John Cena could retire having won the WWE Championship nearly 20 times, further distancing himself in number of title reigns from his peers both legendary and contemporary.
Cena is now in his 11th reign as WWE champ and doesn't appear to be slowing down his record-setting pace. Before he's finished, he will represent a statistical abnormality that skews WWE's record books.
Add the World Heavyweight Championships on Cena's resume and he's only four away from breaking Ric Flair’s mark of 16 world title reigns.
How weird will that moment be?
Compiling titles is not a measure of a wrestler's greatness or else Jeff Jarrett would be one of the greatest ever, but the more gold Cena wins, the more the discussion turns to comparisons to the all-time greats. The number of times he's won the WWE title and the number of times he's sure to win it in the future is disproportionate to his place among the greats.
A Class Of His Own
The legends of yesteryear have won it far less often.
Bruno Sammartino held the title twice, as did Bob Backlund. Pedro Morales and Billy Graham won it one time each.
Title reigns in those stars' times were longer, sustained over the course of years. While it felt like CM Punk’s 434-day reign last year was lengthy, his time as champ pales to the days when Morales was champion from February 1971 to December 1973, or Sammartino's unfathomable reign of over 2,800 days.
Many of Cena's reigns were momentary, as he'd lose and then regain the belt again and again.
Who knows what his numbers would have looked like had he been a star in the '70s. Competing in today's era has certainly padded his numbers.
Still, it’s strange seeing Cena’s name atop the list of men who have won the WWE Championship the most times, and to have the distance between him and everyone else continue to widen. That feeling will only intensify once Cena wins his 12th and 13th title, and one day perhaps being the sole member of the 20-times-as-WWE-champ club.
Had Austin's neck and knee injuries not ended his career, perhaps it would've been him compiling these astounding numbers.
If The Rock had not been wooed by Hollywood, had Brock Lesnar not left for the NFL and UFC and if Hogan hadn't spent all those years in WCW, Cena's numbers would likely be lower and all those men would have won the belt more often.
Instead, Cena has been the company's top guy for about eight years. With that position has come multiple opportunities to hold the gold.
He's not likely to end his run anytime soon either.
The Champ Will Still Be Here
It's hard to predict how long a wrestler's body will hold up, but if we are to assume that Cena stays in his current shape until he's 40, that gives him four more years as the face of the franchise if WWE chooses to keep him there.
How many more can he win in that span?
Cena has won as many as three WWE titles in a single year, which he did in 2011. He has also gone on a few year-long droughts like he did last year as well as 2007 and 2008.
Averaging out the number of reigns he had from 2005 to 2012, Cena has won 1.4 WWE titles a year. Should he remain at that pace, expect Cena to bring his total reigns to at least 15. A few quick title changes here and there and Cena could have more like 17 or 18.
If he continues his career into his 40s, those numbers will only grow.
For him to have won the championship more times than anyone else is one thing. He's been a steady draw, has produced a number of great matches and is a durable, reliable star.
Still, if he ends his career with more WWE title reigns than Punk, Lesnar, Orton and Shawn Michaels combined, it would feel unbalanced.
It would make him the Jerry Rice of the WWE, something the company clearly doesn't have an issue doing.
Championships don't make men legends, but it's often the first thing fans point to when discussing the greats of the industry. You might hear someone mention that Flair is a 16-time champ or that Sammartino held the WWE title for longer than anyone when in the course of a debate.
At one point, a fan may be able to say, "Yeah, but John Cena won the WWE title 18 times and is a 20-time world champ. He's the greatest ever."
Those numbers aren't proof of how superior Cena is compared to the other Hall of Famers who have held that belt, but an indication that he competed in an era of quick championship turnover, had WWE's full backing for years and years and a tribute to how he has sustained his career.
As Cena approaches increasingly gaudy numbers, it should be a sign to WWE officials to give someone else a run with the title. Cena's legacy is fully built and there are other stars whose are still under construction.
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