This is totally not my thing. Anyways, here’s a listicle.
When John Cena first arrived in the championship scene, it all seemed so boilerplate. WWE was confident in two of its newer superstars in Cena and Batista, and for the first time ever wanted to crown two new franchise players at Wrestlemania, because Wrestlemania is where things like crowning new franchises should happen. There wasn’t the usual droppings of criticism for WWE going back to a well-trod story after two years of doing something similar (crowning Lesnar at XIX, and Benoit at XX), but if anything, it was predictable. Cena and Batista were both going to win at Wrestlemania, and go on to be the focus of the show for at least the next six months.
Nearly ten years later, John Cena is still winning and defending the WWE Championship. Batista has quit twice, and the title he won no longer exists. JBL has retired (twice). HHH is no longer an active competitor, though he’ll occasionally perform. Shawn Michaels has retired. In fact, of all of John Cena’s Wrestlemania opponents, only Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt are on the active roster. This is both a testament to Cena’s lasting brand value, but also the calibre of opponents WWE has deemed worthy of performing with him at Wrestlemania. The Rock came out of retirement to wrestle John Cena, after all.
Whatever you may think of John Cena, his list of accomplishments is staggering and his passion for WWE and its fans is unquestionable. Still, criticisms are warranted, and often controversial. This list hopes to fortify the argument on both sides. Turns out, there’s something in each match for both the ‘Let’s go Cena’ and ‘Cena sucks’ crowds.
John Cena def. JBL, Wrestlemania 21
It was impossible to know by watching Wrestlemania 21 just how big John Cena would become. His title win occurs earlier in the show than Batista’s, the match is given less time, and his opponent is simply not the caliber of a HHH. JBL had held the title since defeating Eddie Guerrero the previous summer, but it was a sorely predictable affair. Still. The crowd loved the outcome, and welcomed John to the upper echelon.
Let’s go Cena: His first title win is historic simply because it happened at Wrestlemania. It began the Cena era, and laid a solid foundation for a guy who’s easy to like and easy to cheer for. He looks like a champion here, and the debut of his new theme song was a nice character-growing moment. It’s as much a coming-out party as a wrestling match. Cena has arrived.
Cena sucks: His first title win is so emblematic of his main event status: effortless. He barely sweats JBL, who comes across like he’s 50 years too old to be there. The match barely registers on any scale of tempo or quality, and is perhaps the worst Wrestlemania WWE Championship match of the modern era. The fact is, their “A few good men” video was better than their match.
John Cena def. Edge, Royal Rumble 2006
Make no mistake, John Cena’s dominance has defined the modern era. But another WWE mainstay débuted at Wrestlemania 21: Money in the Bank. The two have been linked somce the beginning, and intertwine. Winning Money in the Bank more often than not means disrupting a John Cena title reign. That briefcase is like The Heenan Family to Hulk Hogan: every few months, a new challenger appears.
John Cena’s first championship reign came to an end because of Money in the Bank, when Edge cashed in. He won it back the very next match.
Let’s go Cena: First off, what an entrance. When you think of elaborate Cena entrances, you think of Wrestlemania, but go back and watch Cena’s entrance at the 2006 Royal Rumble. You’ll be both blown away by the technical feat, and disappointed that they never do this kind of thing anymore. Secondly, this is arguably Cena’s first great match, one that solidifies him as top-tier talent deserving of his prestige.
Cena sucks: What a disappointing end to what could have been a great story. Edge stealing the WWE Championship from Cena should have been the beginning of a months-long story culminating at Wrestlemania, not resolved within a few weeks. This is the first of several instances in Cena’s career where he could have been a much better foil for a villain than he was, and it’s the first time you can be truly disappointed by a Cena victory.
John Cena def. Edge, Unforgiven 2006
Cena’s third championship victory has him defeating the same man (a pattern we’ll see repeated later) in one of the best matches of the year. Cena defeated Edge in his hometown of Toronto, in a match Edge helped make famous―TLC.
