John Cena, childish humor, cloying goofiness and all, will be remembered as one of WWE's best ever.
He won't be remembered as one of the better wrestlers but one of the biggest megastars of all time.
Put him in the same category as Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino. A number of men were more talented in the ring than those two, but a select few have risen to the mountain top and made their home there like they did and Cena has today.
No fan favorite has drawn as much ire as Cena. Chants denouncing his skills cut through the cheers. For some, he represents WWE's move away from edginess and the company heading down a path of glossiness and softness.
His critics have plenty to point at, but even as much as he is jeered by a section of the audience, he's adored by another. When he hangs it up, his resume will earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame and the right to be tossed into the discussion of the greatest of all-time.
His longevity, financial impact and position as one of the greatest opponents in WWE history will shape how he's viewed in the pantheon of legends.
An Extended Reign
Being the face of the franchise is usually a temporary job.
Knee and neck injuries forced Stone Cold Steve Austin out of wrestling. The Rock sought a career as a movie star. Hogan spent a good chunk of his career in WCW.
Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Randy Orton have all spent time as the company's top guy, but Cena has been doing it for about 10 years now.
Cena has battled in the WrestleMania main event five times so far, including the last three. That means he's already surpassed Undertaker, Bret Hart and Austin in that category. One more ties with him Triple H and two more matches Hogan's mark.
He has had his detractors, but Cena has been an immensely popular figure, and he has been for an impressive amount of time.
Assuming he competes for four or five more years and WWE continues to keep him on the upper rungs of the company ladder, Cena will echo the kind of lengthy stays at the top that Ric Flair had in wrestling overall and Bruno Sammartino had in WWE's early years.
That trait alone has to rank him among the all-time greats, as will the money he brought in along the way.
Go to a WWE show in just about any city other than Chicago and count the number of fans decked out in Cena gear. Chances are, one will grow tired of counting before being able to tally up every Cena wristband, hat and T-shirt.
His supporters are as vocal with their money as his detractors are with their chants.
Cena has ruled the WWE in terms of merchandise sales for so long that it's newsworthy when someone else temporarily overtakes him. He's no mat technician and he's certainly not cool, but he can certainly affect WWE's bottom line.
That is just as true for pay-per-view buyrates as it is for merchandise.
WrestleMania 23 and 28 are two of the biggest money-making pay-per-views in WWE history. The former earned over a million pay-per-view buys, as did the latter. Want to take a guess at what those two shows have in common?
Cena was in the main event.
Purists fans may have preferred the work from CM Punk against Chris Jericho or the Money in the Bank ladder matches from those shows, but it was Cena who brought in the casual fan. He shares that ability with Hogan.
Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage were better wrestlers, but Hogan's magnetism brought in a bigger audience. That's what Cena has done throughout his career. That power is a vital one in a business dependent on fans.
As hated as he is by some and as stale or goofy as he can be at his worst, Cena is good for business.
In a way, it may be his negative qualities that have helped him succeed as much as his positive ones. They make him a man some love to hate.
Cena has so often been the New York Yankees of the WWE.
A victory over that team means more than a victory over the Royals. Their prestige and aura help make that true. The same applies to Cena.
Think of the biggest victories and matches during the careers of CM Punk, Rob Van Dam, Sheamus, Wade Barrett and Edge.
Cena's star power, his unique state of being passionately loved and hated simultaneously and his representation of the establishment has made knocking him off a powerful, career-defining feat.
For Punk, so many of his career highlights are intertwined with Cena. His win at Money in the Bank 2011 wouldn't have been as dramatic had it been against someone Chicago hated less or someone less dominant.
Cena's presence elevated Van Dam's WWE title win in 2006, Edge’s first Money in the Bank cash in, Sheamus' initial rise and the Barrett-led Nexus invasion. He's been at the center of WWE history again and again. Take him out of the history books and one is left with a series of missing pages.
Should Daniel Bryan defeat Cena at SummerSlam, that instantly becomes his top career highlight.
Being such a notable foe is a trait shared by Sammartino, Hogan and Austin.
It's hard to imagine Larry Zbyszko and Spiros Arion’s career without Sammartino, much as Hogan greatly affected Roddy Piper, Savage and Ultimate Warrior's legacies as their opponent. Vince McMahon's feud with Austin wouldn't have had as many fireworks with anyone else.
This quality, his longevity and drawing power, as well as his growing list of classic matches will have Cena forever nestled in the upper echelon of all-time greats, flaws be damned. His divisiveness makes him unique among WWE's preeminent Superstars, but his immense impact on the industry is undeniable.
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