Quoth John Cena and Seth Rollins on the RAW before Summer Slam

I’m thinking about writing a longer piece about the genre of contract signings in wrestling. Really, I never would have thought the signing of contracts could be such a compelling thing to watch, but I perk up every time I hear there’s going to be one. They represent the tension between WWE’s carny and corporate elements so perfectly: two employees meet in a ring-turned-boardroom to sign a legally binding document to fight for a prize, but not before airing their grievances with each other in fiery statements that so often end in table and office chairs overturned and used to bludgeon each other. Putting people through tables, whacking them with clipboards, and clobbering them with chairs on wheels is a symbolic manifestation of what is done in every corporate boardroom in the world. Think about what I what I just said for a minute — you know I’m right.

The table and chairs stayed put on RAW’s contract signing this week, but the hubris and resentment boiled hard in the words of John Cena and Seth Rollins as they set the tone for their match at Summer Slam. Seth Rollins’ promo was interesting because he cribbed a number of Kevin Owens’ talking points from his recent feud with Cena. Take a look at this transcript from Owens’ promo of uncomfortable truths last month and see if you don’t agree. This is the second time I’ve noticed Rollins do this — a few months back he was talking like the CM Punk pipebomb with his own “best in the world” promo. Is this a deliberate choice for the Seth Rollins character, modeling himself after the unique and groundbreaking wrestlers? If so, what’s that about? Seth Rollins is a talented mike man, a powerful douchebag heel, and a wrestler with great abilities. So why is his promo style one of mimicry? It certainly fits with the character who has required an entourage of security and helpers to maintain his title, but is there to be a payoff for Seth Rollins’ inability to be original or independent? Will he finally rise to the occasion after a run characterized by weakness?

John Cena demonstrated his generosity as a powerful character with tremendous impact last night as he sold Rollins in this pivotal moment, offering him an opportunity to establish credibility, even an opportunity for a face turn, if that’s the way the wind should blow. Cena himself noted what a mimic Rollins has become, even pointing out that his “U Can’t Knee Me” t-shirt is merely a snide satire of Cena’s own iconic catch phrase. It’s a brilliant thing Cena did here, even if it ends up hitting yet another a brick wall of storyline sabotage. He threw Rollins a rope to climb out of the weak heel trap he’s been stuck in, a chance to make something more of his championship run than a footnote between more iconic superstars holding the title. Look, I’ve gotten a reputation as a Cena hater lately (I admit it, this op-ed was fairly harsh) but in fact I totally go back and forth on Cena. I rooted for him so much against Bray Wyatt, even though I was totally a Wyatt lighter flame app acolyte. And since the nose break I have been deeply impressed with him. So yes, Cena proved himself the noblest knight here, creating a turning point of enormous potential for Seth Rollins to empower himself. Let’s hope the payoff is somehow worthwhile for everyone involved.

Here are the promos from the Rollins/Cena contract signing in its entirety, preserved for posterity, and also as a transcript for my international readers who maybe need to see it in writing to make sense of the folksy drawl Cena cops when he gets excited. (By the way, we Americans don’t really know what regional accent Cena’s trying to affect either. My wild guess would be midwestern frat boy.)

Seth Rollins:

Thank you, thank you for the warm introduction, I appreciate it more than you will ever know. But before we get started with this, I think some congratulations are in order. I want to congratulate Stephanie and Triple H for putting together what will go down as the greatest Summer Slam of all time. And I’ve got to congratulate myself as well for the statute that will be made in my honor after I defeat John Cena at Summer Slam. But most importantly, I need to congratulate each and every one of you. Give yourselves a round of applause. Please. It is not very often that someone knows — not thinks, knows — they will witness history. And it is a very special time to be a member of the WWE universe. I mean, you don’t go to a baseball game knowing you’re going to see a no-hitter. Well, I mean, unless of course your team is playing the Twins, then I guess there might be some inclination that, hey, but, no no no, but the point is, at Summer Slam, every single one of you know that you will be a witness to a special moment in time that will never be replicated, when I defeat and dethrone John Cena and become the first man to ever hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the United States Championship at the same time.

