This is a review of the second episode of WWE’s Ruthless Aggression that focused on the rise of John Cena. As we covered in a news post last week, there will be five initial episodes that are released. Read about the first episode here and check out the next three episodes on the next three Mondays.
Here’s the synopsis of this episode on WWE Network:
S1 | E2: Enter John Cena
With Vince McMahon’s declaration of Ruthless Aggression to the entire WWE locker room, a rookie Superstar attempts to grab the brass ring and shake things up. Enter John Cena. Featuring brand-new, never-before-heard commentary from The Dr. of Thuganomics himself.
This show began with Cena telling Kurt Angle he had Ruthless Aggression on Smackdown when Cena debuted in 2002.
They cut to a new interview with Cena where he said the takeaway from Ruthless Aggression for him was failure. Cena said he failed at that. Cena said it was a golden opportunity and one of the biggest misses in his WWE tenure. Cena claimed that even though he didn’t know how to fix the failure, he “sure as s**t” knew that he failed.
Analysis: When Cena said this I wasn’t sure what he meant, but later in the documentary, it made sense.
The narrator Michael Rappaport picked up where we left off in the first episode one talking about how the Ruthless Aggression Era would go down in history.
John Bradshaw Layfield talked about how every era is defined by a main featured star like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock while adding you need that guy that transcends the business to go into the mainstream. Hulk Hogan said you have to have the look, the in-ring skills and there’s a big difference between a WWE superstar and an attraction. Brian Gewirtz, who was the Raw Head Writer from 2002 to 2012 (he started with WWE in late 1999), said it’s a star driven business and in 2002 they needed new and fresh stars.
Discovering John Cena at Ohio Valley Wrestling
The focus was put back on Ohio Valley Wrestling in the early 2000s that was run partly by Jim Cornette. Gewirtz talked about how their first exposure to Cena was a complete accident because they were looking at tapes of Rico and Rico was teaming with Cena at the time in OVW. Gewirtz said that after watching the Rico DVD, they thought he was good, but then they wanted to see more of the Cena guy.
Cena said that when he walked in OVW he saw Shelton Benjamin walking the top rope without using any assistance, Randy Orton making everything look effortless and Cena didn’t know how to get out of his own way. Randy Orton said that when Cena came, everybody thought who does this guy think he is? They mentioned the “Prototype” name that Cena had. Cena said that he just read and studied and immersed himself in the culture.
Jim Cornette talked about how Cena from day one not only did he look the part, but he could talk the part. They showed clips of some John Cena promos that showed off his promo ability. Gewirtz said that charisma caught their eye about Cena and that’s how they discovered John. Batista talked about how Cena was a natural born entertainer that had a strong sense of professional wrestling. Shelton Benjamin said that at the time, The Rock was the best guy on the stick (promos), but in OVW it was Cena and John just hadn’t got his break yet.
John Cena’s WWE Debut
It was back to that June 24, 2002 episode of Raw where Vince McMahon wondered who in WWE had that “Ruthless Aggression” that he was looking for. Cena said that Vince was begging for somebody to go out and take it. Cena said that his eyes were like saucers absorbing this information. The Miz chimed in saying you could tell that Vince was looking for that next true superstar and who was it going to be?
They showed the clip of Smackdown three days later on June 27, 2002 (taped June 25) with Kurt Angle issuing an open challenge against somebody in the locker room that he has never faced before. That’s when John Cena entered in red tights and boots.
Cena said that he had been wrestling on the main roster on live events and not screwing up while adding they didn’t have anybody else. Bruce Prichard said it was like: “Alright kid, can you hang with Kurt Angle? If you can hang with Kurt then you can pretty much hang with anybody.”
Cena recalled his first time talking to Vince McMahon. Cena said when he got in the room with Vince, Michael Hayes was there too and Vince said: “Cut his f**king hair.” That’s pretty funny. Cena left the office to go get a haircut. Kurt Angle said if you give Cena a challenge, he’ll step up and hit a home run. They showed the clip again of Angle asking who he is and what’s the one quality he possesses that makes him think he can face Angle and Cena said “Ruthless Aggression” followed by a punch.
