Impactful symbolism is often saved for fans of the written word, not for us silly lovers of professional wrestling. However, there was a use of soon-to-be iconic symbolism invoked at the end of last night’s AJ Styles-John Cena match that was deserving of the main event, not the middle of the show.
John Cena’s rivalry with AJ Styles is the ultimate representation of the war that has been going on between WWE fans and WWE management for years. Fans repeatedly asked for fast-paced, athletic matches and demanded that the focus be taken off of John Cena, someone who apparently was/is unable to take part in such matches. AJ Styles is the epitome of what the fans want, and was the one wrestlers fans most wanted to see in a WWE ring as part of the New Era renaissance.
His opponent, John Cena, is the poster child of what fans above the age of 12 hate: the face of the company that was chosen by someone other than the fans in an industry that finds one’s status being a direct result of the fans’ acceptance of you as their champion or the fans’ disgust with you as a heel.
In a career containing 15 world championships, iconic WrestleMania main events, and a position as catalyst driving the wedge between the adult fans still hanging on and young fans in their embryonic stages of fandom, John Cena has become the most controversial wrestler in the history of the industry. Period.
He also became the most gracious last night.
John Cena lost to “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles, the New Era general, in a match that took all remaining oxygen out of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The building went on with the rest of the show whilst oxygen-deprived because the match between Cena and Styles had, by miles, more emotional investment from the fans than any other match on the card. Fans either wanted to see Styles go on being the leader of the New Era, or wanted to see John Cena overcome the odds as he usually does. There was no in between.
SummerSlam undoubtedly contained a handful of impactful moments. Sasha Banks and Charlotte continued their game-changing rivalry that is serving as the opening iconic feud for the women’s revolution. A New WWE Universal Champion was crowned when Finn Balor. Brock Lesnar and Randy had a match that was intrigued, but thrown-together to attain a box office draw (although it was nice to see a WWE wrestler getting color again). However, none of these moments begin to approach the importance of Cena’s and Styles’ match, especially its concluding moments.
John Cena famously stated weeks ago that if there is going to be a New Era in the WWE, then it must go through him.
He was right about that, which makes the symbolism used at the end of the match all the more iconic.
Before losing the match to Styles, John Cena hit AJ Styles with an Attitude Adjustment from the top rope, a maneuver that would have spelled the end for just about any opponent Cena faced in his illustrious career. Styles eventual kick out of the maneuver induced a look upon Cena’s face that could be best described as comatose, a complete absence of reason for life at that particular moment. Over the years, we have seen Cena’s faces, but this one was new. Never before was there a look complete disbelief.
At that moment, John Cena did what he swears he would never do: He gave up.
This act of surrender was not one of admittance to inferiority. Rather, ever the storyteller, Cena was admitting that the New Era, namely the New Era’s chosen prince, had run through him. Then, he took his “Never Give Up” arm band off his arm, and with a sense of melancholy, left it in the ring, allowing the camera to zoom in on it before acquiescing into the next segment. That lonely band, Cena’s face, the entire moment brings about the only steadfast conclusion it can: Cena’s time is up, the New Era’s time is now, and Cena knows it.
This does not mean that Cena is retiring; his body and mind are still more than adequate to make an impact whenever he decides to be around. One thing is for certain: The New Era, namely AJ Styles, declared an emphatic “checkmate” on an era it was set to dethrone. It was a declaration that was more than deserving of the main event on WWE’s second-biggest show of the year. SummerSlam was far from awful, and all players put on a show worthy of what the New Era calls for. However, no other match came close to the magnitude of John Cena’s and AJ Styles’ magnum opus. This was a match that should be remembered as the official changing of the guard for years to come.
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