wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: When Should John Cena Have Turned Heel?

November 28, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
John Cena WrestleMania 35 WWE Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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I see you, David:

During most of his main event career, the internet wrestling fans were always demanding a John Cena heel turn or at least make him more interesting than Super Cena. While that shifted over time, he got away from the Super Cena character and more into veteran measuring stick character. One thing I remember discussing with my friends back in the day to make him more interesting was to use some of WCW’s most famous angles.

The first would be the Hollywood Hogan turn, where he basically just flips 100%, hangs out with other heels and says the opposite of what his face character would say. This could have brought back the NWO but I don’t think that would have worked, since during Cena’s reign there weren’t any other companies who could have taken over and have Cena as the inside man. The hostile takeover part of the NWO angle always seems to get forgotten when they try to re-do it but I think it’s the most important part.

The second was more like the Sting angle. In this case he’d get fed up with the fan reaction and turn his back on them. He wouldn’t need to go up to the rafters or paint his face but he would just appear less and when he did appear it would be brief and maybe more violent. If over time the fans like this new direction, he could come back as a face but if they didn’t, he could sell out to whoever was the boss at that time and be a corporate heel.

Do you think either of these WCW inspired character turns would helped make John Cena interesting or were WWE right just to keep him as Super Cena for as long as they could?

They were right to keep him as Super Cena for as long as they could.

As much as a faction of fans on the internet complained about how stale the character was, and as much as he was booed by live audiences, the fact of the matter is that if you look at actual hard numbers from the time Cena was on top, he was the only guy on the full-time roster whose presence on a television show moved ratings in a positive direction compared to when he wasn’t there, he was the only guy whose presence on a card sold tickets compared to when he wasn’t there, and he was the only guy whose presence on a pay per view sold buys compared to when he wasn’t there. And, of course, that doesn’t even begin to factor in merchandise sales.

As far as the WCW-inspired heel turns are concerned, I think that David hits the nail on the head with the Hogan/nWo turn. Aside from the invasion angle and the fact that he had been the industry’s top babyface for many years, there really isn’t much that separated Hogan’s heel turn from the bulk of the others happening in wrestling at the time. Flipping your persona 180 degrees from what it had been when turning wasn’t exactly unique or innovative. Regarding the Sting idea, it’s not a terrible concept for something to do with Cena, but I don’t think that it would work as a heel turn. An individual who appears only rarely and has a more violent style is likely to be cheered as opposed to booed, as evidenced by the fact that this change in character wasn’t even used to turn Sting heel. It made him an even bigger babyface than he’d ever been.

Emperor Genghis Khan may be Chris Jericho’s press agent:

Is Chris Jericho the only wrestler to have held the WCW, WWE, AEW & ROH world titles?

Is he the only guy to hold any title in WCW, ECW, WWE, AEW & ROH?

The answers are technically yes and yes, though in my opinion they come with some asterisks.

First off, it’s pretty easy for Jericho to check all these boxes, because he’s the only person who has held a championship in AEW who ever even wrestled in WCW, let alone held a championship there.

The other thing that I have to qualify this answer with is saying that Jericho won world championships in WCW and ROH is being very charitable to him. Yes, he technically won the WCW World Title, but he only did it at a time when WCW was not a separate company from the WWF, so really it was a WWF championship called the WCW World Heavyweight Title. And, yes, he technically won the ROH World Title, but he only did it at a time when ROH was not a separate company from AEW, so really it was an AEW championship called the ROH World Heavyweight Title.

The reason that I make that distinction is because, at least when I was growing up, the reason holding championships in several different promotions was impressive was because you could say that you got over with a variety of different fanbases and established yourself as worthy in the eyes of a variety of different promoters. That’s why it was such a huge deal when the Road Warriors won the AWA, NWA, and WWF Tag Team Titles. In fact, it was so big that I recall even the WWF themselves acknowledging the accomplishment at a time when their M.O. was to pretend that other promotions didn’t exist at all.

