Home > Retro Columns > Retro TJR: The Untouchable One

Retro TJR: The Untouchable One

I wrote this column on July 22, 2003. It’s comparing John Cena (who was less than a year into his rapper gimmick) to The Rock. I’m not going to edit anything I said then. I think it’s an interesting read now. Times have certainly changed, though.


There have been a lot of times in the past where wrestling fans have labeled a young wrestler to be the “next” something. Whether it’s calling Chris Benoit “the next Dynamite Kid” or Chris Jericho “the next Shawn Michaels” it is something that has existed for as long as I can remember. Normally I try to avoid the comparisons to legends. Lately, though, I found somebody that compares favorably to one of the best wrestlers of this era. That doesn’t make him the “next one,” but it allows me to see just how similar these two are.

Who is this man? John Cena. Who does he remind me of? The Rock.

This is not a biography of Cena. This is not a column griping about his current status with the WWE or how he should be booked. This is just my way of telling you how I think Cena is comparable, in a lot of good ways, to one of the greatest wrestlers of our time. Since there are many comparable elements between the two, I thought it would be best to break them down into specific areas that more clearly explain why I see comparisons between John Cena and The Rock.

Yo, Yo, Yo, Yo. Chill, chill.
I’m preaching Thuganomics on Velocity,
We’re taking over the green screen.
John Cena and Saturday night ?
You couldn’t find a better Dream Team.
But I’m frustrated, we’re underrated,
We’ve got the best show in the world.
I mean, Cats always calling his Momma, and Josh he ain’t never kissed a girl.
But that’s OK you pipsqueak, I’m here to save you this week,
And my Johnson is longer than a Joe DiMaggio hit streak.
After the show, we can get out on a Hibachi,
Drinking full bottles of sake,
I’m battle-rappin’ with Funaki.
All the censors hate me, and the parents can’t believe me,
‘Cause their kids throw up the double horns after seeing me on TV.
Whether you like me, or you hate me, there’s no way you can ignore me.
They don’t let me curse on TV? I have the crown curse for me.
You attack me, it’s like acne, I’ll pop you like a zit.
‘Cause when you’re untouchable, you don’t take no sh**.

John Cena rapping on Velocity, 5/30/03

The Boring Babyface
When Rocky Maivia made his debut in the WWE it came at Survivor Series ’96. He played the role of a babyface rookie wrestler who was heralded as a third generation superstar. His grandfather was ‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia while his father is Rocky Johnson. He took the first name of his father and the last name of his grandfather as a way to pay tribute to them. During his Survivor Series elimination match, Rocky was the only surviving member in the match. They put him over huge that match by having Crush & Goldust face off against him 2 on 1. Amazingly, the rookie with the big smile found a way to beat them by pinning Crush with a rollup and Goldust with a shoulderbreaker. For that night in November in New York City, Rocky Maivia had won over the crowd.

Soon after, though, things changed. All of a sudden, the plucky babyface who the announcers claimed had a bright future was being turned on. Instead of chanting ‘Rocky! Rocky!’ much like people did in those memorable movies, they chanted ‘Rocky Sucks! Rocky Sucks!’ And you know what? He did suck.

Rocky Maivia was thrust down the fans throats. He was put in positions that he clearly wasn’t ready for. The fans hated him for it. Despite not being over that much with the crowd, he defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (playing the rich snob) for the Intercontinental Title in February 1997. He went on to feud with the Sultan (aka Rikishi) leading to a match at WrestleMania 13 that was arguably the worst of either man’s career. After another couple of title defenses against other midcard heels such as Savio Vega, Rocky dropped the title to Owen Hart on Raw at the end of April. His two month reign as IC champion made WWE management realize that their plan to turn Rocky Maivia into the next big babyface was going to backfire. Luckily for everybody involved, the backup plan seemed to work.

* * *

When John Cena debuted on Smackdown on June 27, 2002 his opponent was Kurt Angle. The match had been set up by Angle calling out anybody in the back to challenge him in the ring. Out from the back walked this young kid who few people new. He looked pretty basic in both his look and his wrestling skills. He didn’t do anything that stuck out. He didn’t do anything that made you take notice. All he did was have a good match with Kurt Angle. Thing is, who couldn’t?