They showed highlights of the Cena/Angle match on Smackdown. Drew McIntyre said that Cena stepped up and Bruce said that you felt it because it felt real. They showed Cena getting a nearfall with a DDT. Angle said that he tried to get Cena tired, to exhaust him and even though it was a 12-minute match, there was a lot of action going on. Angle said Cena earned his respect because he didn’t think John would last. They showed some more nearfalls that Cena got. Adam Cole spoke about how he was impressed by Cena and he had no clue who he was before that match. Angle won the match after hooking Cena’s arms in a creative pinfall. It was a very competitive match.
A clip was shown of Cena after the match talking to some WWE superstars including The Undertaker, who was the heel WWE Champion at the time. Undertaker asked Cena is name, John told him and Undertaker shook his hand as a sign of respect with Undertaker saying “nice job” to him.
Prichard said that guys shook Cena’s hand after that and Undertaker endorsing him means that the audience will think that’s going to be the guy. Prichard said that Undertaker’s handshake with Cena was real, so they recreated that and put it on TV. Angle talked about how Taker doesn’t go out of his way to tell somebody something, but he did that night, so Angle felt like John would be something special.
There were more clips shown of John Cena in action in his first few months. Cena said that people that look back on that Ruthless Aggression John Cena and look back on that as a success, they’re not looking back on it correctly because it was a failure. Gewirtz said that it was great for that day, but then what are you going to do? Angle talked about how Cena would wear shorts that would match the local sports teams, but it wasn’t going to do it. There were comments from Drake Maverick and Natalya talking about how Cena did not have much of a character there. Gewirtz said that Cena had passion and charisma although there wasn’t a character there. They showed a clip of some young fan chanting “you suck, Cena” at him. Christian said that if you don’t get a connection with the audience then it’s going to be difficult for you.
They talked about how Cena was falling out of favor while Brock Lesnar was a rookie sensation. Cena talked about how he was wrestling on Velocity, “which is a program none of you have ever heard of.” I know about it of course, but some younger fans may not know about it. Cena said he was stressed about not knowing who he was. Adam Cole talked about how you had to find yourself as a performer. Prichard talked about how Cena was bland and boring at that point, so he needed a personality.
John Cena’s Rapping Skills Saved His WWE Career
Cena spoke about how WWE would make a series of cuts around late November and mid-May. Cena said he was told that he would be getting his release around Christmas cuts and he said there was no argument because he knew he failed as “Ruthless Aggression” John Cena. Cena: “I messed it up.”
Cena talked about how he was on the European tour and he was in mixed tag team matches while talking about how they traveled on a bus when they would be on the European tour. Cena said he heard guys like Rikishi and Rey Mysterio rapping on the back of the bus to pass the time on a long bus ride. Cena joined the group, he dove right in and started freestyling (rapping). Bruce Prichard talked about how everybody was clapping and popping for every little thing. Bruce said that if Cena can entertain the guys on the roster (who are cynical people), then he can entertain the masses. Cena said that Stephanie McMahon happened to be in the front of the bus, she asked how he remembered all of that and Cena said he didn’t, he just thought up words on the spot. Cena explained to her that’s the deal that you rhyme everything. Cena said they were walking onto their flight for the next destination, Stephanie had a can of tuna fish, she said to rap about this and Cena came up with a rap about the can of tuna fish, the plane they were going on, the destination and closed it with a comment about Stephanie. She asked if he wanted to do it on television and Cena said absolutely.
On the Halloween edition of Smackdown in 2002, Cena had a big moment to show off what he can do. Gewirtz talked about how it was a big thing for him. Cena said he was betting on himself 1000% and he knew if he failed, he was gone. Cena was dressed like Vanilla Ice, he did a rap and really stood out. The Miz said that as a fan watching at home, that’s the first time he looked at it like this guy had something. They showed clips of Cena doing a rap towards Stephanie at the Halloween party when Stephanie was the Smackdown GM.
Cena said he knew by dressing a certain way, he could come out and somebody would be like “I get that” so he went all in from that one second.
John Cena Becomes the Doctor of Thuganomics
That led to videos of Cena wearing different outfits during his initial days in the rapper gimmick like when he wore chains around his neck, jerseys of athletes, hats and wrestling in jean shorts. Adam Cole talked about how he was impressed by all the swag that Cena had.
