Ever since departing from the Doctor of Thuganomics and becoming Mr Hustle, Loyalty, Respect, John Cena has been the ‘face’ of WWE – in more ways than one. While almost every Superstar wrestles long enough to see themselves turn from hero to villain, the 16-time World Champion is probably the exception that proves the rule, something Vince McMahon has apparently always seemingly been adamant would be the case, according to ex-WWE writer Brian Gewirtz.
Speaking on The Masked Man Show, former WWE writer Gewirtz – who now works for The Rock’s Seven Bucks Productions – opened up about the “I told you so” moment where Vince McMahon’s decision was vindicated to never turn John Cena heel, saying there were plenty of times when writers pitched the idea.
“When it came to Roman [Reigns], the model was John [Cena], right? Because there were plenty of times when the writers would come in and be like, ‘Can we just turn John heel?’ With the, ‘Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks. Can we do it? Can we pull the trigger?’ And it was something Vince [McMahon] never wanted to do.”
Of course, the resilience and restraint towards a potential heel turn for John Cena was met with considerable pushback from the WWE Universe, with the birth of the iconic duelling “let’s go, Cena” and “Cena sucks” chants making the 16-time World Champion the most polarising man in professional wrestling.
Gewirtz went on to discuss how a John Cena heel turn was indeed “considered” at one point, but ultimately decided against – much to the delight of WWE CEO Vince McMahon as the former WWE writer believes it made the company a lot more money.
“He considered it, he always considers all ideas but ultimately he didn’t wanna do it and I think in the end he was like, to put it bluntly he was like, ‘Thank God I didn’t listen to you,’ as far as turning John heel because John was the standard-bearer and made a ton of money for the company and Make-A-Wish and merchandise and everything, you know? And Vince I think considered that as, by not turning him heel, that saved the company — not saved the company but made a lot more money within sticking to his vision as a babyface as opposed to taking the short-term approach by getting a pop in the ratings or a spike in interest by turning him heel and I think the problem was I think he took that approach with Roman as well.
Of course, John Cena has enjoyed incredible success in WWE as a “face” – becoming the aforementioned face of the company. Whether it’s been winning multiple championships in the ring or racking up a record number of wishes granted with the Make-A-Wish Foundation – now standing at over 650 – Mr Hustle, Loyalty, Respect has become a hero for many, both inside and outside the ring.
Gewirtz went on to liken the reluctance to turn Roman Reigns heel, which would eventually happen upon his return at SummerSlam 2020, to that of John Cena, and how a lack of replacement was a major part of the decision not to turn the latter heel.
“I think it was the, ‘Don’t listen to people, trust your gut, Roman’s a babyface, he’s the new face of the company. We don’t have –’ and I don’t know, I can’t speak to this exactly but like, whenever we wanted to turn John, it was like, ‘Okay, who’s going to replace him? Who’s gonna be the guy that’s gonna go on the talk shows and be able to be the face of the company and want to do that kind of stuff as well?’ Which is always a challenge so that might have something to do with Roman, but obviously at some point, you can’t ignore the reactions and it wasn’t, ‘Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks’ with Roman.”
The former WWE writer went on to say how he believes the mindset shifted.
“It was pretty heavily boos even if you’d always get the reports from the live events and it would be like, ‘Oh, the crowd popped for the finish and they popped on his entrance and yeah, there was a section of people booing but blah, blah, blah.’ At some point, obviously that mindset of, ‘We gotta keep Roman babyface, we gotta keep John Cena babyface’ shifted and in this particular case, it’s like similar to when [Hulk] Hogan turned heel in WCW.”
“Commitment” was one of the words Gewirtz would reinforce when discussing that decision, saying Reigns’ and WWE’s commitment to him being heel pretty much ensured that would be a success, before discussing how fans sometimes need guidance on who to boo and cheer, and that Reigns is now thriving in the role of a villain.
“Sometimes, we need to decide and kind of plant the flag in the ground and let the audience react to it. So, I’m so happy for Roman to be able to be a heel now and thrive like that because you’re seeing it, he’s loving every second of it, you could tell. At least that is what it seems like.”
Vince McMahon has since dubbed John Cena the “quintessential all-American” and even likened the 16-time World Champion to Babe Ruth. During John Cena’s, to date, last match in WWE, the company even poked fun at the fact that Cena has always been the good guy, with the Firefly FunHouse Match seeing Bray Wyatt, dressed as Eric Bischoff, welcoming a Hollywood Hogan-esque John Cena to the ring – and John Cena “finally turning heel” being his demise in the match and, thus-far, in WWE.