Following his debut match against the greatest wrestler alive, there was nowhere to go but down. He didn’t fall too far down the WWE ladder because his first real feud came against the former WWE Undisputed Champion, Chris Jericho. At the Vengeance PPV just about a year ago, Cena defeated Jericho by using the rollup for the upset pin. From there, Cena’s babyface act went nowhere. He didn’t appear on PPV again and his role on Smackdown had clearly diminished.

The idea that Cena would go over as a babyface with ‘ruthless aggression’ was a lame one. I once commented that Cena’s facial expressions when he was a babyface made him look like he was on the verge of taking a giant crap because of all the pain he seemed to be experiencing. It didn’t make him look tough. It made him look constipated. Here was this babyface with a look of seriousness on his face that didn’t make him likable. It made him vanilla. It made him bland. It made him boring. That soon changed, though, thanks to his natural talent shining through.

The reason that I’m sitting here waiting for the Doc
Is cause of the F5 that I took from you Brock
I don’t think that you understand what I’m saying
You’re gonna hit your knees quicker than a priest when he’s praying
You’re the poster child for the birth control pill
You go down quicker than a Ho for a five dollar bill
I’m the real Superman, you ain’t nothing but Clark Kent
I go for four quarters. You’re halftime, like 50-Cent
I’m going to hang your ass like a Christmas tree ornament
I’ll whack you more times than a masturbation tournament
You get my point now? Because before I thought you missed it
I’m a Viagra triple shot. You’re just a Limp Bizkit!
Word Life!

John Cena on Smackdown, 03/13/2003

Heels Just Want to Have Fun
You know how WWE management claims to listen to the fans? History has shown that this is true in some cases, but it’s usually the minority. In the case of Rocky Maivia, they did listen. Due to the fans chanting ‘Rocky Sucks’ towards him all the time, WWE management realized that it was time to turn Rocky heel. They figured if the fans weren’t taking to this new babyface hero then maybe they’ll react the right way if he tries to get them to jeer him.

During the summer of 1997, The Rock joined The Nation of Domination. The Nation was a group of wrestlers, at this time solely black men, who were midcard heels. They were led by Faarooq and also had Kama Mustafa (The Godfather, Papa Shango) and D’Lo Brown as members of the group. From the time it began to the time it ended, the Nation had nine different members. When the Rock joined the group, he suddenly became somebody worth watching. It wasn’t because of who he was with because none of the Nation members were that good. He became worth watching because he had found the role that was most natural to him.

Even though he played the role of Nation of Domination member when he first joined the group, it was quite obvious that better things were in store for him. Towards the end of 1997, Rocky Maivia had simply become ‘The Rock.’ Gone was the moppy hairdo and the generic babyface tights. In their place was a new look complete with sideburns and a look that allowed The Rock to stick out like a sore thumb. He was given the Intercontinental Title in December of ’97 after Steve Austin relinquished it. The Rock cheated to retain it on every occasion and he had no problem doing it. At the Royal Rumble a month later, Rock’s place in the company was quite clear because he was the second last person in the 30 man battle royal. By early 1998, after doing a VERY memorable interview segment with Gennifer Flowers at WrestleMania 14, The Rock had become a bonafide superstar.

He wasn’t just a member of the Nation of Domination anymore. He had become the leader. He was ready to break out on his own.

* * *

After weeks of doing very little, John Cena made the Halloween edition of Smackdown a memorable one. Why? Because October 31, 2002 was the first time that Cena rapped on WWE television:

Alright, stop, collaborate and listen
Ice is back with a new proposition
Your position, is that of a failure
I’m ‘a nail ya
To Jamie Noble’s trailer
And then I dare ya, to run around and cause a scare
Give people shakes and make ’em change their underwear
I’m on top, it’s my fault that you’re under there
You want a bear?
Ass bald don’t shave ya back there
Fast, gotta go it’s been a blast
Came out the locker room stole Rey Mysterio’s mask
Tried to get ‘Taker’s cast but it was plastered on too tight
Peace, gotta go, ’bout to hotwire his bike!

