Like many, I have a major gripe with John Cena.
But it's not his 5 moves of doom. It's not his corny attire. My biggest gripe with Cena is his absolutely reluctance to ever tweak his character. While I'm OK with the fact John hasn't turned feel heel, I expect the number one guy in the company to change as his character progresses. However, Cena has been completely stagnant.
While I just said I'm not looking for Cena to turn heel, I did a quick number crunch on WWE.com. Of active roster members, I look at who's had a heel/face turn since Cena has had a significant change in his character. I counted 55 viable active superstars (viable meaning I left out the Tatsus of the world and alumni who are still on the active page like Booker T.) Of those 55, only 20, including Cena, have not had a true face/heel turn. Now, 20 sounds like a lot, but let's take a look at those 20.
You have those who recently debuted: The Wyatt Family, Xavier Woods, Los Madatores, Rusev (7).
You have those who have undergone major character changes without an official turn: Barrett, all of 3 MB, Swagger and Axel (6).
You have part timers: RVD, Lesnar, and for all intents and purposes at this stage, Rey Mysterio (3)
Who does that lead asides from John Cena? Low midcard guys such as Kofi, Fandango, and Sandow (3).
The fact that all these other people have had some kind of character tweak or are too new to have warranted it but Cena hasn't is extremely poor form. Why? Because it completely inhibits good storytelling.
Think of your favorite story. I don't care the medium. Movies, TV, books, comics. Any good story that you love. Now think of the main characters of the story. Who were they in the beginning of the story? Who were they at the end? While all these stories so very different, a constant in good stories is the fact that these characters have transformed by the end. They've suffered. They've battled. They've experienced. And because of these things, they came out of it, for better or worse, a different person.
That's the crux of a good story. Character development. So it's extremely unfulfilling when WWE tries to tell a story involving their top guy and there's absolutely no character change. Not a lick.
Now, I don't know the reason why Cena's character has been frozen in carbonite the last 6 years. Some of it could be because he is so dedicated to his younger fans and Make a Wish he doesn't want to lose that. I think some of it is VInce not wanting to mess with a formula that had worked. Note I didn't say "is working." Right now, the WWE, a story based program, and their stories that involve the face of the company suffer because he won't grow his character and those who try to tell stories with suffer as well.
Let's like at three of John's biggest stories the last few years and they'll illustrate:
1) John Cena vs. the Nexus
If you were watching at this time, you probably already went "Uggggh" just thinking about it. Quick recap of the story:
Nexus debuts as the disgruntled NXT guys. Their debut was hot as can be when they destroyed the ring and everything else in their path, including John Cena. Cena leads a team at Summerslam in an elimination match where he's shockingly able to over come the odds as per usual. (Here's a cool link of Jericho and Edge discussing Cena ignoring their advice about that match.)
He faces Barrett at Survivor Series and loses, being forced to join the Nexus. Ordered by the Anonymous Raw GM to do what the Nexus says or be fired, he's forced into some harrowing experiences, such as getting Barrett water and Barrett refusing it. At one point, it looked like Cena's character would be actually tested by giving the AA to a good guy, but luckily, Barrett decided again it, leaving Cena's resolve completely intact.
Cena was then put in as ref in a WWE championship match between Orton and Barrett. The stip was if Barrett loses, Cena is fired. And that actually happened. Of course, it had no real consequence. He was at pretty much every show and even wrestling house shows under Juan Cena. No, seriously. Cena took out the Nexus family until Barrett for some reason rehired him. He beat Barrett at TLC a month from being fired.
Give me a second. Writing that paragraph angered me and I want to cool down.
OK, back. To recap, Cena was forced to join the Nexus, but never actually forced to do anything that would try or test his character. He was always booked to keep his values the entire time and never suffered. By the end, when he "triumphed" over Barrett, there was never any thing to triumph over since he never came close to rock bottom. He was on top the entire time.
Imagine if Cena was actually forced to take out some of his friends. Imagine if he really had to face some tough choices where either would change him. Imagine if when he was fired, he actually left for a period of time. That story could have been good. But this one surely wasn't. Because the protagonist never changed. He was the same in the beginning, middle, and end. Meanwhile, the person he was telling the story with (this time Barrett) came out looking like trash and it took him a long time to recover.
2) John Cena vs. the Rock
Here's the story WWE told us they were telling: John Cena claims beating the Rock is the most important thing and he fails to do. The loss sends him on a downward spiral of a horrible year. John Cena picks himself back up, wins the Rumble, and defeats the Rock for the belt.
Here's the story we actually got: The beginning was actually on point. Cena did a shocking clean job to Rock at Wresltemania (one of the two he's done in recent memory.) But then he goes on to beat Brock Lesnar a month later and give some weird promo about having to go away for a bit. He doesn't. He wins Money in the Bank but becomes the first to lose it. He doesn't lose it clean mind you. He actually won the match by DQ.
He feuds with Punk for a bit until he gets hurt. He comes back and had a horrible feud with Ziggler. (Note: During the Ascenion Ceremony last year, he talked about how he was the only one who would feud with Ziggler, but Ziggler came out like shit. Oh and he was also literally shat on. It was horrible.)
Cena then wins the Rumble and beats the Rock.
Once again, John Cena never faced any trial or tribulation. His character was never tested. The lowest points of his career that year was losing MITB and beating Brock Lesnar.
Imagine if Cena's character was actually put to the test. What if he was defeated by Brock (or at least did the damned stretcher job)? What if he lost more matches along the way? What if he actually acted dejected? It's hard to believe he's really struggling when he's doing the same feces jokes as usual.
Alas, none of that. Instead, John overcame nothing yet again at Wrestlemania. He got his win back. That's about it. His character had no journey and nothing to overcome, leaving us with an emotionless ending to a non-story.
3) John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt:
So don't need to rehash this story. We're living it. Basically Wyatt wants to prove that Cena is not who he says he is and that he's really a monster. During this feud, Bray has tried to show that Cena has a dark side and Cena will pretend he's scared enough to not completely kill the angle but enough joking promos to not actually move the story or his character forward.
Granted, the story isn't over, but if we pop the Cena formula into this story, he ends up standing on top without actually having to suffer for his victory. Without actually earning his victory.
So here's some quick advice for Wyatt on his mission:
Cena has proven time and time again that he does not have any layers to his character no inner beast nor inner hero. He's a one dimensional character and has been for at least 6 years. Your search will only end up making you look weak because you are involved in a story that will go no where because you storymate won't go anywhere. Get out while you can, Bray.
The John Cena in the Wyatt story is the same John Cena from the Rock story. He's the same Cena from Nexus story. John Cena has not evolved at all in an of these stories. Only thing that John Cena has changed are the color of his shirts. That's what makes Cena different from every single person -- not because he keeps rising above but because he keep staying the same.