John Cena returned to WWE RAW last night to celebrate his 20th anniversary with the company. As you’d expect, they pulled out all the stops for their returning Champ with plenty of backstage segments and talking-head video packages to last a lifetime. It was during one of these latter segments that Triple H said John Cena was;
Arguably the greatest Superstar in the history of the WWE
And that got me thinking. Is he? Does Mr Levesque have a point? Now, we all know about the sometimes alleged and sometimes proven allegations against John Cena and his backstage politicking. For example, we all know it was Cena that demanded that his team go over The Nexus and in doing so, single-handily buried one of the most promising factions in recent memory. And let’s not forget what happened after he and Mickie James split up.
But there hasn’t been a single wrestler who has reached the top and not used their power in one way or another to make sure they stayed there or at least used it for their own benefit. And if you’re telling me that John Cena is worse than Hulk Hogan then you, my friend, are out of your mind.
With all that in mind, I started to think back on John Cena’s career, and where my thoughts led there seemed to be far more fantastic moments than horrible ones. Does that make him the best to ever work for the WWE? Can he be held above the likes of Hart, Michaels, Rock, or Austin to name just four? Arguably, I think so, and here are just a few examples of why.
He Does A Lotta Work For Charidee
John Cena has granted more wishes for the Make A Wish Foundation than anyone else ever has or ever will. Now, that might not seem like a big deal to you—you beaten down, husk of a human being, you—but for the thousands of children whose day has been brightened up by a visit from Big Match John, they don’t care about your scepticism. If you’ve ever seen any of the videos that the WWE or Make A Wish has posted, you’ll see how those he spends time with wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
And it’s not like Cena just shows up, shakes a hand or two, and then sods off home either. He spends hours in the company of these kids, laughing and joking with them, listening to their stories, and even having tea parties. Being one of the greatest doesn’t just relate to how you carry yourself in the ring, but how you carry yourself outside of it too and John Cena does that with a lot of class.
Stepping Into New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom For ECW One Night Stand
On June 11th, 2006, John Cena stepped into New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom to face off against Rob Van Dam at ECW’s One Night Stand, and in doing so proved that he had balls so goddamn big he must get his jorts made to measure. I cannot emphasize just how much respect Cena gained from me—and a ton of wrestling fans—when he did that as he was going up against an ECW darling in front of a hardcore ECW crowd who hated Cena.
Yes, we all know wrestling has predetermined outcomes, it isn’t “real” as non-fans are always so eager to point out, but to those in attendance, John Cena was everything that they despised. He was the WWE guy: he toed the line, he was a corporate shill, and they jeered him, swore him up and down, threw his shirt back when he chucked it into the audience, and even threatened to riot if he won. And make no mistake, the frenzy of anti-Cena rage they had whipped themselves into would’ve seen that place get torn apart if he’d had his hand raised.
Fortunately, there was no need for The Hammerstein Ballroom to massively redecorate after the PPV as he and The Whole F’in Show put on a brilliant match that saw Cena take the pin and RVD crowned as the new WWE Champion. It was a fitting end to the show and proved that Cena would be more than happy to eat defeat, even in the most hostile of circumstances.
Royal Rumble 2008
As the clock counted down for the 30th and final entrant for the 2008 Royal Rumble, no one in attendance or at home could’ve expected John Cena to emerge. Having torn his pectoral muscle clean off the bone only two months previous, it was projected that he’d be out for at least a year. There was no way it could be him. Right? So when that buzzer hit and his music kicked in, I defy anyone to tell me that they didn’t lose their fricking minds when he stepped from the back.
Even now, 14 years later, it is impossible to sit down and rewatch that moment and not get chills down your spine. It still stands as one of, if not the greatest comebacks in wrestling history, and the fact that he then went on to eliminate Triple H with an AA over-the-top-rope just made that moment all the more sweeter.
