The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
The end is nearing for John Cena in WWE.
That much is clear after the company’s “Greatest of All-Time” — seemingly knowing the SAG-AFTRA strike would be coming to an end days later and he’d have to return to Hollywood — exited Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia after being mostly manhandled in a loss to Solo Sikoa.
The match was supposed to be a “must-win” and a measuring stick for if Cena’s character could hang in today’s WWE. He failed, miserably, and left with a look of doubt about his abilities and what comes next. Michael Cole speculated if this was the last we’d see of Cena in WWE.
It won’t be.
But Cena hasn’t been booked to win a singles match since he beat Triple H at The Greatest Royal Rumble in April 2018. Since then, Cena has been as generous as someone in his position can be with the WWE’s full-time talent, putting over Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 36 at the height of his Firefly Funhouse Era, Austin Theory at last year’s WrestleMania and now Sikoa.
In the process, which has included long absences, he has re-endeared himself to the WWE audience. His polarizing nature has faded and so have the famously dueling chants. Instead, he is universally cheered and appreciated for everything he gave and is giving back to WWE right now.
Yet he is being booked like an aging slugger who can’t catch up to a fastball anymore. Consider him Michael Jordan on the Wizards, still going out there on a high level on most nights but is never going to win or score like he once did.
Unfortunately, that’s not how anyone wants to see their heroes go out — especially when you can script the story. Is losing at the rate Cena is befitting of the “Greatest of All-Time? Especially for younger WWE fans who didn’t see Cena in his prime?
Also, when the person your young star beats hasn’t won a singles match in five years, how much does that win really mean? Consider it like Roger Federer deciding to unretire and Carlo Alcaraz beating him in the first or second round, or if Tiger Woods played in the Ryder Cup and Viktor Hovland smoked him in match play.
Occasionally, on the way out, our all-time greats need to get the walk-off hit like Derek Jeter in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat. They need to drop 60 points as the late Kobe Bryant did in his last game or win the Stanley Cup in their final season like Bruins legend Ray Bourque did with the Avalanche.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m advocating for Cena to break Ric Flair’s record for a 17th world championship. (I think it will be Charlotte Flair who does it eventually.) But Cena and the fans deserve to see him get the opportunity to try to do so, and that means when he returns he needs to start winning again. Not every match, but enough to where being called “The Greatest of All-Time” doesn’t feel so hollow. Enough so whoever is the one to end Cena’s Mount Rushmore-level run — maybe it’s championship vs. career — beats a legend near his best and not his lowest where he is now.
Damage CTRL is now the most talented women’s stable ever assembled after the surprise heel turn from Asuka to unite her with former tag partners Iyo Sky and Kairi Sane along with Bayley and Dakota Kai ahead of WarGames at Survivor Series. The story for the women’s matched needed a jolt and this absolutely provided it, along with making Bayley a hugger again before the group inevitably turns on her as Kai keeps trying to convince her “this is what you wanted.” Bayley’s facials through all of it were fantastic as hopefully this a vehicle to elevate Kai when healthy.
What it does leave is the question of who teams with Charlotte Flair, Bianca Belair and Shotzi as the SmackDown roster is a bit bereft of babyfaces worthy of a surprise. You do have Zelina Vega and Mia Yim (Michin). But would they be a big enough chess move? So who is it? A returning Liv Morgan or Becky Lynch? Does SmackDown GM Nick Aldis bring wife Mickie James back to WWE or debut Jade Cargill? There isn’t a clear person here so anyone seems possible.
The 10 Count
Unless AEW announces that the winner of the newly announced 12-man, round-robin Continental Classic tournament gets a guaranteed AEW world championship shot or can challenge a title-holder of their choice, then it’s nothing more than the G1 Climax lite because Bryan Danielson won’t be around to compete in the real one.
While I commend WWE’s commitment to getting more women on Raw and think good attempts have been made with people like Xia Li, and Tegan Nox, they and others may need a little deeper story and promo time to really connect with the audience. Li’s stoppage win fell a little flat because I’m sure the audience has not been given a reason to care about Indi Hartwell enough.
The best part of the Devil-masked-man’s crew attacking The Acclaimed and Billy Gunn to close Dynamite was that the person was not backstage, leaving MJF as still a possibility. Would love for it to be CM Punk, but Adam Cole and The Kingdom is the most logical answer.
Yes, the resentment from Santos Escobar toward Rey Mysterio had been bubbling since he took his United States championship match and seeing the LWO leader show favor toward Carlito hurt his feelings. But I still wish WWE would have been able to wait one more week for Escobar’s needed heel turn as it felt like things escalated very quickly in one night.
“Hangman” Adam Page just took his feud with Swerve Strickland to another level with his seething promo to set up their Texas Death Match at Full Gear. Exactly how you should feel if someone invades your home.
Very hopeful for what’s to come with former Stardom star Mariah May after her debut in AEW on Dynamite. It’s encouraging that she has a clear character from the start as a potential Toni Storm superfan or someone who could become Storm’s movie star character’s understudy.
Unpopular opinion: Kevin Owens may be the Czar of the Telestrator on SmackDown now but either he delivers a terrible Stunner or the current WWE roster has no idea how to take it. His is just a neck pull at this point.
Yes. we saw Drew McIntyre’s heel turn and him helping The Judgment Day coming for weeks and it still feels big. But Rhea Ripley shaking his hand at the end of Raw makes Damian Priest’s claim to be the group’s leader look so silly. Will he be the odd man out eventually? Is there any chance Priest postpones that by cashing in on Seth Rollins at Survivor Series somehow after a Judgement Day loss and it’s all Cody Rhode’s fault after his alliance with Rollins?
Samoa Joe just vacating his Ring of Honor television champion to pursue the AEW world championship after a record reign of more than 500 days makes zero sense. It devalued the TV title and eliminated the opportunity to give someone a push by having them beat Joe for it. Having Joe possibly go back to claim it later wouldn’t be the same.
If you wonder why there is clear momentum behind NXT, all you had to do was watch the closing segment this week. Trick Williams’ punch to Carmelo Hayes that was meant for Lexis King led to an awkward embrace between the two friends — Hayes heated either at getting punched or the fact Williams questioned if he attacked him. These are the types of cliffhangers that keep viewers coming back.
Extra: So inside the envelope are Andre Chase’s gambling debts with the don of NXT Tony D’Angelo that, if not paid, puts his control of Chase U in jeopardy, right? Or have I seen too many mob shows?
Social Media Post of the Week
Wrestler of the Week
The Miz, WWE
I was concerned last week — and still am to a degree — about the audience really caring about The Miz vs. Gunther for the Intercontinental championship at Survivor Series. But the work Miz has put in to become a babyface for the first time seems to be paying off as he was mostly cheered in his match against Ivar on Raw. And like MJF, the fans were happy to see him win despite putting his legs on the ropes for leverage.
Match To Watch
MJF vs. Jay White, AEW world championship at Full Gear (Saturday, 8 p.m., Bleacher Report)
These are two of the absolute best in the industry facing off for the first time in the primes, with MJF at 26 and White just 31. White has been posing as the AEW world champion for a month after stealing the belt from MJF, who will also defend the Ring of Honor tag team championship with a mystery partner earlier in the show. What might be even more intriguing is if AEW reveals who has been under the Devil mask all along with Worlds End less than a month away.