Yep, the raps weren’t always awesome. They took time to develop, but eventually they did. As the story goes, Cena’s verbal skills were discovered during a WWE tour overseas in the UK. Here’s how his rapping made it to television based on his own words from a WWE.com article in November 2002: “I was on the bus on the way to the airport (in London) and I was sitting in the back with the boys; Stephanie (McMahon) was sitting up in the front. I started freestyling and went on for about 5-8 minutes. It got really quiet while I was going. When I finally quit, someone said I should do that on TV. When we landed in the U.S. at about 4 a.m., Stephanie came up to me and said I’d be getting to do some on TV soon.”

Everybody thought his Vanilla Ice outfit on the Halloween edition of Smackdown was a joke. As it turned out, the joke was on us. Cena came out the next week spewing raps and he hasn’t stopped. Gone were the basic colored tights and matching boots every single week. They were replaced by throwback jerseys and cut off shorts that made him look legitimate. Different too. Very different.

Soon after he debuted as a rapper, he was saddled with a sidekick. It was Bull Buchanan, who was now being called B2 because his two names started with a B. He was even referred to as “Bling Bling Buchanan” by Cena although that would make him B3, so that didn’t work out. Actually, the whole thing didn’t work. The reason was that nobody believed a guy like Buchanan, who looked, moved and acted unlike a rapper, looked comfortable in that role. Soon, Buchanan was fired. Cena wasn’t on his own, however. He was placed with another sidekick, this time Red Dogg, although that didn’t last long because soon Red Dogg moved over to Raw where he became Rodney Mack (it was never really mentioned on TV). This was a good thing. A very good thing.

Finally, John Cena was ready to take on the world. On his own.

People think I’m crazy. That’s what everyone is telling me.
That me beating you is like you winning a spelling bee.
That’s okay because tonight I silence them all.
You’re a Neanderthal. So I’ll use words that are small.
“Big Brock Lesnar. Here comes the pain!
God build me strong. Forget to give me brain.”
You hop around all day like there’s potatoes in your crack.
That’s a nice tattoo you have. Of your mother on your back.
Yo. I’m untouchable you can’t beat my ability.
I’m like a basic math problem Brock. You just can’t finish me.

John Cena on Smackdown, 02/13/03

A Unique Language Leads to Marketability
The People’s Elbow. The Brahma Bull. Jabroni. The People’s Eyebrow. The Great One. The People’s Champion. Know Your Role. Poontang Pie. Layeth the Smackdown.

These are all Rock-isms. These are just a selection. There are plenty more out there. They are the phrases and language that have set The Rock apart from everybody else.

Unlike 99% of the world’s population, The Rock didn’t say “me” or “I” when he spoke. The only thing The Rock said was “The Rock.” All the time, every time. It was his thing just like the middle finger was Austin’s thing and saying “Suck It” belonged to DX. The Rock had his gimmick and it worked to perfection.

* * *

Thugonomics. Word Life. The F-U. The double horns. Untouchable.

These are all John Cena words or actions that have made this man one of the most promising prospects on the WWE roster. When Cena talks, it is always in the form of rapping. Always. There has been no exception. Again, much like the Rock, that language makes him different from all the rest.

While I would not consider myself a rap aficionado, I think it’s obvious that Cena has some talent in that area. If you were to poll WWE fans about what their favorite kind of music is I would guess that the majority of them would say hip-hop. Considering Cena is the only one “dropping rhymes” it makes him seem likable to these fans. If you also look at his hand gesture, the double horns (putting your fists together with the pinkies up), it’s something that shows me that he knows what he’s doing. He knows what it takes to become a top guy in this business.

