John Cena's Biggest Moments, Greatest Matches on WWE SmackDown
WWE SmackDown Live is set increase its supply of shoulder blocks and star power as it welcomes back John Cena.
After a post-WrestleMania hiatus, Cena is scheduled to step back on to the SmackDown stage on Tuesday. He'll likely have the WWE Championship in his sights, and as history has shown, Tuesday nights are going to get a lot more interesting him with around.
A number of the moments and matches that will show up on Cena's Hall of Fame reel happened on the blue brand, such as his first bout on the main roster: a pairing of powerhouses, a war of words.
Cena began his career with SmackDown, battling the likes of Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Undertaker. He emerged as a megastar, showed off a doctorate in thuganomics and eventually held world championship gold.
He moved to Raw in 2005 during that year's draft lottery and began to contribute to that brand's history instead.
His opportunities outside the ring in recent years (TV, movies, etc.) have led to Cena no longer being one of SmackDown's workhorses. Still, the 16-time world champ can create magic on the mat and on the mic when he makes his way on to the show.
The following is a chronological journey through the highlights of his SmackDown tenures, from a showcase of ruthless aggression to the expert selling of a WrestleMania 33 match.
Debuting with Ruthless Aggression (June 27, 2002)
Kurt Angle called out the SmackDown locker room, looking for a new challenge in June 2002. Anyone who hadn't wrestled him before was welcome to come tangle with him that night.
Cena did just that and kickstarted what has become an iconic career.
When the Olympian asked Cena what made him worthy of facing Angle, the rookie growled "ruthless aggression" before slapping Angle off his feet. Cena held his own against the top-tier star. His brawling style didn't net him a win, but the newcomer had quite the strong showing. Backstage, Undertaker gave Cena props.
And with that, WWE began the star-making process with the man who would become its centerpiece.
John Cena as Vanilla Ice (Oct. 31, 2002)
Cena's career didn't truly catch fire until his personality got as much spotlight as his power. Fans didn't see much of that when he first started out as he was a closed-off, intense, punch-happy predator.
During the Halloween 2002 episode of SmackDown, though, Cena showed he had both a sense of humor and a knack for rapping.
Dressing up as Vanilla Ice and goofing around with Stephanie McMahon in the catering area let the goofier side of Cena emerge. He would later adopt a rapping gimmick, one he rode for many of his early years.
Strangely enough, a throwaway moment became a catalyst.
Parking Lot Brawl (Sept. 11, 2003)
Cena crossed paths with one of SmackDown's cornerstones in a feud over the United States Championship that helped establish him as a gritty bruiser.
Stealing Eddie Guerrero's low-rider led the rivals to a brawl inside a parking lot. The innovative clash saw Cena and Guerrero slug it out atop cars, using every piece of steel and glass around them as a weapon.
Guerrero recalled the match in his autobiography Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story. "John and I beat the living hell out of each other, suplexing each other on to the hoods and roofs of the cars, smashing each other's head through windows and windshields."
The unique setting, the high level of violence and the intensity of the two enemies made for a memorable match.
Battling Guerrero helped Cena gain momentum, even though Latino Heat kept hold of the U.S. title. He looked more like a hard-nosed warrior coming out than he did going in.
John Cena vs. Kurt Angle Rap Battle (July 10, 2003)
In-ring meetings with Angle left Cena looking like a formidable powerhouse. His verbal exchanges with the 1996 Olympic gold medalist put him on the map as an all-around entertainer.
In the thick of Cena's Dr. of Thuganomics gimmick, he met Angle in the ring for a rap battle.
It was unabashedly silly, but it clicked. Cena played the straight man in the scene as Angle handled the goofy duties.
WWE would go on to show clips of this clash several times over in the years ahead.
Teaming with the Beast (Oct. 2, 2003)
Cena joined forces with Brock Lesnar against Angle and Undertaker in a battle of future Hall of Famers in October 2003.
