John Cena's quest for a 16th world title reign was bolstered significantly Sunday as he defeated Randy Orton at Hell in a Cell to become No. 1 contender for Brock Lesnar's WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
The victory was a huge one for Cena since it sets up a rubber match with The Beast Incarnate, but it also put an exclamation point on what has been a long and bitter feud with The Viper over the years.
WWE captured Cena's triumph after putting Orton through a table off the top rope:
Many, including Diva Nattie and Richard Gray of WrestlingNewsWorld.com, were impressed with Orton's diverse offense, which ranged from unexpected RKO's to timely low blows:
Still, it was Cena who prevailed despite the onslaught in what was another strong performance, as explained by Justin LaBar of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Some, such as Mike Killam, wound up frustrated with the outcome based on its future storyline implications:
As pointed out by WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross, Cena and Orton both burst onto the scene together 12 years ago:
They have been at odds to some degree for most of their respective WWE tenures, and their rivalry was rekindled at Hell in a Cell after Cena missed out on the chance to face Seth Rollins.
The leader of the Cenation lost to Dean Ambrose in a contract on a pole match on Raw a couple of weeks prior to the pay-per-view. That resulted in Ambrose getting an opportunity to seek revenge against Rollins, while essentially relegating Cena to a consolation match.
Some extra meaning was added when Triple H made it a No. 1 contender's match within the ominous steel structure. Most fans were seemingly lukewarm about the tilt since Cena vs. Orton had already been done so many times previously, but WWE did its best to push the bout as a huge deal.
The Viper got the best of Cena during the final build toward the pay-per-view, as he gave him an RKO in a promo segment and then beat Cena and Ambrose at the end of the night alongside Rollins and Kane.
Over the past year, Orton's character has largely been predicated on paranoia regarding his place in the company. Triple H often calls him the face of WWE, but Cena made it clear that he felt differently prior to Hell in a Cell, per WWE Universe on Twitter:
The biggest challenge for Cena and Orton on Sunday was to put on an entertaining match despite a lack of overall support from the crowd. They have been near the top of the card for so long that it is only natural for the fanbase to rebel to some degree. Also, they have faced off so many times that keeping things fresh and unpredictable figured to be difficult.
When push came to shove, though, the two most recognizable, full-time Superstars in WWE today put forth a strong effort. That is likely one reason why Cena hasn't lost the respect of the WWE Universe and his peers even if his act has grown stale to some degree.
Among those who marvel at his consistency and long run of dominance is former WCW and WWE personality Eric Bischoff:
Regardless of what people think of him, though, Cena made it clear that he doesn't intend to change his character anytime soon, according to Matt Tuthill of Muscle & Fitness:
I've been here for 12 years now and the one thing I've noticed, that I noticed very early on, is that you just can't please everybody. You go out there and if you keep changing your ideals, then you essentially stand for nothing, so you might as well pick something to stand for and be remembered good, bad, or indifferent for standing for that. That's pretty much at a very, very early age, the kind of approach I took to all this.
If Cena is going to defeat Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, however, he may need to make some tweaks. He very nearly took the title from The Conquerer at Night of Champions only for Rollins to interfere and cause him to win via disqualification.
It will be interesting to see how the next Cena vs. Lesnar match is booked since Lesnar dominated the first encounter at SummerSlam, while Cena largely turned the tables in the rematch. It also remains to be seen when the third leg of the trilogy will take place, although one can only assume that it will be at either Survivor Series, TLC or Royal Rumble, which are the next three pay-per-views.
As for Orton, he is somewhat stuck in purgatory as he continues to loom just outside the main event picture. An Orton vs. Lesnar feud and match would have been extremely interesting and fresh, but WWE decided to go in a different direction.
Based on Orton's recent disagreements with Rollins and The Authority as a whole, though, it seems likely that a face turn could be on the horizon in the near future.
Cena and Orton did all they could to put on a strong showing Sunday night, but it is clear that WWE's top two attractions need a spark. Perhaps the result of their Hell in a Cell match will provide it.
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