by Craig Higham - November 21, 2013
Over the next two weeks I am going to be looking at and discussing this issue, not in the terms of current story lines (i.e. is Randy Orton, The Big Show or Daniel Bryan the new face), but in terms of why it seems the WWE are struggling to come up with a superstar to replace John Cena, and then next week I will look at who are the realistic options to replace John Cena as the face of the WWE.
Being a fan of wrestling and the WWE for over 30 years, I have seen many patterns emerge especially when it comes to the changing of the face of the WWE, and currently the same pattern is emerging yet again. What this means for all those who are wishing and hoping John Cena will step aside as the face of the WWE, you are going to be very disappointed.
If I/you look back over the past 30 years, you can count the amount of superstars who have become ‘the face’ of the WWE on 1 hand! They have been, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Stone Cold, The Rock and John Cena. Many people may argue with me that Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker should also be on that list, however I feel while each of them are main event stars of the WWE, none of them were actually the face of the company. I will clarify that be giving my meaning and interpretation on what I mean by ‘Face’ of the company:
Simply I feel the ‘face’ of a wrestling company is the wrestler who is the most well known outside of the wrestling world. The wrestler who the casual fan identifies with the most, the wrestler who sells the most merchandise, and who is requested the most by fans, and interviewees.
So what does that all mean, why has there only been so few ‘Faces of the WWE’? Simply while a current face is active in the WWE, the majority fans will not let anyone else fill that position, and by that I don’t just mean the younger and casual fans who make up the most of the merchandise sales.
Generally people are creatures of habit, we generally do not like change, and familiarity promotes comfort. This is why it is very hard for entertainment industries like wrestling to make big changes. Look at TV shows that try to replace a character with another actor. It usually signals the end of the show. Or what about those TV shows that have ‘Will or won’t they” get together story line. What happens when they eventually do get together?? Shows over. Wrestling is no different the WWE can try as much as they want (and they have) to have ‘passing of the torch’ matches like we saw at Summer Slam between John Cena and Daniel Bryan, but as long as John Cena remains active with the WWE, he will be the comfort and the familiarity that makes fans feel that the world is OK.
The current situation with John Cena is very similar to that of Hulk Hogan when he was the face of the WWE in the late 80’s early 90’s. Let’s start by looking back to Wrestlemania 4. Macho Man Randy Savage wins the Wrestlemania Tournament, with assistance from Hulk Hogan in what was meant to be Randy Savage becoming the new face of the WWE. What happens????12 months later at Wrestlemania 5, the main event is Savage vs. Hogan, with Hogan regaining the title. Throughout the 12 months as much as they tried to promote Savage as the champion, people still wanted to see Hogan.
Wrestlemania 6, Hogan again tries to pass the torch, this time to The Ultimate Warrior. Now while issues behind the curtains affected The Warriors run, we still have Hulk Hogan returned to the top of the WWE by years end.
Survivor Series 1991, Hogan again tries to pass the Torch, this time to The Undertaker, but at Wrestlemania later that year, it is Hulk Hogan that wrestles in the main event, while The Undertaker battles Jake The Snake Roberts in a mid-card match, already having lost the title.
Wrestlemania 9, Bret Hart is the next to try and take the role of Face of the WWE, but he too is lost in the Hulk Hogan shadow, as Hogan wins an impromptu match against brand new WWE Champion Yokozuna, who has just beaten Brett Hart, and walks away WWE Champion.
12 months later, however, at Wrestlemania 10, Bret Hart would now be the face of the WWE winning the WWE Championship from Yokozuna. The difference this time???? Hulk Hogan was now wrestling for WCW, and no longer active in the WWE.
From 1994-1997 Bret Hart would be the face of the WWE, which during that time other WWE superstars such as Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin were becoming main event starts to battle and feud with Bret Hart. While there were no ‘torch passing’ moments, the Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin feud and resulting match at Wrestlemania 13, would become the match many people point to as the moment Stone Cold reached main event status and people began talking about him as a future leader in the WWE.
At Survivor Series 1997, Bret Hart would leave the WWE after the Montreal ScrewJob incident leaving the likes of Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold battling to become the new face of the WWE.
Stone Cold Steve Austin would win that position and become the new face of the WWE beating Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14. Austin would then be a part of what some including myself, regard as the best feud ever in the WWE, when he would battle ‘the evil’ boss Vince McMahon. The many matches and moments these two produced cemented Stone Cold as the new face of the WWE during the Attitude era.
However in a rarity for the WWE, there would be 2 ‘faces of the company’ throughout this attitude era with The Rock joining Austin in this role. 3 exceptional Wrestlemania matches between these 2 ‘faces of the company’ would highlight their run at the top of the WWE. While The Undertaker, Triple H and Shawn Michaels would also be main eventing the WWE at this time, The Rock and Austin would remain the faces of the company until their departures around 2004.
Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Triple H and Brock Lesner were just some of the Superstars that the WWE tried to push ahead of The Rock and Austin during this time, and while all 4 were very popular amongst the fans, none of them rose to the level of popularity of The Rock and Austin, and therefore none of them replaced these two as The Face of the Company during these years.
With both Austin and The Rock leaving the WWE, a dark horse emerged to take over the reins of the face of the WWE. John Cena would quickly move from battling for The US title at Wrestlemania 20, to winning his first WWE championship a year later at Wrestlemania 21 against JBL. From this moment in 2005 until today we have seen John Cena as the face of the WWE Company. As mentioned the WWE has tried to pass the torch with the likes of The Miz, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, but as history has showed us, that until he retires John Cena, as painful as it is for many, he will continue to be the Face of the WWE.
Hooroo and see you next week for part 2.
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