For over a decade, John Cena has been the face of professional wrestling and for the majority of that time, he has firmly divided fans into two groups: those who think John Cena is an exciting, loveable hero, and those who think he's an irritating do-gooder whose time on top of the WWE has been an exercise in tedium and repetition. Regardless of which side of the argument you stand, it's hard not to respect the man behind the jorts for his dedication, hard work and commitment to charity.
In terms of the work John Cena has presented week to week on television, the Cenation dissidents can make a strong argument against its leader. For the most part, John Cena's match structure and feud format has echoed that of Hulk Hogan, who was at his peak at a time when fans didn't have easy access to the behind the scenes information and insight that fans do today. So for a decade we've seen John Cena overcome any obstacles put in front of him - although he may lose an initial battle, the Chain Gang Soldier would always come back and win the feud, whether it be against monstrous opponents like Umaga or single-minded factions like The Nexus. This became such a regular occurrence that the phrase "Cena wins LOL" has become a mainstay on fan signs and online forums.
Despite this, there are times when John Cena has dashed expectations by doing something that surprised everyone - supporters and detractors alike. Here are 15 of these finest moments.
15 Return at Hell in a Cell 2013
As a man who is sometimes pejoratively referred to as "SuperCena" due to long-term booking making him seem indestructible, John Cena seems to make a concerted effort to live up to the nickname, especially when it comes to his seemingly superhuman recovery periods when he is forced out of action with an injury.
Following August 2013's SummerSlam event, John Cena announced that he required surgery due to torn triceps, with his doctor stating that he would be out of action for four to six months. So fans were justly surprised in early August 2013 when Vickie Guerrero announced that John Cena would be making his return at October's Hell in a Cell PPV to face Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship - just two months after undergoing the surgery.
Many expected this to be some sort of fake-out, setting up a feud between the two at a later date, but John Cena went on to not only return at the PPV, but to also defeat Alberto Del Rio and re-take his spot at the top of the pecking order.
14 Acknowledging a Marriage Proposal Mid-match
John Cena has been called a lot of things during the course of his career - some good and many bad, but few thought to label The Chain Gang Soldier a hopeless romantic. That is, until his U.S. Title defence against Dolph Ziggler on a 2015 episode of Raw when, after noticing a commotion in the crowd resulting in a boisterous "YES!" chant from the crowd and one fan holding up a "She said YES" sign, John Cena stopped the match to acknowledge the marriage proposal that had just taken place and gave the newly engaged couple his hearty congratulations.
In doing so, not only did Cena give the couple a genuinely special moment, but he also took control of an unplanned situation in the best possible way and managed to deal with the distraction before drawing the crowd's attention back to the ring. The man is a professional and a sweetheart.
13 The Springboard Stunner
WrestleMania has always provided the biggest incentive for Superstars to pull out something exciting and never before seen; to give fans something memorable to talk about once the show is all said and done.
John Cena kept this tradition strong at WrestleMania 31 in his U.S. Title match against Rusev, when he performed a Springboard Stunner - a surprisingly agile and creative move, especially for a man who is often criticised for being one dimensional and having a very limited move-set. Due to the surprise and success of the move, John Cena started using it as a regular part of his arsenal from that point on, although much less surprisingly, the move would often not be executed as successfully as intended and ended up looking sloppy.
12 Toying with the IWC
For as long as John Cena has been the company's top babyface, discussion of a potential heel turn has been a favourite topic amongst the Internet Wrestling Community; when it should be done, how it should be done, who he should turn on, how things would be better if Cena turned heel, and all the missed opportunities to turn Cena heel.
Although WWE rarely acknowledges this type of discussion, John Cena sent a proverbial knowing nod and smile to the fantasy bookers on the post-WrestleMania 29 edition of Raw, when John Cena tried out a series of dances to express his elation over his victory of the previous night. After several suggestions were met with boos, Cena asked "How about a little heel turn?" while turning his heel accordingly, eliciting a roar of approval from the crowd in attendance. Ah John Cena, you're such a scamp.
11 Spoke Fluent Mandarin at a Press Conference
The image that John Cena exudes is that of a incredibly sculpted bodybuilder with a passion for muscle cars and a simple, focused set of goals. This image belies the incredible intellect of the man behind the persona and this was strikingly apparent at a press conference in Shanghai in June 2016, in which John Cena unexpectedly addressed the audience in fluent Mandarin for almost three minutes.
