The Piledriver Report 12.04.12: Ten Years of Thuganomics- The First Five
“LET’S Go Cena! Cena Sucks!” It’s a chant that is heard every night that John Cena appears on a WWE show. At the 2012 edition of the Survivor Series, the WWE debuted the newest in the John Cena merchandising line. Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t have as many shirts in his clothing line as the WWE has made in the John Cena collection. However, this time I noticed something regarding their newest Cena t-shirt release. The front of the shirt states “Never Give Up: Ten Years Strong.” Seeing “Ten Years Strong” kind if floored me. It’s already been ten years since John Cena first appeared in the WWE? Really? WOW! I can’t believe that its already been ten years. That went really fast.
John Cena debuted on television for the WWE on June 27th, 2002 when he nearly beat Kurt Angle in an “open challenge” match. The “underdog” role led to the fans getting behind the latest “rookie” in the WWE. On July, 21st, 2002, John Cena participated in his first pay per view event for the company. At Vengeance, he fought future rival Chris Jericho. John Cena defeated Jericho in that contest.
In October of 2002, the WWE held a tag team tournament to crown the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions. Despite the fact that the company has had recognized tag team champions since Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler defeated The Sheik on Dick the Bruiser on June 3rd, 1971 in New Orleans, LA, there was a reason for this tournament. On March 25th, 2002, the WWE held its first official WWE Draft where they decided to split the company in half. Half of the wrestlers would perform on RAW, and the other half were only on SmackDown!. Due to the draft, the World Tag Team Champions at the time, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo were drafted to SmackDown! Thus, SmackDown! was the exclusive brand for the tag team champions. A few title switches later, Lance Storm and Christian captured the tag team championships. On July 29th, Storm, Christian, along with Chris Jericho, jumped to the RAW brand, and took the exclusive rights to the tag team titles over to RAW. With no tag team titles on SmackDown!, the WWE decided to create ones for the brand in October.
In the tournament, John Cena teamed up with Billy Kidman to try to win the belts. The duo would lose their first round match to Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit after Kidman submitted to Benoit’s crippler crossface. The next week on SmackDown!, John Cena turned heel on Billy Kidman after accusing him as being the reason on why they lost the match.
A HEEL IS BORN
Everybody knows the story by now. The WWE performers were on a bus during one of their many tours. While on the bus, John Cena started rapping about a can of tuna fish for Stephanie McMahon. In wrestling, there are several (what I like to call) light bulb moments. It’s the turning point in a wrestler’s career where they go from a wrestler to a main event superstar. For Steve Austin, it was the Austin 3:16 promo. For CM Punk, it was his anti-WWE promo that jump started the promotion to his Money in the Bank match against John Cena. For John Cena, his light bulb moment came on the day that he free style rapped for the Vince McMahon’s daughter.
On the Halloween episode of SmackDown! in 2002, John Cena dressed up as 90s rapper Vanilla Ice. After that, John Cena started to take off. He played off the hip hop community by rapping against his babyface opponents. Cena started to wear throwback jerseys to the ring, at a time when throwback jerseys were the cool thing to wear. John Cena became the cool heel. In 2003, Cena was facing the top talent in the WWE. He feuded with the WWE World Champion Brock Lesnar where he debuted one of his signature moves the FU (now the Attitude Adjustment), which was named as a mock to Lesnar’s F-5 finisher. On April 15th, 2003, Cena defeated Chris Benoit in the finals of a #1 Contender’s tournament to face Brock Lesnar at the Backlash pay per view. Earlier in the tournament, John pinned Eddie Guerrero in the Quarterfinals and then the Undertaker in the semi-finals match-up. However, in Cena’s first chance at gold, Brock Lesnar defeated John Cena.
By November 2003, Cena’s “cool” factor made the WWE turn John Cena back into a babyface character. His first major match as a renewed face was at the Survivor Series where Cena, along with Chris Benoit, were the survivors for Team Angle (also featuring Kurt Angle, Hardcore Holly, and Bradshaw) against Team Lesnar (featuring Brock Lesnar, The Big Show, Matt Morgan, Nathan Jones, and the A-Train). John Cena got the deciding pinfall after hitting the Big Show with a chain, followed by an FU.
