Ever since his debut on our screens back in 2002 (yes, it was that long ago), John Cena has crossed paths with an almighty amount of WWE stars. Past, present and even future legends have all gotten in Cena’s way – or perhaps Cena has gotten in their way. As the John Cena character has developed from a young, cocky upstart into certified WWE legend – with some rather embarrassing raps along the way – Cena has gone through some pretty special rivalries.
There have been WrestleMania main events, brutal spots, and even edgier moments that the WWE would rather we forget. And even though there’s now a firm split amongst WWE fans over their loyalty towards Cena, most would no doubt agree he’s been a crucially important figure for the WWE over the past decade. Arriving at a time when the company was just exiting from its famous “Attitude Era”, Cena has helped to steady the company on rocky waters, remaining a somewhat constant figure at the head of the WWE when plenty of others have left.
As legends of the business have gradually retired, or been forced into retirement, Cena is hugely influential for WWE all around the world. And in terms of his rivalries, there have been many to choose from. Across the past decade, Cena has mixed it with plenty of legends – and these ten are perhaps his finest ever rivalries. Guys like Batista and Chris Jericho came close, but ultimately, Cena’s greatest 10 feuds just edge out those guys.
10. John Bradshaw Layfield
Would John Cena’s legacy have even kicked off without John Bradshaw Layfield? In all fairness, the answer is probably no – such was the importance of this feud. Despite being the long-haired brawler from The A.P.A, by 2004 JBL had established himself as a solo main eventer. The gimmick was brilliant; he was still brutal and physical, but was now a New York stock broker to boot.
When Cena began the feud, he was initially squaring off against members of JBL’s “Cabinet” – losing his spinner U.S. Title to Orlando Jordan before Jordan and JBL blew it up. A main event match with JBL was beckoning though, and Cena’s first of what will surely be a record amount of world title wins came against Layfield, as Cena triumphed at WrestleMania. Cena could have quite easily become a huge star without this feud, but the role JBL played really did help to elevate Cena to great heights – and kick him off as a company mega-star.
9. Shawn Michaels
Cena’s feud with Shawn Michaels was brief, but it’s certainly one worth including on this list. Cena had earned his stripes on SmackDown, and had even risen to WWE Champion on the brand. But bigger things were calling, and a push up to Raw was in the offing. That put Cena in a prime time viewing slot each and every Monday night, where he would square off against the biggest names in the company. One of those was HBK, and their relatively short rivalry would see them go at it at WrestleMania 23 – in the main event, no less. Cena won that, before an hour-long contest with Michaels on Raw firmly solidified his spot at the head of the company.
8. The Nexus
By the time 2010 had rolled around, Cena was well and truly entrenched as the top dog in WWE. There were world title wins aplenty, as well as a legitimate split between WWE fans over Cena that still exists to this day. And when Cena was attacked by all eight members of NXT Season 1 (or The Nexus), the landscape of WWE had changed forever. Cena’s feud with the stable was certainly different to anything else he had experienced in his career, as it pitted him in a vicious numbers game on a weekly basis.
Having Cena join The Nexus for a brief period was a twist few expected, and it helped to keep the feud between Cena and Wade Barrett fresh. Cena actually became a tag champion with another member of the group, David Otunga, before eventually breaking away from the group and defeating Barrett – which would ultimately bring an end to the first incarnation of The Nexus. A mini-feud followed with a CM Punk-led Nexus, but it was the first life of the stable which is most fondly remembered for feuding with Cena.
7. Kurt Angle
Was it John Cena’s longest rivalry in the WWE? No. However he did have an on-off again feud with the Olympic gold medalist. The significance of it should not be lost on us, because it was the first meaningful thing Cena did in a WWE ring. We all know how it all began, when Cena strutted down to the ring to accept an open challenge from Kurt Angle. That match was impressive from Cena, as he took Angle to within a whisker of defeating him. As first nights go in a new workplace, it was about as good as it gets.
Throughout Cena’s time on SmackDown during his early run with the company, he played out a great feud with Angle, which included matches at No Mercy 2003, No Way Out 2005 and Survivor Series 2005. Their rivalry included Angle faking injury to generate him some heat, and put Cena over in the process. Heck, they even engaged in some funny rap battles. Whilst some of his feuds have done a good job in elevating Cena, it all began here for the guy that would go on to dominate the WWE.
