John Cena had a “No DQ” house show match with Kevin Owens over the weekend, and people freaked out over a spot that looked pretty damn scary. The 15-time champ tried that sunset flip slam, causing Owens to fall back and land on his head. Cena then went limp for a while, and, reportedly, medical staff came in to check on him. He eventually finished the match, and WWE is saying he’s “fine” after the incident. Still, it was a scary bump that’s adding to the list of scary bumps and accidents over the last year or so. Even WWE is asking him to settle down a bit.
Cena is “old school” and “tough,” so he’s not going to take any time off beyond what’s absolutely necessary. He’s a freak of nature. That’s what he does. But he’s sort of going about the aging thing all wrong. A lot of wrestlers tend to scale back on the big spots and bumps and ramp up the psychology and storytelling when they get older. Just look at SummerSlam. Sure, Undertaker took a crazy table bump, but the highlights of the match came from the drama. The sit-down punches. The facial expressions. The way he used experience to fight out of Brock’s holds and keep him at arm’s length. It was all about the story and psychology. Which is what guys tend to develop as they get older; working smarter, not necessarily harder. Most of my favorite wrestlers — Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Ric Flair (I think… I didn’t see a lot of Flair in the ’70s, but I definitely saw him vs. Steamboat when they were in their 40s), Steve Austin, etc. — had incredible matches that rivaled their best ever after they hit their athletic primes.
It just seems like, as guys get older, they learn to take care of their bodies and reel audiences in with drama. Cena is taking the opposite approach. He’s creating more high-impact moves and wrestling post-2003-ish indie matches and trying to keep up. His matches have been great, but they’re not necessarily storytelling masterpieces. Instead, they’re hoss fights and new moves, finishers and kickouts. And he’s doing this stuff at house shows, where he should just Five Knuckle Shuffle and moonwalk to the showers.
John Cena has never been an in-ring maestro when it comes to storytelling. So, it seems like he’s overcompensating by ratcheting up the high-impact moves that are only acting to shorten his career. I think Cena is a wildly underrated wrestler — I don’t think anyone in WWE besides HBK in the last 25 years has had more classic-to-great matches — but he’s not doing himself and his matches any favors by substituting storytelling for phantom springboard stunners.