John Cena's WWE Year in Review: Full Breakdown and Grade for 2017
The John Cena fans saw in 2017 was not the John Cena they had become accustomed to.
He was not dominant, nor was he the centerpiece of the company. The many who had so long been the franchise star of WWE was a guest star, at best; a Hollywood celebrity coming to Raw and SmackDown to "give back" to the company that made him a household name.
In the process, he added to his legacy with a 16th world title reign and was engaged to Nikki Bella in a memorable moment at WrestleMania 33.
Between the ropes, he lacked the spark that fueled so many of his epic encounters.
An up-and-down year, at best, 2017 represented the changing of the guard and one last goodbye to Cena as a full-time contributor to Vince McMahon's company.
Relive his last 12 months, find out how he graded out in key areas and what moment and match defined him with this review of the year that was Cena.
Make no mistake about it: The best of Cena's in-ring days are behind him as he makes the transition from full-time professional wrestler to Hollywood celebrity. That is not to say, though, that he cannot still have a legitimate Match of the Year contender under the brightest lights and best scenarios.
Cena kicked off 2017 in San Antonio at the Royal Rumble, where he defeated AJ Styles in a five-star classic.
The match, built on the foundation of their equally as great SummerSlam bout, saw Cena capture his 16th world championship.
More on that later.
His title reign would last just a few, short weeks, and his emphasis on show-stealing matches that rewrote all preconceived notions about his abilities between the ropes disappeared.
He competed in a Mixed Tag Team match at WrestleMania 33 that was more about his post-match proposal to Nikki Bella than the quality of the bout itself, squared off in a televised match with Jinder Mahal and beat Rusev in a Flag on a Pole match at Battleground.
None of those matches really lived up to Cena's reputation as a big-match performer until September's No Mercy pay-per-view, where he battled and lost to Roman Reigns in a legitimate dream match. That contest helped renew faith that Cena had not lost his drive between the ropes.
Especially after such a mediocre and inconsistent year as the one he had.
Cena was in an interesting position in 2017 as, for the first time since 2002, there was not a ton of creative emphasis on him. Much of that can be chalked up to his inconsistent schedule that saw him stick around for a few weeks at a time, only to venture off to the latest movie set.
Routinely presented like a special attraction, one of the biggest stars on the planet, Cena's appearances on television this year always meant something and were routinely used to set up his next pay-per-view match.
Unfortunately, the stories that accompanied those matches were not up to par.
Particularly upon Cena's return over the summer.
His work with Rusev, Jinder Mahal and Baron Corbin felt forced and did nothing to help anyone involved. None of those younger stars with brighter futures benefited whatsoever, and Cena did not receive any sort of benefit from beating them.
Perhaps the most memorable bit of writing in Cena's year was included in the week's long rivalry with Roman Reigns. It was during that program that he had the opportunity to sink his teeth in the material, which included some of his own verbal jabs as the Superstar tasked with assuming his role as the franchise player in WWE.
Still, a single program in a year of mediocre and underwhelming ones does not an above-average year make.
Before January's Royal Rumble, only one man was universally recognized as the most decorated world champion in the history of professional wrestling, his 16 titles as much a part of his persona as anything else. Ric Flair had become the standard-bearer for champions, the man whose resume the greats strived to match.
At the annual pay-per-view extravaganza, Cena joined Flair as the only other Superstar to be widely recognized as a 16-time champion.
His victory over AJ Styles put him in the position to not only tie Flair's historic mark but, at some time before he hangs up his Reeboks, surpass it.
It was an accomplishment many expected only Triple H would be allowed to match given his real friendship with Flair behind the scenes. That the honor was bestowed upon Cena is a reflection of his contributions to the industry and the company itself.
As 2017 comes to a close and his fans grapple with the realization that he is no longer a full-time member of the active roster, Cena's legacy is solidified thanks to his once-in-a-generation accomplishment.
The most historically significant moment of Cena's 2017 is also his greatest.
Yes, some fans will point to his engagement with Nikki Bella or his selfless job to Roman Reigns as equally great moments, but Cena did what only one other man in the history of major professional wrestling did in January at the Royal Rumble by defeating AJ Styles to win his 16th world title.
That moment served as one final exclamation point on his full-time run as an active WWE Superstar and put him over as the modern equivalent to the biggest and most celebrated performers in industry history.
It was a moment that, when discussing his place in WWE history, will catapult him to the forefront of the conversation and place him among the likes of Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker.
From that perspective, its significance cannot be ignored.
Best Match of 2017
Sticking with the theme that Cena's greatest accomplishment of 2017 came at the Royal Rumble in January, his greatest match of the year also emanates from the same show.
On that night, he battled AJ Styles in a dramatic and unforgettable WWE Championship match. The battle, a five-star affair, captivated the fans in San Antonio's Alamodome and had them hanging on every dramatic near-fall.
Most signs pointed to Cena ending Styles' reign on that night, but few could have foreseen them delivering a contest every bit as good as their superb bout months earlier at SummerSlam. Not only did they do just that, they built on several key spots and moments from that match to tell the story of their contest.
By the time Cena delivered the final Attitude Adjustment on the match, fans understood they had witnessed one of, if not the, match of the year just weeks into the new year.
Cena may not have had the year fans have come to expect from him, but the fact that he was at the center of one of the most memorable moments of 2017, and wrestled what was likely the best match of the year, is indicative of the significance he can still have on the WWE product.
His days as a full-time member of the roster are over—that much is obvious.
With a blossoming movie career, he has opportunities outside the business that he has earned the right to explore.
For the first time in 15 years, the industry did not revolve around him. For his fans, that may be a disappointment, as will be the grade he is about to receive.
Given his inconsistent appearances, a lack of constant strong work and an unimpressive creative year, one cannot in good conscious assign him anything greater than a C.
How he continues to make his presence felt on WWE television will be the determining factor in the success, or failure, of his years to come.