start the real build towards WrestleMania, and it wasn’t great. I enjoy the WWE, and for the most part try to rationalize their decision making, but last night’s Raw was a train wreck. WAY too many talking segments, a baffling booking decision on Randy Orton and more disrespect to the Divas that have fans voicing their disdain with the WWE rather than talking about the WrestleMania pay per view. The WWE only has four more Raw’s to get the casual viewer invested in WM, and they just dug themselves an unnecessary hole. Now, onto the 5 stars of last night’s Raw.
1. Dolph Ziggler
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Dolph Ziggler had the best match on the show. He took on Bad News Barrett, so you knew he was going to win before the match started, because the IC champ does not win non-title matches, but it was still a fun match. It looks like the WWE may be building to a Fatal Four Way match for the IC title at WM between R-Truth, Ziggler, Ambrose and Barrett, which I like. As much as a guy like R-Truth doesn’t deserve to be elevated the same way Ziggler does, it’s always fun to create different kind of matches for WM. A Fatal Four Way would be a lot more fun than a regular one on one match, so I’m all for it. As for last night, Ziggler proves once again that he’s one of, if not the best worker on the show, and if WWE ever decides to roll with him, they have a guy who will consistently upgrade their in ring product.
2. Daniel Bryan
Whether fans like it or not, Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania to face Brock Lesnar for the World Heavyweight Championship, and Daniel Bryan is not. They both put on a great match at Fast Lane, but Reigns came out victorious, and he may be the Champion in four weeks. As for Bryan, he had a very good Raw, per usual, both on the microphone and in the ring. His promo on originally doubting Reigns then respecting him after their match at Fast Lane was great, and seemed to be planting the seeds to a more aggressive, edgier Daniel Bryan. The best thing about the WWE is that they don’t have an off season: if you’re favorite team loses in the Super Bowl, you have to wait all offseason to see who is going to stay on the team, what moves they’ll make and if they’ll ever be that good again. If you’re a Daniel Bryan fan and you’re upset he’s not in the main event of WrestleMania, guess what? The day after WrestleMania ends, the entire cycle starts up again. Daniel Bryan could be the #1 contender at Extreme Rules, or the next pay per view, or the next one; it’s a 12 month, 365 day cycle that the WWE has to write for. Just because he’s not the top dog for some of that cycle doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen somewhere down the line.
3. Bray Wyatt
Man, Bray Wyatt is on some other level with his promos right now. You had a feeling pairing him with The Undertaker would up his game, but his promo from the coffin at Fast Lane and the follow up promo last night were both awesome. This is what COULD have happened during the build to last year’s WM, but Cena thought it was more important to put Bray’s head on a baby body and call him a swamp hillbilly. While I’d love to see Bray win at Mania, at this point I’m just relishing in the fact that even being mentioned in the same sentence as The Undertaker is giving Bray some much needed wind in his sails. The first confrontation between the two, whenever that may be, should be epic. Speaking of The Undertaker, looks who’s training…
4. Lana & Rusev
I hope you’re noticing a theme here. Almost all my stars from last night have to do with promos, which is what happens when the WWE puts on a three hour show with 7 matches, with four of them going less than 4 minutes. Anyway, Lana and Rusev were great here. I didn’t like the finish to Cena/Rusev at Fast Lane, mainly because it seems like they’re setting Cena up for a big win at Mania, which he doesn’t need, but other than the unnecessary low blow, Rusev looked great. He was equally as great here, and Cena deserves some credit for avoiding the kiddie jokes and staying serious the whole time. That’s where we are at with John Cena: the WWE’s top guy and face of the company get’s credit for not being a jackass. The main thing I loved about Rusev’s promo was that he bucked the trend of title match losers immediately getting their rematch. It’s the dumbest stipulation WWE has and allows them to be extra lazy with their feuds. If the champion wins, they face the same person in a rematch. If the champ loses, they get their rematch. It’s especially lazy when so much of the roster isn’t being utilized. It’s inevitable that Cena will face Rusev for the title at WM, but I’m glad Rusev didn’t give in right away. He is a true hero, JOHN.
5. The WWE Production Team
What happens when your three hour show has one good match? You get a lot of talking, and a lot of video packages. With that said, the Sting video package was phenomenal. Whether the creative aspect of their show is good or not, you always know if a hype or tribute video package is being presented, it will be expertly done. Sting has had such a great career, and I’m so glad that the WWE Network exists, because I’m able to go back and watch the old NWA/WCW shows from the 80s and early 90s and watch Sting at his peak. He was so strong and charismatic, and was every bit an equal of HBK in his hey day. As I’ve said before, a lot of credit needs to be given to HHH and the WWE production team, as it can’t be easy building up a feud, especially one centered around a WM match, when one of the guys isn’t there. All in all, this video was great, and gives the casual fan a chance to see just how great Sting was, and give them some context for the WM showdown. My only problem with the HHH and Sting match is that it’s the third WM match being promoted that features one of the guys not being on Raw. Lesnar/Reigns, HHH/Sting and Wyatt/Undertaker are all going to be marquee matchups, but each feud is missing a participant. I think Lesnar/Reigns will be ok because of Heyman, but the other two would definitely be more intriguing if both guys were there full time.