Cena said if you look at early installments of Dr. of Thuganomics, he tried to be as outlandishly dressed as possible. Mark Henry talked about how Cena was able to do stuff to make him look different and it was fresh. Drake Maverick said that John Cena said naughty things, then he made him laugh and if somebody can make you feel something inside, you’re going to remember them and this John Cena made him feel something. That was really well said. Bruce talked about how Cena was different every single night with his look and his raps, so that’s what jumpstarted Cena’s career in many ways.
Cena called the persona a “happy accident.” Nobody told him to tell him to do hip hop, so they just let him do that and it gave him the ability to be himself. Cena said he was going in the right direction and it was a long process, but they were going in the right direction.
Cena said that everybody backstage had their reservations about him and that nobody liked him. Christian said that there was some jealousy because John was getting a chance to do this and maybe some people are upset that they didn’t take that chance. Angle said that it was tough because he was so damn good at everything and he didn’t think anybody would step between Kurt being the top guy, but he saw this young guy John Cena there to take his place and there was nothing he could do about it. Cena said that the people that didn’t like him aren’t going to like him. Cena said he didn’t listen to them because it was their own insecurities and he thought maybe he wasn’t ready for it while it was building some steam.
Gewirtz talked about when somebody new is getting over, it’s like a brand new weapon in your arsenal. Gewirtz said that John went into a zone and knocked it out of the park. They showed a clip of Cena trashing Vince McMahon in a promo during Vince’s run when he was with Sable in late 2003. That’s when Cena was really getting popularity as a face and he turned face right before that.
Cena Wins Gold for the First Time at WrestleMania 20
They moved on to early 2004 when Cena was challenging Big Show for the US Title at WrestleMania 20. Cena was entrenched as a babyface on Smackdown at this point. Big Show talked about going into WrestleMania 20 against Cena and guys were going up to Show telling him you can’t let Cena win because it will hurt your career. Cena said that people were telling Show that he shouldn’t work with John and Show told them they were wrong.
They showed highlights of WrestleMania 20 in 2004 with Cena challenging Big Show for the US Title. Cena had Patrick Ewing jersey to appease the New York City crowd since Ewing was a Knicks legend. The fans were hot for Cena that match with “Let’s go Cena” chants. Show said that when Cena picked him up for his finish, everybody went crazy and that’s what they wanted. Cena won the US Title for his first championship in his WWE career less than two years after his debut. Adam Cole talked about how the fans lost their minds when Cena won that title.
Cena said it was amazing because it was Madison Square Garden and he got to win a championship. Cena had a funny story about how he parked in the public parking lot, he took the US Title and all his stuff out to his Jeep Cherokee on the 8th floor of public parking where he left the building with the fans. Cena said it was a moment to keep you grounded and he smiled while being reminded of talking to the fans on his way out.
The narrator Rappaport said that the positive reaction to Cena’s victory came at a critical juncture in WWE history because WrestleMania 20 was the end of the line for two of the biggest attractions in WWE history: Steve Austin and The Rock.
Analysis: In The Rock’s case, yes it was the end until he came back in 2011 for those two years of working with Cena. That’s a seven-year difference. In Austin’s case, his last match was one year earlier at WrestleMania 19 and Austin only worked as a referee at WrestleMania 20. They could have clarified this a bit better because it was not like Austin wrestled at WM20 the way Rock did in a tag team match.
It was also mentioned that Brock Lesnar abruptly departed after WrestleMania 20 as well. Bruce Prichard said that Lesnar wanted to move on to new ventures, so it opened the door when Brock left. It was up to the talent to step up and take it.
Cena Wins WWE Title for the First Time at WrestleMania 21
Drake Maverick talked about how over the next year, Cena grew and grew and grew and the next year he was fighting for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. The WWE Champion was JBL at the time, who spoke about how Cena was the perfect foil for JBL. JBL talked about how his character was a rich aristocrat that hated the world and yelled at people. Then you had Cena come along as this kid as the Dr. of Thuganomics and it resonated very well. JBL said he told Vince McMahon “he’s your guy” when he was asked about him.
Cena was shown giving JBL the FU (later known as the Attitude Adjustment) and Cena covered JBL to win the WWE Title for the first time in his career. That led to a familiar “The Champ is Here” promo from Cena.
