As we prepare to welcome ‘Free Agent’ John Cena back to WWE this 4th of July, questions are raised about who he will be working with leading into the biggest show of the summer, SummerSlam, in August. With his part time schedule, combined with his new free agent status, it is clear WWE will be using John Cena across both brands, pitting him against opponents that will present the best opportunity for a quality match. It will also be Cena’s responsibility to elevate some of the younger talent, as veterans like Kurt Angle and The Undertaker did for him during his early career.
Some question whether Cena is capable of this role; chants of “You can’t wrestle” have followed him throughout his career and he is often criticised for having a limited moveset, relying mostly on repetition of his 5 moves of doom to get through matches. The denigration John Cena receives, though, is in my opinion, completely unwarranted. Anybody who looks back on his times in WWE objectively will have to recognise the body of work that Cena has produced. In this article, I review five times in John Cena’s illustrious career that he has wrestled the match of the night. These are not just the best matches of his career but the best matches on that particular show, period.
It is worth mentioning that this article is not about the times that John Cena was solely responsible for having a great match, instead recognising both WWE Superstars in the contest; it takes two to tango after all. Speaking of two, we have set this number as the maximum competitors in a match so you won’t be seeing any Triple Threats, Elimination Chambers or Royal Rumbles in the list. These matches are in no particular order and are all available to watch on the WWE Network.
vs. Cesaro – WWE RAW, February 17, 2014
Building towards their appearance in the following Sunday’s Elimination Chamber match, John Cena and Cesaro squared off in a rare non-televised classic. After an initial lockup and display of chain wrestling, Cesaro regroups outside of the ring with his compatriots Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. When Cesaro returns to the ring, he gains the upper hand with a beautiful tilt-a-whirl counter, driving Cena into his knee. Cesaro builds upon this advantage with quick nearfalls, punishing submissions, a diving elbow, a toss into the guardrail and a whip off the top rope. Cesaro is dominating as RAW goes into a commercial break.
The onslaught continues as RAW returns with Cesaro maintaining his relentless attack, wearing down John Cena with a series of sleeper holds. Cena attempts to regain control of the match but is met with a punishing European Uppercut from the Swiss Superman. This process is repeated with further impact when, after being able to plant Cesaro with a DDT, Cena takes to the top rope only to be sent crashing to the outside from another powerful European Uppercut.
Cesaro brings John Cena back into the ring with a Superplex and delivers the big swing but, still, Cesaro is unable to put John Cena away. Frustration begins to show on the face of Cesaro as he attempts the Gotch Neutraliser. Cesaro is unable to execute the move, instead kicking Cena in the face. Rather than secure victory, Cesaro hits the ropes, allowing John Cena to hit the Attitude Adjustment (after a very impressive fireman’s carry roll-through manoeuvre) and pick up the 1-2-3.
vs. Edge (TLC Match) – Unforgiven 2006
A visibly emotional Edge rolls into “Bizzaroworld” to defend his WWE Championship in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match in Toronto, Canada. To the backdrop of a ‘Cena Fears Workrate’ sign in the crowd, John Cena shows everything but fear as the two Superstars get off to a quick start, exchanging strikes and holds. To the delight of the partisan Canadian crowd, Edge gains the advantage in the match after introducing steel chairs and Reverse DDTing Cena through them. The Rated ‘R’ Superstar maintains this momentum making good use of ladders, drop kicking one into the face of Cena before being hip-tossed on top of a ladder balanced from a middle turnbuckle.
Following this, John Cena regains control of the match, fighting to avoid being powerbombed through a table from the top rope but ultimately being powerslammed through the table by a faster Edge. Rolling from the ring in an attempt to escape, Cena is again subjected to Edge’s onslaught after he uses the previously mentioned balanced ladder to springboard over the ropes into Cena’s unsuspecting body below. It is only when Edge fails to scramble Cena’s brains with a Con-chair-to that he is finally able to regain momentum. Retaliating with strikes from the ladder, Cena displays a mean streak towards Edge, FUing a ladder onto a prone Edge and punctuating it with a Five Knuckle Shuffle from the top of a ladder.
After a period of rest, Edge spears his way back into contention, taking down John Cena as he begins to climb the ladder for the first time in the match. After throwing Edge into the side of a ladder, Cena again begins to climb the ladder. Just as it looks as if victory belongs to Cena, Lita makes her way to the ring and tips the ladder over, sending him crashing hellaciously through a table outside of the ring. Cena returns the favour sending Edge through a table near the ramp, despite being struck across the back of the head by a Lita-wielded steel chair. Moments later, John Cena is able to secure his third WWE Championship but not before FUing Edge from the top of a ladder, sending him crashing through a stack of two tables.
vs. JBL (I Quit) – Judgment Day 2005
With his freshly minted ‘spinner’ WWE Championship belt in hand, John Cena gets a special entrance on the back of a semi-truck for the first I Quit match for over 5 years. The match begins fairly traditionally with each man exchanging holds and getting in some stiff strikes. The match soon heads outside of the ring and into the crowd where JBL floors Cena with a Swinging Neckbreaker before tossing Cena back over the guard rail. After unsuccessfully requesting that Cena quit, JBL goes to work brutalising the champ. Cena is tossed into the ring steps and choked against the ringpost and JBL asks for submission again, setting Cena up for a powerbomb on the announce table as he does so. John Cena refuses to quit, instead suggesting Bradshaw apply his lips to his posterior and back-body drops his opponent through the announce table.
