The star power of John Cena made him the most important wrestler in WWE from 2005 until 2015. Cena was heavily protected in the booking, with his losses coming quite rarely and his clean losses being even rarer. Facing him remained an honor, as it meant his opponent was either doing great things or WWE expected them to do great things after having such a spotlight put on them.
We will look at how things worked out for some of the wrestlers to face Cena, in terms of his impact on their careers. Cena did manage to help establish some wrestlers, but others looked like fools against the face of the company and suffered for it. Find out just what happened in some of these notable matches against the icon.
10 Looked Legit: Shinsuke Nakamura
The initial push of Shinsuke Nakamura towards the main event picture of SmackDown in 2017 saw him scoring a massive victory over John Cena. WWE booked the match for an episode of SmackDown, with the winner moving to SummerSlam to challenge Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship.
Nakamura not only defeated Cena, but he did it in clean fashion. WWE didn’t capitalize on the momentum from the win, however, instead having Nakamura lose to Mahal.
9 Looked A Joke: Baron Corbin
John Cena has a history of superb SummerSlam matches, having had classics against the likes of AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. As such, fans were not too pleased when SummerSlam 2017 featured Cena facing off with Baron Corbin.
The lackluster Corbin even lost his Money in the Bank title shot to Jinder Mahal days earlier, in embarrassing fashion. Cena essentially squashed him at SummerSlam, with Corbin getting almost no offense in.
8 Looked Legit: AJ Styles
AJ Styles' first year in WWE saw him have three consecutive feuds against important people in the company. Styles moved from Chris Jericho to Roman Reigns to the biggest feud with John Cena in a dream match. Fans waited years to see this bout from Styles’ time in TNA.
The pair had instant chemistry, leading to a couple of great matches together. Styles defeated Cena cleanly in the ring at SummerSlam 2016, to officially make him a legitimate main eventer. The following month would see Styles become WWE Champion, which probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn't looked so good against Cena.
7 Looked A Joke: Rusev
Rusev hoped the WrestleMania 31 program with John Cena would elevate him into the main event picture. In his dominant United States Championship reign, no WWE stars were able to defeat him... until the Cena showdown at the biggest show of the year.
Cena defeated Rusev in a lackluster match that didn’t do Rusev any favors. The following months would see Cena continue to make Rusev look foolish in matches and promos. Rusev never returned to the same level of success he had enjoyed before that feud with Cena.
6 Looked Legit: Becky Lynch
The right segment proves that John Cena didn’t even have to wrestle against someone to help make them look more legit. Becky Lynch was the hottest star in WWE when Cena returned for an appearance in SmackDown at the start of 2019.
WWE booked Cena and Lynch in a promo segment together, where Becky took quite a few personal digs at Cena (to the delight of the crowd). They teamed together to win a mixed tag match, surprisingly, only for Lynch to kick Cena out of the ring to steal the pin and hit the “you can’t see me” taunt when he wanted a handshake.
5 Looked A Joke: Rey Mysterio
The storyline of CM Punk leaving WWE after winning the WWE Championship from John Cena in the summer of 2011 was a logistical problem. Punk returned to WWE television after a few weeks, but WWE still had a tournament to crown a new world champion.
Rey Mysterio defeated The Miz in the finals of a hard-fought tournament to become WWE Champion. However, he was forced to face Cena just hours later, despite Cena being the fresher man. They had a classic match, which Cena won. He did shake Mysterio’s hand afterwards, but he made the smaller wrestler look like a fool for losing the title within hours.
4 Looked Legit: Kevin Owens
The debut of Kevin Owens was picture perfect, as he entered a feud with John Cena towards the end of Cena’s run as a full-time performer. WWE fans had rarely seen Cena take clean losses (especially to heel wrestlers) up to that point.
Owens shocked the world by winning his first-ever main roster match over Cena in clean fashion. It instantly established Owens as a relevant player in WWE moving forward. Owens would go on to win quite a few titles and have an upper-level spot on the card, all thanks to the great start against Cena.
3 Looked A Joke: Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt was among the most unique wrestlers on the roster in 2014, essentially dominating his opponents for months. John Cena was Wyatt's next target, as the two men headed into a WrestleMania XXX match that would be one of the bigger bouts on the card.
Wyatt took the loss to Cena in a match that did him no favors. WWE and Bray Wyatt have had many ups and downs throughout the years, as fans know well, and the lackluster stint against Cena was the start of it all.
2 Looked Legit: CM Punk
The Summer of CM Punk in 2011 was a special time any WWE fan from the era will remember, but it would have never happened without John Cena. Someone like Cena was needed for Punk to get his point across and get the fans behind him.
The fact that Punk was able to work with the biggest star in the company added to his importance. Their match together at Money in the Bank 2011 was an all-time great bout. Punk having such a classic against Cena, eventually overcoming him, was exactly what his momentum needed.
1 Looked A Joke: Ryback
Ryback was one wrestler that WWE hoped would look legit after feuding with John Cena. His heel turn following WrestleMania 29 made him Cena's first challenger, after Cena finally got his much-needed victory over The Rock on the prior night.
Cena and Ryback had little chemistry, resulting in quite a few lackluster matches. Fans never bought Ryback ending Cena’s title reign and the matches just saw him lose more and more momentum. Ryback started getting slotted lower down the card after coming off as a bit of a joke against Cena.