The Leader of the Cenation would go on to have more thrilling matches up on his own, but this one helped signal that he belonged alongside these marquee names. As Derek Burgan of PWTorch wrote, it was "a good main event with Cena really hanging with the big dogs."
Cena had yet to refine his in-ring game. He relied on a ground-and-pound offense.
Still, as he slugged it out with Angle and stared down The Deadman, Cena felt right at home. He helped make this a thrilling tag team bout. And the rising star got the winning pinfall thanks to clocking Undertaker in the jaw with a steel chain.
Carlito's Debut (Oct. 7, 2004)
Only days after winning the U.S. Championship from Booker T, Cena found himself sans title again thanks to newly arriving star.
Carlito debuted in 2004 with a bang. He spat on Cena, went to toe-to-toe with him in a title bout and used Cena's signature steel chain to knock out the champ. Michael Cole memorably squealed, "Carlito stole the title! Carlito stole the title!"
It says a lot that only two years into his career, Cena was already charged with trying to make rookies stars.
Fiery strikes and strong brawling near the announce desk colored the action. The surprise factor of a stranger dethroning the Superman of the squared circle made this an unforgettable SmackDown bout.
Cena Introduces the Spinner Championship (April 14, 2005)
The glittery, spinning toy-like version of the WWE Championship that was for years the company's top prize was born in 2005 following Cena's win over John "Bradshaw" Layfield at WrestleMania 21.
Cena embarrassed JBL with a gross-out prank. He then revealed he would be wearing a new incarnation of the WWE title. It was loud, cartoony and nontraditional, much like Cena himself.
The title later became the source of many fans' contempt, but no one could say this reveal was forgettable. Cena has long earned a loud reaction, positive or negative, on SmackDown and elsewhere throughout his career.
Cena Pounces on The Showoff (Nov. 23, 2012)
By 2012, a Cena sighting on SmackDown was rare. For years, he fought his battles over on Raw. And even when WWE did away with the brand split in 2012, Cena didn't often make his way to the B-show.
A rivalry with Dolph Ziggler over AJ Lee, though, led to a change in that routine.
Ziggler ambushed the fan favorite. Cena responded with a vengeance. He waited until after Ziggler outlasted Randy Orton before meeting him on the entrance ramp.
Cena clamped on perhaps the best STF of his career, closing that night's SmackDown with a striking image of a man enraged.
WWE Championship Triple Threat (Feb. 14, 2017)
After producing three one-on-one classics against AJ Styles on pay-per-view the year before, Cena clashed with The Phenomenal One again in a WWE title bout. This time around, newly crowned champ Bray Wyatt entered the mix.
That led to a contest heavy with adrenaline and powered by near-falls.
SmackDown's run of quality episodes continued with Cena falling just short of reclaiming his throne. This was one of Wyatt's best TV matches to date and another feather in Cena's loaded cap.
At the time, it looked as if Cena was playing a major role in launching the Wyatt era, doing for The Eater of Worlds what Angle did for him 15 years prior.
John Cena and The Miz Battle on the Mic (Feb. 28, 2017)
Cena's promos at this stage of his career have been white-hot.
He has cut down many a foe at the knees with a mic in hand since joining the SmackDown brand following last year's draft. Cena's clashes with Dean Ambrose, Styles and others have led to electric TV.
He topped all of those moments during an exchange with The Miz ahead of WrestleMania 33.
Cena dismissed The Miz's trash talk as stuff we've already heard before. He implied The A-Lister was an inferior opponent and claimed he copied Chris Jericho and The Rock.
Rumors of a Cena and Nikki Bella-Miz and Maryse contest looked to be true as the two couples squabbled. The 16-time world champion ripped The Miz apart in what Jake Barnett of ProWrestling.net called an "explosive opening segment," helping make a previously unappealing match suddenly feel like it belonged in WrestleMania's main event.
This no-holds-barred back-and-forth was a showcase of The Miz's vast improvement in recent years and a reminder that Cena is still king around here, even if he leaves his domain from time to time.