In exactly one week, John Cena will step into Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla. for the biggest match of his Hall of Fame career. In that contest, he will stand across from the Rock in the squared circle in what many are calling "the Biggest Match of All-Time."
It remains to be seen if Cena and Rock can craft a match worthy of that type of hype but what fans across the globe do know is that John Cena has proven in the past that he can step up and answer the call in big-match situations.
Since achieving his goal of becoming WWE Champion in 2005, this highly-criticized superstar has been responsible for some of the company's greatest matches. Whether they are high-profile championship clashes or simply good, old fashioned grudge matches, Cena has proven himself one of the better big-match performers in the company, whether his detractors want to admit it or not.
With just seven days to go before his epic clash with The Rock, join me as I take a look back at John Cena's ten greatest matches to this point.
When it comes to Wrestlemania, there is pressure on every man or woman that steps through the curtain and into the arena. But there is a different pressure that comes from working with the greatest performer in the history of the sport, Shawn Michaels.
John Cena embraced that pressure at Wrestlemania 23 and as a result, the "Show of Shows" had its second great main event in as many years.
Shawn Michaels was his normal brilliant self. As Jim Ross once put it, "no one has ever out-performed Shawn Michaels in a big-match situation." John Cena, on this night in 2007, stood toe-to-toe with the all-time great and never appeared overmatched or out of place.
This is the match that proved to the world that John Cena was not just a brawler. To this point, Cena's best matches were those where he and his opponent brawled around ringside and bled buckets. At Wrestlemania 23, he had a WRESTLING match with Shawn Michaels and fans were allowed to see what the constantly improving WWE Champion was capable of in that setting.
John Cena entered Wrestlemania 22 as the WWE Champion, but coming off a 2005 that saw fans growing increasingly annoyed by his "punchy-kicky" style of wrestling. His opponent, Triple H, made it a mission to point out how inept at classic, technical wrestling he really was. This played into the story of the match that resulted in Cena's first true Wrestlemania moment.
I was at Wrestlemania 22 and there is no way to really put into words the crowd reaction for John Cena in Chicago. Forty-five minutes before the show, with no video playing and a quiet arena, fans were very vocal, chanting "Cena sucks" and other expletives.
Once the pre-event videos played, and Cena's face appeared on the video screen, the chants grew louder and were laced with more venom. His entrance is still the loudest reaction I have ever heard at a wrestling event, with boos raining down on him and obscenities being hurled in his direction.
But it is a testament to Cena that he did not seem rattled, that he performed to a high level, and the match benefited because of it. The fan reaction only played into the story of the bout. Triple H was the better wrestler, Cena could not hang with him between the ropes, and every time Triple H knocked Cena down and cockily stood over him, posing or gloating, the fans backed "The Game" and booed Cena.
When the WWE Champion caught Triple H in the STF and made him tap, he proved that he could overcome the most hostile environment he had experienced to that point, that he could use "The King of King's" cockiness against him, and that he belonged in the top tier of WWE. It was a tremendous story that played out, accented by the vocal and passionate crowd.
A basic match but the one that proved Cena was THE guy.
There has not, and may never be, a crowd that was so passionate in its hate of John Cena than the one that filled the Manhattan Center for ECW's One Night Stand in June of 2006. The iconic image of the "If Cena Wins, We Riot" poster is a testament to how much that crowd wanted to not only see Cena lose the WWE Championship but also to get hurt.
John relished in competing in front of that blood-thirsty crowd and his opponent, Rob Van Dam, was as motivated as he ever was in WWE, making for one of the most memorable matches in company history and one of Cena's greatest performances.
Make no mistake about it: what should have been about RVD turned out to be Cena's defining moment, to that point. You can take and plug any professional wrestler in the world into Van Dam's spot and it does not change the fact that John Cena stole that match and the entire show. A lesser performer would have cracked under the pressure he was faced with that night.
From the brawling around the ringside area to Cena effectively working as a heel, the match provided fans with a look at the type of versatile performer the WWE Champion could be. He would not leave the building as the titleholder but no one would forget his performance or the atmosphere surrounding that match.
John Cena challenging Batista for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 26 was reminiscent of great "big man" clashes in the past such as Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI and Undertaker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania X7.
It was a hard-hitting, high impact, move-for-move slug fest. Five years after assuming their spots at the top of sports-entertainment, they competed in the best WWE Championship match since Cena defended against HBK three years earlier.
Cena and Batista exchanged their trademark moves, each kicking out of finishers that otherwise would have beaten their opponents. Batista made it to the ropes to break the STF, then floored the challenger with a spear. Cena kicked out of the Batista Bomb and Batista shot his shoulder off the mat, preventing a three count after the Attitude Adjustment.
