At this past Sunday night's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, NXT Champion Kevin Owens secured a shocking victory over the WWE United States Champion, the legendary John Cena. Not only did Owens get a victory over the 15-time World Champion, but he got a clean victory. Not unlike Brock Lesnar's victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30, WWE showed the facial expressions of many surprised fans in attendance. Not only were the fans in attendance shocked, but many fans voiced their opinions through social media.
WWE booked the NXT Champion Kevin Owens to get a clean victory over U.S. Champion John Cena. What does this tell us about WWE's mentality right now?
What does this tell us about John Cena's status in WWE?
Over the past year or so, it's become very evident that John Cena is no longer being booked to be the "Superman guy" who wins 99.99% of his matches. From the time Cena won his first WWE World Championship in 2005 at WrestleMania 21, you could just about count on one hand how many Superstars were able to get a clean victory over John Cena. Whether Cena was competing in one-on-one matches, tag team matches, triple threats, fatal 4-ways, Royal Rumbles, or any other match you could imagine, Cena always seemed to emerge victorious about 99.99% of the time. This is no longer the case. WWE has finally made John Cena look human. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Not at all.
Cena's win/loss record over the past decade was very frustrating to many fans. Quite frankly, it was a bit ridiculous. But now Cena has finally been made to look human and beatable, which actually adds to the excitement and unpredictability of his matches. For nearly a decade, any match that had John Cena practically had a spoiler alert: John Cena Wins Again. But now, instead of there being a 99.99% chance that Cena will win, there might be, maybe, a 95% chance. Although Cena still seems to win the majority of his matches, it's not on a ridiculous level anymore. There is actually a chance, however small it may be, that a Superstar will get a victory over John Cena. Even if it's just 5% of the time, that 5% can make a big difference.
Superstars like Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt, Rusev, and Brock Lesnar have gotten victories over John Cena over the past year or so. Kevin Owens can now be added to this small and elite list.
These losses have not hurt John Cena. John Cena is still John Cena and he still wins the majority of his matches. But now the fans can actually believe that there's a chance that somebody can actually beat Cena. This, along with Cena's ever-improving in-ring performances, have actually made Cena's matches worth watching over the past year.
What does this tell us about the United States Championship?
Since winning the United States Championship from Rusev at WrestleMania 31, John Cena has been booked to look like a fighting Champion. As a matter of fact, WWE has booked Cena to look like one of the best U.S. Champions in WWE history for the simple fact that Cena actually defends the Title. WWE has had a terrible history of putting the U.S. Title on various Superstars and keeping it on them for six months to a year without any Title defenses. Rusev was made to look like a fighting Champion, but Cena has taken it to a whole new level. Cena has been defending the prestigious U.S. Championship on a weekly basis on Monday Night Raw against many young, up-and-coming Superstars from both NXT and the main WWE roster.
Cena's Champion vs. Champion program with Kevin Owens has only helped draw attention to both the U.S. Title and the NXT Championship. Cena is made to look like a proud U.S. Champion while Kevin Owens takes great pride in his NXT Championship. It draws good attention to both Titles.
What does it tell us about Kevin Owens?
WWE clearly has high hopes for Kevin Owens. He has been made to look like a truly frightening and destructive force in NXT. Some would even say that Owens is like the Brock Lesnar of NXT. And now WWE has given Owens the honor of being one of only a handful of individuals to get a clean victory over John Cena, and in his first-ever WWE pay-per-view match no less.
It also proves that despite popular belief, WWE does not necessarily "hate the indy guys." WWE has booked guys like C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan, and now Kevin Owens to get victories over John Cena, who is still arguably the face of the company. Another prime example of this is Seth Rollins, who is as much of an "indy guy" as any of the others. Rollins is the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and is probably the top heel in the company right now. WWE has clearly made an effort to keep more of an open mind over the past few years.
What does it tell us about NXT?
NXT is probably the best developmental territory that WWE has ever had. Longtime fans will recall that John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and Dave Batista were all alumni of the Ohio Valley Wrestling territory. OVW was a great developmental system for WWE. Since then, WWE has used Deep South Wrestling (DSW), Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), and even their revival of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) as developmental systems. Out of all of their developmental systems, ECW had the most exposure due to its weekly one-hour program on the Syfy Channel from 2006 until February of 2010 when ECW was replaced by NXT. ECW was labeled as being WWE's "third brand" behind Raw and SmackDown but most people would agree that ECW was nothing more than a developmental territory. ECW's roster was often lackluster and the ECW Championship was even demoted from being a "World Championship" to more of a secondary Championship along the lines of the Intercontinental and United States Championships.
Despite the fact that NXT is currently exclusive to the WWE Network and is not available on a major cable television channel like Syfy or the USA Network, NXT has managed to make more noise and create more interest than WWE's version of ECW ever did. NXT really blurs the line between a developmental territory and the main roster. In some ways, NXT is already a third brand that is equal to Raw and SmackDown. Unlike former ECW Champions like Jack Swagger, Christian, Chavo Guerrero, and Matt Hardy, who were all made to look like glorified jobbers on Raw and SmackDown, NXT Champions like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Big E. Langston, Adrian Neville, and even Bo Dallas (at least to a certain extent) have all made a significant impact on WWE's main roster.
WWE officials clearly care about the NXT brand and think highly of it, more so than they ever did with ECW. With all due respect to the Superstars who performed in WWE's ECW, WWE clearly didn't care about making them look strong on Raw and SmackDown. WWE clearly didn't care about making the ECW Championship look like anything compared to the WWE Championship and/or the World Heavyweight Championship. But they have seemingly gone out of their way to make the NXT Superstars, especially former NXT Champions, look strong on the main roster.
WWE's booking of former NXT alumni, along with the overwhelmingly positive fan response that NXT has gotten, really does make NXT seem like it's just about on equal footing with WWE's main roster. Many fans would argue that NXT is actually the best program that WWE is currently producing.
Going forward, it's going to be extremely interesting to see how WWE books NXT stars such as Kevin Owens, as well as the likes of Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Baron Corbin, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and all the other NXT talents. How much of an impact will they make on the main roster? How many Championships will they win? How many major feuds will they engage in? How many of them will go on to have World Championship main event matches at WrestleMania and all the other pay-per-views? How much fan interest will they be able to garner on the main roster?