Record-tying sixteen-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and comedy role model John Cena made headlines this weekend when he took a moment at WrestleMania 33 to propose to his longtime partner, Nikki Bella. Beneath Bella’s ultimate storybook ending – her WrestleMania Moment – though, lies a set of Hall of Fame-worthy performances by the couple’s opponents at the Grandest Stage of Them All. Ex-Real World star Mike “The Miz” Mizanin and his wife, Maryse Ouellet, a Québécois fitness model turned Divas Champion, found a career resurgence on SmackDown Live following Mizanin’s fiery outburst against his former protégé, Daniel Bryan, on the post-show talk show last year and leveraged this momentum into the best run of Miz’s tumultuous career, taking center stage on SmackDown Live in large part for the heels’ surprisingly funny and cutting vignettes leading to this mixed tag match. Total Bullshit is a comedic triumph for Ouellet as both Bella Twins and The Miz pulling double duty as Bryan and a robotic caricature of Cena. Together, they anchor a scripted reality television parody in a way only a former scripted reality star could:
Maryse takes the low road against Nikki, preying on the audience’s perception of her on Total Divas as a spoiled, occasionally lovelorn laze – one who forgets which twin she is and, in the miniseries’ most underrated beat, sinks just long enough into an absurdist repetition of valley girl affirmations. The Miz, on the other hand, reminds me of Alec Baldwin’s latest role on Saturday Night Live, given that both of their one-note performances punch up at the most important people in their worlds. The endless list of John Cena’s House Rules and double-secret time-outs that come as punishment hit so hard because of Cena’s long-running portrayal on Total Divas as the rule-oriented straight man to the Bellas’ ditzy drama. Most comedy in mainstream sports entertainment is pointless, dumb, and product placement. What the Mizanins put out there is quite the opposite: it’s truth in comedy.
Most importantly, Total Bullshit presupposes that Cena and Bella are a couple for the cameras, that the way their relationship furthers their brand is more important to them than the relationship itself. Cena’s decision to propose under every shining light he could fit under a gigantic prop wrestling ring at Camping World Stadium, joined for maximum mainstream exposure by The Today Show’s Al Roker, is a tacit admission of defeat despite the newly engaged couple’s otherwise decisive victory.
The Miz and Maryse underscore a growing movement in professional wrestling that accepts the shades of grey that come with interpersonal relationships and are a shining example of where comedy fits in the quest to get the audience on a character’s side. Ultimately, it’s probably a really shitty thing to do to poke fun at an otherwise honorable man’s internal struggle with love, but fans laughed along and came out in droves to WrestleMania, smattering the babyfaces’ shine and the early goings of the proposal with the familiar boos of, well, everything John Cena does. And in that way, they’re also a symbol in the evolution of wrestling toward an ensemble of characters who each represent their own fatal flaw, fighting to the end like ancient gladiators in coliseums full of glorified groundlings, whose only job is to pick their poison and shout it loud.
Noah Jacobs is a writer, podcaster, and mark who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.