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Best For Business (7/23/15): John Cena Is Not Always Super

Welcome to Best For Business, the only column in the Philippines devoted exclusively to the numbers behind the pro wrestling industry. It's been a great week for wrestling, with a surprisingly good WWE Battleground in the books, another solid episode of RAW, and the kick-off of what some people call the greatest tournament in our sport, G1 Climax over in NJPW.

This week, we're going to take a break from our usual financial analysis to go over the metrics behind the legend of Super Cena, as well as a quick peek at the WWE merchandise scene.

Let's get to it!


1. Does John Cena ever actually lose?

We're sensing a certain group of wrestling fans getting salty over John Cena making Kevin Owens tap in their U.S. Championship rubber match at Battleground. John Cena is at it again! the cries go. He's burying the career of every up-and-comer that looks like he just might be the next big thing!

No wonder we've been seeing memes like this.

Others seem more cynical in their projections, proclaiming Kevin Owens' loss as a pre-ordained part of the WWE Circle of Life: Push, Buried by Cena, Repeat.

And we get it, we really do. It's easy to mock "Super Cena," and name the long list of Superstars whose seeming rise to the top got supposedly short-circuited by a loss to the Doctor of Thuganomics: Wade Barrett. Umaga. Rusev. Bray Wyatt. And now Kevin Owens. The list goes on and on.

Never mind that losing to John Cena doesn't always destroys a wrestler beyond repair. Barrett's Nexus-era push may have ended getting literally buried under a mountain of steel chairs, but he's bounced back nicely since then with five Intercontinental Championships and his current reign as King of the Ring.

Does that look "buried" to you?
So we were curious: Does John Cena actually win all that much? We took a look at the actual numbers, care of our buddies over at the Internet Wrestling Database

We may not always love his booking, but when it comes down to cold, hard data, John Cena hasn't won anywhere near as many matches as people make it sound like he does. In fact, the numbers say that John Cena is only the 25th winningest wrestler in the history of the WWE.

Winning records among wrestlers with at least 25 WWWF/WWF/WWE matches

But that's for wrestlers with at least 25 matches in the 'E under their belt regardless of whether the match was a tag match, a multiple-man contest, a house show, or a battle royal. 

(And before anyone reacts, yes, El Torito really does have the best winning percentage in WWE history, but only because he's been in tons of six-man tags against 3MB and the odd pairing of Hornswoggle with Slater-Gator. So take that with a hefty grain of salt.)

But if we get serious and narrow it down to those with at least 100 matches, which suggests a bigger volume of work done over a longer period of time, John Cena is still nowhere near the top—he's only got the 12th best winning percentage among those with that many matches under their belts.

Winning records among wrestlers with at least 100 WWWF/WWF/WWE matches
So John Cena may have beaten Bray Wyatt convincingly, but at least Bray's daddy still has a better winning percentage than Cena does.

Here's an interesting statistic: John Cena has lost more matches in the WWE (243) than even "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, or the Ultimate Warrior have each won. (207, 151, and 126 matches respectively.)

That speaks a lot about the volume of work John Cena has done. But what if we go even further and focus just on pay-per-views, where in theory most "big time" matches occur, and feuds are settled. Surely we'd expect John Cena to be Big Match John and come out with an even better record?

Pay-Per-View winning percentages among a select sample
It isn't surprising that Cena has the second-best all-time winning percentage on pay-per-views, coming in just behind the Hulkster. But he actually performs fifteen percentage points worse in his big-time matches than he does overall. And if you think about it, his winning rate isn't that much different from those of Bret Hart, Sting, RVD, or the Undertaker. Did anyone ever complain about someone like the Hitman winning too much? We didn't think so. #LOLBretWins was never really a thing.

So we may not agree with the booking, we may wish he lost a feud once in a while, but just know this: John Cena has a worse winning percentage than Tugboat.


2. Has John Cena really always been the "golden boy"?

Next, we wanted to see how John Cena performs on a year-on-year basis. People complain about John Cena being stale, but we needed to see if his run on the top has truly been as insufferable as the IWC would have us believe.

So we broke down his win-loss record by year just to see the trajectory he's taken through his career. In the chart below, we've highlighted in orange the years where Cena has batted above his lifetime 76.6% winning average, and left in gray the years where Cena's win rate has been lower than his average, and it's a pretty interesting story.

It seems that we can define his career by two "hot" waves—2004-2005 and 2012-2015—framed by a couple of more mortal runs. 

The first couple of years of John Cena's career were pretty pedestrian as he got his feet wet as a feisty up-and-comer, taking on such mid-carders as Rene Dupree, Shelton Benjamin, and Carlito in matches for the U.S. Championship.

It wasn't until 2004 that the first hot wave of his career catapulted him into a legitimate championship contender, battling such grizzled veterans as Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and John Bradshaw Layfield in world championship matches to cement his status as a top-tier star.