Cena said that there was an overwhelming commercial success for the spinner US Title, so it was a no brainer that they took the WWE Title and revamped it. Cena said he thought the previous title was bland looking, so that’s why they changed it.
Big Show said he thought the Spinner Belt was “30 something pounds of garbage.” Gewirtz said that the title was very divisive while adding that it sold a ton of merchandise that the younger audience loved, but the older audience hated it because it was a toy.
Cena talked about how performers don’t stop and look around enough. Cena said that he had a personality that was attached to the people that were watching, then there were more kids at the shows and he saw it happen without needing to look at analytics. Cena said they’re changing it up and he went into Vince’s office saying he needed to stop rapping.
Cena said that if an older viewer liked what you saw in 1999 and you didn’t like what you saw in 2005 then it was easy to pin it on Cena. Gewirtz talked about how Cena was getting an electric reaction when he first came out, but then he was getting booed and you’d say “what the hell” because there was some panic there. Jim Cornette talked about how people wanted to come because it became cool to boo John Cena, but at the same time, the kids were coming because they wanted to see Cena. Cornette said that the most important thing is that they felt strongly one way or the other. Prichard said that the most important thing was that they cared about him, so they got a star.
Cena Was a WWE Champion with a Divided Fan Base
They covered the road to WrestleMania 22 in 2006 with Cena defending the WWE Title against Triple H, who was a top heel at the time. Cena said that everything was going in the opposite direction. Cena said that JBL was a wonderful villain while Triple H is a cool wrestler. They showed when Triple H turned away from a Cena handshake and the fans cheered.
Cena said that this new kid (himself) was in competition with this really cool guy (Triple H) and the line was drawn. Triple H had a line about how he wasn’t afraid of the guy whose one big move was pumping up his Reebok’s, which led to “Cena sucks” chants. Cena said that the remaining fans from the Attitude Era were clinging to Triple H while newer fans were thinking John is great.
Cena talked about the 2006 Hall of Fame ceremony in Chicago when he was up early in the program to induct the celebrity inductee, William “Refrigerator” Perry. Cena said he remembered the “wave of hatred” had a pulse to it as we saw a clip of fans booing Cena at the ceremony. Cena said he remembered turning to Vince and asking what am I supposed to do? Vince told him to go out and smile. Cena said not one person wants him to walk out alive. They showed when the fans chanted “F**k you Cena” repeatedly. They bleeped the swear words. Cena said it sounded like everybody was ready for WrestleMania 22 and when Triple H was shown in the crowd, the fans cheered loudly. Cena did an NFL Films style voice that led to cheers. Cena said that when he went backstage, he was nervous and shaken to his core, but Vince was right and it was a lesson that would stick with John forever.
Analysis: I did not remember that reaction at the 2006 Hall of Fame ceremony, but that was harsh. With that said, Cena obviously remembered it and learned a lesson about continuing to smile, so it was a valuable experience for him.
They showed highlights of the WrestleMania 22 with the raucous Chicago crowd giving Cena a mixed reaction and the boos were loud too. Cena said: “My takeaway from WrestleMania 22 was to trust Vince McMahon.” They showed the clip of Triple H tapping out to the STF (or STFU at that point) and Cena retained the WWE Title. It was Cena’s first of many WrestleMania main event matches.
Shelton Benjamin said that when Cena beat Triple H at WrestleMania, that’s when he really became the man. Prichard said that was the perfect example of anointing and crowning Cena saying here you are, now you have it and can you carry it? Bruce added that was the task and challenge that John faced. Gewirtz said he can’t even put into words the amount of time that Cena committed with all the wrestling and appearances. Gewirtz said you would never know if Cena was tired or if it was too much.
John Cena’s Star Power Continued to Grow
They showed clips of Cena promoting The Marine movie on the Conan O’Brien show, Cena talking about his CD that came out and all the media appearances Cena was doing. Gewirtz talked about how you had a limited shelf life as a WWE superstar and nobody took to that philosophy more than John. Prichard said that Cena worked tirelessly to do whatever he could for the company and for himself.
