July 1, 2012
#10 John Cena vs. Kurt Angle: SmackDown (June 27, 2002)
One of John Cena’s most impressive matches was also his very first. On the June 27, 2002 edition of SmackDown, the young Superstar answered an open challenge from Kurt Angle. Inspired by a speech from Mr. McMahon to the WWE locker room earlier in the week, Cena stood up to the Olympic gold medalist and cited the very trait Mr. McMahon was looking for in a Superstar — ruthless aggression.
With a powerful haymaker, the future “Champ” went on an explosive offense and gave Angle — a former WWE Champion and one of the greatest amateur wrestlers of all time — a run for his money. Although he managed to counter both the Angle Lock and Angle Slam, Cena ultimately fell victim to the Olympian’s experience.
Although his bid against Angle was unsuccessful, Cena proved his abilities and earned the respect of his fellow WWE Superstars, including the legendary The Undertaker.
#9 John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels: WrestleMania 23 (April 1, 2007)
Just one year after defeating D-Generation X’s Triple H on The Grandest Stage of Them All, John Cena found himself standing across the ring from another DX member at WrestleMania 23 when he took on WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels in front of 80,000-plus at Detroit’s Ford Field.
Honoring the Motor City, Cena burst into the stadium in a Ford Mustang, shattering a glass partition in the process.
The opening moments of the bout set the tone for the main event. Michaels extended a handshake, which Cena refused, leading HBK to slap the WWE Champion in the face. The two warriors slugged it out all over ringside, where HBK nearly knocked out the champion with a devastating piledriver on the steel ring steps.
After waging war for nearly half an hour, Cena muscled up Michaels for an Attitude Adjustment, only for HBK to wiggle out. The WWE Champion, however, caught on before The Showstopper could do anything, tripping him to the mat and locking in the STF. Michaels had no choice but to tap out.
#8 John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar: Extreme Rules 2012 (April 29, 2012)
Those WWE fans in Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon who witnessed John Cena’s Extreme Rules Match against the ferocious Brock Lesnar firsthand would describe it as a mugging, a public assault that very well should have been stopped by authorities before it was ever finished. John Cena saw it as an opportunity.
Returning to WWE after busting orbital bones as the top dog in the MMA world, Lesnar came to Extreme Rules 2012 to put an exclamation point on the statement he’d been making for years — he was the alpha male of combat sports and anyone stupid enough to challenge him would become just another victim. Cena was willing to test Lesnar’s confidence, but it looked as though the Superstar had made a major mistake when his dangerous opponent began to tear him apart. Brutalized with clubbing blows and devastating slams for the better part of 15 minutes, the Cenation leader refused to quit and ultimately found his opening. Nailing his 300-pound opponent with an AA onto the steel ring steps, Cena won the match and proved that “hustle, loyalty, respect” weren’t just words on a T-shirt.
#7 John Cena vs. Batista: Wrestlemania XXVI (March 28, 2010)
After retaining his WWE Championship following a grueling Elimination Chamber Match in 2010, Cena was ordered by Mr. McMahon to defend his title against Batista. The Champ was helpless and The Animal took advantage, slamming Cena and claiming the WWE Title. In the weeks that followed, Cena invoked his rematch clause for WrestleMania as Batista revealed his motivations – The Animal believed he should be the face of WWE, NOT Cena.
When the titans clashed at University of Phoenix stadium, momentum was strongly in Batista’s favor. The powerhouse took out his jealous rage on Cena and it looked as though The Animal would indeed become the face of WWE. But John Cena, as tenacious as ever, fought back and began to overpower his rival. The West Newbury, Mass. native pulled out all the stops to keep The Animal reeling, including a jaw-dropping Five-Knuckle Shuffle from the top rope. Finally, Cena managed to reverse a Batista Bomb and lock his opponent in the STF to claim his ninth WWE Title.
#6 John Cena vs. Umaga: Royal Rumble 2007 (Jan. 28, 2007)
John Cena’s reputation has become that of an indestructible superhero, but the 10-time WWE Champion’s best matches are those in which he appears, for a time, to be utterly defenseless. Such was the case in his 2007 Royal Rumble melee against the wild Umaga.
Putting his WWE Title on the line against the Superstar dubbed The Samoan Bulldozer, Cena felt the full brunt of the 350-pound monster’s unbridled wrath. Bruised and split open before he even had a chance to tighten his shoelaces, the WWE Champion looked so helpless that old school fans half expected to see Robert Gibson standing in a neutral corner, begging for him to make the tag out. Of course, Cena did not cry “uncle.” Instead, he used the ring ropes to apply the most punishing STF of his career and didn’t let go until Umaga was seeing little birdies. No other Superstar would beat The Samoan Bulldozer with such exclamation.