Let’s Go Cena: Cena holds up his end lf the match, and his reputation as a big match performer escalates. This is a big moment for Cena, as this title win feels truly earned and hard fought. Even Cena’s critics point to this match as a high time in his career.
Cena sucks: Edge débuted the Rated R version of the title only weeks before this match. He was still an on fire villain with tons of heat, and while this was a thrilling conclusion to what is essentially an eight-month story, it still feels like it could have gone on until Wrestlemania. Having said that, none of the criticisms about this story have anything to do wit he match or even Cena himself, but rather the idea that Cena would essentially be done with Edge―arguably his best dancing partner―after this.
John Cena def. Jericho, Survivor Series 2008
John Cena had been injured for several months, and this was his return contest. There wasn’t much of a feud here really, but the real story is how WWE viewed Jericho at the hottest time of his career. Coming off the incredible story with Shawn Michaels, Jericho was the company’s biggest villain. Here, he’s the doormat for a returning John Cena.
Let’s Go Cena: love him or hate him, you have to respect his ability to bounce back from injuries as a superhuman rate. This was the second time Cena returned months ahead of schedule, and his performance isn’t hurt by the time away. This is a solid match, if not exactly a classic. And it is a legitimately touching moment of redemption when Cena wins, proving he can still hang with the best in the world at what he does.
Cena sucks: Jericho deserved a real feud with Cena. Once again, this match could have been the beginning of a larger story, but is instead just left here as a footnote in both men’s careers, better left forgotten. It’s not even Cena’s best world title win coming back from injury in the fall, of which he has three(!)
John Cena def. Big Show & Edge, Wrestlemania 25
Cena’s rivalry with Edge is renewed here, this time bringing Bog Show into it so that we can see Cena be incredibly strong. If this match is remembered for anything, it’s Cena hitting the AA on both of them at the same time, which is the kind of incredible athleticism wrestling fans simply can’t even digest.
Let’s Go Cena: This is Cena’s first title win at Wrestlemania in four years, and it really does feel like a return to form. Although the match doesn’t close then show, Cena is still very much The Man with capitals, and is basically untouchable. If you love Cena, you love moments like this, where he overcomes great odds with unbelievable strength and fortitude.
Cena Sucks: There aren’t many complaints to be made here. Shouldn’t the good guy win at Wrestlemania? Cena would go on to lose to both men in the coming months, and even if they were lower profile matches, they still happened. Edge still technically “won” the feud. Still, Cena critics began to feel distaste for Cena in full force here, wondering aloud if this was the future of WWE: John Cena overcoming the odds, forever.
John Cena def. Orton in an I Quit match, Breaking Point 2009, and in an Iron Man Match, Bragging Rights
I’m lumping these in as one thing because Cena and Orton traded the WWE Championship back and fort so often that fall it’s basically impossible to tell the matches apart. I like to think of it as one three hour match with Cena beating Orton with 36 Attitude Adjustments in a row.
Let’s Go Cena: Randy Orton was perhaps at the top of his game in late 2009, having taken all this is unlikeable about him and focusing on only those qualities. John Cena was exactly the same John Cena as he ever was, but these matches showed him getting creative and sadistic. Each match in the series showed John trying new ways to keep Orton down, and eventually he did, because Cena will always win.
Cena sucks: If you watch the Bragging Rights ironman match and all you can take away is the exhausting overuse of finishing moves, you may just be an adult wrestling fan. John Cena may be a big-match performer, but his moveset is just too limited for 60 minute matches. It was better masked in the I Quit match at Breaking Point because he could use props, but the ironman is just a poor outing for John.
John Cena def. Sheamus, HHH, Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase, and Kofi Kingston, Elimination Chamber 2010
Cena had lost the title to (at the time) rookie Sheamus, and this was more or less Cena winning it back. We all sort of assumed Sheamus wasn’t taking the title to Wrestlemania, and the Elimination Chamber was a great place to have him lose without completely burying him. This was technically the first EC match in the PG era, so it felt comparatively less brutal, and Cena winning far more of a foregone conclusion.
