|This was not meant to be viewed as traditional LOL CENA. This is WWE's Kingdom Come.|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Listening to Cena's speech through the traditional lens of his embodiment of hustle, loyalty, and respect would have meant taking him at face value. And taking Cena at face value here meant that he truly believed his best comeback at Owens included believing that the NXT Champion wanted children to die of cancer, that pinning the NXT and United States Champions didn't mean he earned those titles, and that Owens, despite siring two children and busting his ass to get to a WWE where he slid right in and straight up dominated folks, was not a real man. Without the benefit of context, Cena was initiating the Wyatt/Rusev protocol of taking an unestablished NXT heel and breaking him down until he was a husk of his former self.
But context is a beautiful thing, and it informed Cena's rambling diatribe in a way that the words and the supposed passion couldn't. To understand why Cena's circuitry would come undone in such glorious fashion, one has to look at the nature of the other three wrestlers who had beaten him clean in the last seven years. None of them fit the Owens prototype. The Rock was a returning icon who could big-time Cena without batting an eyelash. Daniel Bryan was the man whose ability and payment of dues in a WWE ring gave Cena no choice but to respect him. Brock Lesnar was the whirling dervish of destruction, a man who'd just ended The Streak and attained maximum power levels the level which had never been seen in WWE.
But Owens? Regardless of his talent level, which has been presented as unfuckwithable since day one, he represented a class of heel whom Cena could never respect. He didn't pay dues. He wasn't famous. He wasn't overpowered. And yet, he did what no one, not CM Punk, not Alberto del Rio, not Edge (at least after 2008), not Big Show, not Randy Orton, not Tensai or Bray Wyatt or Rusev or even Triple H could do to him. He pinned Cena clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring. No deus ex machina. No outside interference. No convoluted rules or fast counts. For a man whom Owens described correctly as a self-absorbed, self-described superhero, that kind of crisis can break a man.
If The Rock is Darkseid, Bryan Batman, and Lesnar Doomsday, then what is Owens to Cena's Superman? He's formidable, but he's not someone that fits the mold of a parity-booked opponent for Supes. He's Lobo or Brainiac or some kind of mid-level Lex Luthor creation that he uses to bide time before he can get into the big armor suit. Imagine the psychotic break losing to one of those jabronis would have caused Superman. It was teased in Kingdom Come, when Magog came along and did Metropolis Milquetoast's job better than he could, but Superman overcame that mental block eventually.
It remains to be seen whether Cena will overcome his Magog, but at this point, he's taking the challenge way worse than anyone could have imagined. In that sense, his rambling, nonsensical speech about cancer kids and manliness made perfect sense in that Cena losing to someone he clearly didn't respect has made him lose his goddamn mind. Nevermind the fact that Owens came up a tougher road and faced competition that was on the level with Cena. He didn't do it with four million people watching every week, so it didn't happen. So when Owens gave him the firsthand proof that he was just as hard as Cena, the reaction was disbelief.
With that said, the segment was perfect if the point of view was shifted to one a bit more unorthodox than the common view. Much like A Song of Ice and Fire is read with so much more clarity if one assumes Robert Baratheon was a giant pissboy in starting his war for a woman who clearly didn't love him back, watching Cena go full Uncle Rico-slash-Will Ferrell's I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS character from Saturday Night Live defogs the landscape a lot more quickly. Combine his reaction to Owens' perfectly crushing story of his son asking first whether Cena was okay than being happy for his dad, the segment did more to advance a WWE story outside the traditional lines than anything the company has done since CM Punk's original pipe bomb.