WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Ranking John Cena's Best Performances at PPV

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Ranking John Cena's Best Performances at PPV

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    On January 26, John Cena will enter the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh to challenge Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

    It is not the first time Cena has been involved in a high-profile championship bout at the first pay-per-view of WWE's calendar year.

    In 2006, he found himself the challenger for the first time as he attempted to regain the WWE title from "Rated R Superstar" Edge. A year later, he defended his title against Umaga in a brutal and violent Last Man Standing match. Two years after that, he defended the World Heavyweight Championship against JBL in a match where the champion was secondary to the story between the challenger and Shawn Michaels. 

    Cena has not always been involved in championship bouts at the Royal Rumble event. In fact, he has appeared in the huge 30-man Battle Royal more times than any other match on the show.

    He has won the Royal Rumble match twice and has consistently been one of the final Superstars remaining.

    As Cena prepares for his first title opportunity of 2014, here is a look back at his previous 11 performances, ranked from worst to best.

11. 2012: Singles Match vs. Kane

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The worst performance on John Cena's Royal Rumble resume came in 2012 in a match against Kane.

    Leading into the match, the Big Red Monster had returned to World Wrestling Entertainment sporting the mask that he made famous a decade ago. He was the sadistic, vile villain that fans of the Attitude Era were all-too-familiar with and he wasted very little time unleashing his rage on Cena.

    The entire reasoning for the feud was ridiculous to begin with. Kane was determined to get Cena to "embrace the hate," a play on Cena's "rise above hate" t-shirt. Then Zack Ryder and Eve Torres ended up involved as they ran from the stalking monster, not unlike two teenagers would flee from Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th film series.

    The match between Cena and Kane would not be much better than the angle the accompanied it.

    For all of their accolades, the Superstars have never worked very well together. The match was slow, plodding and never got out of first gear. The fact that it ended in a double countout and really only served to set up another Ryder beatdown and rematch with Cena the following month at Elimination Chamber did it no favors.

10. 2003: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    John Cena's 2003 Royal Rumble performance is his least memorable in that he was a complete afterthought and simply one guy in a field of 30.

    He was in the infancy of the Doctor of Thuganomics character and was paired with Bull Buchanan, who was going under the moniker of B-2.

    The 18th entrant in that year's match, Cena hung around for nearly 20 minutes before being eliminated by a man he would have a number of high-profile matches against later in the year, The Undertaker. He was one of the last 10 Superstars in the match but few were likely to remember his uneventful run the next morning.

9. 2009: World Heavyweight Championship Match vs. JBL

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    In 2009, John Cena entered the Royal Rumble as the World Heavyweight champion, fresh off a return from a neck injury that most expected would sideline him far longer than the three months that it did.

    He defeated Chris Jericho for the title but had not really returned to form. He was still attempting to knock off some rust or, perhaps, the effects from his surgery.

    That was not necessarily a good thing given that his match at the January pay-per-view would be against John Bradshaw Layfield, who was a mere three months from retiring and whose best days were clearly behind him.

    JBL had been involved in a ludicrous story that involved Shawn Michaels losing all of his money and having to resort to hesitantly working for Layfield. That story overshadowed the title match, which may have been a good thought prior but it only made a lethargic match that much worse.

    Cena won the match but the focus was solely on Layfield and Michaels.

    It was a subpar performance from Cena, who really would not go on to have a great match until Backlash in April, where he faced Edge for the World title in a Last Man Standing match.

8. 2006: WWE Championship Match vs. Edge

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    On January 8, 2006, John Cena's first WWE Championship reign came to an end when "Rated R Superstar" Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase following Cena's brutal Elimination Chamber match and captured the title.

    Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Cena would get his rematch against the new champion at the Royal Rumble.

    The match went on immediately following the Royal Rumble contest and never quite reached the intense crowd response that Cena's later matches would become known for.

    Perhaps disappointed that their rivalry, which had been blossoming nicely for weeks, was being cut off at the legs had something to do with the match never quite clicking like their later battles would.

    The match was incredibly lackluster given the talent of the two men involved and really was lethargically wrestled. The finish saw Cena lock in the STF and force the submission from Edge.

    Cena picked up his second championship that night but did little to calm the backlash of the fans who had rapidly grown tired of his act.

    Easily the most disappointing of Cena's Rumble performances.

7. 2004: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    For the first time in his career, it appeared as though John Cena was making headway in WWE and may serve the company in a greater role than as comical midcard star as the Royal Rumble arrived on January 25, 2004.

