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  1. #1
    Junior Member Zombieguy's Avatar
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    Apr 2019

    The Graveyard Shift #3 - Thank You John Cena For Single-Handedly Saving The WWE Championship

    The Graveyard Shift #3
    Thank You John Cena For Single-Handedly Saving The WWE Championship


    On June 6 2005 John Cena was drafted to Monday Night Raw along with the WWE Championship. For several years the title had taken a backseat to the newly created World Heavyweight Championship as the company’s most sought-after prize. Throughout the late 1990’s it seemingly changed hands several times a month and after moving to WWE’s secondary show became a secondary belt for secondary champions. But all of that changed when WWE firmly established John Cena as the company’s marquee player by sending him and his title to their flagship brand.

    By this time the fans were already showing signs of Cena fatigue. A brief feud with Chris Jericho led to increasingly hostile crowd reactions and by September had amplified to entire arenas booing the purported babyface. But only a year later at Unforgiven 2006, John Cena would begin what was arguably the most important title reign of the post-attitude era. At the time it was criticized and bemoaned for its length, quality, and seemingly formulaic and predictable nature. But the power of hindsight has revealed it as one of the most exciting, dynamic, masterful title reigns of all time. The John Cena title reign of 2006-2007 ended up saving the WWE Championship.


    Unforgiven 2006 was a very significant show. It established Johnny Nitro as a legitimate singles star and featured the retirement match of Trish Stratus against longtime rival Lita. But the TLC Match between John Cena and Edge ultimately stole the show as the two men delivered one of the most brutal, intense, and well-booked main events of all time. The ending which saw John Cena FU Edge through three tables left the hostile Toronto crowd cheering ecstatically before coming to their senses and remembering how much they hated the newly crowned WWE Champion.

    John Cena’s reign began with a high-profile feud against Kevin Federline as the pseudo-celebrity cost the champion matches against King Booker and Johnny Nitro and later pinned Cena in a highly-promoted match on Raw. While the feud was demonized by wrestling purists, it gave WWE mainstream recognition, allowed John Cena to evolve into a representative for the company, and elevated Booker, Nitro, and Umaga into dangerous heels capable of pinning the WWE Champion.

    Cena shifted to a feud with Umaga that saw him squeak out a fluke win at New Year’s Revolution to firmly establish the Samoan Bulldozer as a main event monster. At Royal Rumble 2007 they would have a match-of-the-year candidate Last Man Standing Match that protected the credibility of Umaga, added a brutal new dimension to Cena’s character, and destroyed the notion that the WWE Champion couldn’t wrestle or was carried by others in his growing list of quality matches.

    From here he began a friend-or-foe feud with Shawn Michaels leading to a match for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 23. Cena would win against Michaels in the best match of the night before losing in a highly-regarded non-title rematch on Monday Night Raw that went an hour in length and showed the naysayers that Cena was capable of hanging with the greats. A week later at Backlash he further cemented this by defending his title in a stellar fatal-four-way match.

    Despite the monthly match-of-the-year candidates, the crowd continued to hate the champion more with each passing week. A feud with The Great Khali only fueled their hatred as the Punjabi Giant was limited by his size and lack of wrestling ability. At Judgement Day the two had a match that should have been a trainwreck but was largely passable thanks to Cena’s efforts. At One Night Stand they had another match that was far better and more entertaining than it had any right to be.

    The rest of the reign included a 5-Man Scramble at Vengeance, a surprisingly great effort against Bobby Lashley at The Great American Bash, and the first major encounters against Randy Orton at Summerslam and Unforgiven. John Cena arguably delivered the best match every time in satisfying main events that showed his ability to produce against both good and limited opponents.

    But all things must eventually come to an end and on October 2 2007, John Cena was forced to vacate his WWE Championship in the leadup to a third match with Randy Orton at No Mercy. After 380 days and 13 titles defenses, many fans were relieved to see the seemingly never-ending reign of John Cena come to an end to freshen up the main event scene. But looking back now it was undoubtably one of the greatest and most important WWE Championship reigns of all time.

    The WWE Championship is the oldest and most prestigious title in the history of the WWE. It was held by Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Hulk Hogan, and Bret Hart, and was for many years regarded as the richest prize in professional wrestling that only the truly elite could wear around their waist. But somewhere along the way all of that changed as the title devolved into a mere prop that could be used to elevate its wearer, sell an unappealing match, or simply drive a storyline.

    The late 1990’s saw the title change hands on a monthly and sometimes even weekly basis to create an unpredictable show and a deeper main event scene. And for a while it arguably worked as Mankind, The Rock, and Triple H were elevated to new heights and rose to the occasion. Besides the reigns of Vince McMahon and Big Show, all these performers could make a legitimate claim to being the top face/heel in the company while holding its top title around their waist.

    But by the early 2000’s the reigns of Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle relegated the title to non-premier status as bigger stars fought for reasons other than the title. Brock Lesnar accelerated the situation as he took the belt to Smackdown and by 2003 the World Heavyweight Championship was firmly entrenched as the company’s biggest title held by its biggest stars. The WWE Championship was relegated to B-Status as it was held by the likes of JBL, Big Show, and Eddie Guerrero, none of whom could ever lay claim to being a flagship performer within the company.

