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Steve Austin, Paul Heyman sell John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar Night of Champions rematch better than WWE ever could

Brock Lesnar squashed John Cena to win the WWE world heavyweight championship at SummerSlam on Aug. 17 in Los Angeles. It took all of three days for WWE to announce a rematch at Night of Champions, scheduled for Sept. 21 in Nashville.

Considering the nature of the first encounter, fans naturally wondered how WWE would attempt to sell us on there even needing to be a second. For his part, Vince McMahon apparently -- if those pesky rumors are to be believed -- thought Cena needed to squash Bray Wyatt in the main event of this past Monday night's episode of Raw after opening the show by stating his desire to not just beat Lesnar but "beat Lesnar's ass".

The response to this, at least around these parts, was a collective groan. Perhaps that's in anticipation of more of the same, like Cena no selling the initial beating just to rise up and win the title back one month after losing it in such impressive fashion. It wouldn't be out of character for the decision makers at WWE to go that route.

It's what they've been doing for the past decade.

But perhaps we're looking at it all wrong. Perhaps we should heed the words of Paul Heyman and Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had an incredibly fascinating discussion on this very topic on the latest episode of The Steve Austin Show.

This is a better sell job than WWE could likely ever give us:

Austin: "Let's talk about Brock Lesnar and John Cena. It's a couple of weeks removed from SummerSlam. Brock Lesnar put a hellacious beatdown on John Cena. F-5 30 seconds into the match, 16 suplexes, absolutely decimated him, a one-sided victory. He beat the hell out of John Cena and John Cena is one tough ass cat. Y'all came out the next Monday to a babyface reaction, somewhat. And there was somewhat of a babyface pop at the end of the match. You came out, turned it around, go into your promo mode -- which, you've been knocking them out of the park as of late in the past, jesus christ, I don't know how long. You've been a great promo since you were born, but you're really coming into this zone where you're at right now which is unheard of. ... Then, just as we speak, Monday Night Raw was in Anaheim, California. John Cena wasn't at the Monday Night Raw following the beatdown. The kid had taken too many suplexes. He shows up and I think he knocked this promo out of the park because I was wondering where he was going to go with this. He didn't make any excuses, he owned up to the ass whooping. And he said -- there was a panel out there, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, and Ric Flair -- and says his mission is not to beat Brock Lesnar, his mission at Night of Champions, Paul, is to beat Brock Lesnar's ass. I loved it. You guys got your work cut out for you. In the SummerSlam match, I didn't think John Cena ever got around to getting to that place which he had spoke of, which wasn't going to make him so much of a role model for the kids. He was going to have to dig into a very deep, dark place. The F-5 cut him off from that, all the German suplexes. Your thoughts on where you guys are at right now, because I'm loving the way this thing is going."

Heyman: "I'm fascinated with what happens with the John Cena character from here. Because clearly making the statement that he's walking into a title match, and it's a rematch that he invoked, and his mission is not to win the title back, his mission is not to beat Brock Lesnar, his mission is to beat Brock Lesnar's ass. Now that is an intriguing moment in the arch of the John Cena character. What's obvious, as we have three more weeks of television before Night of Champions, to me, is that for John Cena to beat Brock Lesnar's ass, John Cena has to stop being the role model. Hustle, loyalty, respect will get slaughtered by the beast Brock Lesnar every single time. So John Cena is going to have to find a dark place in his soul to where he's willing to stick both thumbs through Brock Lesnar's eyes. That John Cena is willing to do the things that he wasn't willing to do against Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania. That the pursuit of the championship, to regain the title, to be your hero, is now secondary to John Cena because he's on a personal mission to exact revenge for the most heinous ass kicking/victimization he's ever taken in his life. This gives me so much promo material to work with over the next three weeks. It gives the announcers so much to talk about. It gives other superstars something to say. It's a place where John Cena has never been. It's unchartered turf for the top star in the company, and he's the top star for the past decade. I am very interested to see when I push John Cena's buttons next Monday on Raw where his character takes the rebuttal."

Austin: "It's going to be interesting to see, and for me as well, the detour that he takes from being the role model that he is to go around to be what he needs to be to destroy Brock Lesnar to go back to being the role model and the person who John Cena, at his core, is, and who the people believe him to be. He's got to make that detour to come back to ground zero."

