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By Thomas Wheeler

Despite the fact that I have watched the WWE on television for quite a few years, and attended a handful of live events, including two WrestleManias, I have not been in the habit of purchasing Jakks Pacific's line of WWE action figures.

It's not that the figures don't look impressive. They certainly do. But they're a little too big for easy display, too expensive, and ultimately, the WWE line is simply too convoluted and voluminous. Various special series, limited editions -- it's just too much. Rather than try to get involved at some peripheral level, I just decided to avoid the whole thing.

Well, Jakks Pacific has finally come up with a line that has caught my attention. They're more affordable, they're a better size, and, best of all, since it's a whole new series just starting out, it hasn't gotten overly complicated. It's a genuine shame that Jakks has lost the WWE license to Mattel, but based on the news out of Toy Fair 2008, there'll be plenty of these new figures for us to collect and enjoy while we can.

Officially called "Build 'N' Brawl", these are all-new, 1:18 scale (roughly 4") action figures of popular WWE superstars. The "Build" aspect of the concept comes from the fact that each figure comes with a piece of a wrestling ring that you can assemble. The finished ring, shown on the back of the package, looks to be a little small in scale compared to the figures, but workable.

Although I'm generally not one to comment on packaging, in this case, it's deserved. Jakks has designed these toys with a surprising minimum of packaging, which nevertheless works quite well. The package card is about 7" x 5". The bubble is about 4-1/2" square. There is a picture of the wrestler in question in the upper right of the card. The upper left has the Build 'n' Brawl logo.

The back shows all of the wrestlers in the assortment, and a large picture of the completed ring. One thing of interest is the little holographic sticker on the back of the card which designates the figure as an official WWE licensed product. While the main image is the large WWE logo, the background changes, depending on how the light hits it, from multiple logos of the WWE Legends Logo, RAW, SmackDown, and ECW. Amazingly complex for something that's 1/2" square. The holographic sticker on my debit card isn't that complex!

For this review, I'd like to take a look at one of the most prominent superstars currently in the WWE. He's been a multi-time champion, starred in his own movie, and produced his own rap album -- oh, well, nobody's perfect... I'm talking about JOHN CENA!

Cena was born April 23, 1977 in West Newbury, Massachusetts, the second eldest of five brothers - Dan, Matt, Steve and Sean. After graduating from Cushing Academy, Cena attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. In college he was a Division III All-American center on the football team, wearing the number 54, which is still used on some of his WWE merchandise. He graduated from Springfield in 1998 with a degree in exercise physiology, after which he pursued a career as a bodybuilder, and also worked as a chauffeur for a limousine company.

Cena first started training to become a wrestler in 2000 at the California-based "Ultimate University" operated by Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW). Once he was placed into an in-ring role, Cena began using a semi-robotic character known as The Prototype. Some of this period of his career was documented in the Discovery Channel program Wrestling School. While in UPW, Cena held the Heavyweight Championship for just shy of a month in April 2000. In 2001, the WWE signed him away from UPW, placing him under a developmental contract and assigning him to their "farm territory" Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he continued his training. During his time there, Cena wrestled as both The Prototype and Mr. P, and he held the Heavyweight Championship for three months and the Tag Team Championship for two.

Cena's first televised WWE match was in answer to an "open challenge" (staged of course) by Kurt Angle on June 27, 2002. Inspired by a speech given by WWE CEO Vince McMahon to the rising stars of the company, exhorting them to show "ruthless aggression" to earn a place among the legends, Cena took advantage of the opportunity and almost beat Angle by kicking out of his Angle Slam and enduring the ankle lock submission hold. He ultimately lost, however, to a hard, amateur-style pin. Following the near-win, Cena was put into a program with Chris Jericho. In October, Cena and Billy Kidman joined forces to take part in a tag team tournament to crown the first WWE Tag Team Champions of the SmackDown! brand, but lost in the first round. With all of this, Cena found himself alternating between the role of "face" (good guy) and "heel" (bad guy) a fair amount.

Shortly after, on a Halloween themed episode of SmackDown!, Cena dressed as Vanilla Ice (which amazingly enough didn't destroy his career on the
spot) and performed a freestyle rap. The next week, Cena received a new
gimmick: a rapper who cut promos in rhyme. As the gimmick grew, he adopted a variant of the 80s WWF logo -- dropping the "F" -- as his "signature symbol", along with the slogan "Word Life".

