14 Years of John Cena at WWE SummerSlam: Classics, Championships and CM Punk

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterAugust 17, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

As the victim and the valiant hero, as champion and challenger, John Cena has left his mark on SummerSlam.

The powerhouse has been a mainstay of WWE's summer blockbuster, and when he marches into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Aug. 20, it will be his 14th appearance at the event.

Fans have seen Cena maintain a spot on the marquee and compose classics at the pay-per-view. He's tangled with CM Punk and Brock Lesnar, been an enemy and ally of Daniel Bryan and taken a shot to the gut courtesy of a talk show host.

It's been a wild ride, one that doesn't look like it'll be over anytime soon. While he has taken breaks to make movie and TV appearances, he always seems to return in time for WWE's big summer event.

Cena is now poised to represent SmackDown at SummerSlam 2017 in a collision with Baron Corbin, a rising star making his first SummerSlam appearance.

History says he will tear down the house, though a recent pattern points to a Cena loss. 

                    

By the Numbers

Looking back at how things have changed since Cena's debut SummerSlam is a powerful indication of his longevity.  

Credit: WWE.com

A good number of the stars of the 2004 event have moved on from the ring. Booker T and John "Bradshaw" Layfield do commentary now. Edge and Undertaker are retired. And Kurt Angle is Raw's general manager. 

Cena has been on the SummerSlam marquee an impressive six times since. That's more than even Undertaker (5) or Hulk Hogan (4).

And nine of his 13 SummerSlam matches have been for the WWE Championship.

He has been far from dominant in terms of results, though. Cena is 4-9 at WWE's summer classic, per CageMatch.net. That's not the mark you'd expect from someone who has so often been booked as the company's Superman. 

In fact, Cena is in the midst of a six-match losing streak at SummerSlam that stretches back his loss to Punk in 2011.

The defeats haven't gotten in the way of match quality, however. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Internet Wrestling Database) has been quite generous when it comes to handing out stars for Cena's SummerSlam bouts.

Five of them have rated four stars or higher:

  • Randy Orton, 2007 (4)
  • Daniel Bryan, 2013 (4.5)
  • Brock Lesnar, 2014 (4.25)
  • Seth Rollins, 2015 (4.5)
  • AJ Styles, 2016 (4.5)

Cena can make it five years in a row where he reaches that benchmark.

He's had the benefit of having top-notch, upper-tier SummerSlam opponents during the '10s.

At this year's PPV, though, he will face a less proven name in Corbin. For The Lone Wolf, that meeting represents a career-changing opportunity, especially seeing how willing WWE is to pin a loss on Cena at the event.

             

Repeat Rivals 

It's fitting that Orton and Punk are the only two men Cena has faced more than once at SummerSlam. They are two of his great archenemies. And he has battled both time and time again.

Those lengthy rivalries were bound to cast their shadows on WWE's second-biggest PPV.

In 2007, Cena was the WWE champ and Orton was The Legend Killer, stomping on names of the past in the name of championship glory. The Viper steamrolled into SummerSlam looking to dethrone Cena. 

The powerhouse escaped Orton's attempt to kick his head in, and Cena nailed the heel with an Attitude Adjustment for the win.

Two years later, Orton faced Cena at SummerSlam again. This time, the roles were reversed, with Cena chasing The Viper's gold. And this time, Cena fell thanks in part to a mystery man (Brett DiBiase) slipping into the ring to distract him.

Cena collided with The Second-City Saint at both the 2011 and 2012 SummerSlam.

Their first meeting preceded what should be considered the death of the Summer of Punk. Punk was WWE's hottest act at the time, marching into the event as WWE champ and a beloved anti-hero.

The rebel managed to take down Cena, but an attack from Kevin Nash and a Money in the Bank cash-in from Alberto Del Rio left him sans gold.

By SummerSlam the next year, Punk was champion again and had to face both Big Show and Cena.  

Punk and Cena both clamped submission holds on Big Show, which ended the match early, but Raw GM AJ Lee restarted the bout. Punk stole the victory soon after, tossing Cena aside and piling atop a fallen Big Show.

The tattooed trash-talker and the West Newbury, Massachusetts, native would only clash in two more PPV matches after that.

            

Moments

When one plays SummerSlam's all-time highlight reel, Cena's face pops up several times.

One of the event's biggest surprises came in 2010 when Team WWE went to battle against The Nexus. Cena stood halfway down the entrance ramp with Bret Hart and Chris Jericho at his side when he welcomed the mystery member of his squad: Bryan.

Bryan had previously been a part of the rampaging Nexus faction before getting fired. And Cena welcomed him to the good guys ahead of SummerSlam's main event.

It's a moment that elicited a big reaction from ProWrestling.net columnist Will Pruett: 

Four years after leading the way for Team WWE, Cena found himself reeling in the face of a beast. He didn't just lose to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014; he got chewed up.

Suplex after suplex floored Cena as The Beast Incarnate won the WWE title in dominant fashion. 

We had never seen a main event like this, a one-sided torture session. And we had never seen Cena made to look out of his league. That worked to deepen Lesnar's mystique.

Comedian Jon Stewart, of all people, took his own shot at Cena in 2015.

In 2015, Cena was poised to defeat Seth Rollins and be world champ for the 16th time. Stewart, not wanting to see Ric Flair's record tied, nailed the bodybuilder with a steel chair to the gut. That opened the door for an easy win for Rollins.

Of all the twists and turns fans could have imagined, no one could have seen the former Daily Show host derailing SummerSlam history like that.

          

Greatest Matches

While Cena has a reputation with the Internet Wrestling Community for stalling Superstars' momentum and "burying" them, his SummerSlam greatest hits have been all about bolstering others. Bryan, Rollins and Styles all battled the Leader of the Cenation at the PPV, and each bout was a career-changer. 

In 2013, Cena was the mountaintop Bryan climbed upon before Orton and Triple H pushed him off.

The champ looked to outmuscle his foe. Bryan looked to use superior technique. When the clash turned into a mat wrestling clinic, Cena held his own against the technical master.

In the end, Bryan used his running knee finisher to topple Cena. Cena gave his bearded adversary a seal-of-approval handshake afterward.

Their collision was a thriller, earning the No. 2 spot on WWE.com's list of best matches for 2013.

Two years later, Rollins used Cena as a stepping stone as well. In a battle for both the United States Championship and WWE World title, The Architect leaped, rolled and dived until he had Cena on the ropes.

Rollins even pulled out Cena's own Attitude Adjustment to fell the icon.

Theirs was a fast-paced, high-energy work of art. Had Stewart not stepped on to the stage with a steel chair in hand in a moment most bizarre, it would likely be regarded even higher.

Styles knocked off Cena at SummerSlam 2016 in an absolute classic.

The two grade-A performers put on a show brimming with near-falls. Cena's disbelief—after his Attitude Adjustment off the top rope wasn't enough for the win—was first-rate WWE drama. Styles finally forearmed his way to victory, a result that catapulted him into becoming the face of SmackDown.

Robbie Fox of Barstool Sports saluted their performance:

Beyond its status as a Match of the Year nominee, Cena vs. Styles was arguably the best SummerSlam match ever.

That should come as no surprise. Cena is having the best stretch of his career from 2013 on. And SummerSlam has been a showcase for that.

Next up, the powerhouse will look to craft something special in Brooklyn against Corbin as he nears a full decade-and-a-half's worth of SummerSlam memories.

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