By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 15, 2006

World Wrestling Entertainment did something last weekend that it has been reluctant to do in the past. And that’ listen to its fans.

After countless weeks of trying to figure out how to deal with John Cena’s declining popularity, the company pulled the trigger and removed the strap from the 28-year-old at Sunday night’s New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view.

Cena, who has been viewed by WWE brass as one of the company’s top commodities, has been the target of considerable fan backlash in recent months. To counteract the growing negative reaction, WWE has had Kurt Angle, his No. 1 contender, take on an even more heelish role, to the point of criticizing American troops.

To show how out of the loop the WWE creative team is, however, the more heat they put on Angle, the more cheers he received. While Cena remained popular among the majority of children and female fans, the young male demographic – the company’s biggest constituency – turned on him in droves.

John Cena

John Cena

The weekly embarrassment came to a head last weekend at the pay-per-view when Edge (Adam Copeland) cashed in his “money in the bank” gimmick and dethroned Cena. Although a full-fledged heel, Edge was roundly cheered and, at least for a night, became the most popular performer on the roster.

With the tremendous pool of company resources behind him, Cena most likely will have his character tweaked in time for what appears to be a title match at Wrestlemania against Triple H, who in the past has questioned Cena’s ring ability. Cena has a wealth of merchandise on the WWE table and the starring role in a WWE-produced movie titled “The Marine” scheduled for release later this year. A heel turn, while it would freshen up Cena’s character, would likely do damage to those two investments, so it’s expected that WWE will work with his existing babyface persona and adjust it more to the fans’ liking.

The company has made it clear that it remains high on Cena. His backstage demeanor, clean-cut look and charismatic personality more than make up for the fact that he’s not likely to be involved in any five-star matches anytime soon. The negative reaction from the male audience has been partly prompted by the opposite response from his younger contingent, particularly adolescent girls, who view him as a teen idol. It’s now up to WWE to find a way to endear Cena to its biggest audience without alienating his current legion of fans.

– WWE suffered another major blow with an injury to Batista at a recent house show.

Batista, who was tentatively scheduled to defend the WWE crown against Randy Orton at Wrestlemania in April, is now off that show after undergoing surgery on his torn right triceps Thursday in Birmingham.

The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Jeffrey Dugas, lasted approximately one-and-a-half hours. Lead surgeon Dr. James Andrews suffered a heart attack over the weekend and was unable to perform the procedure.

Batista, who also is still recovering from an upper back and shoulder injury he suffered on Nov. 8, had opted to work through that injury rather than have surgery.

Batista was forced to vacate his WWE title on last week’s episode of Smackdown. Kurt Angle jumped from the Raw roster to become the new champion by winning a 20-man battle royal.

– Inferno Pro Wrestling will present its “Team Warfare” show tonight at the Music Farm, 32 Ann St., downtown Charleston. Tickets are $5; student with ID is $3. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, call 364-7061.