June 30, 2012
By: Zach Linder, Bobby Melok, Ryan Murphy, Kevin Powers & James Wortman
Written: June 28, 2012
June 27, 2002. Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle throws down an open challenge to the SmackDown locker room. A young kid from West Newbury, Mass. steps up. He’s not yet great — no one is their first time — but he’s poised and fiery with a body like an action figure and more heart than a butcher shop. He surprises Angle, takes him off his feet, almost beats him. The fact that he doesn’t win is important — it keeps him humble, keeps him wanting more.
A decade passes. That kid becomes a man. He wins 10 WWE Titles. Main events WrestleManias against Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Stars in movies. Releases a rap album. Scuffles with Kevin Federline on live television. He becomes a brand, a polarizing figure loved and hated with equal élan. He carries WWE into an uncertain new age. He is John Cena. And these are the 50 matches that have defined him as the most important WWE Superstar of the past 10 years.
#50 John Cena vs. JBL: WrestleMania 21 (April 3, 2005)
It’s well-known that John Cena never gives up. He stares down insurmountable odds and refuses to back down from any challenge. This character trait of the Cenation leader is especially evident when the stakes reach a fever pitch and the WWE Championship is on the line. Cena’s greatest WWE Title moment is also one of his first — an epic clash with WWE Champion JBL at WrestleMania 21.
The tough veteran put his experience and power to good use and mounted an offense that Cena struggled to counter. But the West Newbury, Mass. native proved his fighting spirit and would not stay down. With momentum shifting between both Superstars, Cena managed to duck JBL’s patented Clothesline from Hell and give his opponent an Attitude Adjustment to claim his first WWE Championship.
#49 John Cena, Hulk Hogan & Shawn Michaels vs. Christian, Tomko & Chris Jericho: Raw (June 27, 2005)
The third anniversary of John Cena’s WWE debut also allowed him to live a once-in-a-lifetime dream that was surely the envy of every WWE Superstar. In a special Six-Man Tag Team Match on June 27, 2005, three generations united as the Cenation leader teamed up with Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels.
In a battle against Christian, Tomko and Chris Jericho, HBK surprised Cena with their partner, The Hulkster. The match stands out as a true milestone in the Cenation leader’s career as does the memorable moment when Hulk Hogan dropped Tomko with a clothesline and performed Cena’s trademark taunt, “You can’t see me!”
Hogan, Michaels and Cena were victorious and following the contest, Cena and HBK stood in the ring and posed with The Immortal One.
#48 John Cena vs. The Great Khali: Judgment Day 2007 (May 20, 2007)
First, you have to remember The Great Khali as he once was — cruel, heartless, big in a way that was difficult to process. He did not call himself The Punjabi Playboy, did not own a Kisscam and definitely did not dance. Rather, he crushed skulls between his catcher mitt hands and clubbed opponents like a caveman on the hunt.
John Cena wasn’t necessarily intimidated by the giant — he was just baffled. At this point, no one had beaten Khali in WWE and the idea that a near-400 pound monster could be toppled was hard to fathom. The Superstar’s solution? Nothing scientific. Just beat Khali down until he hit the mat then apply the STF without letting go until the massive Indian was slapping the canvas. Somewhat surprisingly, the plan worked and the once-undefeatable Punjabi Titan submitted to the man who refused to quit.
#47 John Cena vs. Booker T: SummerSlam 2004 (Aug. 15, 2004)
John Cena found himself on SmackDown General Manager Kurt Angle’s bad side in the summer of 2004. After Cena accidentally knocked the Olympic gold medalist out of his wheelchair, the GM stripped Cena of his United States Title and scheduled an eight-man match to determine a new champion with Booker T coming out on top.
Eager to regain his title, Cena engaged Booker in a best of five match series for the championship. Round one took place at SummerSlam. In a sprint of a match, Booker whiffed on his trademark Axe Kick, giving Cena the opening to plant the five-time WCW Champion with the Attitude Adjustment and take an early lead in the series.
#46 John Cena & The Rock vs. The Miz & R-Truth: Survivor Series 2011 (Nov. 20, 2011)
They said it could never be done, but for one night only in front of a sold-out crowd in New York City’s legendary Madison Square Garden, bitter rivals John Cena and The Rock actually joined forces. At Survivor Series 2011, months before their “Once in a Lifetime” clash at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena and The Great One forged an uneasy alliance to combat the calculating tandem of The Miz & R-Truth.
That night, Nov. 20, 2011, was the first time the WWE Universe had seen The Rock in action in nearly eight years. The WWE Universe shook the rafters of The World’s Most Famous Arena after a People’s Elbow to The Miz sealed a victory for Cena & The Rock, but it was The Great One’s shocking post-match Rock Bottom to the Cenation leader that truly put an exclamation point on the evening. The temporary union between these iconic ring warriors was torn asunder at that moment, leaving Cena with retribution on his mind as he embarked on The Road to WrestleMania.