Winning another promotion’s championship because the company you’re already signed to acquired the intellectual property rights to the belt just isn’t as impressive, in my opinion. That’s why I have to say that the accomplishment Genghis laid out here for Jericho isn’t quite as big a deal as it might seem at first blush.

That being said, you can’t discount the absolutely stellar career that Jericho has had, reinventing himself and remaining relevant for over thirty years now. That’s the real reason he has all these championships to his name.

Shaun hits us up with two totally unrelated questions:

How close could these matches have been to actually happening?

The Rock vs Macho Man

The Rock vs Shawn Michaels

Rock versus Michaels was significantly more likely than Rock versus Savage. Rocky didn’t have his first professional wrestling match until 1996, and he was in the WWF system for his entire in-ring career. The Macho Man, meanwhile, had his last match with the Fed on September 13, 1994, and he wasn’t welcomed back to the company for the rest of his life, for reasons that have been the subject of much speculation. (Please don’t write me about them.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yMuoAIiz4Q

On the other hand, the Heartbreak Kid and the Great One were active wrestlers in the same company at the same time, though the closest they ever got to sharing a ring was HBK acting as a guest referee in two different Rock/HHH matches. There has been a longstanding rumor that, when Rock became a big enough star for that match to be meaningful, he intentionally avoided wrestling Michaels because he felt that, early in his career, the HBK-lead clique tried to prevent him from becoming a star. Chris Jericho seemed to grant this theory some validity on his Saturday Night Special podcast back in August 2020, when he stated that, as far as he knew, a Michaels/Rock match never occurred because Rock put the kibosh on it due to a perceived personal slight early in the men’s relationship.

Has anyone been a World Champion in a company, left that company, been a World Champion in another company, left that company too, and then been a World Champion again in the original company they were World Champion?

Yup. Without even looking it up, two of the biggest names in professional wrestling history immediately came to my mind: Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.

Hogan was a five-time WWF Champion who left the promotion for WCW and then became a six-time world champ there. He then returned to the WWF in the early 2000s (right before the switch to WWE) and had a sixth reign with their main championship.

Flair went in the opposite direction. He was a multi-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion while working with Jim Crockett Promotions and was the first ever WCW World Heavyweight Champion when JCP was acquired and renamed by the Turner organization. He then headed to the World Wrestling Federation in 1991 and became a two-time WWF Champion. Then it was back to WCW for several more world title runs there.

Speaking of jumping back to promotions, here’s Tyler from Winnipeg with a question in that vein:

Wouldn’t it be nice for AJ Styles to finish his career with TNA?

No, it would be nicer for AJ Styles to finish his career in a promotion that people actually watch.

Steve is playing what if:

Back in 1994, let’s say WCW didn’t sign Hulk Hogan and go for ratings gold by creating Nitro and just plodded along, satisfied being the second biggest wrestling company in North America, do feel they would have lasted longer than they did or even perhaps still be in business today?

I doubt it. If you look at the identity that TBS and the other Turner networks attempted to establish for themselves over the years, there came a point where they were far more focused on original programming and comedy than they were the syndicated sitcoms, Braves baseball, and even professional wrestling that originally established them as a major cable station. Whether the promotion had its boom and bust or not, there was ultimately going to come a time when wrestling just didn’t “fit” on the station anymore, and, without regular TV, they were not going to exist.

One of the things that you have to keep in mind is that a wrestling promotion having the same television partner for years on end is the exception and not the rule, and, most of the time, when promotions lose their television, they die. WWE being on USA for decades (minus that brief SpikeTV blip) and TNA hopping from network to network for almost 20 years are the historical outliers, not the norms.

