I am not a believer in revisionist history, however there are times when “what if” situations present themselves. John Cena has an opportunity to tie Ric Flair’s record for the most world title reigns in wrestling history and while I respect the world of the 15-time title holder, I wonder out loud and on this website what would have happened had another path been taken in WWE.
Cena has been the backbone of Vince McMahon’s empire, the bridge from Hulkamania to the Attitude Era to Ruthless Aggression to the current state of partial chaos. While there have been others who have been offered the opportunity to take the ball (title) and run with it, Cena always winds up with the hot potato in the end.
The problem with such a monumental event such as this, when the challenger faces AJ Styles, the current champion, stems from the fact Cena isn’t Ric Flair. He is a close facsimile of Hogan of sorts. He’s a colorful, larger than life figure who resonates with the fans in a positive and negative manner. He sells merchandise. He works off camera with other projects.
In the ring, he couldn’t carry Flair’s boots. Neither could Hogan. WWF’s original message was never to compete with the Flair’s and Dusty Rhodes of the wrestling world. The goal was to step on them on the way toward millions of dollars and cartoon-like characters who identified with children. In my opinion, Cena would never have been the success he has been in a 1980s NWA or in the AWA where Verne Gagne held the marionette strings tighter than Hunter Hearst Helmsley pony tail.
I realize my opinion may be unpopular, which is fine. I’m a wrestling purest if there is such a thing. I believe in chain wrestling, mat technicians and the thrill of the Loser Leave Town Match. I still enjoy the notion of the “surprise” and the scant hope Kayfabe exists. Cena is a great talent, a hell of an athlete and the man who has been on the top of the mountain for so long when wrestlers like Randy Orton, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio and others were given a chance to become the next “Cena” and fell short. Orton and Daniel Bryan came the closet to becoming “the guy” and there is still a belief Roman Reigns can overcome the fan hate.
AJ Styles upon his heel turn begged the question what would have happened had it been he who worked in Ohio Valley and then moved to WWE’s main roster? What if it had been Styles who was the face who ran the place for over a decade? The company’s makeup would have taken a decided turn. Would it have meant a heel Cena battled the affable Styles or would he have been the kryptonite for the likes of Edge, Mark Henry, Undertaker and Bryan?
Personally, I don’t think Cena would be in this position if the McMahon’s had changed their game plan.
Cena and Styles will meet once again at the Royal Rumble with WWE’s biggest title on the line. There has to be an end to Styles’ streak of beating his rival three straight times. Should Cena win the elusive 16th title, how long does he hold it? Does Styles immediately reclaim the belt? Who do both wrestlers face at WrestleMania 33? Where does The Undertaker fall into this chain of events?
Don’t misunderstand my feeling on this. Cena is one of the best performers of all time. But he is no Flair and never will be. Flair put on a show each time he walked down that aisle. Cena is a showman, which creates the controversy over whether he should stand on the same pedestal with Flair. I say “no” while others will say “yes”. It’s a debate worth having. Cena’s achievement will eventually happen. I would just like to think his historic win falls short of everything Flair has done in this business. Flair beat the best. Cena beat the best. The way they defined greatness is what makes this potential record-tying match a bit hard for me to swallow.
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