wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: How Many Opponents Has John Cena Had?

January 3, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
John Cena Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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M.N.M.N.B. is getting all comprehensive:

Listening to Ric Flair’s new podcast made me think of a question unrelated to Flair: How many different opponents has John Cena had since debuting on the main roster? Ditto for Roman Reigns. Let’s do Charlotte too. Cena, Roman, and Char – any or all 3, if you are willing.

I’ll gladly do all three in time, but doing the entire trio in one shot is a bit much, so let’s start with John Cena, who by far has had the longest career, in this edition of the column, and I’ll pick up the other two later on.

By my count, the Doctor of Thuganomics has had 182 unique opponents since his WWE main roster debut across singles and various tag team matches. In case you’re curious, those opponents are, in roughly the order in which they wrestled Cena for the first time after his main roster debut:

Kurt Angle, Jerry Lawler, Nova, Albert, Christian Cage, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Chris Kanyon, Test, Rico, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, D-Von Dudley, Batista, Matt Hardy, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Billy Gunn, Chuck Palumbo, Bull Buchanan, Tajiri, Mike Awesome, Brock Lesnar, Kenny Bolin, Shelton Benjamin, Billy Kidman, Shannon Moore, Val Venis, Torrie Wilson, Rikishi, Lance Cade, Renee Dupree, Sho Funaki, Edge, Rey Misterio Jr., Danny DeNucci, Paul London, Scott Steiner, Frankie Kazarian, Daniel Bryan, Mark Henry, Rhyno, The Undertaker, Brian Kendrick, Orlando Jordan, Zach Gowen, Jamie Noble, Matt Morgan, Nathan Jones, Big Show, Johnny Stamboli, Nunzio, Doug Basham, Danny Basham, Hardcore Holly, JBL, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Jimmy Yang, Ryan Sakoda, Booker T., Luther Reigns, Rob Van Dam, Kenzo Suzuki, Charlie Haas, Carlito, Mark Jindrak, Jesus, Tyson Tomko, Muhammad Hassan, Triple H, Gene Snitsky, Shawn Michaels, Chris Masters, Eric Bischoff, Randy Orton, Daivari, Lita, Vince McMahon, Johnny, Kenny, Mitch, Mikey, Dolph Ziggler, Johnny Nitro, Damien Sandow, Sabu, Ball Mahoney, Umaga, Matt Striker, Viscera, Trevor Murdoch, Fit Finlay, William Regal, Jonathan Coachman, MVP, Armando Alejandro Estrada, Kevin Federline, The Great Khali, Ken Kennedy, Joey Mecury, Shane McMahon, Dan Rodman, Mick Foley, Bobby Lashley, Shawn Spears, Santino Marella, Jeff Hardy, Cody Rhodes, David Hart Smith, Jim Duggan, Paul Burchill, Highlander Robbie, Super Crazy, Kane, Ted DiBiase Jr., Manu, Beth Phoenix, Mike Knox, Mike the Miz, Kozlov, Jack Swagger, CM Punk, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre, David Otunga, Wade Barrett, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, Michael Tarver, Ryback, Darren Young, Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel, Alex Riley, Alberto Del Rio, Vickie Guerrero, R-Truth, Ezekiel Jackson, Ricardo Rodriguez, Michael Cole, Kevin Nash, Zack Ryder, The Rock, John Laurinaitis, Antonio Cesaro, AJ Lee, Jinder Mahal, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Big E Langston, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Goldust, Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, Rusev, Tyson Kidd, Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, Kevin Owens, Xavier Woods, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Carmell, Baron Corbin, James Ellsworth, Fandango, Maryse, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Jason Jordan, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, Elias Samson, Sonya Deville, Andrade Almas, Zelina Vega, Mace, T-Bar, and Veer.

Probably the most interesting pattern I found when researching this question is that there are a few guys who it seems that Cena has been wrestling for his entire career actually had their first matches with him much later than I would have guessed. For example, despite both debuting there in 2002, Randy Orton and Cena didn’t have their first main roster match against each other until 2005, while Kane and Cena didn’t wrestle each other until 2006, and there was no Triple H/Cena match until 2005, either.

The name on the list that most sticks out like a sore thumb, in my opinion, is Danny DeNucci. DeNucci lost to Cena in a match taped on November 26, 2002 which ultimately aired on an episode of WWE Velocity. There is very little information out there in the world about DeNucci, except that he was a southern independent wrestler in the early 2000s who was trained by Bobby Eaton and had eight dark or enhancement matches for WWE between 2002 and 2007, including once wrestling the former nWo Sting, Jeff “Super J” Farmer, in a pre-Sunday Night Heat dark match and facing Chris Masters on an episode of Smackdown (under the name Danny Shanley). If anybody out there has more information about Danny DeNucci, perhaps John Cena’s most obscure opponent, I would be interested to know it.

Ticking TimeBomb Taz is set to explode:

To your knowledge, was Owen Hart ever seriously considered for the World Title?

No. There was an episode of the Something to Wrestle podcast with Bruce Prichard in which he was asked about the King of Harts as a potential world champion, and his response was that it may have been discussed at one point, but it did not sound like there were any serious plans.