Ron goes way back:

I’m truly an “ole skool wrasslin'” fan. Started in 60’s with the territories and the NWA was the hot ticket. Never much a big WWWF – WWF – WWE fan. Stopped watching the product completely after the Triple H necrophilia and the Mark Henry birth of the hand programs. Could no longer stomach the product; although I do follow it somewhat today thanks to 411Mania. My question, however, deals, with a show’s main event. Back in the day, the World Heavyweight Champion was the cat’s meow. On television or in an arena, the title match was always the highlighted match. It was always the last match of the evening with the champion being introduced last. At some point this changed. In each of the companies, a title match can start a show or be in the middle of one. Also, the champ could be introduced first followed by the challenger. Why the change and in your opinion, doesn’t this delegitimize the belt’s status?

You could find some exceptions to these general rules even going back into the territorial days. For example, there might be a card featuring a steel cage that wasn’t for the world title. The promotion didn’t want to make the crowd sit through both the setup and takedown of the cage, so the cage match would go on after the championship bout. Also, Hulk Hogan had some WWF Championship defenses that didn’t go on last during episodes of Saturday Night’s Main Event / The Main Event because the viewership for the show was going to be larger during its first half.

That being said, these were the exceptions. The general rule was in fact that the championship match was the main event and went on last and that the champion entered last.

Shifts really began in the 1990s, and the exceptions have swallowed the rule more and more ever since.

One of biggest reasons for this is the change in relationship between star power and the world title. It used to be that the title was incredibly well-protected and that, as a result, just holding the belt made a wrestler into the biggest star in a promotion. People believed in the title and therefore believed that the champion was the best, with some fans even going so far as to claim that, though professional wrestling was generally fake, world title matches remained legitimate sporting contests.

When promotions started to protect their titles less and less, we got to a point where individual personalities became bigger and more important than the belt, with the wrestler holding the belt making the belt as opposed to the belt being held making the wrestler who held it.

And, when you’ve reached a point where your world champion is no longer the biggest star on your card . . . why would you put the world title on last? When a show features something that your audience wants to see significantly more than the championship, the title match is going to under-perform with the live crowd should it go on last. The most extreme and well-known example of this is Wrestlemania XVIII, when Triple H and Chris Jericho got the last slot of the evening over the Rock and Hulk Hogan. This resulted in HHH/Jericho getting over like a fart in church even though Y2J’s Undisputed Championship was on the line.

Really, the same logic applies to a champion entering for a match first. Generally, you are going to want the bigger star coming out second to maximize the audience reaction, and since other wrestlers are now capable of being bigger stars than your champion, well . . . you see where this is going.

Cockney Geezer is restricting the blood flow to my brain:

Since the sleeper is not really being used as a primary finisher anymore I was wondering if there is any history with how the winner of the match would wake up his opponent after getting knocked out? I do remember after Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake would cut his opponents hair he would sit them up, message their necks and then give them a quick chop to the back to get them to snap out of it. Was he the first to use this technique or has it been done long before that?

I’m not aware of that technique having been used commonly in the past, because most of the people who used the sleeper hold (or Weaver Lock) prior to Beefcake didn’t have any reason to wake their opponent up after the deed was done. The Barber obviously wanted people up so that they could see he just mangled their coif, but, if we’re talking about other users of the sleeper, why do they care if the other wrestler gets back up?

Gilles from Switzerland is asking about a Texan working in Japan:

Stan Hansen is one the most famous gaijin wrestlers in Japan who had legendary bouts with almost all the top guys from the 80’s and 90’s in All Japan and NJPW. Do you think he is underrated by the western fans?

I’m not entirely certain that “underrated” is the right characterization. The reality of the situation is that, on the whole, Hansen wasn’t having the quality of matches in the United States that he was having in Japan, and, aside from a very small subset of tape traders, fans in the Western Hemisphere weren’t seeing the Japanese matches. It’s not as though they had full knowledge of his skill and chose to rank him lower on the pecking order of professional wrestlers than they should have. They were just truly ignorant of his level of talent because he didn’t fully display it.

Does that result in his being underrated? Maybe. It all depends on how you want to define that word.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.