Cena said he did everything he could. They showed Cena in a Subway commercial with a kid. Cornette talked about the schedule that Cena kept up to workout, to travel, to wrestle, to fulfill Make a Wishes and more. Cena said there was not one second where he felt like he couldn’t keep going and he tried to test his limits as much as he could.
Cena was shown doing a promo at the WrestleMania 23 press conference for the 2007 WrestleMania at Detroit’s Ford Field. It marked the return of WWE going back to stadiums for WrestleMania and they have been at stadiums ever since. Gewirtz talked about how the overall business that Cena drew allowed WWE to be in bigger place like Ford Field. Mark Henry talked about how Cena was almost like a partner to WWE because he was so over.
Cena had a memorable entrance at WrestleMania 23 in 2007 when he drove a car into the arena. It was mentioned by narrator Rapaport saying that Cena still had his detractors about his in-ring ability, so he had to prove himself against the greatest in-ring performer of all time, Shawn Michaels.
Shawn Michaels appeared for the first time in this to say that people looked at it like is John going to be better at this job after he comes out of the ring with Shawn? They showed clips of the match with Cena hitting the FU and the STF(U) submission made Michaels tap out.
Analysis: It was a very good match and one of Cena’s best matches in his career at that point. However, I think the best Cena/Michaels match was on Raw in England a few weeks later when Michaels won non-title.
John Cena was a Polarizing Champion
There were three minutes left in the episode as they talked about how polarizing Cena was as a WWE Champion and headliner. Cena said that the takeaway from Ruthless Aggression is that he failed at that. It’s the same clip they showed earlier. Cena said he wouldn’t let himself fail again and he would never make the same mistake twice.
Cena said that WWE filled him with passion and purpose and then he found something that resonated with him so strongly. Cena said that he made it his life and his life kept giving back. Cena said: “I had to earn every f**king inch.”
Prichard talked about how Cena stepped in at a time when there was a need for a major crossover superstar. Prichard talked about how Cena checked every box: Size, look, charisma, talent and unique.
Hulk Hogan said he had a special place in his heart for John Cena and there are not many people that love this business so much that they put this business in front of everything else in their life and he did that. Natalya said that Cena needed WWE to grow and WWE needed John Cena to help build their company and that was rock solid and reliable.
They played a promo from Cena saying that this was his life, this was his passion and this is all he’s got. The final image was Cena holding the WWE Title over his head. That was the end.
This episode had a runtime of 50:46 on WWE Network.
I thought this was great especially when it came to Cena’s comments about his career. The stories about him nearly being fired by WWE are well known, but the way they told those stories in this episode was well done. To get Cena’s perspective on things, to have him tell the story about the tuna fish sandwich that he rapped about in front of Stephanie and all those other things, I definitely learned some things. I also liked the insight that Cena provided in terms of when he knew he should stop rapping because he realized that a lot more kids were going to the shows. It shows how smart he was and how much he paid attention to the audience. A guy in Cena’s spot doesn’t just get there easily. Hard work paid off, but you also have to be able to know when to adjust along the way too.
It was also good to hear from key behinds the scenes people like Bruce Prichard and Brian Gewirtz talking about how there was a need for that next big star. I liked when Gewirtz said they were watching OVW videos of Rico when they really started to notice Cena, so the way they realized Cena could be big was really an accident when they were watching Rico. It was interesting to hear the opinions of some of the wrestlers that Cena worked with like JBL, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Christian and even that brief comment from Shawn Michaels too. I think using current stars like Adam Cole, Drake Maverick and The Miz to talk about things as a fan is okay too because it’s another perspective talking about Cena. It would have been cool to hear from Vince McMahon of course, but I get used to the idea that he’s probably not going to take part in these types of shows.
If you like John Cena as a performer then you’ll enjoy this episode. I always liked the guy and I remember the debut along with the start of the rapper gimmick. I remember writing in 2003 that this guy was going to be a huge star in WWE. It seemed obvious by 2003 for sure, but we all know of guys that didn’t make it to the top that could have and to Cena’s credit, he made it to the top. If you don’t like Cena then you should probably skip this because it talks about his journey to the top and his haters probably want to avoid hearing about that. It’s up to you, but I liked it.
I’ll be back for a review of the next episode when it takes place next week.