United States Title Open Challenge
When John Cena defeated Seth Rollins at Night of Champions, Cena walked out on the following night’s RAW and declared he would be a fighting champion and would defend the belt against all comers. And that’s just what he did, facing and beating Dean Ambrose, Stardust, Bad News Barrett, Kane, Rusev, Sami Zayn, Zack Ryder, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Xavier Woods, Big E, and Dolph Ziggler, before dropping the belt to Alberto Del Rio.
Now, it might not have been the longest run with the belt but it did produce some fantastic matches, elevated the likes of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens to the main roster, and made a very neglected title feel more important than it had in a long, long time. Sometimes all it takes is someone willing to put their reputation on the line for something in wrestling to click and become a big deal again. And that’s what John Cena did for the US Title. Just a shame the WWE then proceeded to piss all that good credit away.
Getting Squished By Taker At Wrestlemania XXXIV
This was just funny. I’ve already stated that there is evidence that John Cena might not have always done what was best for business when he was younger, but by the time we’d gotten to Wrestlemania XXXIV, he was intelligent enough to know what needed to be done to bring The Undertaker back into the fold after the horror-show between The Dead Man and Roman Reigns the previous year.
Having failed to get himself on the WrestleMania card over the past few months, Cena, who was playing a free agent role, was talking about going as a fan but instead decided that it’d be fun to poke the bear as the saying goes. If he couldn’t go as WWE Champion, Money In The Bank or Royal Rumble winner, BMJ wanted to pick a fight with Taker and spent a few weeks goading him at every opportunity.
Sadly, it seemed as if The Undertaker was done and didn’t react at all to Cena’s attempts to provoke him, so true to his word Cena showed up as a fan and proceeded to get blasted in the front row. If the stories are to be believed, that is.
Then it was announced that Taker was indeed there, so off he ran to get into his jorts, came down to the ring, and preceded to get murdered for the next three minutes. It was f*cking hysterical, and after the nightmare we’d all had to sit through 12 months earlier, it was the perfect antidote, reminding us all that The Dead Man should be revered for an entire career and not pitied for one lacklustre performance.
The Firefly Funhouse Match
When Bray Wyatt faced off against John Cena at Wrestlemania XXX, something was in the air. This was going to be it. The changing of the guard. That big, big win that Wyatt needed to turn him into a bonafide Superstar. Except it wasn’t. In one of the most boring matches of the night, BMJ once again showed up and defeated Bray Wyatt—and by proxy of them being at ringside, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper—doing nobody any favours in the process. This was the start of the slippery slope. Instead of pushing Bray Wyatt and The Wyatt Family up the card, this defeat put them on the path to jobberville. What a waste. The Wyatt Family could’ve been mentioned in the same breath as the greatest factions of all time, and now they’ll always be held up as an example of how not to book a group.
Fast forward six years and Bray Wyatt is dead, long live The Fiend. As we built towards Wrestlemania XXXVI, the new and improved Wyatt was on a hot streak—no, Superblood Money losses to old egotistical asshats called Goldberg don’t f*cking count—and decided that he wanted to even the score with John Cena and that they were going to do it in a ‘Firefly Funhouse Match’.
While the world was caught in the insanity that was COVID-19, Bray Wyatt and John Cena put on the greatest spectacle that wrestling has ever seen. I’m sorry, I don’t care if you don’t like the Firefly Funhouse Match, you’re f*cking wrong. It was a work of genius and still gets played in the Gray Household at least once a month.
The way that it told its story—which is basically how Wyatt/The Fiend held Cena responsible for everything that had gone wrong with their career—was brilliant. Everything from Cena being portrayed as Hollywood Hogan in the nWo—a blatant nod to the way he was perceived backstage at certain points through his years with the WWE—to Wyatt offering Cena the chance to do what he should’ve done six years previous and put him down like a mad dog, was done to perfection. And when The Fiend finally banished Cena, it should’ve finally shown the non-believers that Big Match John fully understood what he’d done wrong in the past and was willing to go that extra mile to make amends.