Let’s Go Cena: the match itself is nothing great, but you have to feel for Cena afterward. In a moment reflective of the first Money in the Bank cash-in, Vince McMahon appears with a new challenger, this time in Batista. Although he has no logical reason for doing so, McMahon forces a match between then two, and Cena is flattened, losing the title minutes after winning it.
Cena sucks: I get it, Cena pretty much has to win here for the Batista attack to be effective. This is the thing about criticizing Cena: you can’t pinpoint exactly where his fault lies, and where his hand is in the machine, but he always ends up getting the best hand. Cena only wins here so he can lose, so he can win at Wrestlemania. That’s not his fault. He’s not the one writing his role, like Hogan did in WCW, or even HHH during his reign of terror. But the feeling is there, that no matter how he’s defeated and humiliated, Cena’s going to come out of this looking like roses.
John Cena def. Batista, Wrestlemania 26
John Cena may have won the world heavyweight title the hear before, but even in the days of two world titles, the WWE Championship still mostly held top billing. It was John’s title from the moment he won it in 2005 to today, and this is one of his most celebratory victories. The story with Batista was well-told, and John’s place as the hero was firmly in place.
Let’s go Cena: This is Cena’s best Wrestlemania match, and it’s considered quite underrated (and heavily overshadowed). Despite only wrestling a handful of times, Cena and Batista have genuine chemistry and can deliver an event deserving of headlining Wrestlemania. And Cena deserves to win after being screwed out of the title at Elimination Chamber the month before.
Cena sucks: Few argue the quality of the match, but it have been more predictable? Cena had earned the “super” suffix long before this point, but Cena earned it here, never really sweating Batista (especially in the following two reaches). This match also continued the trend of Cena overusing his finishing moves to the point where the first one will never finish the match, and the “last” attitude adjustment is always anticlimactic.
John Cena def. Miz & Morrison, Extreme Rules 2011
2011 featured something wholly unique: Cena lost the Wrestlemania main event to The Miz, a guy who few would consider top shelf. Cena losing to B+ players wouldn’t last, however, as he dispatched Miz only a month later in this triple threat.
Let’s Go Cena: Cena fans must have been crushed at Wrestlemania 27, so this match is a sort of apology, and a fortification that Cena is still a very big deal indeed. It’s also a cage match, which is always a good time.
Cena sucks: Consider this match the first in a series of him winning for basically no reason. Just because Cena can make little work of Miz & Morrison doesn’t means he has to. Miz could have kept the belt a little longer. He could have tried to make something more out of the story. But then again, Cena didn’t have to beat Ray Mysterio in the summer and Del Rio in the fall, but he does. This is the worst John Cena burial job since his match with The Nexus in 2010, but the honor won’t last very long.
John Cena def. Rey Mysterio, Raw 5 July 2011
When CM Punk defeated Cena for the WWE Championship and ran off into the cool Chicago night, WWE needed to crown a new champion. They held a tournament, and Rey Mysterio won. This was really cool, because this was Mysterio’s first (and only) WWE Championship. He had a champagne ceremony in the back, and all the other wrestlers celebrated with him. It was a great moment. Then HHH decided Ray had to fight John Cena the same night for the title.
Let’s Go Cena: It’s a really great match, and it’s full of emotion and we’ll never see it again.
Cena sucks: This is it. Fifteen championship wins, and this is the worst one. Cena has played the fence between good guy and bad before (One Night Stand 2006 comes to mind), but even accepting this match makes Cena the biggest asshole in the world. Who agrees to fight Rey Mysterio, an inspirational underdog for the ages, the very night he wins the biggest prize in this great art?
The worst part is, it doesn’t even make a difference. Cena would lose the title in a few weeks at Summerlsam. He could have avoided this entirely, and we could have had Punk vs Mysterio instead. Del Rio could still cash in, and absolutely nothing would be different. Somewhere, even Hulk Hogan watched this match and said “That’s cold, brother.”