The crowd, as usual, was very vocal and the big move, big move, big move progression of the match made for an action-packed conclusion and added drama to a match many expected to underwhelm.
Cena left Wrestlemania 26 but both he and Batista proved to the fans in attendance and watching at home just how far they had come since they took up the mantle for the WWE at Wrestlemania 21.
John Cena versus Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Breaking Point, in an "I Quit" Match, features one of the best-told stories any match has featured in at least three years. Was the wrestling, from a classic standpoint, the best? Absolutely not. Was it a visually beautiful match? Nope. But who can and cannot throw thirty different variations of a suplex is only a fraction of what makes a match great.
It had been established heading into the Breaking Point pay-per-view that John Cena and Randy Orton had an intensely personal rivalry that stretched for over two years. The "I Quit" match was to be another stop on the road to an Iron Man match to take place at Bragging Rights.
Instead, the Breaking Point match became the most intense, most brutal, and most physical match in the series and one of the criminally underrated matches of the last ten years.
For nearly thirty minutes, Cena and Orton beat each other in and around the ring in a manner two rivals would.
Who can forget the sight of Cena handcuffed to the top rope, his hands over his head as Orton relentlessly canes his midsection, leaving HUGE red welts on the sternum and ribs of the challenger.
When Cena finally breaks free and cuffs himself to Orton, he reacts just as anyone hurt and angry would. He unleashes all of his rage on Orton and applies the STF for the quick victory. The urgency that Randy tapped out with was perfect. He realized that he would have other chances to win back the WWE Championship but he could not do that if he was injured.
Cena showed even his harshest critics that he could be serious, that two wrestlers could have a match as brutal as the "I Quit" match was without involving blood and still manage to portray raw emotion and hate between two characters.
John Cena's career grew in 2006. It was the year that he officially became the biggest star in WWE. That may never have been the case without a performer as talented and smart as Edge working opposite of him in the year's greatest rivalry.
In many ways, Cena and Edge grew up together that year. Edge experienced his first main event and championship run and John really grew into a high-quality main event performer. They did so performing with one another. After a year of solid wrestling matches, they took it to the next level in the bout that would momentarily end their feud.
The setting was Toronto, Ontario, hometown of the "Rated R Superstar." The match was a specialty of the multiple-time tag team champion...a TLC match. Those two factors alone should have stacked the odds against Cena. The fact that the challenger had never competed in any type of ladder match before only complicated things.
But instead of letting inexperience in that type of match get in the way of delivering a quality main event, Cena performed admirably in the best match of the Cena-Edge saga. He took big bumps and was booed mercilessly, but never let it affect him. Edge, the veteran of high-risk matches, such as TLC, undoubtedly helped Cena along and as a result, the two young main event stars stole the show out from underneath a DX-McMahons Hell in a Cell match and Trish Stratus' retirement match against Lita.
The match set Cena and Edge on course to dominate WWE television for the next half-decade. They proved they could carry a show, that their matches could live up the hype, and satisfy fans. It was a gamble that paid off for both WWE and the two men involved.
John Cena defeated John Bradshaw Layfield for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 21, but as Judgment Day approached just two months later, the newly-crowd champion was still an enigma as a main event performer.
The Wrestlemania bout was a disappointing, straight-up wrestling match when most believed the storyline dictated a more physical, brawling match. When the rematch was scheduled for the May pay-per-view extravaganza, and the stipulation of "I Quit" match was added, many were hopeful the wrestling world would get the match from Cena and Layfield they expected earlier.
But Cena's worth as a main eventer was still in question. Could he carry a pay-per-view and could he perform at the level expected of WWE's top stars? By the time the clock struck 11:00 p.m. on the night of May 22, 2005, fans across the globe would have their answer.
JBL had a long history of being a tough brawler, who was as likely to drink beer and fight as he was to sleep and eat. Most knew what to expect from him in a match of this type. Cena was an edgy rapper, who was as witty as he was strong. But he had yet to compete in a gimmick match known for its brutality.
Cena took a beating from JBL and bled buckets but never gave up. He fought through every ounce of pain and suffering Bradshaw dished out and refused to quit. When the time called for it, he gained the upper hand and expressed intensity he had yet to show the world. He brutalized the challenger and came just short of bashing JBL with the smoke stack of a big rig before the veteran quit, realizing it was better to fight another day than it was to risk permanent injury.
JBL deserves a lot of credit for the success of the match. He made John Cena look like a million dollars and really passed the torch to him. This match gave the company the confidence to roll with Cena for the rest of 2005 and into the next year. While other matches solidified Cena as the top star in the industry, this was the match that "The Champ" needed in order to prove that the company's decision to put the title on him was the right one.