#5 John Cena vs. CM Punk: Money in the Bank 2011 (July 17, 2011)
In the summer of 2011, CM Punk suddenly exploded as the No. 1 contender for John Cena’s WWE Championship and dropped his now iconic pipe bomb on both Cena and the WWE Universe. After airing his grievances on the sports-entertainment landscape, The Voice of the Voiceless was suspended by Mr. McMahon. Cena, though, demanded the match, and the challenger was reinstated by The Chairman.
With Punk threatening to leave the company with WWE’s most coveted possession, Cena’s back was against the wall more than ever. Mr. McMahon had even threatened to fire Cena if Punk left his hometown arena with the title. The match is remembered as having been Punk’s night, but even with all the momentum The Second City Saint had going into the match, Cena nearly turned back his opponent. Punk ended up besting Cena and winning his first WWE Championship, but Cena might have been victorious if he did not break the STF hold he had applied to the challenger. With The Chairman calling for the bell, Cena refused to win in any sort of tainted manner and the distraction likely cost him the bout and the title. Cena’s effort fell just short of heroic, but his fortitude was clear.
#4 John Cena vs. Triple H: WrestleMania 22 (April 2, 2006)
Ric Flair often said, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” For John Cena, that man was Triple H.
At WrestleMania 22, the Cenation leader put his WWE Title up against one of his most daunting challengers when he battled The Game on The Grandest Stage of Them All. From the start, there was no clear advantage between the competitor who never quits and one of the most dominant and experienced ring veterans in history. With neither man controlling the pace for long, Cena proved his mettle by cleverly reversing a Pedigree into the STF. Although The Game managed to break free of the maneuver on the first try, a second Pedigree attempt was met with the same result, leading to Cena forcing The Cerebral Assassin to tap out. On that April evening, Cena most definitely beat the man.
#3 John Cena vs. Randy Orton: Bragging Rights 2009 (Oct. 25, 2009)
It had to end this way. After a brawl in the Hell in a Cell, a harrowing “I Quit” Match and multiple exchanges of the WWE Title, the epic 2009 rivalry between John Cena and Randy Orton culminated in brutal fashion when the two Superstars faced off in a One Hour, Anything Goes WWE Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship.
With 60 minutes on the clock, the competitors who first squared off in Ohio Valley Wrestling at the dawn of the decade used every available blunt object and jagged edge to punish the other into submission. All told, 11 falls were counted before the clock ran out, with Cena forcing Orton to tap out to the STF in the final seconds to claim the victory. As the cliché goes, the Cenation leader had won the battle and the war, but standing there with his body covered in welts and a gaping forehead wound held tenuously shut with glue, the new WWE Champion looked less like a winner and more like a survivor.
#2 John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels: RAW (April 23, 2007)
While the leader of the Cenation’s showdown with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 23 was an instant classic, it was their Raw rematch that the WWE Universe is still talking about today. Three weeks after The Show of Shows, Cena and HBK squared off in London, putting everything on the line in a grueling bout that lasted the entire second hour of the show.
The two Superstars battered each other all around ringside, but Cena couldn’t defeat Michaels. When the official implored the then-WWE Champion to take the action back in the ring, Cena exclaimed, “He won’t stay down!” The West Newbury, Mass. native looked to finally have Michaels beat when he got him in position for an Attitude Adjustment, but The Showstopper flipped out onto his feet and leveled the champ with Sweet Chin Music for the three count. Though Cena did not come out of the match victorious, he gained the respect of the WWE Universe for being able to hang with one of the all-time greats.
#1 John Cena vs. Edge: Unforgiven 2006 (Sept. 17, 2006)
Each of John Cena’s rivals has defined him in a significant way. In his wars with Batista, the Cenation leader displayed his power. Against Shawn Michaels, Cena confirmed his skill. Versus Brock Lesnar, it was his determination. And with Edge, John Cena showed his rage.
Too often dismissed as a grinning, kid friendly good guy, the powerhouse from New England proved just how severe he can be when he was pushed to the brink by The Rated-R Superstar in 2006. Leading into their Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match for Edge’s WWE Title, the Cenation leader witnessed the cunning champion attack his father and slap him across the face. It was a shocking show of disrespect the Superstar could not stomach and he made that clear as he brutalized Edge in front of a hostile crowd in the Canadian competitior’s hometown of Toronto. Smashing Edge in the match he made famous, Cena finished his opponent by executing an Attitude Adjustment from the top of a ladder, sending The Ultimate Opportunist crashing recklessly through two tables.
It was a brutal finish that seemed to shock even Cena himself, but in that moment it became clearer than ever that John Cena is a man who cannot be stopped.