At the 2004 Royal Rumble, John Cena made it to the final six competitors in the match before being eliminated by the Big Show. This led to a feud between the two men. At the time, the Big Show was the United States champion, and Cena was being groomed for his first title run. Their big showdown took place at WrestleMania XX where John Cena captured his first championship by defeating the Big Show in the opening match at WrestleMania’s twentieth installment. Ironically, it was the first time that I cringed at a John Cena promo, as looking back, his rap against the Big Show reminds me of the kiddie-comedy filled promos that Cena is famous for today. To me, this was the beginning of the John Cena that we see today (admittedly, I wasn’t watch much SmackDown! at that time, so he may have been delivering those kinds of promos for months).
John Cena held the championship until July 8th when he was stripped of the title by SmackDown General Manager Kurt Angle. Cena would continue to fight for the US title, as the WWE booked John Cena against Booker T in a best of five series for the belt. While Cena won the series, and the belt at No Mercy, he would drop the title on the first SmackDown! after the pay per view on October 5th, 2004 to Carlito.
John Cena would leave the company for a month as he began to film the WWE Films movie “The Marine.” Upon returning, John Cena recaptured the United States championship for a third time. John Cena would hold the title for the final time until he dropped the belt on March 1st, 2005 (aired March 3rd) to Orlando Jordan following John Bradshaw Layfield’s interference.
THE RUN FOR THE WWE WORLD TITLE
At the 2005 Royal Rumble, John Cena was left standing in the middle of the ring with a wrestler who was also in the middle of his own meteoric rise to the top. John Cena was the future of SmackDown! while Batista was the future of RAW, as fans chose him over Randy Orton as the top new face of the WWE’s flagship show. In an angle reminiscent of the 1994 Royal Rumble where Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminated each other at the same top, Cena and Batista flipped over the top rope and landed onto the arena floor simulanteously. Unlike Wrestlemania X, there would be no convoluted “each man wrestles for the belt” gimmick. Instead, Vince McMahon charged the ring, where he famously tore both quads, and demanded that the match be restarted. Upon the restart, Batista threw John Cena out of the ring to capture the Royal Rumble and main event title shot at WrestleMania.
The elimination did not end John Cena’s WrestleMania title hopes. The SmackDown! brand held a #1 Contender’s tournament to determine who would fight for the WWE title at WrestleMania 21. John Cena defeated Orlando Jordan, followed by Booker T before facing Kurt Angle at No Way Out in the finals. After 19 minutes, John Cena hit Kurt Angle with the FU and pin for the right to take on John Bradshaw Layfield for the WWE championship at WrestleMania 21.
At WrestleMania 21, John Cena defeated JBL and captured his first World title. Shortly after his championship victory, the WWE created a new version of the WWE belt; the spinner WWE strap. This gawdy belt, while no longer spins, still exists today despite the disapproval of the fans. With a new belt in hand, John Cena went on to defend the title in a WrestleMania rematch with JBL at Judgement Day in an “I Quit” match, that saw Cena’s hand raised in victory.
MONDAY NIGHT CENA
It was on Monday June 6th, 2005 that the WWE held the first round of the 2005 WWE Draft. With his first pick, Eric Bischoff selected the WWE champion John Cena to the RAW brand. For a few weeks, RAW was the home of both the WWE champion and the World Heavyweight title holder, until Batista was selected to SmackDown! later in the month to restore one World title to each show.
Shortly, after the WWE draft, the “Wrestling Observer’s” Dave Meltzer analyzed the draft. When discussing the John Cena move to RAW, he questioned if Cena would continue to build on his increasing popularity. Meltzer’s reasoning was that John Cena wasn’t particularly good in the ring. SmackDown! was a taped show, so they were able to hide Cena’s deficiencies with sharp editing. The only time John Cena’s weaknesses were seen were to those that attended live or to the fans that viewed the SmackDown! only or joint-RAW/SamckDown! pay per views that he appeared on. With John Cena being moved to the live show, there would be no way the WWE would be able to protect John Cena any longer.
