ruthless aggression episode 2

With the invasion of WCW been and gone, the Rock venturing off to Hollywood and Austin walking out of the company, WWE are left with a void to fill. Enter John Cena.

As the 50-minute documentary begins, the likes of JBL and Hulk Hogan emphasise that every era needs someone who transcends the business, In Hogan’s words, you have to become “an attraction”. It’s a sentiment I fully agree with. Throughout WWE’s boom periods, there has always been ‘the guy’. Whether or not we have that guy (or girl) right now is debatable, but in 2002 WWE needed one.

John Cena: The Failure

In the past, the narrative of Cena’s rise has been pretty straightforward. From debuting against Kurt Angle to freestyle rapping to WWE Champion. In episode two of ‘Ruthless Aggression,’ we’re given a less streamlined insight into the rise of the West Newbury, Massachusetts native. Although episode one gave the impression that Cena was the catalyst for the ruthless aggression era, he’s quick to dismiss this. When asked what he takes away from the meaning of the phrase, he simply replies “failure”.

We’re shown footage of Cena’s time in Ohio Valley Wrestling with Brian Gewirtz admitted they discovered him by accident after looking at DVD’s of his tag team partner, Rico. As ‘The Prototype,’ Cena showed his charisma early on, proving to be animated and entertaining with Jim Cornette and Batista praising his OVW run.

Having wrestled in dark matches and on house shows, Cena is given a memorable opportunity by Angle. But as we know from episode one, Vince McMahon has just given the roster a rallying call to step up. Cena sees this as Vince offering the keys to the city, and to go out there and take it. As for his debut, he recalls his first interaction with McMahon simply as “cut his fucking hair!”

Unsurprisingly, Cena’s debut is praised and shows promise yet it quickly goes downhill, wrestling on syndicated throwaway show Velocity. Caused by a lack of character, 2002 Cena struggled to connect with crowds with Bruce Prichard describing him as “boring, bland and vanilla”. By the time Autumn comes around, Cena is close to being released yet another opportunity would turn things around.

The Doctor Will See You Now

During long bus rides through European, Cena begins freestyle rapping, impressing the locker room, and more importantly Stephanie McMahon. By Halloween, Cena is allowed to showcase his verbal talents on TV serving as the spark for a change. He considers it a “happy accident” yet it’s often said talents shine when they be themselves and Cena’s heel rapper run is no exception. As the doctor of thuganomics, Cena was outlandish and risky but more importantly entertaining. However, with fans taking notice, we’re led to believe some people backstage weren’t pleased for John. “Nobody liked me,” Cena tells us. While that might be true, I think this is clearly included to add to the drama of our new hero. The ever-positive Cena comes off as thoroughly honest throughout, stating that he recognises some talent were jealous and their negativity was a reflection of their insecurities.

The (Polarising) Champ is Here!

It’s at this point our timeline is sped up as Cena’s elevation goes into overdrive from WrestleMania to WrestleMania. We learn that people objected to the Big Show putting over Cena at WrestleMania XX“he’s a flash in the pan”. Fast-forward a year and John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield’s rich aristocrat attitude is described as the “perfect counterpart” to Cena’s charismatic and relatable persona. As we know, JBL put Cena over as he wins the first of many World titles.

However, Cena’s rise is seen to be controversial and unconventional, which incidentally is how the “spinner belt” can be seen. Described as “30-something pounds of garbage” by the Big Show, the belt considerably led to the polarising attitude of Cena that would develop over 2005. Sparked by a realisation of a changing fanbase, Cena decided to abandon the rapping, opting to entertain the young families now in attendance. Much like the belt, longtime fans began to dislike Cena. “It became cool to boo John Cena,” says Jim Cornette. While he was diving audiences, he was getting a reaction – a crucial requirement for success in any form of entertainment.

The build to Cena’s match against Triple H at WrestleMania 22 is shown as to accentuate the divide between Cena’s fans and detractors. Cena describes Hunter as the “cool guy” that Attitude Era fans were clinging on to. We’re shown him inducting William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry into the WWE Hall of Fame and the wave of hate he is given by the crowd. As advised by Vince backstage, Cena takes in chants of “Fuck you Cena” with a smile on his face before saying “it seems everybody is ready for WrestleMania 22”. Cena admits Vince’s advice was right and that to always trust him.

John Cena celebrates after WrestleMania 23

Company Man

After retaining against Triple H, Cena the workaholic is highlighted. From media appearances to making a hip-hop album to Make-a-Wish meetings and more, Cena solidifies his spot as ‘the man’. “I take great pride in finding my limits and testing them,” he reflects on the relentless working schedule. Although he was considered as #1 outside of the ring, his detractors didn’t rate Cena’s often formulaic in-ring work. His WrestleMania 23 match against Shawn Michaels is presented as changing this mindset, which is debatable. After all “Cena Wins LOL”, right?

With his ascent to the top complete, Cena concludes on his rise by explaining “if I get passionate about something, you’re going to have to stop me. And WWE filled me with passion and purpose. I made it my life. I had to earn every fucking inch.”


This snapshot of Cena’s rise is neatly delivered, highlighting the setbacks and how he became the solid, reliable and entertaining person WWE needed him to be. The opening episode of ‘Ruthless Aggression’ series was, at times, inconsistent. Thankfully, episode two comes off as a more coherent, setting up the standalone feel for forthcoming episodes.

All pics and videos courtesy of WWE

By Sêan Reid

Based in Nottinghamshire, Sêan is a freelance music and pro wrestling writer. Away from music, his interests include watching sporting events (football, ice hockey), maintaining his mental and physical well-being, and consuming books, films, TV shows and video games.

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