[Crowd begins the “Let’s go Cena”/”Cena sucks” chant.]

You know, as you guys chant that, something kind of comes to mind. You know, there happens to be a very famous song writer who happens to be from Minnesota. Bob Dylan. You may have heard of him. And he once sang a line that went something like, “The times, they are a changin’,” and that’s very fitting, because for the past decade John Cena has sat atop the mountain of the WWE, and every single person who has come along and tried to knock him off that mountain, John Cena has made sure that they never stood a chance. And John, I know you love playing the role of Superman, you get off in some sick, twisted way, thinking you are doing a good deed by making sure that nobody knocks you off of that mountain, but John, you are not Superman. I’ve got news for you John, you are the villain. You are the villain, John, and you are holding the entire WWE universe hostage. For the last decade, John!

[Crowd begins “Yes!” chants]

Well, if you like that, you’re gonna love this. John Cena is a disease. And with one knee to the bridge of his nose, I shattered his face into a million pieces. I sent John Cena tumbling down that mountain. I began that process that is going to free every single person in this room! I injected the serum into John Cena that will inoculate the entire WWE universe because John Cena is a disease, and Seth Rollins is the cure! And John Cena, he’s got the gall to disrespect me every single chance he gets. He calls me and my title reign a joke? Well John, at Summer Slam I will have the last laugh when I take your US title, and I crush your legacy like I crushed your stupid face. And John thinks he’s the man, but John isn’t even man enough to answer my challenge face-to-face. John went down to Tough Enough, thousands of miles from where I was, and he answered it there. Not even by himself, he had to ask that cripple Daniel Bryan. I mean, what kind of coward, how pathetic is John Cena, that he thinks he can…

[Cena’s entrance music hits and Cena enters the ring]

John Cena:

I’m not in the mood to have a seat.

You’re trying to defend your own title reign when half of them are chanting “Let’s go Cena” and the other half are chanting “Cena sucks” and not a damn fool in the building is saying a damn thing about Seth Rollins. Here’s the sad part: you don’t even believe your own crap. The champ… is there. But the sorry excuse for a man walking around with it has been reduced to nothing more than a cheap imitation of John Cena. Never shuts up. You can’t see me. Hustle, blah blah blah, Rollins approved. So very, very original Seth, no one’s ever done anything like that before, congratulations. You are not a John Cena rip-off, it is about time you made that mean something. You are Seth Rollins. You were hand-picked by Triple H to usher in the future of the WWE, and a man like that does not make a decision that big unless he thinks you share the same attributes as he does. He is “The Cerebral Assassin”, you are “The Architect”, he is “The Game”, you are “The Future”. He has provided you with every single tool you need to succeed , including The Pedigree. Because you’re not just the future, you could be a way for Triple H’s legacy to live forever. One problem, and it’s the same problem he’s been dealing with for over a decade, and that big, bright orange problem is not going anywhere soon, because THE REAL CHAMP IS HEEEERE!

Few weeks ago you busted my nose — congratulations — then you got the gall to come out here and tell everybody I’m finished? You kidding me? And last week I gotta sit home because doctors and the Authority are making me sit home, and I gotta listen to them say I may or may not make Summer Slam. That’s fine, that’s fine, all you guys did was give me another week to think about payback. How do I pay back Seth Rollins and his knee? Maybe I break it. Maybe I break an arm. Maybe I break your nose. Naw, naw, those are just injuries. I may not be Superman but people come back from injuries, Seth. And then it hit me. It hit me as clean as your knee hitting my nose. What I’m going to do to you Sunday is going to haunt you for the rest of your life, and [turning to Triple H] is going to haunt you for yours. I am a fifteen time World Heavyweight Champion. And you see where I’m going with this, you see, I designed this stuff months ago because I figured there was no chance in hell I was ever getting close to that championship again until Captain Morgan over here opened his big fat stupid mouth! Payback for me is the easiest thing ever! I show up Sunday, and I do what I do. I win. I win, and I become the World Heavyweight Champion for the sixteenth time! And this Sunday, when you lose, you lose. Because the all-time championship record is held by your mentor, a man who passed his legacy to you, Rick Flair. This Sunday I’m going to prove you wrong. You ain’t the future, you’re a footnote. You are an absolute answer to a trivia question. All you are ever gonna be is “Who did John Cena beat to become the sixteen-time World Heavyweight Champion?”