    It wasn’t until John Cena won the title, took it back to Raw, established himself as the WWE’s ambassador, and engaged in hot feuds against Edge and Triple H that the WWE Championship retook its rightful place as the premier title within the company. And it wasn’t until his epic 2006-2007 championship reign that the title was once again elevated to its rightful status as the most sought-after prize in professional wrestling that only the truly elite could hold around their waist.

    History always seems to repeat itself though. WWE has once again conjured up a new title for their flagship brand and relegated the WWE Championship to the secondary show to be held by the likes of Jinder Mahal, Bray Wyatt, and Kofi Kingston. And while the title has not yet reached the lows it did in 2003-2004 there may soon come a time when a new champion must arise to salvage the credibility of the WWE Championship just as John Cena did in 2006.


    You are entitled to your opinion. But your opinion is probably wrong. It wasn’t the length that made the reign as CM Punk demonstrated through a lack of marquee star power. It wasn’t the star power of its champion as Brock Lesnar demonstrated by infrequently defending the title. And it wasn’t the match quality as AJ Styles demonstrated with a cast of secondary players on a secondary show. None of these reigns held a candle to the perfect storm of quality, length, and prestige in which John Cena elevated himself and the WWE Championship through his historic title reign.

    The modern era of professional wrestling has been rightly criticized for using titles as glorified props to get over otherwise lackluster wrestlers, matches, or storylines instead of using them to showcase the greatest within the sport. Wrestlers and championships were meant to exist in a symbiotic relationship where the champion elevates the title and title elevates the champion. John Cena’s 2006-2007 title reign forever stands as the perfect modern example of this relationship.

    He rose to the occasion as an international superstar and ambassador while delivering week-after-week in main event spectacles. He elevated undesirable opponents to entertaining matches while displaying the aura of a champion who was truly the best. He restored the credibility of the industry’s most historic title while bringing it back to its rightful place as wrestling’s most sought-after prize. Thank you John Cena for single-handedly saving the WWE Championship.

    There is no need to argue. Instead let us rest in peace.
    Last edited by Zombieguy; 04-15-2019 at 09:03 AM.

  2. #2
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Interesting argument here, I think I have to agree to some extent. Cena's lengthy reign was very important, and many of his matches were better in hindsight than they were given credit for at the time. And yet, the character of Cena was grating to the audience, and for one reason or another he picked up a lot of detractors. I myself watched through the era and longed to see stars I found more interesting in the center spotlight. You can list matches and statistics, but there's something to be said for the felt sense of living through the era as a fan.

    I also think you've cherry picked your evidence to some extent when illustrating the alleged mistreatment of the WWE Championship. Much of the time period you mentioned featured the championship around the waist of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, both top stars by any standard who even main evented a Wrestlemania over the Raw brand. The WHC also boasts reigns from a cooled off Goldberg, a comparable-to-Eddie Benoit, and a poorly turned Orton, not to mention landing on Batista whom the WWE clearly viewed as a parallel star to Cena. I can't deny after Cena brought the title to Raw that the WWE title clearly became more important, but that's as much to do with the WHC being slowly booked into oblivion as opposed to the virtues of Cena, and even that isn't consistent as we would still see the Smackdown brand main event co-branded shows such as Wrestlemania after Cena became synonymous with the title. It's a provocative take, but I'm unconvinced the evidence is there.

    Even so, I appreciated the column, good structure and interesting ideas even if I wasn't always convinced. I'm still not wild about the centered text but if you're fond of the format it's hardly a dealbreaker. Good to see you continue writing!

  3. #3
    Hello, very well written, again, and well put together. You've done a fine job at taking hot button issues and generating discussion. Taking an argument and making comparisons and using antidotes is true essence of column writing. You seem to have this thing to a science.

    I agree on several points. I never wanted to see Cena heel, didn't mind his long Title reign, and thought he's always had fine matches. I think he did well with what they gave him. I've just never been a fan of what they gave him. There's some credibility alone in a long Title reign, as CM Punk COULD have been in the Wrestle-Mania Main Event, the year he lost to Taker. Cena had that long reign. He had all that we agree on. But the stories were formulaic, the supporting characters around him flat, and the feuds inconsequential.

    Look at Hogan and Austin. Think about Hogan's relationships with Orndorff, Savage, Andre, Bundy, Bobby Heenan. Steve Austin's with Vince, Bret Hart, Mankind, Pillman, Bosman (even), the Undertaker, Kane, and the Rock. Austin and Hogan were completely different, but their stories mattered. Cena and Lashley just attacking each other meant what? That's why fans were turned off. Khali had been slammed, beaten, and whored out, before Cena got to him. In all his matches with Orton, who are these two to each other? Cena did what he did in spite of his flat booking.

    Seemed for a minute they had him vulnerable against the Nexus, but it was a fleeting minute. It never reached what it should have.

    He never needed to be heel, he only needed interesting stories.