I will never forget reading the spoilers for the April 23, 2007 edition of Raw, a show taped earlier in the day in the UK, and reading about an hour-long match between Shawn Michaels and John Cena. The Michaels part of the report made sense. After all, he had been involved in the epic Iron Man match at Wrestlemania XII against Bret Hart. But John Cena? The muscular brawler? Sure, he had competed just weeks earlier at Wrestlemania 23 in a classic wrestling match with HBK, showing he had the ability to wrestle, but THAT guy going for an hour against someone with the ability of Shawn? It would be ugly, right?
That night, fans across the country watched John Cena and Shawn Michaels captivate the British fans with a match no one ever expected would be of the quality that it was. John Cena proved that he not only could be the WWE Champion, competing in a variety of matches against a variety of opponents, but he was physically fit enough to go move-for-move against Shawn Michaels in a marathon match.
The most amazing thing about the contest was that it was not advertised as an Iron Man match. No one expected, when Shawn Michaels and John Cena took to the ring at approximately 10 p.m., that they would be the last two competitors the fans saw that night. Most expected some sort of run-in or screwy finish.
Instead, the two professionals gave fans one of the greatest matches in the history of Raw and the Match of the Year winner for 2007. It was a clean professional wrestling match, like those that Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, or Ricky Steamboat, would have wrestled during the glory days of the NWA. Michaels pinned Cena clean that night, providing a suitable finish to the televised classic.
It was this match that made fans, even the harshest of Cena's critics, stand up and take notice. Cena was no longer just "the muscle guy" or the "vanilla babyface." He was more than a merchandise machine and marketing dream. John Cena, with the help of Shawn Michaels, proved he was a hell of a professional wrestler.
Up until the 2007 Royal Rumble event, John Cena had benefited from working with performers more talented than he. Triple H, Edge, Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. All four were men applauded by wrestling pundits as being the best in their profession. Because of that, those same pundits always had an excuse for not giving Cena the praise he deserved.
Then John had a solid match with Umaga at New Year's Revolution. It was unspectacular, but good, like that entire pay-per-view. So when it was announced that the two would meet again at the Royal Rumble, this time in a Last Man Standing Match, expectations were not high.
Like the Cena-JBL match two years prior, Cena took a beating by his larger, more physical opponent. He bled from the forehead and, more than once, it appeared as though his championship could be in jeopardy.
As the match unfolded, wrestling fans realized that it was not only good, it was far exceeding expectations. The kind of feud-ending bouts often seen during the Attitude Era, and featuring Steve Austin, Cena took the underachieving Umaga and carried him to the best match in either man's career to that point.
The finish saw Cena take the collapsed ring rope, wrap it around Umaga's neck and choke him unconscious, making sure he could not answer the referee's ten count.
This match was huge for Cena's reputation. He proved to his doubters that he did not need a great worker to carry him to a great match. Instead, he took a lesser worker, with no resume of tremendous matches, and brought him to the level of a main eventer. Umaga learned from working with Cena and over the course of 2007, would develop into a very solid worker. But his match with John at the Royal Rumble was responsible for earning him a spot in the Battle of the Billionaires at Wrestlemania and for continuing the push he was on the receiving end of throughout 2006.
The best match of 2011, bar none.
Heading into Chicago for Money in the Bank, CM Punk was the hottest wrestler on the planet and was the source of controversy. He was anti-authority, shooting on whatever and whoever he felt the need to address.
John Cena played the perfect foil for the anti-hero Punk. He was the golden boy, he babyface the company loved to put out to the masses as the face of the company. He was on programs, collector's cups, merchandise, and promotional materials and it angered Punk that someone he considered inferior was the subject of such attention.
The match they were scheduled to have for the WWE Championship at the July pay-per-view was the most hotly-anticipated match of the year, by far, and it did not disappoint.
Cena and Punk exchanged hold and counter-hold, finishers, and carried the crowd in the palm of his hand. Punk was hell-bent on proving to Vince McMahon and anyone with any power in the dressing room that he was the best in the world. Cena was determined to prove that he was not just a face on a t-shirt or a cup or program, that he could hold his own in a match as hyped as this one.
With two men determined to have an all-time great match, there was nothing that could prevent them from accomplishing their goal. Immediately praised as a five-star affair, the match left no one disappointed, including the crowd in Chicago.
The match cemented Cena as the top performer of his generation and CM Punk as the best worker in the world. Both men came out looking better than they did entering the match. Add everything up and you have not only a successful match but one of the best bouts in the history of the company.
And most importantly, for the sake of this countdown, John Cena's greatest match.