Other hints that things have been changing is swearing on the show. There have been more and more “slips” of the word, ass in promos and commentary over the last 18 months or so. Sure, this is not a big deal but it is if you are pushing a family friendly entertainment show. When is the last time you heard “ass” on Nickelodeon or ABC Family? The WWE are seemingly inching their ways towards a tougher more “in your face” style of programming.
Look at the roster. There have been more and more “one on many” fights over the last year and a half too. Gang beat ups as they are often referred to. We also have more three-man, or more, teams showing up. For a long time we had The Shield (three members), The New Day (three members) and then we got the Wyatt Family (three, then four, then back to three members due to injuries) and now we see The Club (AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows). Who do we see The Club attacking? John Cena. Sure, some of the new blood came to help him in Enzo and Cass but it is interesting how the beat downs of the “Face that Runs the Place” happened.
See, successful transitions in companywide behavior in wrestling occur with a baby face turning heel in a big way. We had it happen to start the early days of the Attitude Era when McMahon (baby face announcer and face of the company) screwed over Bret Hart (who was leaving for competitor, World Championship Wrestling). The interaction between McMahon and Hart was too polarizing for McMahon to not capitalize on (which was miraculously covered on camera by WWE staff- could it have been a work?). This laid the groundwork for a heel McMahon running wild and angrily over his own company. What came of it is an era in wrestling that many fans, and apparently many wrestlers, wish would come back.
World Championship Wrestling had a problem on their hands. How do you re-invent a company that has a history of being viewed as the “second hand wrestling company”? You perform a companywide transition to a darker product. WCW did this after bringing on Hulk Hogan (who had only appeared on television with the World Wrestling Federation- later renamed WWE). This was big news. It got on actual news shows, it got on the front page of actual respected newspapers across the United States. This was big. Hogan was a huge commodity in wrestling at this time and it was making waves that he was no longer a McMahon wrestler.
That in and of itself did not help WCW turn darker. It did however bring the eyeballs they needed. It laid the groundwork to move forward with their plan. WCW used an “invasion” angle involving Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, two more “big names” for the competition that had jumped ship. Neither was a face in WWE though so it was easy to keep them in their “bad boy” gimmicks in WCW. They claimed there was a third member of their team, a member not yet named and would make his appearance in a match at Bash at the Beach 1996 (Hogan joined the company two years prior).
Hogan had time to continue his “baby face” image in the company, solidify himself as the face. The good guy. The guy that would not do anything against the rules and yet still win.
Hogan was the third man. The man who no one expected. The man who turned wrestling, at the time, on its head. This was the catalyst that was needed to turn WCW darker and boy did it turn dark. It brought in millions of viewers. The real world was painted in black and white t-shirts, hats and other items.
John Cena has been with the WWE since 2001 about 15 years now. During that time, the closest he got to being “edgy” was his rapper gimmick. The worst thing I can remember him doing during that gimmick was slapping Stephanie McMahon on the butt in the ring on an episode of Smackdown.
John Cena is back now. He is re-establishing himself as the face of the company as the man in charge. He is taking on bigger than life matches, winning some and losing others. He is taking the same walk that Hulk Hogan did when joining WCW 22 years ago and nearing the end of that path about 20 years after Hogan walked it.
A heel turn by Reigns would not have the impact needed to turn the company. Roman Reigns (currently out for a violation of the health policy) does not have the polarizing effect that John Cena has. No one does. Just as many people booing Cena are countered by just as many cheering him. It is just like Hogan in the 90’s, people are getting tired of the “goody two shoes” John Cena that we have now. People want a darker product and Cena is the catalyst to bring it to television.
The question is, will they have Cena turn heel? Will it happen in their upcoming six man tag with Cena jumping ship to join AJ Styles and The Club? Could this just be another take on the “New Blood” angle that WCW tried years ago where they pitted new faces against the established stars as the “Millionaires Club”? I hope not but if I see blood dropping from the ceiling at any point on WWE programming in the coming months, I am out right then.