While this is not the first time that John Cena has displayed an ability to speak a foreign language, this particular example was downright impressive. The fact Cena has taken the time to learn this language while the WWE is looking to expand its presence in China is another example of John Cena acting as the ultimate company man - dedicating his time and effort so that he can act as a better representative for the WWE in the region.
10 Spoke Out Against Donald Trump
During an appearance on the Today Show in December 2015, John Cena got surprisingly political when he slammed some of Donald Trump's comments regarding a potential travel ban for Muslim people. In a comment that didn't just take a firm stance, but criticised a powerful man who was not only a friend of the WWE, but also a Hall of Famer, Cena said:
"The last time we did anything like this was in World War II, and that was one of the more reprehensible acts by the United States of America. 'We are the melting pot, except for you.' That does not go along with our DNA."
While surprising to see a prominent representative of WWE taking such a firm position, this is certainly in line with the "rise above hate" credence.
9 His Debut
On that fateful episode of SmackDown, aired on June 27nd, 2002, established wrestling icon Kurt Angle stood in the centre of the ring and issued an open challenge to anyone in the back with the testicular fortitude to face him one on one. What emerged was a bland, babyfaced challenger by the name of John Cena, who was completely unknown to the baffled crowd.
In what some expected to be a squash match, the fameless rookie put up a surprisingly good fight against the Olympian before finally falling. While not the most successful of debuts, the rookie's 'ruthless aggression' left enough of an impression to allow John Cena a straight ticket to superstardom. John Cena actually got a lucky break in even having that match on that particular night as Angle was originally planned to face The Undertaker, but when The Phenom couldn't make the show, John Cena was selected as a last minute replacement.
8 Losing Clean to A.J. Styles at SummerSlam 2016
So after all these years, we generally get the gist of John Cena's schtick: he'll face a destructive monster/nefarious cheater/superior wrestler and enter a several months long rivalry which see Cena lose an initial battle (usually through questionable means), before overcoming, trouncing the opposition and ultimately winning the feud.
This trend was completely ignored during his rivalry with A.J. Styles over the summer, when The Phenomenal One not only defeated John Cena with help from the Club at Money in the Bank, but also went on to defeat Cena again at SummerSlam with no assistance or underhanded tactics whatsoever. Very few Superstars can boast this accomplishment since the birth of "SuperCena," so for Styles to not only best John Cena in this fashion, but to do so as the face of "another promotion" who has come in and outperformed the best that WWE has to offer, with its implications about the quality of WWE's performers versus those found elsewhere, is hard to believe.
While John Cena's recent return and insertion into the WWE Title picture could possibly mean reigniting the one on one feud in earnest and eventually coming out on top, this has certainly been the summer of Styles.
7 Top Rope Leg Drop
Considering that John Cena's in-ring repertoire is considered basic, safe and largely centred around power and histrionics, the fact that this move is done from the top rope is unusual, that it's innovative is surprising and the fact that it usually looks devastating is frankly astounding.
The top rope leg drop (AKA Diving Leg Drop Bulldog) is an anomaly in John Cena's move-set and has now been used as an effective part of his arsenal for many years. This move not only looks ultra-effective in the ring, but is one of several moves regularly presented to refute arguments that Cena's wrestling is shallow and limited to only the most basic of maneuvers, as well as the old claim that he entirely relies on 'five moves of doom'.
6 Besting The Rock at Promos
During the two months leading up to the first "once in a lifetime" encounter between The Rock and John Cena, fans were foaming at the mouth for not only the match itself, but for the promos that these two masters of the mic would unleash on each other during the build up to WrestleMania XXVIII.
One aspect that excited many fans was seeing The Great One's charisma and eloquence outshine Cena's and establish The Rock's articulate dominance... only that didn't happen. John Cena came out with a level of passion and honesty that was captivating to watch and made you believe every word he said, whereas The Rock did his usual routine (drawn out look around and indicate goosebumps, suck up to crowd, insult opponent's appearance, catchphrase) - which is generally fine, but couldn't compare to Cena's fire and substance, meaning that Cena came out on top of most of their verbal encounters.