It’s starting to sink in, isn’t it? It’s starting to weigh on you. You see, Sunday’s not just a match! Sunday you fight to protect everything: the past, the present, and the future of this man’s legacy, bestowed to him by Rick Flair he is trying to bestow it upon you.

There is one difference here — Triple H was never Rick Flair’s bitch. This Sunday, I’m a make you mine.

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  1. August 19, 2015

    I hope you do write the piece on contract signings. I’ve always seen them from a narrative sense, a “point of no return” ushering in the third act of a given angle, so a thematic examination would be neat.

    I’ve been scratching my head as to why Rollin’s half of the promo worked so well, and this post helped me figure it out: He doesn’t realize he’s the bad guy. This trait has been used everywhere from Triple H to Kevin Owens, but Rollins’ is probably my new favorite take on it. He’s incapable of separating his actions from his intentions and realizing that he’s the one with all the vanity, weakness, and lack of respect. He loves aggrandizing himself, but his bloated ego is keeping him from recognizing his faults and I think it’s great. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that HHH chose him to be his protege, then…

    And I wouldn’t sweat the Pipebomb similarities. The theme of a heel being kept down by a higher authority has used often, from decades ago to just recently. Cliches are popular for a reason, it seems.

    It’s also worth noting that the second paragraph ends in a fragment.

    Unrelated: Cena referring to himself as a big, bright orange problem was fantastic.

    • August 20, 2015

      That’s an excellent observation, that Seth Rollins doesn’t know he’s the bad guy. He really doesn’t. He bought in, and totally drank the Authority koolaid. Which is admittedly potent stuff — we saw what happened to Daniel Bryan, Big Show, etc. when they didn’t buy in. So he thought he had it all figured out, poor kid, and discovered it actually does take requires hustle, loyalty and respect to be a champion. (How ironic!) It’s very Shakespearean character character development, the painful education of one who became king before he was fully ready. That bright orange problem was great! Cena really nailed it on this one. (And thanks for catching my unfinished sentence! I really need a handler sometimes.)

  2. alexszollo
    August 21, 2015

    I think this might be the best English-language wrestling-related blog that this Romanian WWE enthusiast has ever found. Been following the strange, larger-than-life, inspiring world of wrestling for about 8 or 9 years now, and your blog is the only one that I found to treat wrestling so seriously. This skinny, shaky, nerdy wrestling buff would be honored by your friendship.

    • August 22, 2015

      Alex, thank you so much for such a lovely comment. It means a lot to me! It took a long time for me to get up the nerve to write this way about wrestling (it’s strangely scary to take a stand that you consider it a serious art form) so I really appreciate the positive feedback. Glad to have you here friend, and I hope you keep commenting!

  3. alexszollo
    August 22, 2015

    Anything that tells a story is a form of art in my view, and although I spent a couple of years as a „mark” in my early wrestling fandom, now that I can call myself a „smark”, I appreciate wrestling so much more than before. Understanding the entire mechanism of the manner in which a wrestling storyline works is not, in my view, a way to „spoil” the illusion, but a deconstruction which further contributes to the appreciation fans feel toward the art of wrestling. As long as you keep coming with such awesome content, I will be sure to keep commenting.
    Best wishes,
    Alex Szollo, proud wrestling buff.

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