Like most wrestling fans, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news: John Cena is appearing on the September 12, 2010, episode of Hannah Montana Forever on the Disney Channel. The human brain has an uncanny ability to recall minute details of surroundings and sensations when faced with something really good or something really bad; it's called "eidetic recollection," I think. In my case, my snapshot memory occurred Sunday evening as I headed up the steps to my bedroom. At the top of the stairs I was met by my 11-year-old daughter and her Cheshire-like grin. She proudly (and loudly) informed me that the world of professional wrestling was slated for a head-on collision with the bubblegum pop world of Miley Cyrus, noting that “tweeners” around the world were dancing in the streets to this very news. That was the gist of what she said, anyway. For my part, I handled the news with as much dignity as possible, grabbing the handrail with one hand while I clutched my chest with the other. There were some retching noises, too. Then came the inevitable question: “Will you watch it with me?”
It took me a while to get to a place at which I could process all of this with some degree of clarity. My mind raced with thoughts like, This is exactly why I can't stand Cena! ... He's everywhere!... Give me a break ... What the heck is the world of professional wrestling coming to, anyway?"
A lifetime of enthusiasm for pro wrestling—through all its ups and downs—does provide some badly needed perspective from time to time. In the broad scheme of things, a guest spot on Hannah Montana is, by and large, mostly consistent with Vince McMahon's vision of a “Rock and Wrestling” connection. It’s this very strategy that helped to effectively ingrain professional wrestling into the very fibers of American popular culture. Through the decades since the very first WrestleMania, the general image of pro wrestling as an institution has been continually reinvented and reinforced through the success of cross-promotion. Merchandising, Saturday morning cartoons, and celebrity guest appearances are the very things that put the "entertainment" in sports entertainment and, in the long run, this is what sustains professional wrestling as a cultural institution.
John Cena plays an important part in this discussion. He's extremely popular in certain key demographics, but it seems like a lot of dedicated wrestling fans are still quick to hold his success against him. Try as we may, it's awfully hard to impugn his work ethic, though. To get an idea of his true potential, look no further than his April 23, 2007, Wrestlemania 23 rematch with Shawn Michaels (appropriately named Cena’s all-time “Best Match” in the current issue of Inside Wrestling). This match was a marathon contest that showcased the best of Cena’s ever-evolving talent. If that isn’t enough, check out his performance in the main event at ECW One Night Stand 2006. Or watch his 2006 TLC match with Edge. Or have a look at his 2008 Last Man Standing match against the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga. Love Cena or hate him, most wrestling fans might well agree that all of these matches are classics.
Even Cena himself admits that his in-ring repertoire is lacking at times but despite his limitations, his career thus far is replete with stellar moments. He’s headlined events before capacity crowds and he’s held his own against many of the greatest talents in pro wrestling’s recent history. All things considered, it’s highly unlikely that Cena will remember his guest appearance on Hannah Montana as one of the greatest moments of his career.
In the biographical segment of his I Walk Alone DVD set, Dave Batista reflected a bit on the stress that comes with being “the face of the company.” Maintaining the physical demands of a busy schedule featuring house shows, televised matches, and pay-per-view cards is challenging in and of itself. The added responsibilities of public appearances, outreach work, and the occasional guest spot on a sitcom or kids’ show—under the watchful eye of a boss who is infamously quick-tempered and demanding—is a tremendous load for one person to bear. Nevertheless, John Cena balances the full weight of WWE on his shoulders with confidence and skill.
When it comes down to it, John Cena will take one for the team this Sunday when he crosses over from the smash-mouth world of professional wrestling into the sickeningly sweet world of The Disney Channel. Remember. folks, he’s doing this for the benefit of wrestling fans all around the world. Just tell yourselves that over and over again and it won’t seem all that bad.
For my part, come Sunday night, I’ll be right there in front of the television as a show of solidarity with fathers of pre-teen girls everywhere, watching every agonizing minute of this week’s Hannah Montana alongside my adoring daughter. She might not grow up to be a wrestling fan like me, but if I’m lucky, she’ll always remember the night I took one for the team.
Mike Bessler/PWI Contributing Writer