JBL continues to ask Cena to quit and steps up the abuse in an attempt to achieve this. Following a steel chair shot, Cena is busted open and the bleeding is further exacerbated by a soild strike from the ring steps. Cena continues to bleed over the ring canvas as Layfield exclaims “I told you you’d bleed… now quit”. Despite wearing a crimson mask, Cena refuses to give up and rallies, executing his signature moves in quick succession. In retreat, JBL escapes the ring and walks up the ramp towards the entranceway.
Cena pursues and the fighting continues on JBL’s limousine and in the technical area. Whilst being choked with a power cable, Cena is able to counter and drives JBL through a big CRT television and the window of his car. Blood begins to ooze from Bradshaw’s forehead and the fighting moves to the truck Cena arrived on. JBL chokes Cena with cable for the second time in the match before the WWE Champion yanks Bradshaw down from the speaker system he’s standing on and through a table. JBL flees and Cena breaks a smoke stack from the truck before pursuing. Realising that Cena intends to hit him with the smoke stack, JBL declares that he quits, ending the match. The brutality doesn’t end there, though, as Cena hits JBL with the smoke stack anyway, sending him smashing through a glassed area of the stage. Cena celebrates with fireworks as the PPV ends.
vs. Rob Van Dam (Extreme Rules) – ECW One Night Stand 2006
Rather than ‘If Cena wins, we riot’, I’ve chosen the more sensible ‘If Cena wins, we write about it respectfully years later’. John Cena enters hostile territory with the WWE Championship to an anticipated chorus of boos. The ECW faithful are so keen to show their disdain for the Champ that when he throws his t-shirt into the crowd, it is returned to him several times. This animosity reaches its height with chants of “F*** you, Cena” as the opening bell sounds. Attempting to prove that he can, in fact, wrestle, Cena engages in a series of chain holds and locks with Van Dan before confidently squaring up to the ECW favourite. Van Dam goes for a gut kick but his leg is caught by Cena. Undeterred, RVD spins through and connects with the opposite leg squarely in Cena’s chest, sending him reeling out of the ring. The match slowly descends into a brawl as the two competitors take the fight outside of the ring.
After Cena bounces Van Dam’s head off a table, he begins to gain control of the match. Despite a brief reprieve, hitting a moonsault from the apron, RVD is tossed around by Cena, at one point pushing RVD off a guard rail and into a man in the crowd. As Cena attempts to come back to ringside, Van Dam retaliates with several strikes that lead to a spinning kick across the back of a guard rail balanced Cena. RVD returns Cena to the ring but not before taking the wind out of him with a leg drop on the ring apron. The contest begins to live up to its Extreme Rules billing as RVD collects a chair and dropkicks it into the WWE Champion’s face, following it up with a Rolling Thunder with the chair laid across Cena. Attempting to maintain momentum, RVD again places the chair on Cena’s body and attempts a Split-Legged Moonsault but this time John is able to counter, raising the chair up into the body of Van Dam. Cena delivers a hard DDT on to the chair and goes for the cover, using the bottom rope for extra leverage.
Showing that the aggressive crowd is not getting to him, Cena unleashes the Sitout Powerbomb and Five Knuckle Shuffle. While Cena has RVD up for the FU, Van Dam escapes and stops Cena with a Spinning Wheel Kick. Rob Van Dam leaps to the top rope for the Five Star Frog Splash but is thrown back into the centre of the ring by Cena. The crowd chant “You still suck” at Cena, perhaps acknowledging while they don’t like him, he is wrestling a great match. Van Dam introduces a table to the ring and sets it up in the corner but he is locked in the STFU before he can use it. RVD drags himself to the bottom rope. Despite the Extreme Rules stipulation, the official forces Cena to break the hold, physically pulling the champion from the challenger. Cena rightfully confronts the official about his decision and after being shoved, Cena knocks the referee down hard.