6. Brock Lesnar
Given how many bouts John Cena and Brock Lesnar have had from 2012 onward, it’s easy to forget that the two actually went at it several years before that. When Cena was making a name for himself on SmackDown, he managed to get in Lesnar’s way – and really legitimize himself for the very first time. Cena often performed raps calling Lesnar out and attempted to chase down the WWE Championship. In his attempt to slur Lesnar, he even brought out a new finisher – the “FU”, of course a play on Lesnar’s “F5”. That would later be renamed the “Attitude Adjustment”, but it was that Lesnar rivalry that devised Cena’s now-patented finisher. Cena came up short against Lesnar all the way back in 2003. Little did we know the two would lock horns so often again in the present day.
5. Triple H
Sometimes, it may be easy to forget just how important a role Triple H played in making John Cena a worldwide wrestling phenomenon. Guys like Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle had tested him nicely in the previous years, but it was his rivalry with Triple H that pitted him against a dynasty of the wrestling business. Cena being put over by Triple H indicated that he was destined for greatness – just as Triple H put over Daniel Bryan in 2014. They had some fantastic matches, and it was a feud that broke new ground for Cena’s career.
4. The Rock
It was the dream match to many WWE fans – and certainly a dream match for those at the WWE. Two of the biggest stars of the past 20 years – if not the two biggest – colliding on the biggest show of the year, with a full year to build it up. Some found it annoying, but Cena vs. The Rock really was a special, entertaining feud. It truly divided the WWE fans, and seemed to go beyond the boundaries of just another wrestling match. From the evening where The Rock held one of his infamous concerts – and Cena retorted with an old-school rap – right through to the electric promos from both men, it had it all. In fact, it was so well received that the WWE went with it again a year later at WrestleMania 29 – with Cena gaining his revenge on The Rock. It had its detractors in some quarters, but Cena’s feud with The Rock may just be remembered as his most famous.
Into perhaps the holy trio of John Cena’s WWE rivalries now, starting with Edge. The Canadian is already a Hall of Famer and Cena is certain to receive that accolade when he retires. Without each other though, they may have never gotten to that illustrious and incredible level. They were the last two pillars of an ever-changing WWE, providing some memorable spots and incredible highlights.
They often busted each other open, and throwing Lita into the mix was a clever grenade from the WWE – that produced some scintillating promo work. Everyone had a favorite in the feud, and it was one of those rivalries that truly did encapsulate you as a wrestling fan. They were the last light of the Attitude Era, as they helped preserve that edginess in WWE for a little longer than it perhaps should have done. For that, we have to be thankful – and appreciate the brutal brilliance of Cena’s rivalry with Edge. It was a classic.
2. Randy Orton
No matter what you think of John Cena vs. Randy Orton in 2014, back when it all kicked off between the two, it was a very special rivalry. Cena and Orton were destined to clash; they came through the ranks at the same time, and both were quickly making huge waves in the company. The WWE have continued to work the feud sporadically over the past 10 years, often bringing it up when the roster seems a little bit threadbare at the top. Nowadays WWE fans are quite tired of the rivalry, but it’s safe to say that the two have had some great matches over the years – more often than not with a title on the line.
1. CM Punk
Forget their matches in the early years – even forget Cena’s feud with a CM Punk-led Nexus in 2011 – John Cena’s real rivalry with Punk began in the summer of 2011, when Punk stunned the wrestling world. That infamous promo needs no introduction, and the match the two had at Money in the Bank, when Punk “left” the WWE with the WWE Championship was simply iconic. It was a moment wrestling fans will remember forever, not least for the way the electrifying crowd in Chicago, IL played their part.
There was more to follow; one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and thankfully Cena vs. Punk went on way beyond MITB 2011. When Punk came back with the WWE Championship, their feud continued, dragging a number of other top stars into it along the way to keep it fresh. The onus was always on Punk vs. Cena though, and even when The Rock came along, people still wanted more Cena vs. Punk matches. It was one of the most solid and entertaining feuds of the past 10 years, and it’s so good that you can re-live it on WWE 2K15. Of everything Cena has done since arriving in WWE, it’s his work with CM Punk that will surely forever stand the test of time.
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