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Raw Sept. 1: John Cena, Superface, Threatens Litigation

Sometimes the most maddening thing about watching professional wrestling is watching professional wrestling. Good pro wrestling is super entertaining and bad pro wrestling is the absolute worst. When I was a kid Hulk Hogan was the unquestionable king of professional wrestling. He told kids to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, he cut promos that felt cocaine-infused but still somehow appealed to children. He was larger-than-life and for adults he was probably unbearable.

I only say that because as an adult in 2014 John Cena is absolutely unbearable. Where Hulk Hogan was yellow t-shirts that he’d rip off and do-rags John Cena is as much a walking billboard as Hogan was in the 80’s. When the seasons change so do the colors of Cena’s shirts, which means that there is a whole new line of John Cena shirts saying the same, tired catchphrases that he’s been using for most of his career now.

It’s not that John Cena is a bad wrestler, because he’s not. He’s downright good at times, actually. By all rights he should be, considering how many years he’s been doing this as a top guy. He’s still kind of obnoxious in the ring, working a style that tends to culminate in awful finishing stretches. There is always this feeling of dread whenever John Cena just gingerly brushes off an entire match’s worth of damage, performs his finisher and then hops into a pin for the finish. It’s one of those Hulk Hogan moments where Hogan ignores anything that happened to him all match and “Hulks up” for the finish.

The big problem with this whole thing is that WWE’s current PG era came after the Attitude Era, which was able to prove that you don’t need to be a walking parody to sell merchandise and to appeal not only to children but to viewers of all ages. The age of the anti hero might not be as strong as it was in the 90’s, but we still live in an age where superhero movies attract the biggest audiences to theaters year-in and year-out, with adults and children satisfied with the end result. In a way it is unfathomable that WWE has not learned to appeal to both sides since then. Kids aren’t stupid and don’t need their hands held as much as people suspect.

So why all of this? Because John Cena is still being treated as WWE’s top guy, he’s their top merchandise guy and he’s doing a lot of awful right now. Kids might still be cheering, but adults who have the ability to change the channel and put their credit card into the billing segment of the WWE Network are kind of sick of the whole thing. This week Triple H decided that maybe John Cena shouldn’t get his rematch because of how badly he got worked at Summerslam. Cena’s retort? That he’ll sue Triple H.

John Cena, Hustle, Loyalty and Respect has decided that he wants to sue to solve his problems. It flies in the face of whatever logic ever existed in the world of professional wrestling and comes across more as something that a heel would do. If Ric Flair in the 80’s decided that J.J. Dillion needed to sue to get him his title back it would make sense, but if Hulk Hogan pulled the same thing, well, we’d be pretty confused. It didn’t matter, anyway, because Cena then was inserted into a six-man tag that was evenly matched until he came in and made everyone look like a pushover.

I’m not embarrassed by El Torito or by any of the other silly things that happens in WWE, but I am thoroughly embarrassed to ever be caught watching John Cena. He occupies some territory that isn’t real enough to be alright and isn’t wacky enough to be fun, he’s instead simulacra of the heroes of the 80’s without any of the cool factor.

Anyway, let’s get on to the rest of the show.

The Miz, or, the Best Heel Other Than Stephanie McMahon

The WWE has had a hard time discerning what a heel really is anymore. You see, this is the “Reality Era” of the WWE, where they present whatever they can to the audience and you decide if you love them or hate them. At least that is what they’ve been pushing since John Cena, superface, has been getting split crowds of boos and cheers for the past ten years. The “reality” here is that they are still making heels and faces, just that most of their heels connect better with their audience than their faces do.

That’s why the Miz, who has been just obnoxious for years, has finally hit his stride with his latest character. The Hollywood thing has been done to death and him on his own was kind of floundering, for sure. But the addition of Damian Sandow (Mizdow) as his stunt double adds a new dimension to him that is just classic professional wrestling. What better way to illustrate that than this match?

When things get hot and heavy Miz leaves the ring and it’s time for Mizdow to do his job as a stunt double and take the fall for him. The ref wants none of this and tells Sandow to leave. Ziggler hits the Zig Zag on him only for Miz to come from behind and hit his finisher to get the pin. It’s not a DQ because Sandow never laid a hand on anyone in the match, it’s, in turn, brilliant. This is exactly what pro wrestling should be.

The Dust Brothers are Great Heels

Goldust and Stardust were great, but in WWE’s mainly face-centric tag division they were just another duo of babyfaces going up against other babyfaces. There is only so much of that we can take before it gets a bit grating. The Wyatts are the only heels in the WWE that tag together (outside of jobbers, although you could argue they are becoming that), so this makes for a natural fit.

It doesn’t hurt that Dustin and Cody are great at “going for it” with their ridiculous characters.

More Six-Man Tags, Please

When you have to book weekly professional wrestling you get to the point where singles matches aren’t an option because you’ll spoil a match for a PPV by overexposing the spectacle of A vs. B. Then, if you aren’t booking guys to continually work against each other, you have to sacrifice someone else for the sake of an angle, like, for example, Bray Wyatt being sacrificed to John Cena last week. That’s bad booking, it’s also booking that WWE has been doing for what feels like forever.

So it feels that the WWE has rediscovered the easiest way to book multiple angles and feuds at once without stealing anyone’s heat; the six-man tag. The six-man tag has long been used in pro wrestling as a way to keep everyone involved, to move forward multiple storylines and to do so in a manner that doesn’t take away from what you are trying to sell, which is a “big match.”

John Cena was, of course, obnoxious as all hell in the finish, but oh isn’t he magnanimous in tagging out to Sub Zer…errr Roman Reigns to let Reigns get the finish on Kane?

AJ vs. Stephanie Would be Amazing

You might look and say, “wow, this guy complains about wrestling stuff,” but I’m here to tell you that there are people that complain a whole hell of a lot more. My case here is that Stephanie vs. Brie from Summerslam was probably one of the smartest laid-out, well-paced matches on that show. So Stephanie vs. AJ (or Paige) is something that would be incredible. Stephanie is smart and willing to put in the effort to make for a better match, so her working against an actual wrestler? Damn.

It should be noted that AJ Lee, Stephanie McMahon and Paige were inserted into this absolutely awful, awful, awful Bellas feud in an attempt to save it. What ensued was a confusing clusterfuck that if you break it down, made zero sense. It became increasingly clear that no one’s face/heel status mattered, just like it kind of started to seem like the Diva’s title was both valuable and then worthless at the same time. Technically Paige was kind of a face here because Stephanie was making decisions about her title without regard for her, a fellow heel. AJ was also a face because she has a rematch with Paige coming up, at least she should, as their feud isn’t over yet. Stephanie is also a face because she’s interrupting this awful angle that took up a good portion of the night.

Seriously, neither of the Bellas can talk to save their lives and their wrestling is nothing to speak about either. It was very, very clear that Total Divas returns this weekend because this stuff was awful and took over the show.

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