John Cena has gone through the ringer during his WWE tenure, rising to the top star of the company before being unceremoniously lambasted for years to come at a level never before seen. Once Roman Reigns took over that role, criticism of Cena has stabilized somewhat and it now is almost just a lingering dull sting rather than a sharp pain. People have started to come around to accept that he is simply one of the greatest superstars in professional wrestling history, so when the idea of him matching Ric Flair’s legendary 16 world title reigns came up, there didn’t seem to be much animosity towards it.
For a long while, this was teased, and it finally came to pass at the 2017 Royal Rumble on January 29th…only to amount to basically nothing and end two weeks later at last night’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view.
As someone who has both fully embraced the “Cena Nuff” mentality as well as being a backer of his position at the top of the food chain, the idea that such a monumental thing was wasted just doesn’t sit right with me for numerous reasons.
Was it a noteworthy title reign?
Disagree with me all you want when I say that Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt isn’t worthy of the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania. That is a matter of opinion and I’m neither “right” nor “wrong” about it. But when you look at something like Cena’s 16th title reign, I don’t think there’s an argument in the book that the past two weeks were absolutely anything valuable.
This was a textbook transitional reign. The functionality of it was not to have Cena appear as the champion of the brand and to have feuds and matches where he put that belt on the line, but purely to have him be the one to drop it to the next guy rather than the man who preceded him.
On the January 31st edition of Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan stated the following:
“Sometimes, some of Ric Flair’s title reigns were only like a month or two long. He would lose them and then he’d gain them right back. John Cena’s title reigns haven’t been like that.”
In comparison to a two-week reign, suddenly that statement looks foolish as a means to put over how Cena’s runs were longer and more significant. Does this negate the previous ones? Of course not. But isn’t it strange that such a very specific slam on Flair’s reigns would be mentioned when Cena’s most monumental win of them all would not even be able to match that?
Think of it this way: La La Land is now one of three films to reach the record of most Academy Award nominations (14). Imagine Daniel Bryan saying “But All About Eve only actually won 6 of those awards” and then when the Oscars take place coincidentally two weeks from now, La La Land walks away with 3 wins. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so great in comparison, does it?
During his short time with the title, John Cena cut a promo on SmackDown, was pinned in a tag team match, and beat Randy Orton with some help from Luke Harper before being the third-place man in the Elimination Chamber match.
Wow. Amazing run. People will be talking about this epic two week journey for years to come, fondly reminiscing about…………….exactly.
Granted, in some ways, the WWE Universe tends to care more about whether or not something happened than how it happened. For years, Kane was considered a former world champion in the record books when he held the title for roughly 24 hours. Any time it was brought up, fans who knew the true story behind it would think “yeah, but he only held it for a day” and it just put a stigma on the whole thing before this was corrected with a second title reign of 154 days in 2010.
The fact that Cena accomplished this feat IS more important than how it happened or the other details, but that doesn’t mean it’s excusable. If that were the mentality behind it, the whole concept of “playing hot potato with the title” wouldn’t be a judgment brought up from time to time, and that’s exactly what is going on right now.
Was it necessary to happen at the Royal Rumble?
If WWE had it planned out that they needed (note: needed, not wanted) to have Bray Wyatt heading into WrestleMania with the WWE Championship and for Randy Orton to win the title from him at that event, then they naturally worked backwards to decide to give Orton the Royal Rumble victory and plan for Wyatt to take the title somewhere along the line before April 2nd. In some fashion, those two things would have to happen.
Does any of that predicate Cena winning the title from AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble?
The timing wasn’t a necessity by any means whatsoever, nor does this require Cena to be the champion at all along the way. He easily could have won that 16th world title reign at any other point and it would still be a 16th world title reign, which clearly is the only important factor in this whole thing as it was just established above that it wasn’t a matter of wanting to give him a stretch of some interesting feuds at this particular time.
Even if it could be argued that Cena needed to beat Styles to make up for his losses, WWE didn’t need to book that match for the Royal Rumble. The only match that had to take place at that event was the Royal Rumble match itself, which is the selling point of the pay-per-view. Fans would have tuned in even if Styles had defended it against Mojo Rawley.
It was overshadowed
When you have a lot of stuff going on, things tend to get lost in the shuffle. The Royal Rumble had Kevin Owens against Roman Reigns, the rare appearances by Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and more, the Royal Rumble match winner with the implications for WrestleMania, the Raw Tag Team Championship changing hands, the Cruiserweight Championship changing hands and to a minor extent, the surprise entrance of Tye Dillinger. That is a lot on one card and to throw in Cena’s 16th world title win as well, you’re overloading things.
Immediately afterward, there wasn’t time to build much to the Elimination Chamber event and people care much more about WrestleMania in the long run anyway, so while everyone is focused on what Goldberg and Lesnar are going to do or the Roman Reigns vs. Undertaker match or literally any of the other potential matches for the card, this just becomes another cog in the machine instead of something special.