RVD climbs the ropes and is again brought down hard by Cena, this time with a Superplex. The WWE Champion brings the steps into the ring and nails RVD in the face with them. WWE official Nick Patrick comes to the ring and registers a two-count on RVD. John Cena again brings Van Dam up for the FU but is forced to throw him out of the ring when RVD grabs the top rope. As Cena turns back around, he is speared through the table in the corner by a man in a trenchcoat and a motorcycle helmet, who then strikes down Nick Patrick before revealing himself to be Edge. Rob Van Dam re-enters the ring, surveys the damage and finally executes the Five Star Frog Splash. Referee Nick Patrick cannot be roused so Paul Heyman waddles to the ring, counting the 3 count and awarding RVD the WWE Championship.
vs. Randy Orton (Falls Count Anywhere Ironman Match) – Bragging Rights 2009
There are many fantastic matches between John Cena and Randy Orton but this one is amongst the best (and the rest of the Pay Per View is dire!). The match begins with the traditional collar and elbow tie-up and the two trade takedowns before whipping each other off the turnbuckles. Orton gains the best of this and starts to systematically target areas of John Cena’s body. As he does so, Cena quickly brings Orton down with a drop toe hold and locks in the STF. Orton immediately taps out with 56:05 remaining, perhaps to avoid receiving too much damage from the hold. 1-0 Cena.
After the 30 second rest period, Orton resumes his attack on Cena, stalking him and striking impactfully. Orton locks in a sleeper hold to weaken Cena but he is able to wrest his way out of the Viper’s grip. After the top rope Leg Drop, Cena attempts to complete a Five Knuckle Shuffle but Randy hits the RKO out of nowhere and picks up his first fall at 51:00 remaining. 1-1.
Cena fails to reach his feet during the 30 second rest period and Orton again goes on the offensive. The contest spills into the announce area as Orton picks up a monitor and nails Cena in the head with it. Back in the ring, Orton busts Cena open with a microphone and picks up a nearfall. The ringside doctor tried to stop the match to tend to Cena’s wound but, because the rules don’t apply to the top guy, Cena ignored the officials and attacked Orton, tossing him over the top rope with authority. The Viper is able to take back control as a result of Cena’s wound and tosses him back into the ring. Hard strikes to the head open the cut further. Despite this, Cena rallies back and sets Orton up for the Attitude Adjustment but on the way down, Orton turns the manouever into an RKO. With both men’s shoulders down, the official counts both men out, bringing the score to 2-2 at 43:14 remaining.
Cena’s wound is tended to during the 30 second rest and the next period ends quickly with 40:37 remaining, after Cena brings Orton from the top rope with an AA. With the score now 3-2 Cena, Legacy (Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr) run to the ring and attack Cena. With the damage done, the pair drag Orton on top of Cena to tie to score at 3 with 39:18 left in the contest. Kofi Kingston rushes the ring with a steel chair and chases off Legacy.
The fatigue of both men is clear as the next period begins. Cena takes down Orton and the fight spills out of the ring and up the entrance ramp. The match reaches the pyrotechnic desk and an explosion is set off by Orton slamming Cena’s head off the control panel. Sparks fly as Orton picks Cena up, tosses him through the staging and picks up his 4th pinfall. The score is now 4-3 Orton with 34:38 remaining.
During the rest period, The Viper returns to the pyro desk and starts pushing buttons. He works out where the pyro for each button is coming from and drags Cena into that position. He returns to push the button but is delayed by the technician and referee. Thanks to this, Cena is able to roll out of the way of the explosion. Orton slowly beats Cena back to ringside and continues the punishment with various weapons. Orton rolls John Cena back into the ring and Cena sneakily rolls his opponent up to collect a cheeky pinfall with 27:16 remaining. The score is again tied; 4-4.
Orton seethes during the rest period and slowly drags Cena out of the ring by the head. The Viper executes his Hanging DDT from the apron and pins Cena outside of the ring at 24:55 still to go. It is 5-4 for the WWE Champion, Randy Orton. Back in the ring, the systematic destruction of John Cena continues, picking him up to knock him back down again. After Cena gets a punch in on Orton, The Viper retreats to the stage and begins to defend his lead by wasting as much time as possible. Randy Orton runs back to the ring but John Cena is tired and does not pursue quickly. The Champion again escapes his challenger, this time going through the crowd and up the stairs. This time, Cena is able to give chase and catches Orton, driving him back towards the ring. Cena’s retaliatory attack at ringside cuminates in Orton being driven through the guard rail, being hit in the head with the ring stairs and receiving an Attitude Adjustment through the announce table. Following this, Cena ties the score at 5 with 9:10 left in the match.
With Orton virtually lifeless, John Cena sets up a table in the ring and places Orton on top of it. Cena climbs the top turnbuckle, leaps from it and The Viper, inevitably, moves out of the way. Both men slowly climb to their feet and exchange strikes as the final minutes tick away. In going for a flying shoulder on Orton, John Cena accidentally takes down the referee. Orton nails and RKO but the delay in getting a second official means that Cena is able to kick out. Two minutes remain as Orton intentionally knocks down the second referee.
Orton scowls around the ring angrily as the first official regains consciousness. As soon as he is on his feet and with 55 second remaining, John Cena drops down the WWE Champion and locks in the STF. Randy Orton holds on for as long as he can but eventually submits with 6 second remaining. Time expires during the rest period and John Cena is declared the new WWE Champion.
Join me next time as I review 5 more matches in which John Cena wrestled the match of the night in WWE.
Do you agree with the match choices above? Are there any matches that you think should or shouldn’t be there? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below or on Twitter @thejezshow.