    Cena had gotten over with the audience thanks to a white rapper gimmick that spit edgy rhymes and carried himself with a presence different from that of the other Superstars on the roster. Though a heel at first, the character had caught on with fans and by November of 2003, he was turned babyface in an attempt to capitalize on his ever-increasing popularity.

    The Royal Rumble was his first major pay-per-view as a crowd favorite, and those rabid fans in Philadelphia welcomed him with a huge ovation as he entered the battle royal at No. 28.

    Cena made the most of his seven-plus minutes in the match, mixing it up with the likes of Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle before teaming with them to try to eliminate the massive Big Show from the bout.

    It did not turn out in Cena's favor, however, as he became the 26th man eliminated from the match.

    Perhaps the most enduring image of the match is Cena being sent over the top rope and awkwardly landing on his ankle. Luckily, he was able to avoid serious injury but it was definitely a scary situation for a young star coming into his own.

6. 2010: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The 2010 Royal Rumble was rarity in that, despite Cena's presence in the bout, he was not the favorite to win, nor did he have the focus of the creative team.

    The story surrounding Shawn Michaels and his determination to earn the right to face The Undertaker for the second consecutive year at WrestleMania dominated airwaves. Fans were absolutely invested in the Heartbreak Kid's journey to the Rumble and his stint in the match.

    Add to that the expected return of Edge after nearly a year away from the squared circle due to injury and there were several different storylines that captivated audiences but did not involve the face of World Wrestling Entertainment.

    Cena, the former WWE champion, was fresh off a loss to Sheamus at December's TLC and was largely an afterthought in the match. He was a big name who brought legitimacy to the match but for the first time in his main event career that he entered a big match and simply did not matter in the grand scheme of things.

    That does not mean he did not deliver a solid performance.

    Cena entered at number 19, lasted just over 22 minutes and eliminated four Superstars. One of them would turn out to be his WrestleMania 26 opponent, "The Animal" Batista.

    Despite some of the top competition in the history of the Rumble match, Cena made it all the way to the final two competitors. He went toe-to-toe with Edge for the right to challenge for either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.

    Cena would fall short of his goal and was forced to watch as Edge celebrated his victory.

5. 2013: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The 2013 Royal Rumble was an interesting one in that there were a number of former heavyweight champions (Kane, Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus, Randy Orton) involved and a dominating force in Ryback who was fresh off a main event program against WWE champion CM Punk.

    Despite all of that talent, there was only one Superstar with a legitimate shot at leaving the US Airways Center in Phoenix with his arm raised in victory.

    That Superstar was John Cena and the win would be the second in his outstanding career.

    Cena drew No. 19 and eliminated four Superstars during his 26 minutes of action. Those eliminations include Ryback, who Cena dumped over the top rope to win the match and the opportunity to challenge The Rock for the WWE title at WrestleMania 29.

    Despite the win, Cena had better Rumble performances in the past, many of them in losing efforts.

    The 2013 contest may be remembered as the bout that set up the rematch between Cena and Rock but it was largely anticlimactic and lacked some of the intriguing stories and interesting angles that other, better Rumble matches have incorporated.

    Cena's performance matched the contest as there was nothing inherently wrong with it, it was just simply underwhelming.

4. 2005: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The 2005 Royal Rumble was John Cena's first step on the road to the top of the industry.

    After breaking out in 2004 as the "Doctor of Thuganomics" and experiencing a fan response few ever expected the character to attain, it became clear that Cena was one of two Superstars that World Wrestling Entertainment had huge plans for.

    The other was Batista, the breakout star of Evolution who had overshadowed Randy Orton and was on a crash course with faction leader Triple H over the World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania. Whether he would win the Rumble match over Cena, who himself was en route to a WWE title program with the villainous John Bradshaw Layfield, remained to be seen.

    Cena entered the match at No. 25 and Batista entered shortly thereafter at No. 28.

    The powerful young stars were part of the Rumble for under 30:00 but combined to eliminate nearly a third of the field.

    Eventually, with no one else left to fight, the future WWE and World Heavyweight champions were forced to clash with one another.

    Cena and Batista utilized their power-based strikes to pummel one another, each with the goal of dumping the other over the top and to the arena floor. Unfortunately, Batista hoisted Cena overhead for a Batista and both men stumbled to the arena floor.

    Some thought it was a repeat of the controversial 1994 finish, which saw Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminate each other and be named co-winners of the match. That finish was cheap and the product of the company not knowing who they wanted to roll with at WrestleMania X.