I dominate Saturday night,
From the second I hit the green screen,
To wearing thongs and phony afros on Confidential with Mean Gene.
Hospitals are packed with wrestling fans,they’re getting Saturday night fever.
I’m scared of getting mad cow, that’s why all I eat is beaver.
And Yo, I’m the best thing you can see on the weekends,
Josh, you were scaring me backstage doing those naked deep knee bends.
Yo, you stole my style last week, that’s the reason I got hot bro.
I’m the best poetic genius since “Leaping” Lanny Poffo.
I’m so over the top, I’m giving censors fits.
Forget the match, let’s go to Hooters so we can grab some…!

John Cena on Velocity 06/22/03

Living Up to Potential
The Rock had been a really good character for all of 1998. He was very appealing in a lot of ways, even as a heel. He rarely got cheered, but he knew how to get people to react to him. He was a fast rising star in a company that had several of them at the same time. What The Rock needed was something to vault him up. Something to get him noticed more. He found that something at Summerslam 1998 when he had a very memorable ladder match with Triple H where he lost the match. Despite losing the match, Rock turned the crowd’s jeers into cheers because they respected the hard work, effort and determination that he displayed in every match. Instead of ‘Rocky Sucks’ the people were chanting ‘Rocky! Rocky!’

The Rock played the role of a babyface for a couple more months. I was at the Breakdown PPV in September ’98 where The Rock defeated Ken Shamrock and Mankind in a triple threat cage match. I’ve seen a lot of rabid crowds before, but I can honestly tell you that The Rock’s ovation that night in Hamilton rivaled any that I’ve ever experienced. Watch the tape. The crowd loved him. Two months later he had turned heel again when he won the world title for the first time as a corporate stooge of Vince McMahon. Thing is, it was different this time. It was obvious that the fans were taking a liking to him.

By the summer of 1999, The Rock had rivaled Steve Austin as the company’s top babyface. In 2000, he proved how valuable he was by clearly becoming the top draw in the WWE while Austin was out with a major neck injury. Not only did Rock improve as a character, but he also became a better worker.

All of a sudden, everything came together for him. He had good matches with just about everybody. Look at his Ironman Match with Triple H at Judgment Day 2000 for example. That match is probably the definitive match of The Rock’s career because it showed just how good he was. There was no way he could have a match like that two years earlier. His average performance at Fully Loaded ’98 in a 30 minute 2/3 falls match showed that.

So the question becomes why did The Rock get better? I think the answer is simple. He worked his ass off. He wanted to become the best possible performer that he could be. He had everything down by that point. All he needed to do was a find a way to become better in the ring. He did that. His selling had improved to the point where some people even complain that he oversells. His offense has always been good. He has some of the most realistic punches in the business. Most importantly, though, he has the same trait that made Hulk Hogan so captivating for such a long time. He has an aura about him. He has the appeal. He has, as they like to say in this business,”it.” He has so much of “it” that he could probably lend some of it to a dozen wrestlers in the locker room and he’d still be overflowing in it. You can’t really teach the gifts that The Rock has. You can only hope that a person maximizes it when they have it. Lucky for us, The Rock has done that.

Then, like the true professional he is, he not only made himself better, but he made those around him better by becoming the most unselfish top wrestler that the WWE has seen in years, if not decades.

Who dropped the World title to Kurt Angle? The Rock.

Who lost to Chris Jericho on PPV three times in major title (WCW & WWE titles) matches over the course of four months? The Rock.

Who dropped the Undisputed Title to Brock Lesnar? The Rock.

Who is one of the most unselfish, complete and best wrestlers that I’ve ever seen? The Rock.

In a matter of three years he went from a green, babyface rookie to a model employee that, at age 31, is already a certifiable legend.

Nobody has lived up to their potential more than The Rock.

* * *

Ever since he debuted over a year ago, John Cena has shown flashes of brilliance. For the most part, the only thing I have talked about is his character. As a worker, he’s got some ways to go. He does a good job with facial expressions and he’s got a good enough moveset, but he’s lacking in things such as psychology and timing. To become a better wrestler, he needs to develop a more methodical offense as opposed to grabbing a headlock twelve minutes into a big match. If you watch the great wrestlers, they rarely do that. Doing those kinds of moves that late in a match is a sign of an inexperienced wrestler who needs to do a better job of pacing the match.