Meltzer’s thoughts would soon become very prophetic. John Cena’s first major feud on RAW was against Chris Jericho. Even though Cena was portrayed as a baby face, the crowd started to turn on the WWE champion. A major portion of the crowd started to boo John Cena. John Cena fought Chris Jericho in a great match at SummerSlam 2005 that put an end to their feud (actually, their fued ended a night later after the two had a rematch) as Jericho was leaving the company to pursue his music and television career. Following his victory of Jericho, John Cena moved on to Kurt Angle as his next challenger. Against Angle, Cena experienced even more boos than he did against Jericho. The boos became so noticeable that the WWE announcing team was forced to acknowledge them. Of course, in the beginning, they blamed the crowd like when they were in Canada by calling it “Bizzaro Land” for booing Cena. As if the Canadian crowds were the only ones booing the WWE champion. Eventually, the WWE would have to admit that many fans do not like the babyface champion. The WWE was very smart in their early booking of john Cena on RAW. His first three major opponents, Christian, Jericho, and Angle were all very good to great workers that were able to cover up Cena’s lack of in-ring ability when they fought in major matches. Like Cena’s 2003 feud against Brock Lesnar, John’s feud with Kurt Angle introduced the world to a new John Cena finishing maneuver, as the STFU was born.
THE WWE’s NEW FACE OF THE COMPANY
As 2006 approached, John Cena was firmly entrenched as the WWE champion. On the first weekend of 2006, John Cena defeated Kurt Angle, Chris Masters, Carlito, Shawn Michaels, and Kane in a twenty-eight minute contest inside of an Elimination Chamber steel cage. It appeared that John Cena would be cruising to his first WrestleMania main event. However, a major road bump was about to be hit. Following, Cena’s chamber victory at New Year’s Revolution, Vince McMahon announced that John Cena’s night wasn’t over yet. Edge was about to cash in the very first Money in the Bank briefcase against John Cena at that very moment. Edge captured the title in under two minutes to spark a new rivalry between Edge and Cena.
Shocking to the WWE brass, Edge caught on as the WWE champion. Even though, they gave the belt back to John Cena a few weeks later at the Royal Rumble, the WWE knew that they had something with Edge and John Cena. While Edge deserved the main event spot opposite John Cena at WrestleMania 22, the WWE decided to go with their original plans: John Cena vs. Triple H.
Previously, it was mentioned in interviews by Triple H that the reason why the fans cheered wrestlers, like Kurt Angle, in matches against John Cena is because those guys couldn’t work heel that good. He must have been shocked than when he, the biggest heel in the WWE, was getting cheered in the build-up to his match against John Cena. At WrestleMania 22, John Cena successfully defended the title against Triple H after the challenger tapped out.
Earlier on the show, Rob Van Dam captured a title shot opportunity in the second ever Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania. Unlike Edge, Rob Van Dam would announce when he would cash in his briefcase. With the WWE about to revamp the ECW brand, Van Dam announced that he would use his title shot against John Cena at ECW: One Night Stand at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. With the 2,500 seat arena playing host to a mostly hardcore, old school ECW fanbase, John Cena was booed the harshest that he has ever been booed since he started to receive a split crowd reaction. Fans carried signs like “If Cena Wins, We Riot” signs. When he threw his t-shirt into the crowd, they kept throwing the shirt back to him. The crowd heckled him the whole time he was in the ring. When it looked like Cena would retain the title, and then main event heel Edge interefered, the crowd chanted “thank you Edge” in delight. To his credit, and this is the first time I really started to respect the man behind the John Cena character, Cena handled the situation perfectly. He played along, and even played the heel in the match. When the crowd chanted “same old shit,” Cena busted out some new moves. The crowed followed with a “you still suck” chant. Despite this, Cena was never frazzled, unlike Batista a few months later when he was visibly shaken as the crowd booed him out of the building. The fans didn’t riot, as Rob Van Dam was crowned the new WWE champion as he defeated John Cena.