In early 2004, Cena participated in the Royal Rumble match at the annual January pay-per-view event, making it to the final six participants before being eliminated by Big Show. The Royal Rumble elimination led to a feud between Big Show and Cena, during which Cena won the United States Championship from the Big Show at WrestleMania XX in March.

During his reign, he came into contention with SmackDown! General Manager Kurt Angle over issues arising with René Duprée and Torrie Wilson. The reign ended just shy of four months when, on July 8, he was stripped of the belt by Angle after he "accidentally" knocked him over, thus "attacking an official".

He won the title back by defeating Booker T in a "best of five" series that culminated at October's No Mercy, only to lose it to the debuting Carlito the next week. After the loss to Carlito, the duo began a feud, during which Cena was (as part of the storyline) stabbed while at a Boston-area nightclub by Carlito's bodyguard, This storyline injury was used to keep Cena out of action for a month, during which Cena was actually filming his feature film debut "The Marine."

Cena took part in the Royal Rumble in January 2005, this time making it to the final two. He and Raw wrestler Batista went over the top rope at the same time, ostensibly ending the match. Vince McMahon, however, appeared on stage and re-started the match in "sudden death", with Batista eventually winning.

The next month, Cena defeated Kurt Angle to earn a spot in the SmackDown! brand's WrestleMania 21 main event, beginning a feud with WWE Champion John "Bradshaw" Layfield (JBL). In the opening stages of the feud, Cena lost his US belt to Cabinet member Orlando Jordan. When Cena and JBL met at WrestleMania, the title switched hands, giving Cena his first world title in the company.

Cena's SmackDown! tenure came to a close on the June 6, 2005 episode of WWE Raw, when he became the first wrestler selected by Raw brand General Manager Eric Bischoff in the annual draft lottery. Cena immediately entered a program against Bischoff when he refused to participate in his "war" against the upcoming Extreme Championship Wrestling reunion show. With Bischoff vowing to make Cena's stint on Raw difficult, he "hand picked" Jericho to take Cena's title from him. During their feud, even though Cena was portrayed as the face and Jericho as the heel, a vocal section of live crowds nonetheless chose to boo Cena during their matches. More crowds followed suit during Cena's next feud with Kurt Angle, who took over as Bischoff's hand picked #1 contender after Cena beat Jericho.

As the feud continued and the dissenters grew more vocal, sometimes seeming to outnumber fans by wide margins,[65] the announce team was forced to acknowledge the boos on television and began calling Cena a "controversial champion", claiming some people disliked him on account of his "in-ring style" and his chosen fashion. Despite the mixed and negative reactions, Cena held on to his Championship title through his feud with Angle.

It's certainly worth mentioning that John Cena continues to receive a mixed reaction to this day. Although he has been consistently portrayed as one of the good guys, he still receives large numbers of boos whenever he turns up on any WWE program. I just don't get this. The man is not offensive. His entrance music barely qualifies as rap or hip-hop anymore. He's a very capable wrestler and athlete, and outside of the ring shows great respect to the United States Armed Forces, and was recently honored by the esteemed Make-A-Wish Foundation, which works very closely with the WWE, for helping to grant over 100 "wishes" in a relatively short period of time. This is not a man who deserves to be booed. I'd like to think it's part of some gimmick that the crowd just hasn't gotten over yet, but I rather wish they would.

Cena lost the WWE Championship at the first WWE pay-per-view of 2006, New Year's Revolution, but not in the Elimination Chamber match that he had been advertised to participate in beforehand. Instead, immediately after winning the Elimination Chamber, he was thrust into a match against Edge, who cashed in his Money in the Bank contract -- a "guaranteed title match at the WWE Champion of the owners choosing" -- and after two quick spears pinned Cena for the title. Cena's championship reign ended at 280 days, matching the length of previous champion JBL. Just three weeks later, Cena won the title back at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. After winning the Championship back, Cena was put in to a program with Triple H, during which the crowd again seemed to boo the intended face (Cena) and cheer the intended heel (Triple H).

Cena lost the WWE Championship for the second time in 2006 at One Night Stand, being pinned by Van Dam after interference from Edge. In July, after Edge won the title from Van Dam in a Triple Threat match that also involved Cena, it re-ignited the feud between him and Cena from earlier in the year. After Edge went about retaining the title by dubious means; getting himself disqualified and using brass knuckles, Cena eventually won the Championship back in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at September's Unforgiven pay-per-view, in a match that had an added stipulation that had Cena lost he would leave the Raw brand and go to SmackDown!.