He then spent 2006-2011—that's five years, guys—cooling off slightly, winning less of his matches each year than he did the previous one. In fact, 2010 was the absolute worst year in his WWE career—worse even than his rookie 2002 campaign—winning just over 60% of his matches, as he was being utilized to build up newer names to the world title scene. Edge, Sheamus, and Randy Orton, in particular, benefited from Cena's new role as a star-maker, each claiming a title run from him over this period.

2011 marked a bit of a turnaround for Cena as he started to pick up his game once more, but don't be fooled by the win-loss record itself. Over a steady period from 2011 until 2012, John Cena was the biggest instrument in turning CM Punk into a top-level Superstar. 

Over that period, the two would face off for the WWE Championship fourteen times. Punk emerged victorious from those matches ten times, including their legendary match at Money In The Bank, when Punk won the belt and ran off from the WWE in a re-telling of his old "Summer of Punk" ROH storyline. It wouldn't be a leap of imagination to say we owe much of the legend of CM Punk to John Cena.

It's only in the last three years that John Cena has been in truly peak Super Cena form, including a 93% winning percentage in 2013 but that's hardly something to complain about. The man did spend five years of his prime helping groom a new wave of main event talent. 

Even someone like Daniel Bryan became the star that he is today partly because of convincing World Championship victories over Cena.

The knee heard around the world.

It's easy to buy into a lazy meme, like #LOLCenaWins, or the derisive monicker of "Super Cena," but the fact of the matter is that Cena is hardly the stale, unbeatable superman the IWC makes him out to be. He doesn't write his own booking; WWE Creative does, and they haven't been shy about using him to create new stars when necessary. If today's fans choose to focus on how they may remember Cena at the end of each feud, just remember this isn't a John Cena problem—it's a creative direction problem.


3. Beast for Business, but the Divas are coming

And after that dizzying discussion, let's change tack and talk a little bit about merchandise sales.

We regularly send Buezzy, the Smark Henry House Elf, to take a peek into WWE Shop's bestsellers list to get an indication of what Superstars fans are literally buying into. As always, we don't have any visibility on the actual sales volume or period in time is covered, but it's an interesting snapshot of which talents are actually moving the merchandise.

Here's how the list looks as of July 22nd.











Looks like the Suplex City tour is red hot, with Brock Lesnar's iconic shirt rocking three of the top ten spots, including stops in New York and Chicago. Beast for Business indeed.

John Cena (sigh) also makes a strong showing with three items in the top ten list as well, albeit with heavily-discounted gear—his yellow "Never Give Up" shirt at #3 is still on sale for just $6.99 right now, while his "You Can't See Me" pendant at #9 is selling for just $1.99, or roughly what you'd pay for a 1-piece ChickenJoy meal at Jollibee. So he may be moving the volume, but profitability is probably incredibly low.

But how about those ex-Shield boys? Roman Reigns has two shirts on the list—and we're digging his cobalt blue "Hit Hard, Hit Often" shirt, let me tell you—while Dean Ambrose and the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins make appearances as well.

But here's the interesting thing. If we take Cena's three discounted sale items out of the list, we'd be seeing some surprising items making it onto the top ten. 

Despite his tap-out loss at Battleground, Kevin Owens is still making waves with his "KO" logo shirt.

Randy Orton would have made it onto the list too, but that's no surprise. We suppose absence (or is it irrelevance?) really does make the heart grow fonder.

But even more awesome? Looks like #GiveDivasAChance has become a full-on #DivasRevolution, and the merchandise numbers are showing it. The plastic replica version of the Divas Championship has all of a sudden become a hot seller, and we're loving it, Maggle!
We wouldn't mind giving the special gals in our lives one of those, would we gentlemen?


So there you have it. The actual numbers to prove that—surprise!—John Cena actually does lose a heck of a lot more than we give him credit for. Meanwhile, he's done an amazing job elevating the U.S. Championship, has helped cement the Superstar status of some of our favorite wrestlers in the last few years, has had a few down years (quite a lot of them, in fact), and turned Kevin Owens into a top merchandise-mover, tap-out loss notwithstanding.

Brock and Cena continue to be the hottest stars in the business, merchandising-wise. Reigns, Ambrose, Rollins, and Owens are showing sustained proof that they just might really be the future of the business, and the Divas are picking up steam. That's pretty damn awesome.

Because really, at the end of the day, when we've got fans showing their support for some of the best talents in the industry today and helping bust open new paths for the Divas, that is what's Best For Business.


Mark De Joya (@MDJSuperstar) is an advertising professional and brand strategist by day, but dreams of being the Vince McMahon of the Philippines by night. He writes anything to do with numbers for Smark Henry: People Power, our weekly fan survey, and Best For Business, our regular financial report. With 18" arms and a 300-pound squat, he is also the official bouncer of the Smark Henry offices. 

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