This led to one of my favorite summers of the post-Attitude Era. I loved the Edge vs. Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena rivalry. Since The Rock and Steve Austin both became part-time to non existant players over the last few years, Triple H became the face of the company. While Triple H was at his peak as a character in 2000, RAW was still the Triple H Show for the half a decade before John Cena called RAW his home. By the Summer of 2005, Triple H took time off due to a neck injury, leading to Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle carrying the lead heel roles on RAW. However, in the summer of 2006, Triple H was back as a face where he was in the middle of a DX reunion with Shawn Michaels.
The difference between 2005 and 2006 is that Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle were established main event level talent. Edge and Rob Van Dam were always on the verge, but were never given the ball to run with. Finally, they were given their chance. With John Cena, Rob Van Dam, and Edge, RAW’s power players felt fresh. I loved the matches. Whether it was Cena vs. Van Dam, Van Dam vs. Edge, Edge vs. Cena, or a Triple Threat involving all three, I couldn’t wait to see each match. Unfortunately, Rob Van Dame screwed everything up with his marijuana drug bust just weeks after winning the title. This led to an end of the three way feud. However, we got the continuation of the Edge vs. John Cena rivalry. While Edge beat John Cena in Boston at SummerSlam 2006, Cena returned the favor to regain the title in a TLC match at Unforgiven in Toronto. Perhaps more than any other wrestler in the company, Edge is arguably John Cena’s greatest rival of his first five years in the WWE, if not in his career.
CLOSING IN ON FIVE YEARS
Following John Cena’s TLC victory, the WWE presented a Champions of Champions Triple Threat match at Cyber Sunday where the WWE Champion John Cena, the World Heavyweight Champion Booker T, and the ECW World Champion Bobby Lashley battled each other in a unique champion vs. champion vs. champion match where only the World Heavyweight championship was on the line.
Cena’s next major feud was with the undefeated Umaga. They fought on two straight pay per view events. At New Year’s Revolution on January 7th, 2007, Cena pinned Umaga. Three weeks later, on January 28th, John Cena beat Umaga in a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble.
The rumored main event for WrestleMania 23 was a WrestleMania rematch between John Cena and Triple H. However, due to an injury, Triple H was unable to perform, so the Road to WrestleMania was built around John Cena and Shawn Michales. The night after the Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels teamed with John Cena to take on Rated RKO, which featured Randy Orton and Cena’s rival Edge, for the tag team titles. The WWE champion and WWE “icon” defeated Orton and Edge to win the titles. Despite being tag team champions, Michaels and Cena were on a collision course for WrestleMania 23’s main event in Detroit, Michigan. John Cena would go on to defeat Shawn in that match, but the best was yet to come.
The next night on RAW, they lost the second of two tag team title battle royals when Shawn Michaels eliminated his own partner causing them to lose the tag team championship. They would continue to feud throughout the spring. The highlight came on the April 23rd edition of RAW when Shawn Michaels pinned John Cena in a 55 minute, 49 second classic non-title match.
Edge and Randy Orton joined in the feud, as the four men would battle for the WWE title until the late spring. At that time, John Cena began a very forgettable feud against the Great Khali. After this feud came to a close, John Cena finally had a one on one feud against the WWE’s other “golden boy,” Randy Orton. The two main evented at SummerSlam 2007 where John Cena beat Randy Orton. In the Unforgiven rematch, Randy Orton beat John Cena by disqualification. The two men were set for a collision course at No Mercy for the rubber match of the feud. However, fate would soon intervene.
On October 1st, John Cena fought Ken Kennedy on RAW. During the contest, John Cena suffered a torn pectoral muscle when he attempted to hip toss Kennedy. The next day, the WWE stripped John Cena of the WWE title as his rehab was estimated as anywhere from seven months to a year. As the fans would see SuperCena would be back much sooner than that.
In John Cena’s first five years, he captured the United States title three times. He won 3 WWE championships, and 1 tag team title. He wrestled in four WrestleMania championship matches. Three were for the WWE title, with two of those being the main events. How did John Cena’s next five years in the WWE go? Tune into the next Piledriver Report to find out.