wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 3.4.13: Top 10 John Cena Matches

March 4, 2013 | Posted by Gavin Napier

“You can’t wrestle!”
“You can’t wrestle!”



Not since the IWC decided that they hated Triple H has there been such a vehement distaste for one individual in the world of professional wrestling. Despite (because of?) the fact that John Cena has been booked as the face of WWE for the last ten years, there remains a great deal of backlash against him from “smart” fans. Please note the quotation. Regardless of what the man does or doesn’t do in the ring, his abilities and persona are derided without question amongst the vast majority of the constituents that make up the IWC.

If you’re one of those people, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. You have a narrow minded view of what professional wrestling is, you don’t understand the business aspect of professional wrestling, and you’re flat out wrong. The wrestling industry needs John Cena. Left to the devices of the IWC, the landscape would be populated entirely by…well, I’m not going to name names. However, let’s just say that nobody needs Wrestlemania to be replaced by The King of Trios tournament.

By the way, I love the King of Trios. It has its place. The industry would die if that were the biggest event of the year, though.

Before moving on to this week’s list, I want to throw in something from the last list I went through. I covered the best amateur wrestlers that turned pro, and I made a glaring error, brought to my attention by one of my friends. I left out Dan Severn.

Dan Severn was a beast (see what I did there?). He was a two time All American at Arizona State University, and would later coach there as well as at Michigan State University. He was a two time NCAA National Champion, a three time United States Olympic Wrestling Team alternate (80, 84, 88), and won 13 AAU National Titles (1982-1994). Between 1976 and 1992, he set the record for victories by pinfall in amateur wrestling in United States history. I was totally unaware of Severn’s achievements in amateur wrestling, and he certainly deserved a spot in the top ten. Plus he did this:

Here’s the criteria forThe Top Ten John Cena Matches

-Must be a singles match
-Quality of ring work
-Crowd reaction
-Personal preference

You’ll see no tag team, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, Handicap, Triple Threat, or other matches on here. This is about Cena vs. ______, one on one format. The quality of the ring work is based on my personal opinion then weighed against the opinions of others that have reviewed the matches in question here at 411 and around the internet at large to make sure that I’m not completely out of the box on my opinions. Crowd reaction plays a part, and my personal preference determines the order in which they appear. As a bonus for missing last week due to some time constraints on my part, I’m including two bonus matches here for your viewing pleasure. Or displeasure, given that it’s John Cena.

Items that just missed the cut: John Cena vs. Kurt Angle (No Mercy 2003), John Cena vs. HHH (Wrestlemania 22), John Cena vs. Randy Orton “I Quit” (Breaking Point 2009)

Honorable Mention – John Cena vs. Edge “Last Man Standing” (Backlash 2009)size=6>

To me, Cena’s rivalry with Edge was better than his rivalry with Orton. It didn’t drag on as long, they kept things fresh every time out, and Randy Orton wasn’t involved. Always a plus. This match was the second best of their feud, and showcased their chemistry and versatility in the ring together.

Honorable Mention – John Cena vs. Bobby Lashley (Great American Bash 2007)size=6>

This is here to prove a point. John Cena carried Bobby Lashley to not just a watchable match, but a pretty damn good match. Cena doesn’t just “keep up” or allow people like CM Punk to carry him to quality matches. He’s an active participant. Sorry to burst that bubble so early on.

vs. Brock Lesnar “Extreme Rules” (Extreme Rules 2012)size=6>

Cena played his part perfectly
-Main Event of the first pay per view after Wrestlemania 28

Every wrestling match is a play. There are roles. Stars, supporting characters, and an audience. The matches come complete with a soundtrack. For this night, John Cena played his part perfectly. Brock Lesnar arrived suddenly, and spent a few weeks beating John Cena up on Raw. He cut intimidating promos, and was generally very Lesnar-ish. Cena was coming off of the highest profile loss of his career, and there was a lot of speculation that this was their way of getting Cena off camera for a while in order to freshen things up. There aren’t many people in wrestling that can make John Cena look small or overmatched. Brock Lesnar is one of those people. Combine his physical appearance with the credentials that he carries from his MMA career, and Brock made a believable monster that could destroy John Cena. In this match, that’s what he did. He beat John Cena up. I’ve referenced this match at other times in other columns, but watching this match in public with children present was an uncomfortable experience. There was genuine concern for John Cena from the younger portion of the audience. For all the hate that gets lobbed towards “Super Cena”, he played the victim remarkably well in this match. Even though he won, his win required a lucky shot with a chain and going the extra mile in terms of brutality. This was well done by all involved.