On the heels of the Edge program, Cena was placed in an inter-brand angle to determine the so-called "Champion of Champions" -- or which was the most dominant champion in WWE's three brands. Cena, King Booker, and Big Show, then the champions of SmackDown and ECW, engaged in a mini- feud leading to a Triple Threat match at Cyber Sunday in November, with the viewers voting on which of the three championships would be placed on the line.

During a match with Mr. Kennedy on the October 1, 2007 episode of Raw, Cena suffered an actual injury; a torn pectoral muscle while executing a hip toss. Though he finished the match and took part in the scripted attack by Randy Orton after the match, surgery the following day found that his pectoralis major muscle was torn completely from the bone, estimated at the time to require seven months to a year of rehabilitation. As a result, he was stripped of the title in an announcement by Vince McMahon on the next night's episode of ECW, ending what was the longest WWE Championship reign in over 19 years. His surgery was performed by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. Two weeks later, in a video update on, Dr. Andrews and Cena's physical trainer both said that he was several weeks ahead of where he was expected to be in his rehabilitation at that time. Despite his injury, Cena attended the annual WWE Tribute to the Troops show filmed at Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq on December 7, and aired on December 24.

Cena made an unannounced return to action on January 27, 2008, as the final participant of the Royal Rumble, winning the match and the traditional WrestleMania title shot, by last eliminating Triple H.Instead of waiting until WrestleMania, the match was "cashed in" against Randy Orton at No Way Out, where Cena won by disqualification, thereby not receiving the title. As of this writing in early March, Cena is scheduled to appear in one of the main events at WrestleMania 24, in a triple-threat match for the title against Randy Orton and Triple H.

Whatever mixed reaction Cena may get in the ring, there's no question that his new Build 'n' Brawl figure is popular. The first assortment of figures in this new line consists of some pretty heavy-duty names -- Cena, Triple H, Undertaker, Bobby Lashley, Batista, and Edge. While I don't know what the packing ratios are in a given case, I can say this -- Cena is one of the first ones cleaned out. To date, it would appear that Edge is the peg-warmer. Of course, given the sort of low-down dirty heel Edge has been playing on SmackDown lately, I can't say I'm surprised.

Given the obvious popularity of this particular figure, I resolved to pick it up the next time I saw it. There's another reason Cena should be regarded as vital to this collection. Unlike four of the other wrestlers in the assortment, who each come with 1/4 of the wrestling ring mat for the Build 'n' Brawl collection, Cena comes with the ring ropes! Isn't much of a wrestling ring without the ring ropes! Wrestlers like to bounce off of these, and even jump off of them, on a regular basis. If they're not there, somebody's going to go sprawling to the floor.

The ring ropes are three pieces of red elastic cord. What surprised me a bit about them was that they weren't circles of rope. They were straight lengths. Instructions are provided to explain how to tie them off on the turnbuckles that are attached to the ring posts (sold with somebody else), but honestly, it looks like a Boy Scout exercise. Surprises me a bit that the instructions don't say "Adult supervision may be required". Also surprises me a bit that the instructions are in English and French. I suspect this was on behalf of Canadian customers.

And I'll admit I've always had a little trouble translating two-dimensional pictorial instructions into the three-dimensional environment. Don't know why. I do have a background as a graphic artist. But watch me try to work a Transformer sometime. So maybe this isn't as hard as it looks. Please don't feel intimidated.

The John Cena figure -- first off, we have an excellent headsculpt. The face might be a little too round in the cheeks and jaw, but not by much. I am certain that the original sculpt for this figure was distinctly larger than this 1:18 scale figure. It would be extremely difficult to achieve this level of detail on an original sculpt this small. Cena's face has a sort of half-smirk on it, one side of his mouth raised in a bit of a grin. Actually, thinking about it, determining a facial expression for this figure probably wasn't easy. On the air, Cena seems to either keep a relatively neutral expression, wears a grin (generally just before delivering some devastatingly verbal blows to someone who's come out to challenge him), or he's open-mouthed and yelling at someone who's made the mistake of crossing him. I don't think that last one would've been very appealing (although they gave it to Batista), so they went for sort of a cross between the other two.

