Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What If John Cena Missed WrestleMania?

Would Mania really suffer without Cena?
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John Cena is not going to miss WrestleMania this year. I doubt he'll ever miss WrestleMania as long as he's active and able to toss on a pair of jorts and a colorful shirt and run the ropes. But Stephanie McMahon's spiel to Cena on RAW last night - an obvious proxy message from her father Vince to Brock Lesnar - sparked an intriguing hypothetical. What if Cena were left off a Mania card? It might seem unimaginable because of his stature as the man in the company still looms large. But he could conceivably not wrestle on the biggest show of the year without the card suffering.

It sounds like lunacy of course, because WWE still leans on Cena so hard for the other 11 special events and week-to-week television. He's arguably the most over wrestler on the roster (Daniel Bryan is the other guy in the conversation), so the biggest show of the year having the biggest star in the company should seem like a no-brainer. Honestly, the following thought exercise is probably going to come off as a Skip Bayless/Mark Madden-level hot take, because a promoter should want his/her best talents at the ready for the biggest shows.

However, an argument could be made that WrestleMania as a spectacle stands regardless of any one singular star as long as a certain lineup was booked for the show. One could even argue that Mania itself is the draw, although I would be hesitant to make that argument completely. The Manias last year and this year stand as evidence that support the theorem. Last year, the show was carried by the spectacle of Brock Lesnar challenging The Streak and Daniel Bryan looking to take out Evolution and achieve his dream. This year, Lesnar stands waiting for a new challenger in Roman Reigns, while the last WCW holdout never to work a match in WWE, Sting, makes his debut against Triple H.

The other big similarity between the two cards is how much of a misfit Cena is on them, which is an odd thing to write. One would think that after a career arc that has seen him take every role he possibly could at the Granddaddy of Them All that he'd fit perfectly as the passer of the torch except he's not really asked to do that role in preparation for the other 11 pay-per-views of the year. He's still the standard, and if he's not in focus in the main event, he's not really asked to put younger/less established wrestlers over as much as he's the Hulk Hogan to their Nikolai Volkoff.

Yet, when Mania has come around the last two years, the focus intensely shifts away from him, which is both weird in a sense of the rest of the year but appropriate given the idea that Mania can stand upon its own two legs. Why else would Cena's spot on the card be so forgettable? Would it kill him to miss the show? I have no idea because I don't know him, but he seems to be the kind of guy who would rather not have been born than let down all the people, some of which cheer him and some of which boo him (and that's alright). But the show might as well be in good health with or without him until some part of the narrative the rest of the year changes. Besides, the final act of Cena's WrestleMania career, his turn as the emeritus superstar a la The Rock as a best case scenario or at the very least Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels, can't really come without some kind of absence from the show. Or maybe I'm just getting too much ahead of myself.

Reigns' success this year would be a huge determinant as to whether Cena can take some of the load off and help put some other new guys over for the future. But at the same time, if Cena didn't have a match on this year's card, even in a vacuum of other wrestlers in the main event in whom Vince McMahon has faith, it might not be the worst thing in the world. It's strange to say for the man through whom WWE runs even now, but the drive just hasn't been there.