5 Getting Destroyed By Brock Lesnar
At SummerSlam 2014, John Cena took a short trip to Suplex City, where he was hit by every car, thrown from every building and treated rather rudely by every citizen. In short, he received the most one-sided beating of his career, being suplexed around the ring for 15 painful minutes before mercifully being pinned. This is the match that cemented Brock Lesnar's place as the near-immortal beast that, by all rules of logic, could now never lose to anybody in a singles match.
Though most probably thought that Brock Lesnar was destined to win this match, few imagined that Cena would put up such little resistance. The potential damage to the Cenation Leader's legacy was mitigated shortly afterward when he single-handedly dismantled the entire Wyatt Family on Raw - re-establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, while stripping any credibility away from The Wyatts.
4 His Return at the 2008 Royal Rumble Match
The ultimate example of John Cena's uncanny ability to recover from serious injuries at lightning speed came in October 2007 when John Cena suffered a complete tear of his pectoral muscle - a devastating injury that was likely to keep Cena out of action from six months up to a year following surgery.
Due to his determination and spouse-like commitment to rehabilitation, John Cena made his triumphant return at the 2008 Royal Rumble just four months following surgery, as part of the Royal Rumble match, which he won before going on to battle for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXIV. This was not only a testament to Cena's recovery potential, but it was an incredibly memorable moment for his fans who, not being used to Cena's superhuman recovery time, had no inkling that he could be back in time for the Rumble match, so were treated to a remarkable surprise.
3 His Appearance in the Movie Trainwreck
Amy Schumer's successful romcom Trainwreck may not be a movie that most wrestling fans have seen, nor is it a movie that a large section of ardent fans would ever have any interest in seeing. However it is well known, mainly for the part played by John Cena - an R rated performance that spat in the face of the PG poster child that we've all come to know.
John Cena plays Steven, the overly-sensitive, musclebound boyfriend of Schumer's protagonist. The two act out a 'romantic' scene which exhibits more of John Cena than most of us are used to seeing, and came as a massive shock to anyone with expectations rooted in Cena's past work. The world of difference between this role and WWE Cena could be ventured as John Cena's biggest leap away from being 'the WWE guy'.
2 Losing Clean to Dean Ambrose on SmackDown
One of John Cena's most surprising moments came only a week ago when, on the September 20th, 2016 episode of SmackDown Live, Dean Ambrose took a clean pinfall victory over the the face of the WWE. What really caught us off-guard wasn't just that Cena lost (although this type of match normally screams 'no-contest/DQ' finish), it was that it was a fairly short match and Cena went down with much less of a fight than we're used to seeing. What makes this all the more notable, as previously covered on this site, is that this was Cena's first clean loss on Raw or SmackDown in nearly seven years!
This creates an intriguing branch of possibilities and line of questions going forward: Was it just a one-off occurrence to help Dean Ambrose look great after his disappointing title run? Is it an indication that Cena, now aging and stepping away from a full-time schedule, is much more vulnerable to defeat at the hands of younger talent than before? Or is it just a low point that sparks a road to redemption for Cena to reclaim the top spot and his sixteenth world title? Only time will tell.
1 The United States Championship Run
Here we have nearly a year of John Cena's career that acted like a fireworks display of shocking moments - not just one huge surprise, but a series of smaller ones that worked together to create something astonishing. The first surprise was that John Cena, the man who has run roughshod over WWE for a decade as its World Champion, would be relegated to challenging for the U.S. Title - a championship which, at that time, meant very little. The next came when he first challenged Rusev for the title at Fastlane 2015, where John Cena actually lost to a submission hold. While John Cena didn't defy his "never give up" mantra by submitting, instead passing out to the hold, seeing John Cena lose in this manner was pretty unexpected.
The biggest surprise however, came when Cena actually took the gold and instituted the U.S. Open Challenge - a near weekly segment where he would defend the title against any challenger that came to meet him. This led to stellar encounters with the likes of Cody Rhodes, Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, and set up the perfect format for the hugely successful main roster debut of Kevin Owens.
When Cena's United States Championship reign eventually came to an end at Hell in a Cell 2015, the man who is constantly told that he "can't wrestle" had built up a catalogue of matches that solidified him as one of the company's finest performers of 2015 and brought the U.S. Title a level of prestige that it hadn't seen for a long, long time.