#45 John Cena vs. Kurt Angle: No Mercy 2003 (Oct. 19, 2003)
More than a year after John Cena made his WWE debut against Kurt Angle on SmackDown, the two Superstars clashed again in Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena at No Mercy. Still a relative newcomer to the ring, the young Superstar had gained a fan following as a cocky hip hop head, but there was one thing he was still looking for in WWE — respect. And if Kurt Angle wasn’t going to give it, Cena was going to beat it out of him.
For nearly 20 minutes the two Superstars traded crushing slams and bruising shots with Cena scoring with an Attitude Adjustment only to see Angle muscle out of his cover. Finally, in a display of the ring presence that separates a novice from a veteran, the Olympian ingeniously rolled through an attempted Attitude Adjustment and grabbed Cena’s leg to secure the dreaded ankle lock. The submission hold was enough to stop the West Newbury, Mass. native that night, but Cena and Angle would meet again soon.
#44 WWE Championship Elimination Chamber Match: Elimination Chamber 2011 (Feb. 20, 2011)
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Same goes for the Elimination Chamber. Dubbed The Devil’s Playground for good reason, the satanic structure houses six Superstars inside ten tons of twisted metal, jagged steel and bulletproof glass. But, like any great battlefield, the chamber has become a place of glory that serves as a testament to the cunning or power of the Superstar who survives it.
For John Cena, it has been such a place on three occasions, including this Feb. 20, 2011 war against Sheamus, CM Punk, Randy Orton, John Morrison and R-Truth. Determined to earn a WWE Championship Match at WrestleMania, the Cenation leader persevered before finally eliminating Punk to earn his showdown with The Miz on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
#43 John Cena vs. The Miz vs. John Morrison: Extreme Rules 2011 (May 1, 2011)
One month after John Cena was defeated by The Miz at WrestleMania XXVII following a Rock Bottom from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the Cenation leader received another opportunity to reclaim the WWE Title when he entered a cage against The Awesome One and John Morrison at Extreme Rules.
For The Miz, the match was a reckoning of sorts. Facing the tag partner he betrayed and the rival he cheated, The Awesome One knew he was about to pay the price for his underhanded actions. Taking a whipping from both of his enemies, the loathed Clevelander nearly weasled his way to another upset victory when R-Truth stormed the cage and attacked JoMo. The Awesome One could not break free, though, and ended up getting hit with an Attitude Adjustment from the top rope and losing his WWE Title to Cena.
#42 John Cena vs. Kane: Elimination Chamber 2012 (Feb. 19, 2012)
The WWE Universe was shocked when Kane made his surprising return to Raw in December 2011 and set his sights on John Cena. Donning a frightening new mask, The Big Red Monster steamrolled the Cenation leader for weeks before clueing everyone in that he wanted the positive Cena to “embrace the hate.”
After Kane’s mind games caused a rift between Cena and his good broski, Zack Ryder, things came to a head at Elimination Chamber, where he and Kane faced off in an Ambulance Match. Kane tried to smother Cena with his gloved hand, but Cena rebounded, sending his monstrous opponent hurtling into the steel steps. The two brawled throughout the arena before taking the fight to the top of the ambulance. Cena was able to overpower The Big Red Monster, finishing him off with a super-sized Attitude Adjustment from the ambulance to the arena floor.
#41 Team WWE vs. The Nexus: Summerslam 2010 (Aug. 15, 2010)
On June 7, 2010, Wade Barrett and a group of Rookies from WWE NXT stormed John Cena’s match against CM Punk during the main event of Raw. They destroyed the ringside area, attacked WWE officials, and assaulted Cena like a pack of wild dogs. The group that would come to be christened The Nexus then caused Cena to lose the WWE Title at that month’s Fatal 4-Way event due to their interference.
As Nexus began to run roughshod over the WWE roster in the ensuing months, Cena formed a team of WWE Superstars – heroes, villains and Legends alike – to take down the formidable faction in a massive battle at SummerSlam. Cena was even responsible for reintroducing Daniel Bryan, an early Nexus member, back to WWE to combat his former allies. After Bryan was eliminated from the matchup, only Cena was left to represent Team WWE. He pinned Justin Gabriel after The Cape Town Werewolf missed a 450° splash, and locked Barrett in the STF to finally grab the epic victory.
#40 John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Edge: Backlash 2006 (April 30, 2006)
John Cena met two of his great rivals in the ring at once when both Edge and Triple H challenged the Cenation leader for the WWE Title at Backlash 2006. Coming off his career defining submission victory over The King of Kings at WrestleMania 22, Cena was confident going into this Triple Threat Match, but so were his opponents. The Rated-R Superstar was mad with ego after brutalizing Mick Foley on the Grandest Stage of Them All. Triple H never lacked for confidence.
Trading victories in the weeks leading up to Backlash, the three Superstars seemed to be evenly matched, but it was the WWE Champion who would thrive at the event. As shaky alliances shifted throughout the bout Cena stayed focused on putting his opponents away and finally looked to do so when he hoisted Edge up for an Attitude Adjustment. The Game nearly gained the advantage when he nailed Cena with a low blow, but the West Newbury brawler managed to reverse a Pedigree into a pinning combination to emerge as the victor.