It has been just under a decade since John Cena debuted on Smackdown, featuring a weird haircut and oddly-colored trunks. Since then, he has become the biggest star for the WWE and a polarizing figure in the industry.
While there is no doubting the dedication that Cena brings to his job, his in-ring abilities always have and will always continue to be brought into question. And although his move-set can fall into a predictable pattern, he has still been able to put on classic matches over the years.
The key factor for Cena over the years has been his opponent and whether or not the two have chemistry. In some cases, such as the Big Show and, to an extent, the Miz, the matches usually aren't so great. However, there have been a number of opponents that help Cena get to the next level as a performer.
Here are the greatest opponents for John Cena since his debut in the WWE almost 10 years ago.
Brock Lesnar: He gets an honorable mention more for his latest run, which, so far, has actually brought some legitimacy back to the company. He made Cena bleed at Extreme Rules, and for the first time in years, the majority of the fans were behind John by the end of the contest.
JBL: Cena got his first WWE title by beating JBL at WrestleMania, but he gets a mention more for the I Quit match at Judgment Day. John was the new champ that needed a veteran to make him look like the top man. JBL helped to do that by giving him all he could handle in that match, and it is truly the beginning of Cena's dominance at the top.
At first glance, John Cena and Umaga don't seem like two guys who would work together well in the ring. Who knew that they would churn out a pretty good feud from late 2006-early 2007?
Of course, Kevin Federline was intertwined in part of this feud, but let's forget that ever happened, shall we?
Umaga was an undefeated monster at the time who didn't know any English and screamed weird sounds at you instead. He has Armando Estrada as his manager and mouthpiece, and the combination was a wrecking ball on the rest of the roster.
He eventually made his way to the top and a shot at John Cena, who cut him down to size with a rollup win at New Year's Revolution to deliver his first loss. The payoff came at the Royal Rumble in a last man standing match, and it's one of better bouts of Cena's career and the best of Umaga's.
Cena would win with the use of the top rope to choke out Umaga and moved on to HBK at WrestleMania 23.
The criticism of Cena's ability to wrestle began to come into question during the latter half of 2005 and the beginning of 2006. Heading into WrestleMania 22, Trips was suddenly the old dog who was one step ahead of the champ at every turn.
The animosity of the fans against Cena came through bright and clear that night in Chicago, with the crowd firmly behind the Cerebral Assassin. They fully expected a Triple H win, and when he tapped out to end the night, a shock and silence fell over the crowd.
For all of the talk against Triple H holding down talent, this was the third straight WrestleMania in which he lost in the main event. They would feud for another month or so with Edge thrown in the mix, and while JBL helped to legitimize Cena as a main guy, Trips made sure he would stay there for the foreseeable future.
Forget about their match at SummerSlam 2008: Batista makes this spot for his heel work against Cena during 2010.
When Batista turned to the dark side, it provided for some of the best work in his career. And the perfect man to help gain heat and develop a nice feud with would be the top face in the company in Cena.
The only real complaint I have about this feud is the inability of Batista to pick up a victory in three PPV matches. His contract status was up in the air throughout those months, and although the WWE wanted to put him over at WrestleMania, they couldn't commit and pull the trigger.
Nonetheless, Batista loomed large over Cena in the weeks preceding WrestleMania, and the work and chemistry of the two provided for three very good matches over the following months.
You wanna see some animosity? Go check out this match from One Night Stand 2006.
Cena entered the most hostile environment he has ever faced, and to his credit, he handled himself very well. His feud with RVD and the previous one against Triple H proved to the WWE that they could run with this polarizing character for a good while.
At the time, Cena wasn't in the losing mood. Usually, he never loses very often anyway, but back then, the losses amounted to one or two a year. So it was a huge deal when RVD was able to get the victory, even if there was Edge interference.
The company was trying to rebuild ECW, and Cena provided a boost to them by making them look more than credible. His short but great feud with RVD gave the new Tuesday night show a fascinating start. It's a shame RVD had to relinquish both of his titles due to drugs, because this feud could have been much more of a money-maker.
In my opinion, the WWE overvalues this feud tremendously. In their eyes, this is the new generation's Rock vs. Stone Cold. While they are arguably the two top stars today, Orton vs. Cena never reached that legendary status.
Nonetheless, it still gave way to good promo work and a few above-average matches from 2007-2009. In particular, their I Quit match from the inaugural and only Breaking Point PPV was, by far, the best match between the two. The Iron Man match was also well-done, providing plenty of entertainment throughout the hour.
