It was incredible.
Despite taking a pounding, an absolute beating at the hands of anyone from "Macho Man" Randy Savage to Sid Justice to King Kong Bundy, Hulk Hogan always found a way to win. He was always tough enough, strong enough, just plain great enough to overcome the odds, no matter how unbelievably stacked they were out of his favor.
As a child, I saw in Hogan all the superheroes in my favorite comic books come to life. Possessing strength that appeared beyond that of any normal man and a moral compass that any good, righteous person could get behind, he was the embodiment of all that was wholesome and virtuous. I - along with millions of others - wanted to be just like him so when he told us to "eat our vitamins and say our prayers," we perked up, listened, and obeyed. If doing that is what got the "Hulkster" where he was, then it was definitely the right path to take.
But eventually the cheers stopped. Hogan didn't change, everyone around him did. I - along with millions of others - grew older and more cynical and found new heroes with names like Steve Austin and The Sandman. These were men who took Hogan's mantra - which was held as bible truth just a few years prior - and chopped it up, wearing the remains of it around their neck as a symbol of the war that was soon to overtake the wrestling landscape.
Once beloved, the only way for Hogan to stay relevant was to become reviled. He had been who he was for so long that only a drastic and sudden about-face could prevent him from completely losing his grip on the audience, the single most cardinal sin in professional wrestling.
In a case of repeating mistakes due to not learning from the past, Vince McMahon has positioned John Cena is a similar role to the one Hogan filled perfectly two decades prior. And as evidenced by the boos Cena faces each and every week - growing in volume with each passing day - it appears that, like Hogan, Cena is losing his grip on the audience that once loved him.
Simply put, the WWE has pigeonholed one of their most talented performers.
There is no subtlety to Cena's character, there hasn't been in years. His entire personality can be summed up with the catchphrases that adorn his many, colorful t-shirts. "Never Give Up" or "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect" give someone a pretty clear cut idea of what the man represents. There are no nuances, no intrigue. He hasn't developed, grown, or evolved in half a decade. The reaction you'd get from Cena in 2006 is the same you'd get in 2011.
While CM Punk has gone from fan favorite to holier than thou straight edger back to rabblerousing fan favorite, Cena has been running in place with nary a wrinkle added to his character. That in itself makes Punk a better asset than Cena. For as many t-shirts as he sells and direct to DVD movies he stars in, Cena can't elevate talent like Punk can. A simple twist in Punk's character and he goes from feuding with Dolph Ziggler or Alberto Del Rio to clashing with Kofi Kingston or Zack Ryder.
Cena is rigid while Punk is malleable. The same can be said for Randy Orton. He went from being one of the company's top rulebreakers to one of its top fan favorites by tweaking his character ever so slightly. They are able to do so because they haven't been forced to play the same part day after day, week after week for several years now like Cena has. They have layers to their characters and motivations that suit each one. Cena is superficial; what you see is what you get. There's no way he can make small adjustments to his character, he needs to completely destroy it to make any change he makes viable.
There are just as many cheers for Cena as there are boos. Something doesn't have to be done now but I can assure you that it will be worse before it gets better. Hell, as the situation is now, it will never get better. Those who are booing Cena now - all things remaining the same - will never cheer him again.
I don't want this to come off as your typical "people are booing Cena, the WWE must turn him heel" piece that has been cropping up on the internet for a few months now. While I do think that a drastic change needs to take place - preferably around WrestleMania time - I don't think it's because of the fans. It's because of the WWE.
They created a Superman.
And just like in the comics, it will take a Doomsday to destroy him.