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  • Iestyn Withers

Bray Wyatt vs John Cena Explained

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Night two of Wrestlemania 36 saw Bray Wyatt face John Cena in a Firefly Fun House match. Yes, I don't know what that is either. But whatever it was meant to be, this was a masterpiece. A cinematic tour de force full of nuances, easter eggs and excruciating detail, Wyatt vs Cena rewarded the most loyal of WWE fans for their continued investment and commitment to an otherwise consistently deteriorating product. This was not meant to be an instant revelation, yet WWE perfected a new medium of pro wrestling with such immediacy that to try and replicate it in the future would be both moronic and nonsensical.

But how do we go about reviewing the only wrestling match to ever take place in the fragments of a performer's imagination? In fact, to call this a "match" would be extremely generous and simultaneously disrespectful. This was as much a wrestling match as it was sixteen minutes tripping on wrestling's form of LSD. Moreover, John Cena fought the majority of the contest against himself, not Wyatt. This was pro wrestling theatre entombed in Jungian psychology. (Credit to WhatCulture's Michael Sidgwick for that.) Carl Jung's theory states that beneath every conscious mind lies the shadow self, which is undesirable and thus suppressed; a great negative force from the human dark side. The conscious mind refuses to acknowledge that this dark side exists - no, this is not Star Wars, stay with me. The shadow self is obscured and concealed by personality traits that project onto others the exact thing the conscious mind is itself denying. To become conscious of the shadow self involves recognising the dark aspects of your personality and character as present and real. In Layman's terms, John Cena has buried superstars for years to cover up his own insecurities, failures and anguish, and Wyatt is going to help him recognise this. As the match started in Wyatt's metaphysical Fun House, a door reading "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Exit Here" became a portal into John Cena's mind. Wyatt ushered us through and into a world where Cena's dark side could no longer be kept secret. "Who are we, really, and why do we do the things that we do?" Wyatt asked.

To the casual wrestling fan this may seem a generous comparison to a comprehensive piece of psychology, but there are intricacies to all wrestling characters and this no more apt and pertinent than when discussing Bray Wyatt. It would be easy to look back over the past few months and see WWE running this revolutionary character into the ground, but remember that everything Wyatt has done with his own creative control has been both complex and evil in the most thespian of ways. Fast forward back to this match and you'll be checking that you haven't clicked to watch an episode of Black Mirror by mistake.

As Cena ventured through Wyatt's 'door' he was greeted by the Vince McMahon puppet. Vince asked him if he had the quality of "ruthless aggression" to succeed in this company, and said if not he would be "fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired". A throwback to the Ruthless Aggression era, John Cena was on the verge of being released after failing to seize the opportunity given to him.

This first section of the match mirrors Cena's debut appearance on WWE's main roster against Kurt Angle. With Wyatt cosplaying as Angle, we see modern day Cena morph back into his debutant form as he walks intensely past the Smackdown fist and into the ring. Bray splices in Angle's promo as he delivers segments of it himself, only to be face to face with a fierce Cena. Clad in the Florida orange and blue colours as if pandering to the non-existent Tampa audience - a cycnically empty gesture to an empty arena - Cena utters those immortal words, "RUTHLESS AGGRESSION", before taking a swing at Wyatt who evades. Cena continued to miss Wyatt, time and time again, as he tried to emulate the slap that would eventually launch his career. Repetitive and automated in his responses, Cena is portrayed as robotic and lacking in charisma - akin to his orginal 'Prototype' WWE character. Taking real-life jabs at his rival, Wyatt references Cena facing his release and playfully sings the lyrics to Nikki Bella's - John Cena's ex-fiancee - theme tune. Wyatt is highlighting Cena's failures from the off-set of his WWE career.

Transported further back into the past, Wyatt and Cena are then funnelled into 1980s WWF through the Saturday Night's Main Event intro. Wyatt is seen behind the blue steel cage bars of by-gone eras, as he over-exuberantly and charismatically introduces John Cena as his partner Johnny Largemeat, revelling at the physique of his comrade. Backed by a quintessentially 80s WWF track, Cena lifts weights and pumps his muscles as he shouts through a promo with little substance or content - akin to Hulk Hogan and his catchphrase laden rhetoric. Both Wyatt and Cena portray 80s bodybuilder wrestlers, alluding to the belief that Cena has always been pushed by Vince McMahon due to his physique rather than talent. John Cena is just a 'body guy'. However, a muscular physique can only get you so far and as Cena lifts quicker and quicker he works out to the point of his arms being numb. The Vince McMahon puppet was apoplectic on commentary that this machine he had built had somehow faltered, like human beings do - a satirical dig amongst a scene of pure satire. Wyatt brings all this home with the line: “Whatcha gonna do, brother, when you realise that Egomania has been running wild on you?”

Suddenly we are transported away from this nostalgic fever dream and Cena, resurrecting his Dr Thuganomics gimmick, finds himself rhyming at Bray Wyatt. Except this time, the jokes are not landing. Jabs and one-liners that would normally govern a raucous reaction are met with crickets. Featuring more fourth-wall breaking insults, as Cena attacks Wyatt for his weight as Husky Harris, Wyatt then proceeds to shake his head with the look of disappointment and regret in his eyes as Cena drops a reminder of his old pernicious and toxic homophobia.