    Good, though provoking read.
    Last edited by Benjamin Button; 04-17-2019 at 04:04 AM.

  4. #4
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    May 2018
    I sort of agree with a lot of this, although as Miz said you've cherry picked the evidence to support the conclusion rather than analysing all the evidence to draw a conclusion. Cena is definitely better than he was given credit for during a lot of his run. It's easy to look back with nostalgia and remember the good times though.

    The correct answer? It doesn't matter whether the WWE Championship is seen as greater or lesser than the World Heavyweight Championship (which arguably wasn't newly created when you said it was) or the Universal Championship (which is the one that is actually newly created). What matters is that whichever title is on Raw will be seen as the greater of the two options. And therein lies the actual issue. Both titles are supposed to be the ultimate peak of success. And that is something there can't be two of.

    The only way there can be a definitive top title is for there to be only one definitive top title.

    I've said it before, and I'll undoubtedly say it again. The brand split should remain in place. The IC & US titles should be the top titles on those brands. There should be a single top tier title that sits above this, with that guy and that guy alone being able to appear on both brands. The only other inter-promotional matches should be to determine the number one contender for that top title.

    FACT or FICTION: Ladies and Gentlemen, Elias.
    PM me to get involved.

  5. #5
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Another good column man however I have some issues with it.

    While Cena did build up the belt I think what this column doesn't acknowledge is the trash heap of performers that were never the same after facing Cena, the disenfranchised fans his bland and very uncreative reign created that are a problem to this day for the WWE and the glass ceiling the WWE's obsession with him placed over a generation of talent that has rippled out till today.

    So yes, it may seem that it was a good thing that Cena had a long title reign and was made into a huge main event deal when viewed in isolation however when weighed up with the other side of the story his late 00s reigns left a lot to be desired.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Sep 2018
    I agree that John Cena's title reign from 2006-2007 was EPIC. I believe that more people should talk about that title reign as one of the all time greats. Good-great matches, good-great feuds, memorable and the ending would have put over a star on the re-up in Randy Orton. What more can you ask for a legendary championship reign?

    However, although I agree with your assessment Cena's reign to a certain extent, I feel as though you are failing to mention JBLs 10 month reign prior to Cena first winning the belt. That reign can be put in almost the same context of the Cena reign and he ended up putting over what would become WWEs biggest star in losing the title.

    You make a great argument though. I still fail to see how people can't seem to put Cena's title reign in the top ten of all time. In my opinion it's more than deserving.

  7. #7
    Junior Member Zombieguy's Avatar
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    Apr 2019
    Feedback For Your Feedback

    mizfan - I would argue that beyond Kurt vs Brock at WM19 (which was just a much bigger match than Triple H vs Booker T) the WHC was consistently booked as the superior title even after Batista took it to Smackdown. It received higher billing on all big four events after single-branded PPVs were introduced from 2003 until Wrestlemania 22. Only after John Cena's lengthy title reign began did the WWE Championship consistently receive top billing over the WHC again. The WHC didn't main event a PPV again until Cena's reign ended. Having watched through that time the product as a whole felt stale. But John Cena brought a new sense of prestige to the title in a reign that looks even better in highsight.

    Benjamin Button - That problem of formulaic, bland, and nonexistent storylines was indicative of the company as a whole though. Those that hated seeing John Cena as champion throughout that reign only prove the point. They wanted to see him lose the title because they cared about the title. He created an aura around the championship that had been lost to that point. He completely delivered on his part for that reign with a championship aura and quality matches. The creative stuff is on WWE.

    DynamiteBillington - In my ideal world there is one weekly show, one champion, one set of titles. Unfortunately that is not possible in the modern WWE universe and now they're stuck trying to claim two equal titles on two equal brands while clearly showing bias and favoritism to one of them. I don't know how one champion between two split brands would work as I really don't remember liking the format in 2002. But perhaps it's worth a try as the current championship format does no favors for either world title.

    SirSam - There is always room for disagreement especially when I often have "provocative" takes on wrestling. Edge, Orton, Lashley, Khali, and Michaels were fine after their losses to Cena. Umaga was arguably harmed but could have recovered at or after WrestleMania 23 but they just couldn't book him properly. I would argue that his runs in 2009-2012 caused far more destruction to the roster again due to poor booking.

    Don France - How could I forget the man who carried the Smackdown main event through 2004? JBL's title reign while epic in length was unfortunately hampered with constant DQ's. Heels need shady finishes but they could have gotten more creative with his retentions. Cena's 2007 reign elevated himself and the title to an entirely new level though. And that reign is definitely was of the most impressive ever. At the time it was demonized but in hindsight people have grown to appreciate the effect it had.

    Thanks to everybody for reading and sending your feedback. See you next Monday.

  8. #8
    The WWE Championship really hit a low point in 2004 when JBL held it and the WHC was clearly the top title in WWE. Then after Cena won it and got drafted to Raw, that all changed. Ever since Benoit chose to challenge for the WHC instead of the WWE Championship, Smackdown was clearly the number 2 brand and therefore made it's World Title secondary. Cena bringing the title to Raw and having a year long title reign brought back value to the WWE title.

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