PWTorch editor Wade Keller presents a special Thursday Flagship edition of the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast featuring a WrestleMania 36 Preview with ex-WWE Creative Team member and professional stand-up comedian Matt McCarthy.

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On “Raw Talk” on WWE Network tonight, John Cena said that Roman Reigns earned his respect tonight, but now it’s up to him to follow through. Then he addressed his future.

Renee Young and Jerry Lawler welcomed Cena as their third and final guest. Renee asked him how he is feeling after his match.

He said finishing in second place is always tough. He said he was particularly tough on Roman Reigns and he feels his job in WWE is to be the best or be a vehicle for the best. He said he wanted to bring something out in Roman that no one else has had the courage to do. He said he needed to dig deep and bring something. He said he earned a career on building respect, and he was hard on him for a reason. He said he showed up and earned his respect.

Renee asked how he felt about getting someone else ready to take his spot. Cena said he practices what he preaches, and you either step up or step aside. He said so many try and can’t sustainably produce. He said people will say what they will about him, and that’s the way things are, but he puts his heart and soul into every time he steps into the ring whether it’s to talk or perform. He said that’s all he wanted from Roman. “I’m not saying Roman just calls it in, but in watching his work really closely, he lacked that ability to dig deep,” he said.

He said he could see it with the last time he was in the ring with him. “You can just see it in someone’s face when it crosses a threshold of enough is enough,” he said. “That’s my job – to either bring it out of you or prove that you don’t have it, which means you’re not on this level. Roman stepped up both in a way to communicate with the audience – I said his parting shot to John Cena was Casperoff brilliant. I thought he did a wonderful job. You could tell, I told him two weeks ago, do your homework before you come out here. Because that’s what the guy does. He went home, he did some homework, and he stepped up. That made me go, okay, alright. But tonight I was beaten by the better man. I threw everything I possibly could at him. That was my best performance. Normally when guys don’t do so well, there’s the fallback of ‘if only’ or ‘next time.’ I lost to the better man.”

Lawler asked if that was part of his thought process. “Were you thinking about his performance during that match?” he asked. Cena said no. He said he can walk away saying he gave it his all. “It’s okay that it wasn’t good enough, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “What it does is solidifies Roman’s presence as The Guy. What he does going forward, that’s up to Roman Reigns. As far as the past few weeks go, as far as tonight goes, I was tough on Roman, but he has earned my respect, absolutely.”

Renee said his exit from the ring was eerily similar to Undertaker after losing to Reigns at WrestleMania. “Here is a guy who says he is The Guy and I don’t feel right about it,” Cena said. “I don’t feel that he is. And then in a one month period I watch this young man mature into the guy – from a Superstar standpoint and tonight from a performance standpoint. Sitting there tonight, it was like, honestly, it felt like a giant burden had been lifted off my shoulder in the best way possible.” He said a lot of guys aren’t like that. He smiled and said Enzo, for example, is “Enzo first,” but he is WWE-first. He said he can believe in their future confidently with what he saw tonight out of Roman.

Lawler asked if he felt proud of Roman after that match. Cena said absolutely, and there’s no shame in failing if he gave it his best. He said if his lesson is he has to reevaluate himself and take better inventory of himself, so be it, but he is proud of Reigns.

Renee asked what he told Reigns. Cena said he won’t. Renee yelled, “Come on!” Cena said there is a brotherhood among Superstars and it’s a very real thing. He said he had walked down the road Roman is walking and will walk. He said what he told him is necessary and was deserved and it’s between just them.

Renee said his reaction was that he very much appreciated what he told him. Cena said it was a very emotional night. He said he was in the same building where he jumped in the crowd after wining his first championship. Cena teared up and said, “Transition is tough, but it’s wonderful and beautiful.” Lawler patted him on the shoulder in a show of support. Cena said the future of WWE is in unbelievable hands.

Lawler said he’s going to ask him about something he is talking circles around. “Is he gone?” he asked. Cena joking asked if he was ever here in the first place, playing off of the “you can’t see me” catch phrase. He said his role is different. He talked about the podcast interview with Edge & Christian he did a few days ago. He said he’s 40 and he has 15 years of track experience, and not at a normal level, but at an elite level. He said even if he didn’t have opportunities outside of WWE, he might not keep up at this pace. He said that’s a major thing for him to consider. He said WWE is his life and nobody can argue that, even if they don’t like him. He said he’ll be like a weird Batman character. “When they shine the light, I’ll come a running.”

Cena said when he was airing his grievances with Roman, he said he was still there because Roman can’t do his job. He said it resonated because it rang true. He said top stars don’t last long in WWE, and he was an anomaly. He said he was sending a message to everyone else to step up and show he does need to go on vacation. He said Roman is a stud and a Superstar. “I don’t care if he has a little ways to go with the WWE Universe understanding that, Roman, from a guy who has had to make those steps, Roman, keep doing what you’re doing. He is gifted. I was beyond impressed.”

Renee asked if Cena has to leave before somebody else can step up. Lawler asked if this was a passing of the torch. Cena said Roman stepped up and took it. He said it’s not passed, it’s taken. He said Roman’s biggest challenge is to run with “said torch.” He said you are only as good as your next one.

Lawler asked what his message is to Roman and the rest of the locker room. He said Roman knows because they shared a chat. “I am so proud of him,” he said. “I just hope he keeps that passion and that fire. It’s not about speaking clearly and saying the right words, it’s about showing the people that show up and showing them equal respect. Roman is about respect, and if he gives everything he’s got to this business, with the gifts and abilities he has, the sky is the limit.”

He closed by thanking the fans. “I’m not gone, but things are changing for me and I couldn’t be more appreciative for those who have torn a ticket and sat down and been entertained. And we’ll go from there.”

Keller’s Analysis: There are so many layers there, and a mix of total work and total shoot and hybrids of both, including passive aggressive comments, plausibly deniable criticisms of Roman’s existing shortcomings, genuine heartfelt emotions, and guarded and qualified endorsements. I think Cena is mostly feeding a storyline initiated by Vince McMahon for Cena to show doubt in Roman, to reflect how fans feel, and the ultimately endorse him (not all that different than what he did with success with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose prior). But I think it’s crazy to not think Cena is playing his own game here, and slipping in some comments that are self-serving in certain ways, but mostly hints at where he thinks Roman is definitely coming up short. The line about showing the fans equal respect and giving everything he has to the business felt like wording worth reading into a little bit. He could have, in a total work, just said that although the fans don’t believe it, Roman respects the hell out of the business and the fans and gives it his all every day, and he sees a work ethic and attitude and WWE-first attitude in Roman that reminds him of him at the same stage. Cena didn’t say that. Not even close. He paid lip service to WWE being in good hands, but doesn’t leave it there, and adds that now it’s up to Roman to run with this. In other words, Cena has done his job – he brought out the best in Roman on the mic, had a great PPV match with him, did a clean job, and gave him a “full-throated” endorsement afterward – and now it’s up to Roman to “not screw it up.” 

NOTE: I’ll talk more about this on tonight’s VIP Wade Keller Hotline. I already did a detailed 44 minute breakdown and analysis of the Roman Reigns CBS Sports podcast interview and Cena’s Edge & Christian podcast interview on Friday’s VIP Keller Hotline. Go VIP! You can also hear the VIP-exclusive post-PPV Audio Roundtable with Todd Martin, Bruce Mitchell, and me recorded right after No Mercy. CLICK HERE: VIP SIGN UP INFO