Top-Down Smackdown: Guess What – Cena Turned Heel a Long Time Ago


It’s the most common lament of the modern wrestling fan: “Why won’t John Cena turn heel?”

And yet, in a time when characters portrayed as out and out villains – like Bray Wyatt and Wade Barrett – get loud cheers everywhere they go, you need to ask yourself what a heel actually is.

A heel in pro-wrestling is a guy the fans hate, who’s good at egging them on to hate him, always getting booked in matches where the stipulations ought to finally lead to his comeuppance only to escape intact, and occasionally, at big-ticket events, the guy who finally gets his ass righteously whupped to send the fans home happy.

Beg pardon, but…you do realize John Cena fulfills ALL of these conditions, right?

We’ve been so busy comparing Cena to Hulk Hogan (simple moveset, popular with kids, superhuman portrayal) that we haven’t paid enough attention to his resemblance to Ric Flair. Perhaps because there isn’t one on the surface; Flair was never packaged to appeal specifically to kids, and his ability to make even a 60-minute match compelling will never be equaled by Cena. I’m talking instead about the role Flair filled in the ’80s – everyone wanted him to lose, and he almost never did. Periodically he’d take a righteous beating from Dusty Rhodes or Sting, but he’d win that world title right back a few months later to annoy the fans anew.

What do you have in mind when you say you want a Cena heel turn? John Cena coming out like Hollywood Hogan and saying, “The fans can stick it”? Maybe him turning in the baggy shorts for a suit and tie, and becoming the corporate champion?

Do you happen to remember what happened to Steve Austin when he made a turn like that at the height of his popularity? To truly make himself seem like a jerk, he started interrupting people with one small four-letter word: “What?”

That people still chant it attests to the fact that by being a villain, he ironically created the most popular catchphrase in wrestling history; and needless to say, did not remain a bad guy for long. What people really want is not for Cena to turn heel, but to become someone they can cheer for.

Because let’s face it: Cena doesn’t get the boos he gets just for being a stale character who never changes. If that were the case, Randy Orton would be just as vehemently disliked, and he isn’t. Nor does Cena get boos for being a perceived jerk in real life, as Triple H and Brock Lesnar do; almost any fan can look at how hard Cena works and how many Make-A-Wishes he’s granted and realize that the real John Cena is not a jerk by any stretch of the imagination.

You boo Cena because he has goaded you into it. He has taken a kernel of dislike that was already there, and played on it to amp you up and piss you off. He has done so in an atmosphere where it is almost impossible to portray a “villain” and get booed. He is so disliked by some that he even got fans chanting “Thank you Lesnar” last week. Along with the pre-Rock “Rocky Maivia,” he is one of only two superstars who has had official T-shirts made proclaiming that he sucks.

That’s what a good heel does. And WWE is counting on the fact that you want to see Lesnar beat his ass again. I would be amazed if they didn’t deliberately leak rumors that Cena was set to lose Summerslam, in order to pump up the buy-rates.

(Yes, kids still like him; and Canadians still liked heel Bret Hart. Doesn’t negate the role he’s playing to older fans.)

If it weren’t working, you’d ignore him. But you don’t.