In a riveting segment between John Cena and AJ Styles this past edition of Raw, barriers were formally shattered on WWE television and the atmosphere certainly felt like it was changing to the New Era.
Two of the best talkers in the WWE today further promoted their upcoming main event at Money in the Bank by remaining true to their upbringings.
AJ Styles bragged about his universally-recognized in-ring abilities, stating that he tells his children that the two men have never wrestled because “John doesn’t want to be in the ring with me because I would run circles around him.”
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Cena then fired back by painting Styles’ short time in the WWE as a “bust,” before telling him that he’s “not phenomenal, that’s freakin’ desperate.”
The promo then took a big turn into kayfabe-shattering reality as Styles adamantly exclaimed that any promotion in the world “would welcome me back with open arms,” whereas Cena is the desperate one, as he “can’t go anywhere else” aside from the WWE.
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The kill-shot to the former entity known as kayfabe was then fired by AJ Styles, when he spoke the words that have dominated the minds and conversations of every wrestling fan, insider, and critic around the world for years.
“Everybody who knows this place knows that, once you wrestle John Cena and lose, it’s time to get out the shovels, because guys like you bury guys like me.”
WWE has never been kind to those who claim the company buries talents to propel the main event stars, instead preferring to be viewed as a promotion that gives equal opportunities to those who “reach for the brass ring.”
For as long as Vince McMahon has been around, however, that has never been true.
One of the most infamous wrestlers who would bury talent is Triple H. For nearly twenty years, the likes of Goldberg, Booker T, and even Sting were buried by outrageous pinfall losses to “The King of Kings,” completely halting their momentum in a simple ego-feeding decision to “The Game.”
Cena has since picked up that shovel and added victims to WWE’s cemetery. Ryback has never been the same since turning heel and losing decisively to Cena. Rusev was relegated to a strange love rectangle storyline after Super Cena defeated him at three pay-per-views, and stripping away both his undefeated streak and the United States Championship.
Cena also broke the unofficial record of most men buried at once, when he single-handedly destroyed The Nexus after dominating the storyline.
Styles’ comment goes beyond that, though. Considering AJ Styles travelled the world for nearly two decades, making a name for himself as one of the biggest names to have never wrestled for the WWE, “guys like me” is a clear reference to those who didn’t need Vince’s well-oiled machine.
Whether it’s indie darlings, mainstays of rival domestic promotions or international superstars, AJ Styles epitomizes the group.
Conversely, “guys like you” jabs at the home-grown phenomenon that have been built by the WWE, with every dominant win and mainstream media appearance serving as an affirmation of Vince McMahon’s brilliance.
In hindsight, the wrestling community may look at this moment as the time when the WWE was thrust into a new era. CM Punk may have dropped a pipebomb that exposed the politics of the wrestling community, but even Punk was a relatively domestic product of the WWE.
AJ Styles’ comments represent the existence and competence of other promotions, opening up the WWE mythology to include the entirety of the wrestling world, similar to the effect of the Truman Doctrine in ending the United States’ isolationism.
In the refreshing New Era, WWE is stepping up to admit its mistake in the past. Whether the company stops making these mistakes is yet to be seen.