John Cena’s United States Championship Open Challenge is one of the best things going in wrestling at the moment. Hear me out. I understand some fans are annoyed that Cena just comes out and beats another opponent each week, but hey, that was happening either way. So I’m looking at the real upside that could come from this open challenge. And I honestly believe that John Cena is the perfect person to make it happen.
To anyone who doesn’t remember, John Cena’s debut match was an open challenge on the June 27, 2002 edition of Smackdown. Kurt Angle stood in the ring and issued an open challenge to anyone in the back that he had never faced before. John Cena hit the ring, looking slightly different than his later thug life persona, and gave Kurt a heck of a good match. I re-watched it just this past weekend and I really enjoyed it. Cena battled his way out of an Olympic Slam and an ankle lock. The no name kid from Massachusetts took it to one of the biggest names in the business at the time.
And then he lost.
On his way out, Cena got the real rub. Everyone in the back told John Cena what an amazing job he’d done. The Undertaker shook his hand. But that young nobody wasn’t done. He decided to live up to Vince McMahon’s moniker of “Ruthless Aggression” and went out week after week to prove his match with Angle wasn’t a fluke (regardless of the outcome) and battled his way through the next decade to be one World Title reign short of Ric Flair’s record.
And now, he has the opportunity to do something very similar for the next generation. First, the simple fact that John Cena of all people is holding the United States Championship instead of the WWE World Heavyweight Title should tell people that the WWE is (at least temporarily) trying to make the secondary titles legit again. The name power of John Cena and Daniel Bryan holding these titles is already making the titles worth more than when they are passed to the next champions. Cena is taking it a step further by being a true fighting champion. Every week, he issues an open challenge and fights to keep his strap. He incorporates that work ethic into “what it means to be an American” and brings more symbolism to the United States Title than it’s had in years.
While it could simply be a way to keep Cena busy so the crowd doesn’t burn out on him vs. Rusev each week, I think there could be a much bigger story with where this could go.
I had a long conversation with The Great and Powerful John Canton a week or so ago about who we thought deserved the rub from the open challenge. I’m not even saying who gets to beat Cena for the title; but who should be the one to come out and look amazing against him, even while falling short and not taking the title. We threw a lot of NXT names out. Finn Balor. Kevin Owens. Sami Zayn. Guys who could easily go one on one with Cena and come out smelling like roses even after being hit with the AA and staring at the lights. At the time we decided it was Owens, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it should be all three. Maybe even Neville as well.
You put these guys in weekly one on one matches with Cena, taking turns trying to be the one to slay the giant, and show what NXT is capable of. Cena squeaks by with wins. Not in a way that’s heelish, but he’s Cena, so winning is just what he does.
Owens would lose one week. The following week, Zayn or Balor would be against Cena and finally pull it off. Just as Cena is laying in the ring out cold, Owens hits the ring and knocks out Balor. He drags Cena over his opponent and Cena gets the win. Cena, of course, would never stand for this. He’s about respect after all, and winning on his own.
At the next PPV, perhaps at WWE Payback, Cena decides to be a true fighting champion and puts the United States Title on the line against all three of them in an elimination style match. In a perfect world, John Cena is teamed up on and is the first one eliminated. I don’t even care who leaves with the title. But let’s say, for normal booking sake, that John still wins. As long as he’s not the one to eliminate anyone but the last person, the other three come off amazingly strong.
Whether one of the NXT guys eventually takes that title from John Cena or someone like Sheamus does, I think it could be invaluable to give the NXT guys a chance first. Imagine three of the biggest names in NXT getting valuable screen time to show what NXT is capable of.
While it’s important not to completely bury anyone from NXT if this angle played out, I believe something like this could work wonders to make the title more important while showing the world that NXT IS HERE.