Bryan J. is laying it all out:

With MMA having an influence on pro wrestling, how do you solve the contradiction that some submission moves involve the wrestler doing the move being on their back. In MMA, judo, and various other combat disciplines, pinning someone doesn’t mean anything so being on your back isn’t a problem. In wrestling that’s one of the main ways of winning. Like look at the Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate, or the Jushin Liger surfboard. They are pinning themselves. Does this reek of inconsistency and hurt your suspension of disbelief?

It actually bothers me more when a wrestler is applying a submission hold and a referee counts their shoulders down. It would be quite easy to change the very flexible rules of professional wrestling and have announcers explain that one wrestler has to be actively doing something to pin the other in order to initiate the referee’s count as opposed to a ref dropping and counting any time a wrestler’s shoulders are on the mat, even when it’s abundantly clear that their shoulders are down solely because the wrestler being “pinned” has voluntarily placed them there.

If you do that, the submission holds in question are no longer problematic, and the rules of wrestling make a lot more sense.

Jeremy is aiming for peace in the Middle East:

Is there a reason that WWE went all “making history” about women wrestling in Saudi Arabia, but has not really commented that a man of a Jewish background won the Universal title in Saudi Arabia? I feel like in terms of pleasing their sponsors, they’re not completely different situations.

For what it’s worth, several publications and websites that focus specifically on Jewish news did report on Goldberg’s title win in Saudi Arabia, including the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish News Syndicate. Goldberg himself also commented on the win’s significance in at least one interview with Wrestling Inc.

You’re correct, though, that WWE itself didn’t say much. Why? The question hasn’t been directly answered anywhere that I could find, but my suspicion is that it wasn’t highly publicized because Saudi Arabia didn’t want it to be highly publicized. However, when it comes to women, the Saudi Arabian government has done some things that give it the ability to try to claim that things are getting better for women in the country. For example, there have been more women placed in government cabinet positions in the Saudi government and restrictions on travel have been lessened.

Don’t get me wrong, women still don’t enjoy nearly the level of freedom in the country that they ought to, but the country is trying to build a case that things aren’t nearly as bad as the public perception, and they likely welcomed WWE touting women’s matches there because it helps them push their own narrative. Meanwhile, there’s not nearly the same attempt by the Saudi government to push improved relations with the Jewish people.

That’s the primary distinction that I can think of.

Bryan is feeling left out:

Considering the history of wrestling in Minnesota, how come the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was never used for a Wrestlemania? And considering the wrestling history in the Volunteer State, and Jerry Lawler’s popularity there, why was the Mid-South Coliseum never used?

Regarding the Metrodome, my understanding is it has more to do with the city that it is located in than anything to do with the arena itself. With the exception of New York, which gets a pass because it is WWE’s traditional home and the largest media market in the United States, modern Wrestlemanias have tended to be held in locations that will more reliably have warm weather during the March/April timeframe in which Wrestlemania is typically hosted. Plus, the Metrodome was done away with in 2014, so it’s not been available for some time . . . though the City of Minneapolis reportedly does still make bids to host the event from time-to-time, with their more modern U.S. Bank Stadium being the proposed venue.

The Mid-South Coliseum, meanwhile, only has a capacity of about 10,000 people, which would mean even at a total sellout it would have the smallest live audience in Wrestlemania history, probably a fair amount smaller than WWE would want the show to have, particularly in the 2000s, which is the last decade in which the facility would have been usable.

Chris is staring up at the lights:

During the era when jobbers were used, and were almost exclusively jobbers, how did one become a jobber? The Mulkeys for example. Did they get into the business knowing they would be enhancement talent?

There were typically established local wrestlers who wrestling promotions counted on to provide enhancement talent for use in a particular geographic area. For example, for shows held in the south in the 1980s, “Action” Mike Jackson was usually called upon to provide that talent, and the Hardy Boys have talked several times about the Italian Stallion being their connection to the WWF when he was responsible for bringing enhancement wrestlers to tapings for the Fed.

Many of those old school job guys were not exclusively job guys. They may have held that role on television for larger promotions, but they were simultaneously wrestling for independent or small regional groups where they were significantly bigger players.

Richard U. is pulling back the curtain:

I am interested in the difference between in-ring personas and real life personalities. Which wrestling heels are really nice people outside work? Which wrestling faces are buttholes away from the ring? For example, and this is going way back, I’ve heard that Baron Von Rascke was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet away from the arena even though he played a German Nazi for most of his career. On the other hand, Wahoo McDaniel seems to have the reputation of being nothing but a mean jerk.

The first name that comes to my mind is the Ultimate Warrior. Despite his being a babyface his entire time in the WWF and WCW, he had a reputation for not ever wanting to do much to ingratiate himself to fans outside of the ring, which actually caused an incident that contributed to the tumultuous relationship between the Warrior and Vince McMahon. In 1991, Warrior reportedly refused to sign an autograph for a young boy who he did not realize was the son of a television executive that had ties to the WWF. Word of this got back to McMahon, and it resulted in Warrior having to tape an apology video to the kid, despite Warrior’s feeling that he had not done anything wrong. This really ate at Warrior to the point that it was referenced in the letter that he wrote to Vince around his Summerslam 1991 pay dispute.