That will come in time. I have little doubt that it will come. In the interviews I’ve read with Cena it’s quite obvious that he truly loves the wrestling business. He’s not just doing it because there was nothing else for him to do in his life. He’s doing it because he wants to. Guys like that, they have the passion. They have the desire to succeed. History has shown that all of the top guys in wrestling from Hogan to Flair to Hart to Michaels to Austin to Rock are guys that devoted their lives to their profession.

Another thing Cena has to do is soak up the advice from the veterans. Listen to what guys like Undertaker, Benoit, Guerrero and Angle have to say because they know what it takes. From what I’ve read about Cena, it seems like he’s doing that. Kurt Angle, for one, speaks highly of Cena often.

I have a prediction that I’ll put in boldface font so you can remember it: Within the next twelve months, John Cena will become a huge babyface. I have no doubt about it. If the WWE truly listens to their fans then there is no logical explanation that could justify keeping Cena a heel as long as he continues his current gimmick as a rapper. Much like The Rock, Cena is brash, cocky and he speaks in a language that nobody else in the WWE does. Sure, there have been other “rappers” before in the wrestling industry, but none of them were ever as good as Cena is. Fans are cheering him when he comes out and soon, very soon, not even the piped in crowd noise will be able to stop Cena from exploding as a huge babyface.

There is good news on the horizon for Cena fans. It’s obvious that WWE management has big things in store for this guy. Having competed in a WWE title match at Backlash, Cena proved he was ready for big things. His performance in that match with Lesnar was good. It wasn’t great, but it was an outing that showed that in time he will have what it takes to become a top performer. Considering that he is matched up with the Undertaker at Vengeance this Sunday in what’s one of the top matches on the show, he seems poised for another run at the top. At Summerslam, there’s a chance that he could challenge Kurt Angle, possibly for the WWE title. Who better to help Cena become a better wrestler than the best wrestler alive? If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Cena becoming a very good worker capable of having good matches on a regular basis.

The most promising thing about Cena is his age. At age 26, he is the same age that The Rock was when he broke through the cracks to become a standout performer. The same age that The Rock was when he won his first title. The same age that The Rock was when he started to win the fans over with his language. The same age that The Rock was when he was somebody the company could build around for the future.

He has all the tools to get it done. Now it’s up to him to maximize the potential. Just like The Rock did.

You’re forgetting John Cena. You got rocks in your brain?
You’re gold was out in ’96. You need to sport a gold chain
Now, you and Brock are ‘close friends’ and Big Show, he needs a bra
That’s not a triple threat match Kurt, that’s a menage a trois.
And by the time you all wrestle, there will be an empty arena
The main event at Vengeance is Undertaker-Cena
You’re not better than me Kurt, you’re not even my equal
I’m like terminator 3, you’re like a Legally Blonde sequel.
It makes me sick when you come out here and run your little mouth
We in the great white north but you can bite my great white south.

John Cena to Kurt Angle on Smackdown, 07/11/03

The Closer
A few years ago I wrote a column about The Rock that I ended by saying that this business would be better off if more people were like him. Here we are, a few years later, and I think we’ve found somebody else.

If The Rock is the Great One then John Cena is the next Great One. Better yet, John Cena is the Untouchable One.

If you smell what the master of Thugonomics is cooking.

Word Life.

‘Cause when you’re untouchable, you don’t take no shit.

Thanks for reading.

John Canton

Categories: Retro Columns Tags: , ,
  1. Aaron
    February 8, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    I think many of us felt the same way atht aht time about “The Doctor of Thuganomics”. No surprise he elevated. But like Hogan, and to soem degree (I know I was) Steve austin, you start to grow tired of him. And that’s what many of us are doing, growing tired of Cena. I’m waiting for a big babyface to climb the ranks (Austin could turn heel because they had The Rock, and so many other viable candidates to carry the babyface torch).

    Cena will never turn heel until we get another babyface to come close to rivaling his level. Until then, we’re stuck with Super Cena.

    February 8, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    I remember reading this when you posted it the first time. Interesting to read it again now after his evolution. Cool retro column.

