During a recent episode of the Drive Thru, Jim Cornette was asked his opinion of John Cena, part of the famed OVW class that Cornette oversaw which also included Brock Lesnar, Batista and Randy Orton.
Cornette was lead booker and co-owner of OVW during this period, and remembers seeing Cena for the first time and knowing he was on his way to becoming the next standout heel superstar:
“When I first saw John I thought he was going to be the Ric Flair level heel of the next 10 years. Because he had the physique, he had the athletic ability, he had the promo, he was incredible even then. He could talk about anything off the top of his head. And he was working as a heel and he got the idea of how to ‘heel’. And he was a very good one, he was just green.
“I thought that with a few years experience, if his work kept progressing like that, his promo was insane off the charts already. And as mentioned before, his work ethic, his personality, no bad habits […] he came in and was more self sufficient than almost any trainee we’d ever gotten. He had such responsibility, he was driving the ring truck before too long.”
While Cena came to the fore on SmackDown as the heelish ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’, he was soon morphed into a squeaky clean babyface, becoming one of the biggest stars in WWE history.
However, as the de facto face in WWE, Cena received his fair share of hostility from portions of the crowd, and Cornette believes this is due to him staying in the face role for too long:
“He had to basically work milquetoast babyface thing for so long, and that gimmick. Secondly, he pretty much, as he got over and got be the guy that was the top draw in the company, he wasn’t going to take any chances. They probably wouldn’t let him take any chances.
“So his work kind of settled into, I’m not saying he was the s**ts but he did the same thing all the time, and it was fairly safe. And as a heel I think he would have been more impressive in the ring with people, and gotten over more for his work. And then if he had switched, then they would have respected his in ring work more. As a babyface, he was doing what he was doing, and it was ok.
“I love John, and he f***ng drew a s**t tonne of money. And he’s a great guy. But I think that’s why he’s not looked at in the pantheon of Austin, Rock, Hogan. Because it was kind of watered down, you know, a gimmick that kind of appealed to the young folks. And he got a lot of backlash cause they smashed him over, which they should have. But he wasn’t a badass that the majority of the people going to the TV tapings and the pay-per-views would think should be the top guy.”
Cena has not wrestled since the Firefly Funhouse Match at WWE WrestleMania 36.
Credit for the interview: Jim Cornette’s Drive-Thru