    That would not be the case, however, as Vince McMahon furiously rushed to the ring (tearing both of his quadriceps in the process). He ordered the match to be restarted following the botched finish and, seconds later, Batista dumped Cena to win the match.

    Cena would be forced to watch as Batista celebrated the win but he would rebound nicely, defeating JBL at WrestleMania and winning his first WWE title.

3. 2011: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The 2011 Royal Rumble match was the first to expand its number of competitors since 1989, when 10 Superstars were added to up the total to 30. Again, it added 10 and hyped the bout as the biggest in Royal Rumble history.

    With every major Superstar involved outside of WWE champion The Miz and World Heavyweight champion Edge involved, it allowed for some of the most prevalent storylines to take center stage.

    One of those stories was Cena's war with CM Punk and the New Nexus.

    Punk and his faction of young, up-and-coming Superstars (including the future Curtis Axel and Bray Wyatt) dominated the early portion of the match. The group was responsible for nine eliminations, tearing through anyone gutsy enough to get in their way.

    Then Cena entered the match at number 22 and proceeded to eliminate the threat, one-by-one.

    The leader of the Cenation amassed seven eliminations, including Punk, en route to a 34:17 stint in the match.

    The so-called "face of the WWE" was one of the favorites to win the match and appeared to be well on his way to his second Rumble victory but it was not to be.

    WWE champion The Miz interfered and dumped Cena behind the officials' backs.

    It laid the groundwork for Cena versus The Miz at WrestleMania 27 and gave the company an out. Cena's elimination opened the door for Alberto Del Rio to win the Rumble and challenge for the World title at the Showcase of the Immortals.

    Despite the fact that he did not win, Cena's performance in 2011 was one of his signature performances at the event. He was the glue that held the Rumble together, something he does not get enough credit for.

2. 2008: Royal Rumble Match

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The Royal Rumble returned to the historic Madison Square Garden for the first time in eight years in 2008 and WWE, and John Cena, delivered a shocking moment that would forever live in Rumble lore to commemorate the occasion.

    With 29 other Superstars having had entered the annual Rumble contest, anticipation had swelled to a fever pitch inside MSG as fans awaited the arrival of the 30th and final competitor.

    The buzzer sounded and there was a momentary delay. Suddenly, the opening of "My Time is Now" exploded over the PA system and the New York crowd erupted into a huge ovation. Cena, who had suffered a torn pectoral muscle in October and was slated to miss up to a year of action, appeared before a mass of fans who were not as hostile towards him as they had been before he left.

    He entered the match and made the most of every one of his eight-plus minutes of action. He eliminated four Superstars, including runner up Triple H, and completely energized the crowd.

    Of course, the cheers did eventually turn back to boos, especially when Cena won the match. But nothing could sour the moment.

    In an age where the Internet is responsible for ruining so many potentially epic surprises, Cena's return to the ring in the 2008 Royal Rumble provided fans with a moment that will live forever.

    Even if Cena was in the match for less-than 10 minutes.

1. 2007: WWE Championship Last Man Standing Match vs. Umaga

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    Without a doubt, John Cena's greatest Royal Rumble performance came in 2007 as he defended the WWE Championship against Umaga in a Last Man Standing match.

    The challenger was a massive Samoan savage of a Superstar who bowled through the competition, including the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, in the first year of his career and was receiving his second straight pay-per-view title match against Cena.

    He had exhibited great speed and agility for a man of his size and was a completely different wrestler than he was five years earlier when he entered WWE as Jamal of 3-Minute Warning.

    Cena, on the other hand, was coming off of a 2006 that saw him face the wrath of a fan base that had grown tired of his compacted, unchanging offense and a company forcing him down their throats.

    Both Superstars had a great deal to prove as the road to WrestleMania 23 kicked off in grand fashion.

    Cena, the competitor widely criticized by the most die-hard of wrestling fans, took a great deal of punishment and bled buckets as he put over Umaga as a legitimate threat not only to the WWE title but to the entire roster.

    The champion was brilliant, timing his comebacks perfectly and knowing when and when not to work in hope spots. He showed tremendous aggression and his emotion fueled responses from the audience. In many ways, it was Cena's finest hour to that point.

    There was drama, violence, chaos and finally, a unique and innovative finish that allowed Umaga to look like a force of nature despite the loss and gained Cena a ton of respect from those who did not believe he could deliver that type of performance against a lesser wrestler.

    It was easily the best performance in Cena's Rumble resume and one of the finest in his legendary career.