Even so, Orton and Cena were never ideal opponents, and the crowd never cared about it nearly as much as they did for Rock and Austin.
The ideal opponent should bring out the best in the wrestler, and while each man brought out a few good traits, we never saw the absolute best of Cena night-in and night-out during this feud. And that's why Randy Orton belongs here in the No. 6 spot.
With Cena spending most of his time on Smackdown during the early part of his career, he battled Angle often, who was a member of the Blue Brand for most of his WWE career.
It was Kurt Angle who almost made us believe John Cena could win his first ever match on TV. Angle knew that Cena could possibly be one of the future stars of the company, and he gave him one hell of a rub with a competitive debut bout.
The feud would be on and off for the next few years, with the two men meeting a number of times, either for the title or for a shot at the belt. With Angle being the technical machine he is, it propelled Cena to wrestle at his level, and it gave way to some great encounters.
Without Angle, Cena might have been stuck in mid-card purgatory early in his career. Who knows when he would have made it to the top if that occurred.
This year-long feud had the rare challenge of building towards a match that was announced 360 days before it actually took place.
By the end of it, we saw a resurgence of John Cena's mic skills.
There were multiple weeks in the build to WrestleMania when Cena was outperforming, even flustering, the Great One. It seemed that Cena was fueled by real-life animosity against the man who left the ring for the bright lights of Hollywood.
By the time it was all said and done, both men seemed to clear things up backstage and become amicable at the least. The Rock was the ultimate victor, but in the weeks preceding the big match, it was Cena who was gaining the upper hand.
He was given the challenge of going head-to-head with one of the best promo men ever, and Cena rose to the occasion and delivered.
Oh, and their match was pretty good as well.
CM Punk was just beginning his meteoric rise to the top, and Cena was there to help propel the Straight-Edge Superstar to official main-event status.
Their feud before Money in the Bank and the atmosphere at the show was through the roof. On top of that, the match itself was rated five stars by Dave Meltzer. The last match to accomplish that feat in the WWE was Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.
From 1997. Hell in a Cell.
After the show, the feud suffered from a quick return by Punk due to the upcoming SummerSlam PPV. Nonetheless, the promos leading up to the contest were fantastic, and the match itself didn't disappoint.
Things went off the rails a bit with Triple H and Kevin Nash, but after SummerSlam, Cena and Punk were just about done.
A new generation of fans saw that John Cena could actually wrestle a great match. The next person on this list did that exact same thing in 2007, and he is none other than....
Although their main event match at WrestleMania was a quality encounter, it's the Raw before Backlash that really made HBK one of Cena's best opponents ever.
Once Triple H was put on the sidelines by a torn quadriceps, HBK was thrown back into the singles picture. After narrowly becoming the Royal Rumble winner, he was able to win the No. 1 contendership for the WWE Championship after Taker picked Batista as his opponent.
The two had an interesting feud that was built on respect, and the duo won the tag team championships together. It was HBK who finally delivered Sweet Chin Music and set the stage for WrestleMania.
Cena made Michaels tap, just as he did to Triple H the year before. After that, their one-hour encounter on Raw was the match of the year in most people's minds, and it was a wrestling clinic.
Those who are true Cena haters might never admit to his wrestling ability, but HBK is the best example of Cena's acumen inside the squared circle.
Still, there is one other man who truly brought out the best in John Cena.
Unlike some of the other feuds on this list, John Cena vs. Edge was a bit different. The majority of the feud occurred in the middle of 2006, after Cena had defeated The Game at WrestleMania.
Edge was just getting up to the main-event mix, and he was looking any opportunity to prove himself as a singles talent on the highest level. The duo of Edge and Lita made him a great heel, and Cena was the perfect counterpoint to his character.
Their feud took off, and the chemistry between the two was fantastic. They were able to create some new and innovative spots in the ring and during promo work. Some memorable moments include Edge visiting Cena's father's house and the Rated-R Superstar taking a swim in the Long Island Sound.
It all culminated at a fantastic TLC Match in Edge's hometown, with Cena walking out of another hostile environment as the champion. If it wasn't clear before, at this point, it was evident that Cena (and Edge for that matter) could bring it in the main event.
Edge was Cena's best opponent, and in 2009, they rekindled it briefly for a great Last Man Standing match at Backlash.
The WWE might want to compare Orton/Cena to Rock/Austin. The feud of Edge vs. John Cena, however, would definitely be a closer match.