Heyman: "But, you know, once you take that detour can you ever really go back? Once they see John Cena stick his thumb through someone's eye, once they see John Cena try to break someone's neck, once they see John Cena with bloodlust in his eyes, can he really go back to being the wristband wearing, pump up your sneakers, let me tell a fart joke on television John Cena? Or are we at the precipice of the evolution of the John Cena character? How far can it go? I can sell it to you as 'if John Cena truly wants to beat Brock Lesnar's ass, John Cena has to start thinking like a Paul Heyman Guy'. So is that the road John Cena starts to travel down now? I'm not suggesting that's where we're going but it certainly is a possibility. Once John Cena shows you that bloodlust in his eye, I don't think he goes back to being cartoony John Cena."

Austin: "I don't think he goes back to being cartoony John Cena. For me, it's... I know how passionate he is. Sometimes he goes to the passion well one too many times. What has gotten me -- and I'm a big John Cena fan anyway because I am a top guy, I know what it takes to be a top guy so I watch everything that he does -- but what I like now is the focus and intensity of who and what John Cena is and what he will do to beat Brock Lesnar's ass. Not beat Brock Lesnar but to beat his ass. Can and will he do that, and what will happen if he can?"

Heyman: "It's a fascinating time for the character of John Cena and for his audience because clearly he's going to have to undergo some sort of evolution and transformation. And whether that detour leads him to becoming a far more aggressive character, whether that detour leads him to becoming a Paul Heyman Guy, whether that detour leads the character to shift his focus into his matches more so than having the sense of humor and being the ultimate face of the company is going to be a fascinating journey. This is really... in WWE this is new turf because, as we talked about earlier, the difference between the New York style of booking as opposed to other styles of booking, the Dusty style of booking, which was very heel oriented, this is the first time that I can recall where the journey of the babyface is as important as the destination. To draw a parallel here, the last time they had such a long journey was the evolution of the Stone Cold character going all the way to finally where DX and Mike Tyson were conspiring against you and you had to overcome all the odds at WrestleMania for your first title win against Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels."

Austin: "And the difference being mine (had) a little bit more attitude, him a little bit more family friendly. But a same parrallel."

Heyman: "Yes. It was the journey of the Stone Cold character to where finally you had the sound byte from J.R. that 'the Austin Era has begun'. We've been in this Cena era for 10 years but this is going to have a new John Cena wrinkle to it. We are about to see a change in the character. So where does that persona go? How can I push that persona into a compromising situation that he has to verbally swing his way out of? How does The Beast Brock Lesnar position John Cena into a fight that John Cena has to violate his own code of hustle, loyalty, and respect? When does fighting evil require you to become evil to defeat evil? And that's where John Cena's character has to go. How he comes out on the other side is the most fascinating aspect of it."

Austin: "Because what happens once he gets a taste of that evil? Does he like it? Does he want to stay down that road?"

Heyman: "Yeah, see, that's an interesting question that only the storyline playing out can answer."

Austin: "I think what he needs to do is accomplish the task at hand and that's beating Brock Lesnar's ass, and those are his words. I'm just rephrasing what he said. But as you know, you're probably one of the closest friends Brock Lesnar has, I know Brock very well myself, that's much easier said than done."

Heyman: "That's the most interesting question of all: what happens if John Cena can't beat Brock Lesnar's ass? What happens if we walk into Night of Champions and Brock Lesnar throws an even more severe, dare I say extreme, thrasing into John Cena's face? What if this time, as you've said, it's 20 suplexes instead of 16? What if Brock F-5's John Cena through the mat? What if John Cena can't accomplish the task and has to accept what is clearly failure. He failed to get any offense on Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. He failed to defend the championship against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. John Cena failed to prevent the beast from getting his hands on the undisputed WWE world heavyweight championship. What happens this time if John Cena fails again? He failed against The Rock in the first WrestleMania match that they had and he spent a whole year's journey to become champion, to be rematched with The Rock, to then beat The Rock at WrestleMania. What if this time John Cena's quest for comeuppance, for revenge, for equaling out the slate fails? How does John Cena handle back-to-back failure? That's another interesting aspect of this because John Cena kicking Brock Lesnar's ass is not a guarantee. It's not fait accompli. Until it happens, it hasn't really happened."

Austin: "But one thing he must do, and we'll wrap it up with this, what he must do is go to the place that he said he was going to do at SummerSlam, the darkest, deepest place that he would have to go to to beat Brock Lesnar. That, to me, is one place that he has to go. Whether he succeeds or fails in the match remains to be seen. He must go to that place. He said he was going to go at SummerSlam, F-5 30 seconds in, didn't happen, never had a chance. He's got to on number two at Night of Champions and that's the bottom line."


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