Hulk Hogan. The Rock. Steve Austin. John Cena.
Those names aren’t just some of the biggest in the history of wrestling. Those names transcend the bizarre world of “sports entertainment” and are forever etched into our broader sense of pop culture. They have starred in movies, appeared on talk shows, and become household names bigger than 99 percent of the other performers in the wrestling business.
However, there really hasn’t been another huge cross-over star since Cena hit the big time. You could argue Brock Lesnar is pretty close, with his UFC exploits, but he’s still just a part time attraction. A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, Jinder Mahel, Seth Rollins, or Roman Reigns? Those guys are still “just” wrestlers. And frankly, Cena doesn’t understand why.
On a recent episode of the Edge & Christian Podcast of Awesomeness, Cena accused some of the current WWE roster of being complacent, saying that it’s never been easier to became a huge star.
“Man, this is probably why they don’t let me out of the cage to do podcasts because I’m going to be flung from the tallest tree, but the amount of complacency is staggering. I mean, these guys are all so gifted and there [has] never been a better time ever to make a name for yourself in WWE. With all of the platforms that we have with RAW and SmackDown, with NXT, we’re increasing our number of pay-per-views, we’re throwing so much content at the [WWE] Network, it’s obscene.
We have so many guys that have so many chances. I just don’t get it. We are in the business right now of holding onto a lot of guys, so, like I said, and I mean this: there [has] never been a better chance for someone to be a WWE Superstar, a WWE megastar, than right now. Like, it is wide open, throttle wide open, foot to the floor. If you ever thought you can do it, step up right now. And I don’t know. I think the guys right now just feel like a piece of the system rather than this creative force.” [Transcript via 411Wrestling.com]
The WWE is definitely a different place than it used to be. For lack of a better word, it’s much more corporate now. Wrestlers are given scripts for every promo, and have a long list of Dos and Don’ts. The days of handing someone like Mick Foley or Steve Austin the microphone and saying “You’ve got 15 minutes” are long gone. These days, everything is done according to some marketing plan (see: Jinder Mahal’s title reign to drive up business in India). It’s a lot harder for the next Dwayne Johnson to stand out in the crowd.
Cena also addressed the internet perception that he constantly buries the pushes of other wrestlers, and it’s an interesting take:
“If you look at any Superstar, when they get in there with me, they do their best work. And I have this notorious, crazy reputation for burying guys because they get so lost in the shuffle after they’re done with me. I think their perspective is skewed because I bring that out of them, whatever it is they need to find, I bring it out of them.”
A lot of these guys that I face are getting the chance to make a name for themselves and after they face me, they can’t recapture the energy and that’s why they get lost in the shuffle, because it comes from creative inspiration. Meanwhile, I get my next opponent and I’m already thinking about crazy things I could do, or say, or act, and I’m on to the next one. And they just wait for that experience to happen again and it doesn’t.”
Whether you love him or hate him, Cena is a pretty smart guy when it comes to this wrestling stuff.