John Cena might be the best WWE superstar of all time. Not the best wrestler, but when it comes to everything Vince McMahon wants his top performers to be, Cena has it in spades.
One of his best — and most irreplaceable — traits is his ability to leverage his character into tangible levels of engagement with the audience. Arenas aren’t quiet or passive when Cena hits the ring. Twitter doesn’t slow to a crawl during his segments.
When Cena speaks, people listen and, more importantly, people react passionately.
It’s a well the WWE has almost become too comfortable drawing from. The prevalent feeling seems to be that “Big Match John” doesn’t need months to build up matches. He needs weeks, even if the match in question is going down at WrestleMania.
In the case of WrestleMania 34, it seems like the WWE is pushing this approach to the absolute limit. Because we’re down to one Monday Night Raw and one SmackDown Live show before the biggest event of the year, and we still haven’t seen Cena and Undertaker in the ring at the same time yet.
In fact, we haven’t seen the Deadman in the ring at all since Raw’s 25th-anniversary show. That night, everyone assumed we were going to kick off the Cena vs Undertaker angle for WrestleMania 34. It seemed like a safe assumption. The WWE would want a marquee match spawning from something that went down on this important landmark show.
Or so we thought.
Yet the night came an went, and Cena has been trying to find his road to WrestleMania ever since. Now it’s all but guaranteed that ‘Taker will be at Raw next week, and that really seems like a slap in the face to fans who have paid to go to shows over the last few weeks.
At the moment, all the “build” has consisted of is Cena screaming insults at Undertaker into a mic, only to have nothing happen. It’s being presented as a more serious version of Chris Jericho calling out Bill Goldberg in WCW during the Monday Night Wars, knowing full well that the then-undefeated wrestler wasn’t in the building.
The Undertaker doesn’t owe fans anything but at the same time, asking us all to emotionally invest in a match based on a single week of actual interaction is simply asking too much. It’s a trick not even John Cena can turn, and the WWE has set itself up for a disaster in New Orleans.
During their prime years, both Cena and ‘Taker were excellent performers. But they’re getting up there in years, and the generally accepted notion has been that this is a match that should have happened half a decade ago. There would have been something on the line that way.
Now, this just feels like a cheap way to get Undertaker and Cena onto the WrestleMania 34 card. They are there just to be there. It’s not going to be a great wrestling match, and we have zero build up in terms of a story between the two men. Right now, Cena just looks and sounds desperate. A 40-year-old fading star calling out a 53-year-old shade of a wrestler, because that’s the only way he can get onto the Show of Shows. By piggybacking on someone else’s legacy.
It’s not a story that’s becoming of John Cena, and it certainly doesn’t make the Undertaker look good.
So at this point, what is there to actually gain by going through with this match? WWE fans are going to be treated to seven days of the Undertaker, and then he won’t be seen again for another year. Meanwhile, Cena is going to vanish into Hollywood smoke, as he’s established himself as a solid draw as an actor.
It’s not difficult to imagine fans turning sour for this one, and any feeling of negativity towards this bout will be 110 percent justified.