John Cena def. Alberto Del Rio, Night of Champions 2011
At Summerslam 2011, Cena lost the title (that he stole from Rey Mysterio) to CM Punk fair and square. Del Rio cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase after Punk is attacked by Kevin Nash right after Cena’s loss. Therefore, Cena gets to fight Del Rio.
Let’s go Cena: Sure, it’s been a few weeks since Cena won the championship. Why not do it again? That’ll sell some shirts.
Cena Sucks: Sorry, I don’t mean to be cynical, but it’s difficult to come up with anything for this one. It’s not quite as bad as when he beat Mysterio, because at least Del Rio didn’t win the title earlier in the evening, but it’s not great, either. Think about what it did to Del Rio’s career arc as well. Here’s a villain who believes its his destiny to be on top of the wrestling world. He finally wins the most prestigious title, and then loses it in his very first defence. That he wins it back weeks later makes this match even more pointless. Removing Cena’s title wins not only simplifies the lineage (5 title changes instead of 9), but also doesn’t change a thing. Cena may have been dominant in 2011, but he also didn’t matter.
John Cena def. The Rock, Wrestlemania 29
One year after The Rock defeated Cena at Wrestlemania, Cena gets a chance at redemption, this time with the title on the line.
Let’s Go Cena: If you only watch Wrestlemania’s, Cena’s “worst year ever” story of redemption makes a lot of sense. They did everything they could to make this match seem epic, and it was a real finale in an industry known for never really delivering an ending.
Cena sucks: If you actually watched Cena’s supposed “worst year ever” his redemption doesn’t make any sense. As for the match, it was the lesser of their two bouts, and neither were particularly memorable. If there was ever a match for Cena to debut a new finishing move, this was it. Instead, Cena and Rock just trade one move a piece for the last ten minutes until one finally sticks.
John Cena def. Alberto Del Rio, Hell in a Cell 2013
John Cena once again returns sooner than expected, and is slotted into a World Heavyweight Championship match against Alberto Del Rio. Fourteen guesses as to what happens.
Let’s Go Cena: There is something legitimately inspirational about how quickly John Cena can go from surgery to winning titles. There’s a strong lesson there about focus, passion, and drive. John Cena is more dedicated to being in that ring than almost anyone else, and if you want to, you can be that dedicated, too. He’s a hero, truly.
Cena Sucks: But does he have to always make his opponents look like they’re just keeping belts warm until he wants them? What even is there to say? I’m surprised John Cena even wants titles at this stage of his career. We get it: he can beat everybody, any time he wants, even with one arm hanging off the bone.
John Cena def. Kane, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Bray Wyatt, and Cesaro, Money in the Bank 2014
Daniel Bryan unfortunately had to acquiesce his WWE World Heavyweight Championship due to injury, and the title was put up for grabs at the next big event: Money in the Bank. Being that John Cena was one of them, the result became more or less a given.
Let’s Go Cena: Cena is the default. If you have to pick one guy in WWE to be champion, it’s going to be him. WWE had a plan, and unfortunately Bryan’s injuries forced them to rewrite the story, so they’re going back to what they know works. The fact is, Cena is just that dependable. This is technically John Cena’s first WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and his 15th (and 16th, if you count them as two separate titles). That’s huge! Congratulations John!
Cena sucks: Look, Cena was the best option in a bad situation. This may turn out to be just another title win where he loses it right away (this time to Brock Lesnar), or it might not. Of course, knowing that doesn’t make yet another Cena title win any easier to watch. Nor does knowing that Cena probably has untold number of title wins in his career. He’s going to lap Ric Flair’s record. He might actually come close to Jerry Lawler.
The fact is, titles wins only matter if you actually imbue them with meaning. If any (or all) of Cena’s title victories have inspired you, helped you through a tough time, or in any way improved your life, that’s great. It can be a really wonderful moment when a piece of fiction can move a person to feel and do better. And if his accomplishments have somehow negatively affected you, well, that’s understandable too. If fiction can help, it can also hurt. And that’s ultimately Cena’s message as a character: this is who he is, and so long as you react strongly, he wins.