On August 18, John Cena will enter the Staples Center in Los Angeles to defend his WWE Championship against Daniel Bryan in what is rapidly becoming one of the most anticipated matches of the entire year. Much pressure will be put on Cena's shoulders to deliver a phenomenal main event considering the level of in-ring worker from whom he will stand across the squared circle.
It will not be the first time that pressure has been placed on the current champion's massive shoulders. Over the course of nine years, Cena has been counted on to deliver in some of the highest profile matches the company has produced on the annual summertime spectacular.
With only a few weeks to go until the must-see title bout between he and Bryan, here is a look back at Cena's SummerSlam performances and where they rank from worst to best.
In his first appearance at the annual August extravaganza, John Cena entered Toronto's Air Canada Centre as one of the hottest stars in the industry and the overwhelming fan favorite in his match against Booker T, the first in a best-of-five series for the United States Championship.
Still raw and lacking discernible chemistry with his veteran opponent, Cena delivered an energetic performance in an otherwise basic and mediocre match. Despite it never fully clicking as well as it should have, the match with Booker allowed Cena to pick up a big pay-per-view win and continue gaining momentum rolling into WrestleMania 21 the following April and to the first of many WWE Championships.
There would be many more SummerSlam matches and many better SummerSlam matches for Cena, but this would be his very first.
The rivalry between Cena and Randy Orton over the WWE Championship dominated the summer and fall of 2009, resulting in memorable matches such as the "I Quit" match at Breaking Point and the Iron Man match at Bragging Rights. Unfortunately, the match between the two at SummerSlam never quite lived up to expectations, thanks largely to a basic format, questionable booking and a less-than-satisfying finish that saw Brett DiBiase interfere in one of his only appearances for the company.
There was nothing inherently wrong with Cena's performance against Orton. In fact, even a disappointing match between the two is better than most matches involving other Superstars. In many ways, however, it felt like the first in a series of matches, one that existed only to further advance the story they were trying to tell in the long run.
By the time the 2012 edition of SummerSlam rolled around, John Cena had developed into one of the best workers in the sport, contrary to what his detractors may say. He had also developed outstanding chemistry with then-WWE champion CM Punk, the two delivering several phenomenal matches with each other, including the 2011 Match of the Year at Money in the Bank.
The Big Show had recently turned heel and was in the middle of a program with Cena heading into the summertime spectacular. He would look strong in the match, having several impressive spots against the top two stars in the industry, but it would be Cena and Punk who laid the groundwork for the match.
The finish of the match would see Cena deliver the Attitude Adjustment to Show, only for Punk to dump him out of the ring, cover the giant and retain his title. It was a great finish that protected Cena's status as top contender and created doubt as to whether or not Punk deserved to leave Los Angeles with the WWE title in his grasp.
A month later, Cena would challenge Punk for the title in another Match of the Year candidate at the Night of Champions pay-per-view event.
In the summer of 2006, it was clear WWE was building its entire main-event picture around two very talented young stars. John Cena had been the poster boy for over a year by the time SummerSlam rolled around while it was Edge who had captured headlines, and the attention of the WWE fans, by winning the company's top title twice in the span of seven months.
With a rivalry that was budding and the interest of the fans reaching a boiling point, Cena and Edge entered the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston for the main event of the biggest show of the summer and refused to be out-performed by any other match on the card.
The stipulation had been added prior to the night's show that if Edge, accompanied as always by Lita, tried to weasel his way out of the event with his WWE title intact by getting disqualified, he would lose the title. The stipulation added a new element to the match and allowed for a master manipulator such as Edge to work his magic.
Cena and Edge delivered a solid wrestling match in the card's show-closing spot but it was the champion, and self-described "Rated R Superstar," who was able to steal a win in his challenger's backyard, thanks in large part to a well-timed referee distraction and a pair of brass knuckles from his vivacious redheaded companion.
Cena may have lost the match but he left Boston having added another quality main event to a resume that was beginning to become littered with them.
The MCI Center in Washington, D.C. was the setting for John Cena's first SummerSlam appearance as the WWE champion.
Having defeated JBL in a tremendous "I Quit" match at Judgment Day, Cena had proven his ability to deliver in title bouts the featured stipulations and favored blood and brawling. He had thrived in matches of that type and had only really developed any sort of chemistry in singles competition against Kurt Angle, who was arguably the best in the business at the time.
Chris Jericho, on the other hand, had been one of the industry's top performers for nearly a decade and was on his way out the door. In an attempt to leave fans satiated until he returned two years later, he went all out as he tried to steal the show with the hungry and determined champion.
The audience exhibited the first hint of backlash directed towards Cena, but that did not derail his individual performance or the match as a whole. With the help of the ultra-talented Jericho, Cena proved he was able to carry the ball in a straight singles match and, more importantly, that he could continue to grow and evolve as a performer—and that possessing the title would not be enough to keep him from learning and becoming as great as he could be.
