WWE went in a wild direction for John Cena and Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Funhouse Match at WrestleMania 36. After the Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles, which took a more Broken/Woken Universe filming approach, many anticipated the Firefly Funhouse would be more of the same. What we received was instead a meta promo war, a John Cena career retrospective that merged his character’s history with the entirety of WWE lore.
As might be expected by such a reference-heavy segment, there are several small nods to WWE history (and WCW history) that many may have missed. We’ve scoured through the nether realm that was the Firefly Funhouse to give you every possible reference in this one-of-a-kind encounter.
After an eerie montage of WrestleMania introductions by Vince McMahon and the legendary Mean Gene Okerlund, the match kicked off in Bray’s Firefly Funhouse set. Many of the references in this room have been covered before, hearkening back to previous segments of the fictional children’s TV show. These include Bray’s sombrero, Orton’s arson attack on Bray’s home, his decapitated cardboard cutout, and the ever-present puppet troupe.
Bray, followed by Cena, exited through the back door of the set, on which hangs the ominous phrase “Abandon all hope ye who exit here.” This is a malformed play on the infamous phrase “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” emblazoned on the gates of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. As they enter, Cena finds himself shrouded in darkness with strange noises echoing around him, similar to what occurs when characters enter The Black Lodge in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Puppet Vince makes numerous appearances in the match, including at an announce desk alongside Mercy The Buzzard impersonating Macho Man Randy Savage. Several references are made to the Ruthless Aggression era of WWE, a period that Cena coined the name for when he first debuted on the main roster. There are also allusions to the infamous brass ring and Vince’s signature catchphrase, “you’re fired!” Later, a more recent catchphrase is exclaimed by the puppet, as he claims “this is such good shit,” a phrase Vince reportedly utters towards various questionable booking decisions in the modern era.
This first section of the match mirrors Cena’s debut appearance on WWE’s main roster against Kurt Angle. This is complete with the former SmackDown fist, the centerpiece of the old set. Bray splices in Angle’s promo as he delivers segments of it himself, before Cena storms the ring in his early attire with bright fluorescent trunks and a piercing, rage-filled gaze.
Cena is repetitive and automated in his responses during this section; this references his original WWE character, The Prototype, who was meant to be semi-robotic, akin to The Terminator. During this section, Wyatt has a few real-life jabs at Cena, including referencing the time he almost got fired from the WWE and singing “you can look, but you can’t touch,” the entrance music of his former fiancee Nikki Bella.
After this section, Wyatt and Cena are somehow transported back in time, through a funnel of vintage WWF intro footage. Wyatt is seen behind the bars of the blue cage, a design many remember from the Golden Age before WWE changed to a more realistic silver steel. Wyatt and Cena both cut classic ’80s-style wrestling promos filled to the brim with references to Vince McMahon’s preference for big bodybuilder physiques, and ’80s legends like Randy Savage’s infamous “the cream rises to the top” promo, Big John Studd, and Hulk Hogan’s “power of the people.”
John Cena resurrected his Thugonamics gimmick at WrestleMania last year, so this section didn’t feel as fresh as it could have. It still featured yet more fourth-wall breaking insults, as Cena attacked Wyatt for his weight as Husky Harris, a real-life backstage reaction Wyatt faced during his career at the time.
At one point, though, Wyatt refers to Cena as the Golden Goose. A well-known fairytale, the moral of the Golden Goose was that people who are blessed with something they haven’t properly earned are consumed by it through their unquenchable greed for more. Wyatt then attacks Cena with a chain, the weapon Cena frequently used against the likes of Carlito when he wrestled as the Dr of Thugonamics.
Perhaps the highlight of the match, Wyatt briefly returned to his former eater of worlds character. This section addresses the decision for Cena to go over Wyatt at WrestleMania, something many felt derailed his momentum for years afterward. Wyatt calls Cena Superman, a reference to the “Super Cena” hatred Cena faced at the height of his career due to his infallibility in the ring. Wyatt forces Cena to relive the moment in the match when he encourages Cena to disqualify himself by attacking Bray with a chair, begging him to “fix” the booking error he was a part of all those years ago. However, when John succumbs and swings the chair, Bray is gone.
In perhaps the most surreal part of the whole match, WCW footage plays on WWE programming for the first time in years. Wyatt enters the ring fully decked out in Eric Bishoff cosplay, complete with a nWo Wolfpack shirt.
This whole segment is made to echo the fact that Hulk Hogan turned heel and revitalized wrestling in the 90s, whereas Cena could never make the same turn. Wyatt even does Scott Hall’s pointing pose in this section of the match, while Cena strums a spray-painted belt like a guitar just like Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
In a section of the match many may have missed, Cena actually “embraces the hate” he feels inside toward Wyatt during his uncontrolled assault on Pig Boy. Cena was part of a lengthy storyline with a returning Kane in 2012, where Kane would repeatedly try to make Cena “embrace the hate” and make WWE’s franchise player do violent, uncharacteristic things to be ready for his showcase match against The Rock. During the assault, a montage plays of notable occasions where the fans shunned Cena, such as the “if Cena wins we riot” sign from ECW One Night Stand, his loss to Brock Lesnar and even a short clip of CM Punk, blowing a kiss as he ran off with the WWE title.
With Cena finally at his lowest, The Fiend appears and silences John Cena once and for all with a mandible claw. Cena lies motionless on the mat, before disappearing completely. This is Cena’s career coming full circle, as now that The Fiend has defeated him, the “You Can’t See Me” phrase he immortalized finally comes true. It remains to be seen whether we’ll see John Cena in the WWE again.
The Fiend took John Cena on a harrowing journey through his worst fears, giving fans a glimpse at classic moments throughout his career.