Big Match John is regularly panned for being the death knell on the careers of many rising superstars. Cena clearly has a lot of pull bahind the scenes, regardless of his WWE status, and it has been well documented over the years that he has held certain talent back.
A lot of it an be understood. Cena has for the longest time been the face and the franchise of WWE, meaning that the company always had a reluctance to let superstars go over at his expense. Naturally this has drawn the ire of many fans who have been clamouring to see something new for a number of years.
However, it's not fair to hold Cena in such an unflattering light. Even though we can't deny that some of his feuds have proved catastrophic for many wrestlers, claiming this to be the only outcome of a Cena feud is a false narrative which should not be promoted.
John Cena, especially over the past few years, has changed his role from the franchise to the measuring stick and been put in more and more feuds with up and coming superstars. A John Cena rub has always been valuable, precisely because it was so rare.
Now we find ourselves just one week away from Wrestlemania 36, where funnily enough Cena will take on the man who is probably his most famous burial of all time, The Fiend Bray Wyatt. Bray was riding high 6 years ago when he faced off against Cena at Wrestlemania 30, but the loss on the Grandest Stage Of Them All was a defining one in his career. The Eater of Worlds never quite recovered from that defeat and would go on to cite Cena as being the man who helped to birth The Fiend. Will Cena right those wrongs and finally put Bray over?
Join me as i analyse the most important times where Cena did his best to provide us a bright future for when he does eventually hang up his boots, by putting over the right superstar.
Everyone cites Brock Lesnar's historic win over The Undertaker at Wrestlemania as the definitive moment where Lesnar became WWE's main attraction. However, he didn't truly become that box office superstar until he defeated the man already holding that mantle, John Cena, at Summerslam 2014. Lesnar breaking The Streak was shocking, but it wasn't the dominant win that we'd expect today from the mayor of Suplex City. At Summerslam, he demolished a man we spent the last decade watching as the face of WWE.
It wasn't just the fact that Cena ate a pin from Lesnar that put The Conqueror on a new pedestal. It was the dominance on display in a tremendously one-sided affair. After being protected for so long, no one expected Cena to take such a devastating loss and with his infamous reputation as a man who is handy with a golden shovel, many thought Cena would win. From the opening bell, Lesnar decimated The Champ and after Cena got little to virtually no offense throughout the match, Lesnar became the new WWE Champion in an undisputed victory.
A big reason why John Cena and Randy Orton have been such prevalent career rivals is because Cena has been so willing to trade wins and losses with Orton. In fact, Orton has come out on top against Cena more often in singles matches on pay-per-view with a 6-3 winning streak against The Face That Runs the Place. That doesn't even factor in the multi-man matches featuring the 2 where The Viper slithered his way to frequent victories. Cena has even suffered his very first Wrestlemania loss at the hands of Orton. Orton pinned Cena in their Triple Threat match for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 24. The foundation of Orton's success has been the fact that he has been able to do what so few people have done - defeat Cena - and has done so numerous times in the past.
While thinking back to their many encounters over the years, there is a possibility that Sheamus has lost to Cena more times than he's won. However, more than anything, it is that first win over Cena at TLC 2009 for the WWE Championship that made Sheamus a mainstay in the main event scene. After spending time in developmental, Sheamus had debuted on Raw's main roster on October 26th and when his first opportunity at the WWE Championship came to him at TLC in December, he succeeded. It helps a superstar's credibility to win big gold in their first crack at the main event and for Sheamus to do so in such a quick time made him look incredibly strong for a rookie. At 166 days, this marks the third shortest amount of time anyone has won a World Championship since making their WWE debut. Even when Cena got his rematch on the final Raw of that year, he failed to win it back from Sheamus and The Celtic Warrior was able to hold on to the belt for the next couple months. Thanks to his initial win over Cena, Sheamus spent 2010 headlining ppvs, winning his 2nd WWE Championship, and defeating other stars like Randy Orton and Triple H. It still marks one of the best rookie years for any WWE Superstar.
Over the years, CM Punk and John Cena have traded wins, but none were as important as their match from Money in the Bank. Not only because it turned out to be the first 5-star rated WWE match according to the Wrestling Observer since 1997, but because of the atmosphere and stakes which the match produced. Almost 15,000 attendees in Chicago's Allstate Arena were on their feet to see if their native son could topple Cena and make good on his promise to walk out of the company with the WWE Championship. Punk succeeded and in victory became a staple of WWE's main event scene for 3 years all the way up until his real life walkout on the company in 2014. He also got another win over Cena in their rematch at Summerslam, though under sketchy circumstances with Cena's foot on the rope during the pinfall. Regardless, the wins over Cena helped establish Punk as a serious main eventer and led to his historic 434-day long WWE Championship reign.
The only thing rarer than John Cena losing is for Cena to lose and not get his win back at a later date. Even when he lost his first encounter with The Rock at Wrestlemania 28, an entire year long storyline was created just so that Cena could get his win back at Wrestlemania 29. However, when Daniel Bryan shockingly defeated Cena for the WWE Championship at Summerslam 2013, Cena never got his win back in a rematch; not even a rematch without a title on the line. Not having to lay down to Cena in return helped Bryan's star rise further as a result. He was already getting massive fan reactions for the past couple years. Now with a win over Cena, mixed in with a brief title run, Bryan was a proven main eventer among WWE's elite. Not only that, but the win over Cena kicked off Bryan's year long feud with The Authority that led to his monumental main event win at Wrestlemania.
During his entire career, Kevin Owens was told that he didn't have a look that was fit for a WWE Superstar. When he finally did join WWE in 2014, people still doubted that he would find success. Which is why his big win over John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015 came as such a surprise. When he made his main roster debut - still holding the NXT Championship - he made an immediate impact by laying out the United States Champion and challenging him to a non-title match. Beating Cena in his first main roster match made Owens look like an instant main eventer. Even though Cena did get go on to defeat Owens at the next two pay-per-views, they weren't defiant wins. After Cena won at Money in the Bank, Owens was the one walking away after he beat down Cena when the match was over. Then, after tapping out at Battleground, Owens ensured that he only tapped out to fight another day, not because Cena made him. Because Owens was so well protected, he still looked strong in capturing the Intercontinental Championship a couple months later and then the Universal Championship, his first WWE World Championship, the following year.
For all of the illustrious accomplishments that AJ Styles has achieved around the world, he was still unproven in WWE when he entered the company in 2016. That all changed after a series of wins against John Cena. When their feud first began, Styles needed the win. His star aura was starting to fade as he was right off the heels of losing his first WrestleMania match to Chris Jericho and failing to capture the WWE Championship from Roman Reigns at back-to-back pay-per-views. One heel turn later, he was ready to beat up John Cena and he did just that with a win over the Leader of the CENAtion at Money in the Bank. Granted, thanks to interference from The Club, Styles' win looked less than legitimate, but he made up for it with a clean win against Cena at SummerSlam.
With that win, Styles finally rose to prominence among the WWE roster and won the WWE Championship the following month at Backlash. While Cena did get a win of his own over Styles in a 6 Man Tag Match at Battleground, he never beat Styles in singles competition. Not to mention that at No Mercy, Styles pinned Cena a 3rd time in a Triple Threat. All of these wins against Styles helped mold him as a bonafide WWE main eventer and the Champ That Runs the Camp.
Love him or hate him, John Cena has done more for the business than 99% of superstars in the history of wrestling. Whether it be getting eyes on the product or putting new talent over Big Match John fully deserves his places on the Mt. Rushmore of professional wrestling.