Over at Blue Bar Cage, Justin Henry examined the time John Cena has spent as champion and compared his run on top to those of other famous main eventers in WWE history. Among the conclusions he comes to after this examination of Cena as ‘The Man’:
Instead of presenting it as an active competition for glory and prestige, it’s merely a caste system masqueraded as a variety show. The same people sick of Cena on top are finding it just as hard to get behind anyone new with a fresh voice (Cesaro, Sandow, et al), because they merely fill a niche in the midcard, as was probably the intent. WWE, and creative, seem to come up with one inflexible plan for each character, and their rote familiarization with each character won’t allow them to take things in a bolder direction.
In past eras, you felt a sense of accomplished viewing when you watched Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart go from a tag team to being “the man”, because if you were a fan, you watched his genesis and evolution. When Foley hit his apex in 1998, anyone who devoted time into cheering for him throughout his career felt a sense of pride in watching an unlikely hero make it to the top.
Where is that now? Sure, there’s been CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler, but very rarely do they get to be “the man” without Cena’s shadow. If I get behind Brodus Clay or Antonio Cesaro or Damien Sandow, or anyone else not necessarily positioned as a potential main event guy from day one, will I feel justified with my pick in three years? Five years? Or will they still be in the same niche roles they were before?
I can’t say I disagree, either. Take a look at Cody Rhodes. He had one of the best midcard pushes in recent as he went from ‘Dashing’ to ‘Disturbed’ to the cocky Intercontinental Champion who brought back the white strap version of the belt because he felt it better fit him. He seemed on the verge of breaking through to the main event during the last part of that run.
Then he…well, he didn’t go anywhere. He lost all the characterization given to him by that amazing run. He lost all his momentum after losing the Intercontinental Championship. He became ‘just another face’ filling up space and time on WWE programming without any real direction or storyline involvement. Even his run with Damien Sandow as ‘Team Rhodes Scholars’ felt largely empty due to a lack of proper build-up for the team (and a lack of meaningful wins for both men).
What does WWE do to make me give a single damn about Cody Rhodes’ character right now?
Therein lies one of WWE’s most important issues today: its product remains at a virtual standstill because it doesn’t push midcarders out of their niche roles (or push them out far enough for them to stand on their own as fully-fleshed characters). You’ll never see performers such as Rhodes, Sandow, and especially Antonio Cesaro break out of the midcard and prove that they can captivate an audience until WWE gives them a better opportunity to do just that.
And you’ll never see WWE give them that opportunity so long as Cena remains ‘The Man’ and keeps the company afloat.