Cena typically wears his hair in what I think is referred to as a "fade" -- there's some short hair on top, and it tapers down to practically shaved by the time it reaches the sides and back of his head. This can't have been all that easy to accomplish, either, but Jakks did a good job of it. The hair on the top of his head is painted dark brown, and on the sides and back, stubble has been sculpted in, and painted a much lighter shade of brown, almost the color of his skin.

Looking at the rest of the figure, I'm trying to determine if Jakks has reused any body parts. About the only ones they could on Cena would be the torso. His pants are much too distinctive, and he has armbands. I compared Cena to one other figure I have here, Lashley, who is also shirtless, and -- you know, maybe, maybe not. They're EXTREMELY similar, but there seem to be some variances. I'm honestly just not sure. I know they've reused some body sections in their larger line, and given the high cost of body molds, one can hardly blame them for doing so when it works -- as long as they don't start swapping parts between Umaga and Rey Mysterio. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some part reusage in the Build 'n' Brawl line. But as it applies to Cena -- I just can't say for certain.

Cena's overall body sculpt is excellent, and certainly looks like the character. Cena does not wear traditional wrestling tights and boots. Typically, he wears somewhat baggy jeans that are cut off just below the knees, and sneakers. So it is with the John Cena figure. The jeans are appropriately baggy, and extend to the proper length. One thing that's very interesting is that as a result of Cena's baggier clothes, some structural adaptations had to be made to the leg articulation at the hip. Figures that wear tights, such as Undertaker and Lashley (the other two figures in this line that I have purchased to date), are able to use a fairly straightforward ball-and-socket construction. But that wouldn't work too well for Cena's wardrobe. The design actually reminds me of the leg design being used by Mattel for their DC Universe figures. Cena's construction has a sort of "T-crotch" design, but there's a pivot point right at the hip that allows the leg to move outwards as well as back and forth. It looks a LITTLE awkward, but basically, it works. And thinking about the wardrobes of some other WWE superstars -- Edge, Rey Mysterio, the Hardys -- I don't think we've seen the last of this construction design.

Cena's sneakers are superbly well detailed. I almost want to look them up online and see how close they are to any given brand name. Get out as magnifying glass and check out the little laces.

And as long as you've got that magnifying glass out, although I'm not sure even it will be sufficient, check out the tiny little emblem on Cena's left jeans leg. Think that's tiny? Check out the one on his left armband. I swear, it looks like there's SOMETHING legible there around the insignia itself, but I can't begin to read it, and I'm generally pretty good with such things. I'm sure if I called up some online information, I could determine what it says, but that's not the point. How in the world did they get this so small? The entire design is barely 1/16" in diameter.

So, there's certainly no question as to the intiricacy of detail on this figure. How's the articulation? Superb. I've been likening these figures to the Marvel Legends Superhero Showdown figures, and not inaccurately, although I think these WWE figures are made better. Cena is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, hands, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, upper leg rotation, knees, and ankles. About the only area where Cena comes up a little short compared to some of the others is that Undertaker and Lashley have double-jointed knees. However, this wouldn't've been terribly feasible given the cut of Cena's jeans, and I regard it as a very minor point. This little figure still has tons of articulation.

It does seem that it is very difficult to assemble a figure this small without at least one slightly loose part here and there. Such is mass production, I suppose. On Undertaker, it was one of his arm swivels. On Lashley, it was his waist. On Cena, it's his right arm at the shoulder and swivel. Not too big a deal, but noticeable.

If I were to make one change in the figure, I would modify the right hand. John Cena has the practice of waving his open hand in front of his own face, generally while leaning over a near-defeated opponent, so he's generally waving it in front of their face as well, and declaring one of his catch-phrases, "You can't see me!" -- just before delivering the final blow.

The Cena figure's right hand is a clenched fist. The left hand is a near- fist. He is incapable of making this signature move, and the figure doesn't come with any spare hands. I know that Jakks is capable of making open hands in this scale, because both Lashley and Undertaker have them. It's perhaps a rather minor point, but I do think it is somewhat unfortunate.

So what's my final word on the WWE Build 'n' Brawl John Cena figure? Impressive. This is a very cool line that I hope has a decent run before the WWE license switches over to Mattel. I expect to collect a generous amount of this line, and certainly, John Cena is a significant entry in that line. The WWE BUILD 'N' BRAWL JOHN CENA figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!