John Cena gives his thoughts on the uphill battle Roman Reigns faces as The Big Dog in the company.
Cena carried the WWE torch for years, winning the WWE/World Title on 16 different occasions. Love him or hate him, he was headlining the show and drawing the biggest reaction every night. As he's gotten older, Cena's time with the company has started to wind down. He's no longer working a full-time schedule and hasn't done a full storyline since WrestleMania 34. With Cena's lighter schedule, WWE tapped Roman Reigns to be the next torch bearer. The two men clashed at No Mercy 2017, an unofficial passing of the torch between the two men.
Speaking to Jimmy Traina on the SI Media Podcast, Cena discussed his 2017 feud with Reigns and how he believes he helped elevate Roman to that next level.
"Letting Roman know that there is another level to the game. And if you don't step up to that level, you don't have the right to call yourself someone at that level. That's what my job with Roman was supposed to be," said Cena. "The great thing with Roman is that he understood that and was open to it. You want to talk about being vulnerable and letting it all hang out. He got his teeth knocked out verbally and shot back with what I thought was one of his best performances. Over the story arc of five weeks, he did learn. Those are moments where we're entertaining the customer. If you're going to say you're at another level, that's the worst endorsement you can give yourself. Because you have to be at that level. Fans, especially WWE fans, will get at you about everything." Cena continued, "If you say you're a top level performer and you performer at a level sub-top, they have every right to be like, 'Remember when you said this? It's not exactly who you are.' I believe Roman is that, it's just my job to really bring that out of him. There were slip-ups at the beginning, but by the end it was one of his best emotional investments in a program he's been in."
During the lead up to the bout, Cena eviscerated Reigns on the mic, calling him out for forgetting his lines. As Cena mentioned, by the end of the feud, Reigns started to punch back on the mic. But the five weeks showed just how far ahead of the game Cena is compared to Reigns.
Reigns went on to win their one-on-one contest at No Mercy, further solidifying him as The Guy in the company. Despite endorsements from top stars and victories over Triple H, Cena, The Undertaker and more, the crowd continued to voice their displeasure with Reigns.
Cena went on to say that the cynicism and demographic of the audience makes it difficult for Reigns to ever truly be accepted.
"Roman has it tough. I kind of ruined this for everybody...the content, the format change did. Attitude Era was male 18 to 35. And our program still draws males 18 to 35. But we're a PG program. Which means you're audience is a six year old. I don't say don't cater to the male 18 to 35, but your audience starts at six or younger," said Cena. "So you have to give them essentially Shrek or Cars or the Lego Movie. Sometimes, 18 to 35 year old dudes don't want to watch the Lego Movie. You have to try to push, but don't think there's not a second in my mind that our audience isn't six. Our audience is so mixed that there's never going to be a good guy that appeals to everyone. Even if it's someone that the fans endorse and become the guy. It's a thing where the fans are like, 'Okay, you as a company are going with this guy? No you're not because we get choose.' When Roman was with The Shield, everybody loved him. He didn't really change much. He was soft-spoken, his actions spoken for him, he performs incredibly well. Yet there's a giant uprising because a lot of it is, 'You can't tell us what to like.' And that's okay. It's just tough waters to navigate as a company and it's tough to build stars."
Cena noted that even if the audience doesn't throw their support behind Reigns 100 percent, the numbers do. "You have to look at your consumers and the analytics. People really like Roman Reigns. And the numbers are there to prove it."
Cena could be referring to a number of things there. Whether it's the new television deal WWE landed with Reigns on top of the company, the stock rising to new heights or Roman surpassing Cena as the top merchandise mover. There are plenty of numbers that both support, and go against, Roman's rise.