John Cena takes to the ring on Saturday in his first pay-per-view main event for over three years, when he faces Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam. To get you in the mood for the return of ‘Big Match John’, here are some of his greatest WWE moments.
Rookie Displays ‘Ruthless Aggression’
When Kurt Angle laid out an open challenge on the 27th June 2002 edition of SmackDown, viewers had no idea they were witnessing history. Debuting John Cena answered the call, and when the ‘Olympic Hero’ asked what the rookie brought to the table, the answer came loud and clear. “Ruthless Aggression.” One of the all-time greats, Angle led the newcomer through a thrilling match, and the star-making display was solidified when The Undertaker congratulated Cena on his performance backstage.
Climbing The Ladder
2006 saw perhaps Cena’s greatest feud, as he traded the WWE Championship with the ‘Rated R Superstar’ Edge in a series of intense matches. The finest of these was their Tables, Ladders and Chairs encounter at Unforgiven 2006. A high-octane stunt-show culminated when Cena gave Edge the Attitude Adjustment from the top of a 16-foot ladder.
Meeting ‘Mr WrestleMania’
No wrestler is more synonymous with WrestleMania than ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels, and Cena joined his pantheon of classic matches at the event in 2007. Closing the show for the second year running, the then-WWE Champion came into his own as a WrestleMania main eventer in front of an announced crowd of over 80,000 fans.
Out-Rapping The Rock
John Cena truly transitioned from greenhorn to seasoned performer when he adopted the ‘Doctor Of Thuganomics’ persona, an 8 Mile-inspired gimmick where he insulted his opponents with battle raps. When The Rock returned in 2011, he targeted the man many saw as his heir. Cena responded with a one-night return to his hip hop roots, with a stunning verse that insulted Rock’s movie roles such as Tooth Fairy, his catchphrases, his absence from WWE and even his choice to go by his birth name of Dwayne Johnson. When faced with one of the greatest talkers ever, Cena excelled.
The Shape Of Punk To Come
John Cena’s Chicago clash with hometown hero CM Punk benefited from a rabid crowd, and unprecedented stakes. Punk would pin Cena to capture the WWE Championship, before leaving the company with the belt when his contract expired the next day. The extraordinary atmosphere and incredible action made for a true wrestling classic.
Taming The Beast Incarnate
Brock Lesnar had walked out of WWE in 2004, attempting an NFL career before settling in UFC, where he reigned as Heavyweight Champion. He returned at Extreme Rules 2012, and what followed was one of the most violent matches of the era. Cena took a pounding from Lesnar, with fists, blood and ring steps all making their way into the menagerie of violence. Against the odds, John drilled Brock with a steel chain to score the unlikely win.
Tying With The Nature Boy
John Cena wrote his name into the record books when he defeated AJ Styles in the latest chapter of their incredible rivalry at the 2017 Royal Rumble. Joining Ric Flair on 16 recognised world title reigns, Cena seemed to put himself in the box-seat to claim the overall record. Four years later and due to reduced activity and a budding film career, the 17th title is yet to arrive. Cena will get the chance to finally overtake the ‘Nature Boy’ this weekend when he meets Reigns.
Welcome To The House Of Fun
The pandemic led to WWE making some daring creative choices at WrestleMania 36. The company pre-recorded John Cena’s clash with ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt, presenting a bizarre and enthralling spectacle termed the “Firefly Fun House”. A riot of references to Cena’s past, and imagined futures, fans saw John in the colours of the NWO, in a pastiche of an ‘80s Hulk Hogan promo and interacting with a hand puppet dressed like a satanic Vince McMahon. The strangest entry on the list, but certainly one of the most memorable.