Ranking John Cena's Best WWE Matches in the Last Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2021

Ranking John Cena's Best WWE Matches in the Last Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    John Cena will hit movie theatres worldwide with the releases of F9 and The Suicide Squad this summer, but before he was ever an attraction in the film industry, the West Newbury, Massachusetts, product was a leading man in WWE, where he etched a legacy for himself as one of the biggest stars ever produced by Vince McMahon's company.

    To do so, he waged war with the toughest, biggest and most renowned Superstars to ever lace a pair of boots, leading to some of the best matches in company history. Since 2010, in particular, the franchise star has delivered extraordinary performances that have silenced his critics and earned him status as one of the very best of his generation.

    As he prepares for a new level of stardom on the big screen, a bona fide box office megastar, relive these 10 superb matches that helped establish his legacy between the ropes...and earn the attention of studio execs in Hollywood. 

10. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (SummerSlam 2015)

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    By 2015, Cena faced a changing industry.

    The days of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane and Big Show dominating the top of the card were over. In their place was a crop of young stars hellbent on growing their stars at the expense of the standard-bearer in WWE. 

    One such star was Seth Rollins, who was in the middle of a monumental main event push that saw him capture the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and reign over the company as the top heel. At August 2015's SummerSlam pay-per-view, the self-proclaimed Architect defended his WWE title against Cena's United States Championship in a Winner Takes All match.

    What ensued was a highly dramatic match that had the fans in Brooklyn hanging on every near-fall. Ultimately, a referee bump and a shocking betrayal by celebrity Jon Stewart would cost Cena the win, but his chemistry with Rollins was undeniable.

    It was chemistry WWE would exploit more than once, booking the match the very next month as it attempted to recreate the in-ring magic. While they would have another strong match, it lacked the stakes and suspense of the original.

    Oftentimes overshadowed by their other matches, or some of Cena's higher-profile bouts, it is a hidden gem deserving of your attention. It is not the last one of those on this countdown.

9. John Cena vs. CM Punk (SummerSlam 2011)

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    On the heels of an all-time classic just one month earlier, Cena and CM Punk took to the squared circle for the main event of SummerSlam 2011, hampered slightly by Triple H's presence as referee. Even with the unnecessary addition of The Game as the official, Cena and Punk again demonstrated the extraordinary in-ring chemistry that defined their rivalry and put an exclamation point on the pay-per-view.

    Cena turned in another defining performance but, despite delivering his Attitude Adjustment finisher late, eventually fell to the Go To Sleep. Punk was declared the winner, despite Cena's foot being under the bottom rope, but the winner was irrelevant.

    The match continued the extraordinary summer of main events between the competitors. Despite its excellence, it still remains a notch below its predecessor and only slots at No. 9 on this countdown, a testament to what Cena was able to accomplish over the decade from an in-ring perspective.

8. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (Elimination Chamber 2015)

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    The product of Kevin Owens' shocking main roster debut, the match between him and John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015 is the perfect example of WWE going out of its way to create a new star right out of the gate.

    Owens had stunned the wrestling world by debuting on the May 18, 2015 episode of Raw, laying Cena out and sending a message loud and clear to the WWE Universe that he was there to make an impact. It was just the start of his initial push, though some still questioned if those in power would go the distance and actually put him over Cena.

    It was not apparent during the match that would be the case, either. Owens overwhelmed the face of the company, unleashing everything in his arsenal on Cena. The resilient babyface, like Sting in his battles with Vader in 1990s WCW, continuously fought back but could not put his opponent away. Owens flattened him with the pop-up powerbomb and pinned his shoulders for the three-count, stunning the audience.

    It was an emphatic statement by Owens and, more importantly, a message to the wrestling world that Cena was more willing to put over new talent in a way a main event competitor had not since Bret Hart.

    The follow up to that night in Corpus Christi, Texas, left a lot to be desired, but there was no denying that Cena again demonstrated an ability to adjust his style to work best with his opponent, and the result was a near five-star classic.

7. John Cena vs. Cesaro (Raw, June 29, 2015)

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    Sometimes, a television match comes out of nowhere to knock the socks off the viewer and remind them a great match is not reserved specifically for pay-per-view.