vs. Chris Jericho (Summerslam 2005)size=6>

An underdeveloped rivalry.
-WWE Championship Match

John Cena vs. Chris Jericho was an underdeveloped rivalry in 2005. It’s hard to believe that this match was nearly eight years ago. The landscape in wrestling has changed so drastically since then that it almost feels like a different product, yet Cena and Jericho are still hanging around and turning in excellent performances. I feel like they could have gotten a lot more mileage out of these two at some point during Jericho’s various comebacks, but I understand why they haven’t. Jericho’s comebacks have focused largely on helping to establish younger talent or those relatively new to the main event scene as opposed to placing himself into high profile feuds. These two men would have a rematch the next night on Raw, which led to Jericho’s departure for a couple of years. This match in and of itself was exactly what you would expect from Jericho. He made Cena’s offense look good, he played the heel perfectly, and he allowed John Cena to further cement himself as the developing face of WWE. Matches like this provide plenty of opportunities for John Cena to be “exposed”, but after ten years, we’re still waiting for it to happen.

vs. Undertaker (Smackdown!, 2003)size=6>

Enjoy your heel Cena.
-Rematch of their match from Vengeance 2003

It’s been a long time since you’ve had a chance to see it on television, so enjoy your heel Cena. Their match at Vengeance wasn’t too shabby, but this one topped it. At the time, The Undertaker was in full biker mode, and basing his grudges on respect and lack thereof. Cena was still the Doctor of Thuganomics, and enticing the crowd to scream profanity. The creative team was still building this Cena kid towards the main event, and as evidenced by the careers of Jeff Hardy and Maven, The Undertaker was the quickest way to get there. Just like the match above, this contest feels like it’s from forever ago. Undertaker can still move, Cena’s wearing throwbacks, and Taz is on commentary with Michael Cole. As in the Lesnar match, Cena plays the victim role pretty well. Undertaker beats on him, but he just won’t quit. It would become a trademark of his character through the years, and matches like this helped to establish it.

vs. JBL “I Quit” (Judgment Day 2005)size=6>

-I Quit match for the WWE Championship

Ah, two internet darlings. Three if you include MySpace! I was a fan of JBL as a heel. He didn’t do the things in the ring that someone like Shawn Michaels or even John Cena did. He was very straightforward, with an old-school brawling style. He also knew how to generate heat and play a heel. Again, a vital part of the development of John Cena’s character. JBL was an eloquent speaker on the microphone, and played well off of Cena’s “street” tendencies. The match itself is one of the better I Quit matches in history, ranking behind Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard, Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk, and….well, that’s about it for my money. It had the benefit of a pre-PG landscape, so there’s appropriate color and violence involved. Cena and JBL had solid chemistry in the ring and produced several fun brawls. This is the best of the bunch.

vs. Randy Orton “Ironman Match” (Bragging Rights 2009)size=6>

John Cena’s greatest accomplishment
-Ironman Match for the WWE Championship

10 World Championships. Over 300 wishes granted for the Make A Wish Foundation. Cover guy for Fruity Pebbles. Actor. Despite all of these, John Cena’s greatest accomplishment has been making Randy Orton moderately interesting. Their feud went on for, well, a while. It’s likely the closest that we’ll ever see to a feud in the style of Buzz Sawyer vs. Tommy Rich or Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven again, and it wasn’t really anywhere near the level of either of those. If you asked me to pick out the three guys that I least wanted to watch wrestle for an hour straight in the modern landscape of professional wrestling, I’d tell you Jeff Hardy, Alberto Del Rio, and….Randy Orton. Making an Ironman match interesting can be a challenge. There’s a tendency to either end up with a 1-0 result or a ton of falls between the two men. Cena and Orton piled up a few wins each, but managed to keep the match fresh and with a sense of drama throughout. Before you discredit Cena’s part in this, ask yourself how interesting Orton has been in the four years since.

