Damien Barling: What’s In A Number?

The main event for WWE’s Smackdown brand only PPV No Mercy at the Golden One Center is set: John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship.

The triple threat match was set up when Cena made a somewhat surprising return in the first segment of Tuesday’s edition of Smackdown Live.

With Styles in the ring celebrating his title victory on Sunday, Cena’s music hit and the crowd, responding as the do only for Cena, erupted with surprise cheers that quickly turned to “John Cena Sucks” lyrics.

Cena began what felt like a normal “I never give up” promo until he, for the very first time, mentioned he’s one title win away from tying Ric Flair’s 16-time championship reign.

Sixteen is a mythical number in the world of wrestling. It’s also a fake number, but more on that later.

Flair is highly regarded as the greatest in-ring performer in the history of the business. Sixteen title reigns is the most recognized by any major wrestling company and one that while approached, the prospect of tying or breaking that number has never been discussed. It’s the wrestling equivalent of Bill Russell’s 11 NBA Finals wins or UCLA’s decade of dominance.

When Cena won the title for the 15th time, there was a belief that breaking Flair’s fabled 16 mark was a certainty. Since losing that title to Brock Lesnar two years ago, Cena has been largely kept out of the title picture.

While Cena’s 15 are very easy to document, Flair’s 16 are much more difficult. Dave Meltzer of WrestlingObservor.com believes Flair’s title reigns are anywhere from 18 to 21 depending on what constitutes a title change. Why the number 16 was settled on is anyone’s guess. But that’s beside the point.

Only a few minutes after Cena arrived to lay down the challenge and mention his desire for title number 16, Dean Ambrose storms the ring. One of the first things out of his mouth, “I’m not mad about losing. Titles come and go.”

So to recap, Cena, still the biggest star in the company and one of the biggest stars in history, for the first time expresses his desire to make a run at the mythical number 16. He expressed what 16 means to Flair, what 16 means to wrestling fans and what 16 means to him.

Two minutes later, Dean Ambrose emerges to tell us titles don’t really matter. They come and they go.

I know how this works. That was something Ambrose said on his own. Someone wrote that line for him. Which means someone, presumably Triple H and/or Vince McMahon, approved that line.

If the company scripts it’s performers to say titles don’t matter, why should we care who wins and loses? Why should we care about Flair’s 16 title reigns? Why should we care about Cena’s quest for 16 titles? Why should we be happy for guys like Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, and Styles?

The WWE has spent years minimizing what should be it’s most important commodity. It has contributed to lack of developed stars. Ask yourself, with Cena out, who’s the biggest star in WWE?

I guarantee many of you all said a different name in your head. There’s no Hogan. No Rock. No Austin. No Flair. Just a bunch of Jeff Jarrett’s and Koko B Wares.

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