WWE U.S. Champion John Cena's 51-49 victory over the debuting Sami Zayn on Monday's Raw was just the latest example of the longtime ace's selflessness.
At last year's SummerSlam, he subjected himself to a squashing by Brock Lesnar that would have bruised most men's egos as much as their bodies. The year prior, he ate a clean pin to Daniel Bryan — after a new finishing move, no less — that became the undersized superstar's crowning moment in WWE. Sticking to just SummerSlam, the two years before that Cena lost to CM Punk, continuing a drought against the Straight-Edge Superstar that began when Cena did the honors for Punk — again, cleanly — in his hometown of Chicago at Money in the Bank 2011.
Much as Cena has made some men, however, he's also done his part to bury others. Look no further than the man he's currently feuding with: Rusev. Though Cena conceded a match to him at Fastlane in February — caveated by the fact he got kicked in the balls — he's since beaten the Bulgarian Brute twice at WrestleMania and Extreme Rules. What sticks out about the wins, though, is their ease: One AA was all it took, each time, to fell Rusev. Zayn, on the other hand, kicked out of one on Raw.
Rusev's no blip, either. If my argument for his mistreatment feels exaggerated, it's maybe because Cena's WrestleMania opponent last year, Bray Wyatt, went through the same thresher. Now, a year later, we see just what feuding with Cena — i.e. losing to Cena — did for "The Eater of Worlds." He's currently programmed against Ryback and maybe reforming the Wyatt Family.
A few other men have emerged from feuds with Cena worse for wear, such as Ryback, but perhaps the most damning example of the ace actively hurting a rising star is Wade Barrett. According to Chris Jericho and Edge, who teamed with Cena against the Nexus in a 14-man elimination tag, the star insisted on surviving a Barrett DDT on the floor, then single-handedly beating him and Justin Gabriel to win the match. To his credit, apparently Cena told Jericho and Edge that he was wrong, but I don't know if Barrett, given the hit his stock took, is so understanding.
No top guy in WWE — not Rock, not Austin, not Hogan — has ever veered so wildly between being a help or a hindrance to his fellow wrestlers. So why is Cena?
There are really only two possible culprits, and the answer is probably a combination of them. The first is obviously Vince McMahon, who calls all of WWE's creative shots. The reason Rock, Austin and Hogan didn't eat too many clean pins during their runs has something to do with McMahon's habit of booking his babyface stars like Superman. Cena, as we've heard, is no exception.
So does that mean Cena is responsible for those clean losses he's racked up? Possibly. The SummerSlam 2010 story points to him having some form of creative input. But if he can stick to his guns about dominant wins, it's presumable that he can also veto them.
Backstage matters aside, the ring may be the front where Cena truly has the ability to make or break superstars. As we've seen, the way he calls matches — or even just one finisher kick-out — can make the difference between the next Daniel Bryan and the next Bray Wyatt.