A great example of a veteran doing everything he can to help make the star of the future look good on his way out the door.
John Cena and Randy Orton.
They arrived on WWE programming at around the same time. They were both, at different times in their development, considered to be the future of the industry. They were young, chiseled, handsome men that the company knew they could put on posters, use to sell merchandise and, more importantly, be relied upon to carry wrestling into the next generation.
Yet it took almost five years to program them together and deliver their first high-profile singles match. The wait was worth it for fans, however, as Cena and Orton delivered per expectations at SummerSlam in 2007.
The closing moments of the match built drama based on holds and counter holds and told the story of Orton just managing to escape every attempt at a finisher by Cena until he could not withstand an Attitude Adjustment any longer. Cena picked up the pin-fall victory and, at least for the moment, vanquished his top contender.
It would not be the last time Cena and Orton clashed on the SummerSlam stage.
In the summer of 2010, the Nexus storyline was as hot as any in the entire sport. A crop of rookies from developmental, all having starred on WWE's NXT program, invaded the company and brought with them a youth movement that continues to today. Wade Barrett, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Skip Sheffield (also known as Ryback) and Michael Tarver made immediate names for themselves as they were programmed against the top stars of Monday Night Raw.
Among those stars was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment, John Cena. His rivalry with Barrett throughout the summer and fall of 2010 would prove entertaining but, by and large, it got its start at SummerSlam in the form of a huge 14-Man Tag Team Elimination match.
Cena partnered with Edge, R-Truth, Bret Hart, John Morrison, Chris Jericho and the returning Daniel Bryan to face the renegade rookies in the night's main event.
The elimination stipulation helped to create drama as, at any time, the numbers game could play in or against the favor of the babyfaces. And, in the final moments of the match, Cena found himself on the receiving end of a two-on-one beatdown at the hands of Gabriel and Barrett.
To his credit, Cena held together the match, keeping the inexperienced young stars in check and making sure everything went according to plan.
Gabriel would scale the ropes and attempt a 450 splash, hoping to finish Cena off and give Nexus a huge victory at the year's second-most important pay-per-view event. But the resilient Cena rolled out of the way and watched the South African Superstar crash and burn before rolling him over and pinning him for the sudden elimination.
He would then play possum long enough to catch Barrett off-guard, apply the STF and score the submission win.
Just one month removed from an all-time great WWE title match in Chicago at Money in the Bank, John Cena and CM Punk once again met up, this time to determine the undisputed WWE champion in the main event of 2011's SummerSlam.
With the added element of Triple H lurking as the guest referee, there was much drama built for the bout. Was WWE serious about giving Punk the major push? Was the rematch just an excuse to get Cena his win back? What role would "The Game" play in determining the outcome of the match?
All of those questions would be answered on August 14 as CM Punk knocked off Cena to retain the WWE title, despite the challenger's foot being draped over the bottom rope when Triple H slapped the mat for the third time.
Moments later, all of the hard work that went into the match and all of the momentum that Cena and Punk's rivalry had built would be unraveled when Kevin Nash lumbered to the ring, planted Punk with a jackknife power bomb and set up Alberto Del Rio cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
Regardless of how things may have gone downhill from a storyline standpoint immediately following the conclusion of the second-consecutive Cena-Punk classic, no one can take away from the performers the outstanding match they had in Staples Center that night.
John Cena and Batista may very well be forever linked to one another thanks to their WWE and World Heavyweight title victories at WrestleMania 21, an event which set in motion the changing of the guard within World Wrestling Entertainment. In the years that followed, Cena and Batista represented the company as its top babyface workers. And at SummerSlam in 2008, WWE would deliver on a match that had all of the potential of a main event at WrestleMania.
Their bout on August 17 delivered a dream match the likes of which were very rare at the time. Like two titans clashing, Cena and Batista threw their entire arsenals at one another, all with the hope of leaving the Canseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana with their arms raised in victory.
There was no title at stake. This match was bigger than any championship or No. 1 contender's spot. It was about pride; it was about establishing one man as being better than his opponent.
Late in the match, both men exhausted from what had been a heavyweight battle to that point, Cena came off the top rope and was caught in a power bomb by Batista. When that failed to keep the leader of the Cenation down for a three-count, Batista picked him up off the mat and delivered a massive Batista Bomb. Three seconds later, he would leave the building with his arm raised in victory while Cena was left stunned following a rare clean defeat.
It was a tremendous match and performance by Cena, who had hit his stride and was among the best performers on the roster by that point.
John Cena will always have his detractors; there is nothing that can change that. But his development and evolution over the last few years has resulted in a performer the likes of which comes along only so often. He is a hard worker who provides tremendous matches for the fans of professional wrestling.
His SummerSlam resume alone is proof of that.