Jim Ross has recently commented on his opinion of John Cena’s lengthy run as the top babyface in WWE, and whether the company missed a trick by not turning him heel.
For over a decade, between 2005 and 2016, Cena was positioned as WWE’s top fan favourite. During this time he was often in the main event scene, and went on to equal Ric Flair’s record 16 World Championship reigns before retiring from full-time competitive action. Towards the end of this run Cena received an increasingly mixed reception from fans, although the company never seemed set to change their stance on him being a babyface.
Speaking on his Grilling JR podcast, Jim Ross discussed how he feels WWE made a mistake by not turning Cena at some point, although also gave a number of reasons why Vince McMahon was reluctant to do so.
Probably, but Vince had the same strong babyface feelings for John Cena that he did for Hulk Hogan. The superhero, the epitome of a babyface and what he was supposed to be and how he was supposed to represent. Cena did that well beyond just the lens of the camera. He’s granted more Make-a-Wish requests than anybody ever in history. A lot of stars and ballplayers do those, and so you try to make their life as comfortable as happy and provide these wishes. If they wanted to meet John Cena, more often than not, they got to meet John Cena if it worked out that way.
The legendary commentator did acknowledge that, whilst at no time was Cena a full-on heel, some of his storylines such as that against The Rock leading to their match at WrestleMania gave him a chance to show some “negative reactions”.
[Vince] loved Cena’s gameplan and how he represented the company and all that. But certainly, if you have a personal issue, and let’s say it was Cena and Rock and it was personal between the two of them, then all of a sudden it’s a little different presentation than Cena turning full-blown heel and being an adversary of every babyface that he encounters. He can only have negative reactions and physicality and so forth with this person he has this issue with. It’s a different turn. It’s a different presentation than a normal babyface turning to a heel.
The WWE Hall Of Famer went on to say that Cena could have had a nice heel run if the circumstances were right, however as a babyface he was overexposed.
He got overexposed. He was kind of force-fed. That’s not John’s fault. He was running the plays that were called. With a top babyface and a personal issue that’s plausible and believable that’s created for the two to interact, he would’ve had a nice heel run. No doubt about that. But I think part of the issue, he didn’t heel, run, cower, lie, cheat, steal – he was just overexposed I thought. That was the thing.
John Cena made a brief return to the company to battle unsuccessfully for the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns at WWE SummerSlam. After the show went off the air, Cena received two F5’s from the returning Brock Lesnar.
Jim Ross now works for AEW as a Senior Advisor, and can be heard on commentary for Dynamite each week.
With thanks to 411 Mania for the transcription.