Monday, April 08, 2013

Cena Victorious at WrestleMania 29, Now We All Suffer

Another WrestleMania is in the books.

The Undertaker chalked up another victory (that's 21-0 if you're still counting).

HHH broke his two-year losing streak. After staying behind the scenes since last August, he returned to sabotage next year's main event (but I'll get to that later).

Meanwhile, Antonio Cesaro, one of the WWE's standout performers, could not even get a spot on the pre-show.

But one thing remained constant. Since 2005, the face of the company (John Cena) was in a dominant position on the card. In fact, when the show signed off, The Rock had seemingly endorsed Cena, the man who had defeated him in the main event.

WWE was happy. Women and children were happy. Pay per view distributors were happy. Local merchants were happy. Independent wrestling promoters and wrestlers who booked and grappled on "tagalong" events in the vicinity of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey were happy.

There was just one thing wrong with this rosy picture. John Cena has not one new damn opponent under the sun to wrestle. Brock Lesnar? Beat him last year. Randy Orton (soon to turn heel)? Spent a whole year fighting him. Big Show? Their matches go back to the curtain jerker at WrestleMania 20. HHH? Beat him in the main event of WM22. Wade Barrett? They did that as part of the Nexus feud. Sheamus? Been there, done that. The Miz? Spent six months ruining him. CM Punk? Done as the setup for Mania this year, as well as the latter half of 2011. Etc., etc.

Unless Mark Henry's victory over Ryback was the setup for challenging Cena, there are precious few "new" options for the WWE's golden boy. And that's a problem for all of us, as well as for them (Cena already faced Ryback in a three-way with Punk last winter).

Rock vs Cena was touted last year as "Once in a Lifetime" and made so much money that the WWE felt they had to redo the match in 2013, this time with a title at stake. But it exposed an underlining weakness in the promotion's booking…the ability to get behind a performer – any performer who is not Cena – and stick the proverbial "rocket up their keister."

The WWE is attempting to turn Alberto Del Rio into a new Latino babyface superstar. Unfortunately, the same booking over the past 18 months made Del Rio virtually worthless to Latin audiences. But they are pulling out all the stops and feeding him second-tier opponents like Jack Swagger.

But where were the other babyfaces positioned on the WM29 card? The Miz (who got a main event victory over Cena courtesy of the Rock two years ago) was relegated to the pre-show. Sheamus and Randy Orton were gone after the opening match, beaten by the Shield and then laid out by KO punches from the Big Show. Ryback (perhaps leading to a heel turn) put over the aging powerlifter, Mark Henry. Vince does love those big men. Discounting senior citizens HHH and the Undertaker, that left Cena as the primary babyface victor to the general public.

Last year, HHH pushed the bookers to give his pet project (Sheamus) a rocket push with an 18-second victory over Daniel Bryan for the World title. Bryan was talented enough to stretch the feud for another two months. But Sheamus (the same age as Cena) never cracked that glass ceiling and plunged back into the opening match on this year's card.

Orton has been "there and back" for 10 years. Two drug failures have put him in an interesting position. The company had Randy as their "1A" babyface behind Cena. But Orton never clicked to the general public as well as Cena nor grabbed as many media appearances. And one more drug failure is a mandatory one-year suspension. So Orton has shot himself in the foot in that respect.

The WWE suffered through a "lost generation" of babyfaces a few years ago, due to the departures of Ken Kennedy (nee Anderson), MVP, and Bobby Lashley. The latter sought to pursue his MMA dreams and the first pair were plagued by injuries and fights with the creative team. Anderson went to TNA and has added nothing. MVP chose a different path and traveled the world, but could he be a difference-maker? He wasn't in three-plus years of tenure prior to exiting.

Every time I hear about "long-term" plans for a superstar, I know not to hold my breath. Where's that Dolph Ziggler title run? Whatever happened to John Morrison? Kofi Kingston was two blown moves away from main eventing PPVs.

Now there are rumors that the two top matches at WM30 – in 2014 – will be The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker vs. John Cena. Splendid. Wonderful. Let's keep those four guys far, far away from the title matches and attempt to build up guys who can main event in 2015 and 2016 and beyond.

WWE needs to choose three or four guys. I'd say Ziggler, Barrett, Bryan, and Cesaro. And consistently book them over everybody else. Because after 2014, the Rock is gone. Cena will have headlined on top far longer than Hulk Hogan's reign. Undertaker may finally have hung it up. Steve Austin will be 50. The one-shot novelties and hot-shot angles may not cut it anymore. The promotion may have to back up their biggest show of the year with actual wrestling talent and a good storyline.

Are they up for the challenge? I'd like to think so. But it's going to take some courageous booking and turning a blind eye to ratings some weeks. When all is said and done, it would be great if CM Punk could fulfill his "last wish in wrestling" and headline WM31 against a super babyface who is NOT John Cena. The WWE just has to get their act together and begin building that babyface tonight on RAW.
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