Roman Reigns is going to defend the Universal championship against John Cena this Saturday, Aug. 21, at SummerSlam 2021.
Cena is no longer the face that runs the place. He is now one of the part-timers that he used to criticize a decade ago when he was preparing to face The Rock at WrestleMania 28. WWE has doubled down on nostalgia acts taking up main event slots on the biggest shows of the year. Just look at this SummerSlam card, where in addition to Cena competing in the main event, Goldberg is challenging for the WWE championship, and Edge is going to war with Seth Rollins.
When CM Punk explained why he left WWE in early 2014, one thing he pointed out was his frustration with being booked to lose against part-timers like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, and Undertaker in 2013. Ariel Helwani referenced Punk’s frustration when asking Roman Reigns how he feels about a part-timer like Cena coming in and taking a main event spot at SummerSlam this weekend. Roman said he can see both sides of the debate, but he took a shot at CM Punk while doing so:
“I can see it from both perspectives, but I think you said it before, that the high tide raises all the boats, right? Everybody benefits...but I think, man those statements are coming from bitter people, who possibly thought they were better than they really were. When it comes down to it, CM Punk was not as good or as over as a John Cena. Wasn’t as good or as over and moved the needle like The Rock. It just was what it was. From a full-time performer I understand the frustration and wanting more, but like I said before, you got to take it.
“I’m a full-time performer, but I’ve done everything that needs to be done to stay in this position...to continue to make the opportunity for myself, to be in a main event at SummerSlam against a John Cena.”
Roman’s insult on Punk doesn’t land well, because there are very few wrestlers in history who have ever been as successful as The Rock or Cena. That includes Roman, who is not as over as Cena or The Rock, and never moved the needle like either of them. Roman is the top guy right now primarily because Cena finally moved on to a new career away from the ring. The bottom line is that Punk was better than Reigns on the mic and in the ring. He was more over than Roman Reigns has ever been in WWE.
It’s also worth pointing out that Punk main evented multiple SummerSlam events (and several other PPV cards) against Cena. What Roman is doing this weekend is old hat for Punk, because he was a mainstay at the top level in WWE from 2011 through the end of his career there. He didn’t leave WWE due to concerns that he was falling down the card; Punk was scheduled to take on Triple H at WrestleMania 30. Punk’s top spot in the promotion was very secure at the time he left the company.
Reigns’ stance seems to be that part-timers coming in to WWE are a good thing and helps everyone, and it’s ultimately up to each individual wrestler to take and secure their own spot. The latter part is a privileged point of view not all that different from what former top guy Cena has said in the past about today’s stars in WWE, and is really easy to say from someone who was anointed by Vince McMahon as The Guy well before he ever demonstrated the skills to be that guy.
There are positives and negatives with part-timers coming in and taking top spots on the biggest wrestling events of the year. Reigns seems to understand that, but undermines his own point by needlessly taking a shot at CM Punk that isn’t helpful to his argument.