"You're not a hero, John," Wyatt said. "You're a bully. You're a horrible person. You take the weaknesses of others and you turn them into'd do anything for fame, John." Wyatt continues by referring to Cena as the Golden Goose. A well-known fairytale, the moral of the Golden Goose was that people who are blessed with something they haven't properly earned are consumed by it through their unquenchable greed for more. Cena, despite being gifted opportunity, fame and prominence is greedy for more at the expense of everyone else. Wyatt then attacks Cena with his own chain and padlock, an allusion to Cena's first championship loss to Carlito in 2004. Yet another example of Cena's failures manifesting themselves into this "match".

As Wyatt punches Cena, he punches him back into 2014. Returning to his 'Eater of Worlds' character, this section addresses the decision for Cena to 'go over' Wyatt at Wrestlemania 30. Intertwining the in-ring scene with snippets of the audience from the event, it is clear that the fans wanted to see Wyatt be victorious. Wyatt refers to Cena as "Superman" - a reference to the "Super Cena" hatred directed at the superstar at the height of his career. Seemingly infallible in the ring, fans were crying out for a fresh main-event star... or a fresh Cena.

In 2014, John Cena had become everything he wanted. He was a dynasty. He proclaimed to be a man of the people, but didn't listen when the people tell him they want something else. Look at his burial of the Nexus. Look at him sauntering in to kill Rey Mysterio to win a WWE Championship moments after Rey’s already wrestled. Most importantly, look at WrestleMania 30, when Cena needed to use his status and spot to put over Wyatt... and didn't.

Forcing Cena to relive the moment in the match when he encourages him to disqualify himself by attacking Bray with a chair, Wyatt begs for the face of the company to fix the booking error of the past. In 2014, 'good guy' John won through grit, determination and greed, however on this occasion John succumbs and swings the chair. And just like that, Bray is gone.

In a further surreal twist to an already surreal performance, NWO's WCW Monday Nitro credits play and Wyatt again breaks into his fancy dress box to cosplay as Eric Bischoff. Weaving footage of the latter with that of himself, Wyatt introduces "the coolest guy that ever walked the face of the wrestling Earth" and complete with NWO music and regalia Cena enters strumming a spray-painted belt, again using the pointed symbolism of Hulk Hogan as John Cena's replicate.

In 1996, Hulk Hogan shocked the wrestling world by betraying WCW and forming the New World Order. Hogan had been a “good guy” for the entirety of his WWF and WCW careers, and him being evil was, at least at the time, a complete impossibility. Cena became the noughties version of Hulk Hogan in more ways than one, and to symbolise his turn in this manner was apropos.

Giving in to the audience's desires after so long, John Cena had symbolically "turned heel" in order to maintain his stranglehold on the business. Puppet Vince declares the scene "such good sh*t" - shorthand, at least to “smart” fans on the Internet, for WWE’s worst ideas - and Cena proceeds to attack Wyatt. Punch after punch, Cena has finally embraced the hatred of the WWE Universe; Cena has gone to the dark side.

Embracing this hatred and manifesting it during his uncontrolled assault on Wyatt alludes to another storyline from Cena's past. A returning Kane in 2012 would repeatedly try to make Cena "embrace the hate" and make WWE's franchise player do violent, uncharacteristic things to be ready for his showcase match against The Rock.

During the assault on Wyatt, a montage plays of notable occasions where the fans shunned Cena, such as the "if Cena wins we riot" sign from ECW One Night Standhis loss to Brock Lesnar and even a short clip of CM Punk blowing a kiss as he ran off with the WWE title at Money in the Bank 2011. Simultaneously this montage contains Cena's biggest failures to date. These include his Wrestlemania 27 loss to The Miz, losing his title unification match to Randy Orton at TLC 2013 and leaving his arm band in ring after losing to AJ Styles at SummerSlam 2016. The latter being when Cena started taking more time off for Hollywood obligations.

Cena channels all these failures as he continues to beat Wyatt to death. Only when Cena looks down it is no longer Wyatt he is punching, but instead Huskus the Pig Boy. And now Cena is clad in his trademark jorts and sweatbands. This is the same Cena. And Huskus the Pig Boy is a puppet, yet is also still Bray Wyatt. Huskus and Bray are one and the same, just like John Cena and his heel shadow self.

With Cena finally at his lowest, The Fiend appears behind Cena and silences him with the Mandible Claw. The Fiend is finally able to be “let in" as Cena becomes broken. The Fiend “squashes” him with no effort, and we realise that Cena’s declaration that he was going to put a stop to "the most over hyped, over privileged, and overrated talent in WWE " wasn’t about Bray Wyatt. It was about John Cena.

The famous phrase "You can't see me" becomes immortalised in the conclusion of this "match." All along Cena could not see the true version of himself - his shadow self - and now with his image and perception shattered, Cena vanishes from the ring canvas. He couldn't see himself and now we can't see him. Bray Wyatt was only ever Husky Harris in a mask, Cena claimed in the build. John Cena was only ever John Cena.

It is safe to say that this was a wrestling match with an absurd amount of artistic licence . You need only imagine watching this without any context to see that if was not meant for everyone. As advertised, this was nothing like anything WWE had done in the past. It was deliberate, and thoughtful, and meditative. It was as much an avant-garde cult masterpiece as the Boneyard Match the night before was a corny and trite horror film.

This wasn't a "good match" per se, but it was definitely "some good sh*t".

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