On The Wavering Kayfabe of John Cena

I couldn’t help but feel that the veil of kayfabe was wavering as John Cena railed against Paul Heyman on RAW Monday night. There was a tremble and a fervor in Cena’s voice as he laid out his grievances: he shows up and works hard every day even if he doesn’t feel like it because he “loves this place,” and where’s the respect? We may have been seeing real emotion there, his frustration as he strives to be a force for good while half the crowd is ready to see him turn heel, cheering the prospect of a slobberknocker in which Cena is at serious risk of getting his ass handed to him. Cena cast himself as the Forgotten Man, his hard work and passion unappreciated. It’s true, is it not? He’s tireless, always there, always giving 100%, even if you happen to be tired of his earnest gimmick and prefer Bray Wyatt’s edge. Cena was also quite savvy to remind Paul Heyman, on the topic of passion, about the ECW. “ECW,” Cena chanted to a slightly sheepish Heyman. “ECW, ECW.”

We just happened to watch an old match from the archives the night before – Cena vs. RVD from ECW One Night Stand in 2006. Those ECW fans were so cruel, with their middle fingers in Cena’s face and their “If Cena Wins We Riot” signs. He kept throwing his t-shirt into the crowd and they kept throwing it back. Nobody idolized him there. I was impressed with how Cena handled the affair — with grace and aplomb, really working the crowd’s heat and showing some hardcore chops to boot. He probably would have won if Edge hadn’t come in the ring when the ref was knocked out, in classic ECW style, to deliver him a devastating  spear. So Cena’s “ECW” chant on RAW this week was loaded with backstory, a reminder to Heyman, now the jaded handler of a mercenary meathead, that his own heart had swelled with pride that night eight years ago in front of the crowd bursting with bro love and gratitude for him and his ECW brainchild. I detected an implicit reminder that Cena had so nobly played the heel that night.

I didn’t get what I wanted, but I’m more than happy with John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar at Summer Slam. But after those two hash it out, can we please see Cena vs. Roman Reigns? It seems a waste to shy away from the most difficult conflict to confront.

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