    Case in point: the June 29, 2015 United States Championship match between Cena and Cesaro.

    The Swiss Superman had long before established himself as one of the finest workers in the industry. Able to power his opponents down, submit them, stretch them or throw fists with them, he was arguably the most complete performer on the roster at the time.

    What he lacked was an opportunity to prove himself, an opportunity he benefits from in today's WWE.

    Cena was in the middle of a series of open challenges for his US title, and the Swiss Cyborg took him up on it. Together, they delivered a back-and-forth battle that saw Cesaro nearly upset the champ on more than one occasion. The near-falls dominated the action, as did the competitors' ability to counter or reverse the other's signature offense.

    In the end, Cena retained his title, but there was no denying that Cesaro was much better off for having wrestled, and lost, than he had been entering the match. Again, it proved Cena could make a star even in defeat and, more importantly, was devoted to showcasing his own talents against those of the most celebrated indie wrestling stars.

6. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar (Royal Rumble 2015)

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    Take three Superstars of varying skills and backgrounds, throw them together in one of the main events of the prestigious Royal Rumble pay-per-view and see what they accomplish. It was a solid game plan on WWE's part as it booked Cena and Seth Rollins to challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship in a Triple Threat Match.

    Wisely, Cena and Rollins dispatched of The Beast Incarnate early on and spent a major portion of it working a fast-paced, counter-heavy match. Drama dominated late, as Cena dispatched of the interfering J&J Security and managed to put Rollins down with the Attitude Adjustment but could not put him away.

    Rollins' own resilience in his biggest opportunity to showcase his skills to date proved costly. It allowed Lesnar to re-enter the fray, dominate the competition by taking them on an undesirable trip to Suplex City and finish The Architect off with the F-5.

    Again, Cena lost the match, but his performance was excellent. It wasn't what you would expect from a major star doing the job that night. He was spectacular and helped prove to those in power that Rollins was a performer worth investing time and energy in as a main event player.

5. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar (Extreme Rules 2012)

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    For the majority of the Extreme Rules 2012 main event, John Cena was beaten, battered, bloodied and dismantled by Brock Lesnar.

    He got beaten down by a bigger, more menacing competitor whose power had the audience at home watching in awe. It was the first time fans had seen The Beast Incarnate compete in a WWE ring in eight years, and in his first match back, he did not hesitate to foreshadow the striking punisher he had evolved into.

    Success, especially over a marquee star, breeds hubris, though.

    Lesnar found that out the hard way.

    Despite dominating the match, arrogance proved costly. Lesnar set up a pair of ring steps in the center of the ring and looked to launch himself off them and into Cena, presumably driving him off the ring apron and to the floor. What Lesnar did not recognize was that Cena had wrapped a steel chain around his fist.

    As The Beast went airborne, Cena rocked him with it. Moments later, he finished Lesnar with an Attitude Adjustment on the steel stairs to pick up the win.

    The match thrived because of the storytelling. Lesnar was this unstoppable force, so much so that the Chicago audience was champing at the bit to cheer the babyface, a miracle for those familiar with Cena's history in that city.

    The match, a contender for the best of the year, was a reminder that effective storytelling between two veteran performers can still drive the right reaction from any audience, no matter how smart.

4. John Cena vs. CM Punk (Raw, February 25, 2013)

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    The main event of the March 25, 2013 episode of Raw saw Cena and CM Punk renew their rivalry with a shot at The Rock and the WWE Championship at WrestleMania on the line.

    Familiar foes with countless matches to draw from, they knew each other extremely well. They knew what the other was going to throw at them, recognized moves and counters seconds before they happened. They had scouted each other so much that both hero and villain would have to dig down deep in their arsenals and pull out new moves that the other never saw coming.

    That story dominated the match and was instrumental in the finish.

    Late in the match, with frustration setting in on both sides, Cena managed to stun Punk with a hurricanrana from out of nowhere. Seeing an opening, Cena delivered one last Attitude Adjustment and earned the hard-fought victory.

    Everyone knew of Cena and Punk's historically great matches. Every time they set foot in the ring together, the possibility was there that they would steal the show by delivering another Match of the Year candidate.