This was covered to an extent in A&E’s Biography special on Warrior, where we got some behind the scenes footage of the apology being shot:

On the other side of the coin, though he’s often been portrayed as a brutal heel and even as a supremely powerful asskicker when he’s a babyface, word on the street is that, in real life, Mark Henry is one of the nicest guys that you could hope to meet and, now that he’s in his late career, has become a beloved mentor to several younger talents.

Marcus is making it rain:

I’ve been looking back at a few things from NJPW during the quarantine. After re-watching some Kazuchika Okada matches, I believe he may be the greatest IWGP Champion of all-time. Aside from his epics with Kenny Omega, he boasts a 600+ day title reign, not including the days his other reigns, which is a record. 13 successful title defenses which is also a record and won the G1. The Rainmaker has headlined 6 of the last 8 Wrestle Kingdoms as well. Okada has done almost everything you can do in the company. But it’s almost too perfect. The men who have held the championship after him seem to have lackluster reigns by comparison. Do you think Okada set the bar too high? All the subsequent champs may pale in comparison even though they are respectable athletes that are amazing in their on right. Do you think the Rainmaker has left shoes too big for the NJPW roster, present and future, to fill?

You’ve listed many of Okada’s storyline accomplishments, but one thing that you’ve not mentioned is what he’s achieved in real life:

Kazuchika Okada is one of the best, if not the best, in-ring performers in the history of professional wrestling and certainly within the past thirty years.

When you have the sort of once in a lifetime in-ring talent that Okada possesses, fans realize that, even if they’re not the sort of “smart mark” that frequents websites of this nature. They know when they’re seeing something special.

And, when fans know that they’re seeing something special, I don’t see any problem with giving that special wrestler kayfabe accomplishments to match. That’s what happened with Bruno Sammartino, whose WWWF/WWE Title reign is still the most enduring of all time, almost sixty years after it first began. That’s what happened with Ric Flair, whose number of world title reigns still stands as a record. However, the legend of Sammartino didn’t diminish the legend of Ric Flair, and the legend of Ric Flair hasn’t diminished the legend of Steve Austin on the Rock. When uncannily great talents come about, they will always be able to stand on their own merits.

I suspect that the same will be true with Okada. Yes, current wrestlers may seem like they’re not on his level . . . because few to none of them are. However, the history of wrestling has proven that eventually there will be somebody who comes along who is capable of joining him in the annals of history.

Albert is burning like a wildfire:

When I was younger Tommy Rich was the hottest thing in Atlanta. Why didn’t he ever go to the WWF/E? Was it the physique? Wrestling style? Or did he want to remain loyal to GCW/NWA? And what about that title win? Enlighten us please.

First off, Tommy Rich did have some brushes with the WWF/WWE. On January 28, 1980 in Augusta, Georgia for Georgia Championship Wrestling, Rich challenged visiting WWF Champion Bob Backlund for his belt. The match went to a sixty minute time limit draw. The next month, Wildfire made a trip up to New York and wrestled for the Fed in Madison Square Garden, defeating the “Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz in just under eight minutes. (This was during an era where it was not uncommon for other territories’ stars to make guest appearances on MSG cards.) Finally, sixteen years later, Rich teamed with Doug Gilbert to defeat the Bodydonnas and the Godwinns in a three-way tag match on a February 17, 1996 show at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. This card was branded as a joint show between the WWF and the USWA, with whom the Fed had a working relationship at the time. However, Gilbert, Rich, and Brian Christopher were the only three wrestlers on the show from the USWA who weren’t simultaneously regulars on WWF television at the time.

Why didn’t we get more of Tommy working for Vince McMahon?

It appears to be that the best answer is that Rich just didn’t want to do it. For more on that, I turn your attention to the pro wrestling podcast Between the Sheets, which picks a week in wrestling history and then analyzes all of the events and history that occurred during that week, using dirt sheets of the era as a reference point. During their episode on the week of May 5 through May 11, 1985, they reported that Tommy Rich was in fact supposed to begin working on WWF house show tours around that time, even pointing to a April 28, 1985 newspaper clipping which promoted Rich as part of an upcoming WWF card in Salisbury, Maryland.

One of the hosts of that episode of Between the Sheets was southern wrestling historian and author “King of Kingsport” Beau James, who was asked what he made of Rich being advertised for WWF shows in the mid-1980s but ultimately not appearing. James’ response was essentially that Rich thought better of it, realizing that he could make substantial money with less travel and less time away from home if he continued to work for southern territories, including the Fullers’ Continental Championship Wrestling, where he would ultimately land during the spring of 1985.

Regarding the NWA Title win, when it occurred, Tommy Rich was one of the hottest babyfaces in the country because of the strong television in the Georgia territory at the time. It was a scenario where he needed to win the belt, even if for a short reign, in order to maintain his credibility and continue the hot streak. Of course, there are persistent rumors about “favors” being exchanged for the belt, but those have been long debunked and I won’t dignify them by discussing them any further.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.