John Cena’s ascension to the top of the WWE food chain began in 2005. It was in that year at WrestleMania 21 that Cena captured his first WWE Championship by virtue of his win over JBL. It was Cena’s signature victory, catapulting him into the role of face of the company. His spot at the top of the card was no fluke, as he hasn’t relinquished it in the 11 years since. Despite increasing backlash from a good portion of the audience, Cena has remained WWE’s top babyface and has never turned heel since first becoming champion.
Being the face of the company also means representing it outside of a wrestling ring. John Cena does that perhaps better than anyone in the history of sports entertainment. He’s broken the record for most wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, starred in multiple movies, hosted the Today show, and helped create and host the new FOX reality-competition series, American Grit. And for the most part, he does all that without taking time off from the ring, injuries notwithstanding.
That much we knew already. What we might not have known before is that, despite perception to the contrary, Vince McMahon has tried on multiple occasions to find the next John Cena, a superstar who could blend box-office attraction with corporate marketability. Former WWE writer Kevin Eck was a recent guest of Wade Keller on the PW Torch Livecast, where he shed some very interesting light on a WWE creative meeting with Vince McMahon from several years back.
“John Cena is on 24-7, whether it’s the Make-A-Wish stuff or just the way he represents the business when he goes on a talk show or makes a personal appearance. I remember distinctly, we had a meeting at one point. As much as Vince loves Cena and sees his value, he’s always looking ahead at who’s going to be the next guy, and who should we start grooming, and who can fill that position. And we had a meeting about that one time. Who’s cool… who’s our next guy.. we need the cool factor. And I spoke up and I said ‘the coolest guy we have on our roster is CM Punk, and maybe he could be that.’ And I remember, Hunter was in that meeting, and he weighed-in immediately and said ‘Punk can’t be that guy that goes out and, it’s just not in him.”
It should be noted that Eck was on the WWE writing staff between 2011 and 2014, and Punk walked out of WWE in January 2014. Eck never specified when this “John Cena Successor” meeting took place, but it’s safe to narrow down sometime in 2012 or 2013. Punk was a main-eventer during that time, with WrestleMania matches against Chris Jericho (for the WWE Championship) and the Undertaker, but he never seen as the guy.
Eck went on to say in the Livecast that he persisted on Punk, asking Triple H and Vince what if they got behind Punk more and pushed him to be the next John Cena, but Hunter said you can’t change who you are. Even though Punk wanted to be the man inside the ring, he wasn’t willing to go the extra mile out of it. Interestingly enough, they did come to a conclusion as to who would take John Cena’s place as the face of the company: Sheamus.
Sheamus had many of the qualities that John Cena had that required a certain superstar to be at the forefront all the time. But Eck argued that Sheamus lacked the cool factor that CM Punk possessed, and it was partly to blame for the Celtic Warrior never quite capturing what WWE was hoping for. So in the three to four years since that meeting, WWE has continued to look for the next John Cena while Cena is still an active member of the roster. The fans forced Daniel Bryan on the WWE, and the WWE forced Roman Reigns on the fans.
Eck revealed that Bryan did not draw as well as most fans thought, but his injuries derailed his career anyway. The interesting notion from the former WWE writer is that Vince McMahon did not want Roman Reigns’ push to come across forced but for him to rise naturally. And despite the blatant failure to this point, most of the current writers and Eck himself believe Reigns is the long-term solution to filling the role of the next John Cena. It just might not be exactly how they drew it up.
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