    No one really knew to expect such an extraordinary bout on an otherwise throw-away episode of Raw. Yet there it was, one of the best of their entire series and Cena's No. 4 best match since 2010.

3. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (SummerSlam 2016)

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    Building on a buzzworthy match at Money in the Bank, Cena and AJ Styles took to the ring at SummerSlam 2016 in an extraordinary match that proved the lead star in Vince McMahon's traveling show could hang with the competitor many considered the best wrestler on the planet.

    Cena and Styles wasted little time throwing everything they had at each other, feeding off a red-hot crowd and keeping them that way with finishers, counters and reversals galore.

    Cena stunned the audience late in the match with an Attitude Adjustment from the top rope, only to receive a two-count from the official as Styles shot his shoulder off of the mat at the very last second. In disbelief, Cena wasted a split second that allowed The Phenomenal One to counter another Attitude Adjustment, deliver the Styles Clash and pick up the win with the Phenomenal Forearm. 

    Like the Rollins and Owens matches, Cena again showed a desire to put other, newer stars over. This time, it was Styles who earned the stamp of approval and would go on to become one of the company's top stars, even to this day. 

2. John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan (SummerSlam 2013)

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    There is no gutsier performance by Cena on this list than his showdown with Daniel Bryan in the main event of SummerSlam 2013. With his WWE Championship at stake, Cena fought through a torn triceps. His muscle rolled up into his elbow, he valiantly defended his title against a game and tenacious Bryan, who was hellbent on silencing his own critics as he fought for the top prize in the company.

    The result? A five-star classic that reaffirmed Bryan's excellence but established Cena as both one of the toughest stars in the industry and one of the greatest big-match performers of all time.

    Cena relied heavily on pure strength to overpower Bryan, who frustrated the champion repeatedly with his ability to counter and reverse nearly everything thrown at him, including several late attempts at the Attitude Adjustment.

    His arm in excruciating pain, Cena eventually fell prey to a wicked kick from his opponent, following by a running knee strike, and Bryan earned the victory and title.

    The selflessness exhibited by Cena as he both competed through an injury and put Bryan over, recognizing the significance of doing so both to the performer and the company, is admirable. WWE had built its foundation on numerous main event stars who would not have jumped at the opportunity to put Bryan over, especially while injured.

1. John Cena vs. CM Punk (Money in the Bank 2011)

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    From the moment you read the headline, you knew exactly what the No. 1 match on this list was going to be.

    The summer of 2011 reignited an interest and fandom in pro wrestling it had sorely lacked for some time, thanks in large part to CM Punk's now-iconic Pipebomb Promo. His willingness to lash out against the establishment earned him the adulation of an audience begging for fresh, edgy and exciting.

    He was the antihero fans had demanded, and as he entered his hometown of Chicago for his Money in the Bank 2011 main event match against WWE champion Cena, it was clear the fans demanded a new face at the top of the promotion.

    The fans packed into the historic Allstate Arena were electric as Punk made his way to the ring, their support of their hometown hero unwavering. Cena, on the other hand, represented everything they wanted to change about WWE. He was the franchise star, the golden boy. They wanted him to lose the title to Punk, needed even. 

    The atmosphere was unlike anything WWE fans had witnessed since the height of the Attitude Era, and what Cena and Punk had in store for them was even greater.

    In the main event of the July pay-per-view, Punk and Cena delivered an all-timer. That's not hyperbole or a writer lost in the moment. Their encounter at that show was as good, significant and transcendent a match as you will ever see.

    Cena and Punk captivated and manipulated their audience, leaving them hanging on every near-fall, the uncertainty surrounding the challenger's contractual status with the company adding to the drama.

    Ultimately, it was the noble Cena refusing to accept help from crooked authority figures Mr. McMahon and John Laurinaitis, that opened him up for the Go To Sleep and allowed Punk to leave with the WWE title.

    From Punk's entrance all the way through his escape through the crowd, the match was a masterpiece of pro wrestling art from two of the best to ever lace it up. Punk got the publicity, but none of it works without Cena and the connection he had with the audience, particularly in Chicago.

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