“Ask yourself, would you follow you?” – John Cena, September 3rd
August 17, 2014 was a huge night in the history of WWE. It was the 27th edition of Summer Slam, and it shall be remembered as a night of changes. The biggest of which was the changing of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from the hands of John Cena to Brock Lesnar. When the referee slapped his hand on the canvas for a third time following the second F-5 of the match, the entire world bore witness to the change. What we all missed was another, more subtle change occurring simultaneously, in the same ring, hidden in plain sight before our very eyes.
Make no mistake about it; John Cena’s match against Brock Lesnar wasn’t just a contest. It was a vicious, violent beating that was uncomfortable to watch. At the end of the attack, John Cena hadn’t just lost a match, he had become victimized. Victims of violence often have feelings of fear, shame, isolation, and humiliation after their encounters. Brock Lesnar took much more than a championship from John Cena. He took his dignity, his pride, and his confidence in the three things he believes in most: Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect.
One only need look at the night after SummerSlam for proof. Since 2005, an episode of Raw without John Cena was akin to a blue moon in that they occurred very rarely. If Cena did miss Raw it was usually due to some sort of scheduling conflict, but August 18th was different. He had nowhere else to be, but he wasn’t at Raw. For many, the answer was a simple matter of injury. John Cena got roughed up the previous night, and was taking a day off to recuperate.
That is a logical explanation and it would make sense if we were talking about any man other than John Cena, but Cena is not like any other man. How many times have we seen Cena show up on Raw after a beating, ready to go again? Cena has made a point of telling the world that he shows up for work every Monday night, no matter what. That Monday he broke his promise. The doubts had crept in.
A few days later on Main Event, Triple H made the announcement that Cena had invoked his rematch clause and would be facing Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions. A huge proclamation to be sure, and one that made sense coming from an authority figure such as Triple H, but it did cause many fans to pause and ask once again where Cena was. He usually had no issues making his voice heard, especially when it comes to making or accepting challenges, and yet, here we had Triple H telling the world that Cena had accepted the challenge, instead of Cena himself.
Finally on August 25, 2014 John Cena returned to interrupt a panel of legends including Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, and Ric Flair with an uncharacteristically short and simple message. “I am going to Night of Champions to beat Brock Lesnar’s ass.” No jokes. No playing to the crowd, not even a glance at the audience. It was so outside his usual wheel house. Even more unusual was the delivery of that message. His voice wavered at points, and there was something different in the way he spoke. Perhaps for the first time ever, he lacked the bravado and confidence he is known for. The speech he gave sounded less like a battle cry, and more like an uncertain man trying to convince those around him. Who knows, maybe he was trying to convince himself as well.
He must not have done a good job because on Monday, Triple H opened Raw by questioning if Cena should be the one to face Brock Lesnar at Night of Champions. Not to be deterred, John Cena made a bee line for the ring and confronted Triple H, by threatening to sue him. It was the last thing the world expected to hear. These were not the words of John Cena, or at least not the John Cena they knew. These were the words of a desperate man. A man who was visibly frustrated and obviously defensive. Even Triple H was taken aback by Cena’s words, mocking him for his insecurity.
In the six man tag team main event that night, John Cena made a lasting impression when he exploded like a powder keg into the match, lashing out at his opponents as a man possessed. After unleashing a flurry of reckless offense, he spent the closing moments of the match in the face of COO Triple H. This lack of focus and uncontrolled emotional offense had made the truth painfully apparent to everyone.
John Cena is a different man now. He has changed. He has felt the wrath of the beast incarnate and knows he must evolve in order to slay it. If he truly wants to make good on his promise for Night of Champions, he may need to dig down and embrace something that was ripped out of him at SummerSlam. The wrestling world is still talking about SummerSlam, but make no mistake, the rematch at Night of Champions is just as important to WWE, and might be the most important match in John Cena’s career. What happens on September 21, 2014 will dictate the next phase of his career, and the path he will take to get there. There are many questions being asked as we head into Night of Champions, specifically, Will this be the match that permanently destroys John Cena as we know him?
The real question may be, has that already happened?
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