  3. Andrew Johnson
    February 8, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    I agree with Aaron. Cena was great as a heel, but there really is no one else right now. I really enjoy the heels more, but there needs to be a balance. I think they need to elevate some more babyfaces, because they are solid on heels.

  4. rob
    February 8, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    The biggest problem I have with Cena, is, I hate him for reasons that aren’t his fault.
    Make sense?
    Until WWE figures out how to make another star, we are stuck with superCENA.
    And that isn’t his fault.
    I can’t wait for the day they let hom go heel again, and he turns on the crowd. Could be a ‘moment of the year’ moment.

  5. JB McMurtry
    February 8, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    I thought Cena’s act was perfect back then. It’s funny looking back and seeing someone like Cena, the image of today’s WWE, as a mid-card level performer. I do believe some people may be growing tired of Cena, but if you’ve noticed, there are less boos for him now. Maybe that’s because of the younger audience now. I’ve always been a Cena fan. I admire his hustle, his promos, and his ring work. He is repetitive, but who isn’t, if you think about it? Most of Raw’s matches are so short, that they want to get their moves in instead of “working” those moves in. Great read John. It’s always a pleasure and a great time killer at work.

  6. JCITY617
    February 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM


  7. Darth Randall
    February 8, 2010 at 10:26 PM

    You know something, i think i may be one of the biggest Cena haters you can find but i have come to terms that he is booked that way. He is to the kids and those growing up in this generation what the Rock and Austin were to me. The Attitude era is long past and times have changed. I like wrestling because we still (at least on Smackdown) get some killer matches sometimes. I also think about what things will be like when i am like 40 and seeing how the bussiness is.

    About Cena.. 1. Let him cut his own promos and let him do some more moves in the ring ( I saw some of his early work as Prototype, he can do some stuff!) 2. He is a pretty nice guy in real life and loyal to the company, he pretty much does what he is told. 3. He does need to sell more though. I think they need to get him some fresh heels to face as well. Maybe some of those younger guys. Remember though he can work ( remember some of his matches with Edge?)

  8. February 8, 2010 at 11:12 PM

    What they should of done is turn him into the ultimate anti-hero face that rips on people via risque raps then they could of pasted over the limited ability like they did with Austin and make the older generation of fans happier.

    Massively dislike the blame game on wwe creative for cena. He has to take responsibility for the monster he created. Granted they castrated him with promos and character due to the PG rating and fans, but there are other elements he can control like his wrestling and influence. I guess it was creative that made him wear that wrestling gear eh?

    WM 20 RAP(Cena vs Big Show)


    you got the franchise player at da superbowl stage
    let that gorrila big show outta his cage
    there ain’t no way I’m gonna lose to that king kong rip off
    thats like gary coleman beating patrick ewing in a tip off
    everybody knows that he can’t see me
    i’m itching to beat like a penis with an s.t.d.
    i’m not even wrestling the big show
    this whole things a charades
    i’m really facing the hippo float from the macey’s parade.
    it’s time for me to get a championship to match these custom nuts

    here’s some rock vs booker t gold content

  9. Brian W.
    February 9, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    Nice retro-column on that Cena kid…hopefully Vince will take notice and give him a push…maybe even a run with the title?

    Oh, and make him REAAAL tough, like Superman-no-selling tough. That’ll get ‘im over with that tough pre-teen girl crowd!

    OK..sarcasm-gasm’s over! Again, good read.


  10. Chris
    February 13, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    There is one man in the WWE that has the ability to follow the path of The Rock and John Cena and that is The Miz, he is very goo don the mic, he has a marketable catchphrase and has many of his own mannerisms such as AWESOMEEEEEEE and REALLY??, even if they are related ot othe rpop culture. Fans can be heard joining in and he’s meant to be a heel. Add in the fact that he has worked extremely hard to earn his spot everything is in place. His ring work has improved immensely and he does have that ‘it’ factor, Therefore like John Canton 7 years ago I GUARANTEE THE MIZ WILL BE A HUGE BABYFACE IN A YEARS TIME!!

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