The John Cena who can cut a promo and command an audience better than few others in the history of wrestling showed up on SmackDown Live last night (Aug. 2).
In an angle where AJ Styles baited him into a passionate defense of his “hustle, loyalty and respect” motto in order to get the Face That Runs the Place to agree to a SummerSlam match, Cena placed himself on a level above the Phenomenal One because of his love for WWE and its fans.
Problem is, as my boss has pointed out before, it’s not like Cena is on equal footing in the eyes of Vince McMahon and the powers-that-be backstage as just about anyone else on the current roster. It’s taken AJ nearly 20 years to build his career to where he could come to WWE and have a realistic shot of even being booked to face John - a man who’s never had to even consider working for anything less than the biggest wrestling company on Earth.
It was a point which didn’t escape Daniel Bryan, current General Manager of SmackDown Live and someone who, during his in-ring career, once found himself in the same type of war of words with Cena (heading into a SummerSlam match, no less) that AJ was in last night.
Bryan explained his issues with Cena’s promo to Renee Young on Talking Smack, WWE Network’s new SmackDown post-show:
I was actually taken aback and borderline offended by John Cena saying, “Hey, if this doesn’t work out for you, you’ll go somewhere else to wrestle.” And he would say, “I only wanna wrestle in WWE.’
It offends me because, hey, guess what? I’ve been fired from WWE twice. Sometimes when you get fired, you have to go wrestle somewhere else. John’s saying essentially if he were to get fired he wouldn’t go wrestle anywhere else because he only loves wrestling in WWE.
AJ and I are kind of cut from the same cloth in the sense of like, hey, he had to fight for a long time just to get the opportunity to be here. If he gets fired, he has a family to provide for, so are you saying don’t go work somewhere else? Go work in a garage or something? No. This is what we do. This is what we love to do. It’s one of those things where, I get what John’s saying—he loves WWE and I don’t take anything away from him. Because other people in his situation - people like The Rock, stuff like that - when they get these big time gigs like John Cena has it’s easy to say “I’m gonna take a step back from wrestling.”
The Rock is great, he still loves WWE, but he comes in once every great while. John doesn’t need the money, he’s got all these movie, all these different award shows want him, everybody wants him - but he still shows up every week.
To me, it’s incredible, his love and his passion for this. But that doesn’t mean you should knock things like AJ about, you know, ‘Oh, if you lose this, you’ll go somewhere else.’ Of course he will.
Bryan shooting on Cena. pic.twitter.com/N2NVVjoHLG— DTAM (@DeathToAllMarks) August 3, 2016
Styles is playing a more traditional heel role, so he didn’t respond with a similar line of reasoning during the broadcast. But if WWE wants to take SmackDown to a more interesting, “shades of gray” type place - as they seem to be doing with the main event feud between Dean Ambrose & Dolph Ziggler, Bryan has laid out the way to do it for the Cena/AJ program in his speech here.