vs. Umaga “Last Man Standing” (Royal Rumble 2007)size=6>

John Cena Vs Umaga Last Man Standing WWE… by TheoMJ21

My personal favorite.
-Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship

This is my personal favorite match to point to when someone says that Cena can’t “wrestle.” Versatility is the key to being a successful professional wrestler, and Cena has it in spades. In that way, Cena has truly filled Hulk Hogan’s role at the top of the WWE food chain. Hogan turned in classic matches with everyone from Roddy Piper to Andre the Giant, Randy Savage to The Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair to Goldberg. Along the way, he also had good matches with Kamala, King Kong Bundy, Brutus Beefcake, Arn Anderson, Nick Bockwinkel, Antonio Inoki, Mr. Perfect, Sting, and others. Hogan could adapt to work with anyone. Cena is very much the same. His style may not seem to change a great deal, but Cena can do what he does against anyone. He’s been in classics against a wide variety of opponents, and Umaga is a prime example of how good Cena can make a match. I’m aware that none of this happens in a bubble and that a large part of the match quality is determined by how well both participants are booked beforehand. That’s out of Cena’s control. He works with what he’s given, and works well.

vs. Shawn Michaels (Raw, 2007)size=6>

Leave it to HBK.
-Rematch from Wrestlemania 23

There are a lot of people that would argue that this is John Cena’s best match ever. From a purely technical standpoint, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with them. This match is one of the all time greats, and goes a long way towards building Cena’s credibility as a wrestler. It should come as no surprise that Shawn Michaels was involved in an all time classic match with anyone on the roster, including Cena. What these two did on the April 23, 2007 Raw, though, was special. Back in July, I named it the fourth best match through the first 999 episodes of Monday Night Raw. For 45 minutes of televised action, Cena and Michaels traded one finisher after another, building to a crescendo that saw Cena take a clean loss. A beautiful job of storytelling by both men in a battle for respect.

vs. Rob Van Dam “Extreme Rules” (One Night Stand 2006)size=6>

Pure spectacle

-Extreme Rules match for the WWE Championship

Every now and then, wrestling gets things right. Cena vs. RVD is a perfect example of that. WWE booked a throwback pay per view for ECW, which allowed the true spirit of ECW to shine through…at least for the first couple of installments. Van Dam won the Money In The Bank match to guarantee himself a shot at the WWE Champion (also a natural), and announced his intentions to take on Cena at One Night Stand well ahead of time. The atmosphere was electric in a way that only an ECW crowd can be. Cena entered the arena and was met with vitriolic hate. The sign in the corner of the arena that read “IF CENA WINS WE RIOT” wasn’t just a cute saying, it was likely to happen based on ECW history. Cena embraced the hate, playing along with the crowd, and keeping things moving. We got typical ECW booking with a surprise appearance by Edge that cost Cena the title and Heyman counting his shoulders down so that Rob Van Dam could finally win a world championship. This match was pure spectacle, and remains one of the more enduring moments of the last ten years in WWE.

vs. CM Punk (Money In The Bank 2011)size=6>

Better than the angle.
-WWE Championship Match

Cena and Punk’s rivalry has almost edged into that Cena vs. Edge territory. Their matches always produce, they have chemistry in the ring and on the microphone, and they’re natural rivals. This match was better than the angle that encapsulated it. It was through this series of matches that Cena helped solidify Punk’s position in the main event. Cena was the only guy that could fit the role of the corporate puppet that Punk was lashing out at. He was the only guy that could fit the role of WWE Champion for Punk to feud with. Cena looked like Superman while Punk looked like something from the island of misfit wrestlers. Punk threatened to take the title hostage, and he sort of did for a week or so. That could have played out much longer had the powers that be been willing to give him a little more free reign. That’s hindsight and wishful thinking, though. What we got were some of the best matches that we could have hoped for from both Cena and Punk, and the hope of renewing this rivalry in earnest in the near future.

vs. Edge “TLC” (Unforgiven 2006)size=6>

It doesn’t get much better.
-TLC Match for the WWE Championship

In terms of John Cena’s career, it doesn’t get much better than this match or this feud. Edge’s presence in the WWE main event scene is sorely missed, and this match is evidence of why. Edge is a known daredevil, one of the most creative stars in the realm of professional wrestling when given a ladder, charismatic, and a gifted performer in general. Cena is a power based brawler. He stays close to the ground. A TLC match is – or should be – entirely out of his element. Yet he and Edge turned in a brilliant match at Unforgiven in 2006, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Cena can wrestle, brawl, fight, fly, and anything else necessary to live up to his reputation as the standard bearer of WWE.

Tell me what I left out, what should be included, leave your lists, and discuss the above list in the comment section below. You can find me on Twitter @GavinNapier411 and check out my new podcast on iTunes by searching for The Casual Heroes, or go to www.thecasualheroes.com and I’ll be back here in 7..6..5..


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