Cena Versus?

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The latest Place to Be Nation roundtable debates who is John Cena’s greatest rival.

Last month, four writers on the Place To Be Nation discussed the overflowing reservoir of talent that the WWE has harvested over the past few months and how the company could possibly make the most out of its expanded cast of talented wrestlers. In a strange twist of fate, it seems like those extra gears on the WWE roster are going to be triggered big-time over the next few months as their main superstar John Cena take time off due to surgery from a torn triceps. With Cena on the shelf for what could be the remainder of the year, the loaded roster that our esteemed writers exchanged words about will have to step up to the plate and make names for themselves in the star’s absence.

Although absence makes the heart grow fonder, even the biggest John Cena fan would have to admit that a break from action is deserved and will grant the former WWE Champion a somewhat fresh start upon his return to action. With that said, on the heels of Night of Champions, the first pay-per-view Cena missed since last year’s Hell in a Cell, we look back on perhaps the most decorated champion in the entire company. Specifically, we will look at who has stacked up the bestin standing across the ring from Cena over the years. While Cena has taken part in basically every major storyline in the WWE over the last seven or eight years, it has also amounted to a showdown with every major superstar, past or present, good or bad, that the company could possibly throw at him.

One of the first wrestlers I actually remember Cena feuding with on Smackdown, when he was still a heelish rapper, was Spanky (known by many today as Brian Kendrick) back in 2003. He then went on to have shorter programs with the likes of The Undertaker and Kurt Angle before embarking on what was his longest rivalry up to that point with The Big Show in a battle over the United States Championship. Cena won that belt from Show at WrestleMania XX, leading to mid card feuds with names like Booker T, Rene Dupree, and Carlito. Cena seemed to find a natural rival for his hip-hop Thug Life ways in the tyrannical businessman JBL as they met for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21. After Cena won that belt, the feud would go on for just a couple more months before he was traded to the flagship show to become the next superstar in the making on Raw. Then things got crazy.

Cena went on to feud with every superstar the company could throw at him, with the idea in mind to turn him into the face of the WWE, following the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, and The Rock. His first feud after debuting on Raw was with Chris Jericho, which culminated the night after SummerSlam when Jericho was “fired” by Eric Bischoff for failing to defeat Cena. He had another feud for the title with Angle to the bewildering mixed reaction of the polarized audience. He then had a rivalry that I believe truly set itself apart from many of Cena’s others with a veteran who was determined to win a World Title and gain some respect in the company: Edge. The Rated R Superstar, with the voluptuous Lita by his side, would go on to battle Cena for the WWE Title for most of 2006, resulting in probably the finest matches of Cena’s career up to that point.

From there, the list would only grow bigger as Cena’s title reign went longer. From legends like Triple H and Shawn Michaels (beating both of them at back-to-back WrestleManias), to indecipherable monsters like Umaga and The Great Khali, to prospects on the rise like Bobby Lashley, Cena wrestled them all and beat them all throughout 2007. He was about to kick start a potentially great rivalry with fellow chosen one Randy Orton before a torn pectoral muscle put him on the injured list. Upon his return the next year, he rekindled rivalries with Orton, Triple H, JBL, and Jericho on Monday Night Raw. He wrestled two familiar faces, Edge and The Big Show, at WrestleMania XXV before another restart with Orton for the WWE Title. Although many would not consider Cena and Orton to be fierce rivals, their history together does go a very long way. He even feuded with Batista, another successor to the throne along with Cena in the aftermath of the Attitude Era, before Big Dave left WWE in early 2010.

Even as the Hall of Famers slowly faded away, new faces were more than ready to step in and fight the Champ. The list goes on and on, from Sheamus to Wade Barrett to The Miz to Kane to Dolph Ziggler to Ryback to Daniel Bryan to Brock Lesnar to even John Laurinaitis. But it was the year 2011 that really made its mark for Cena when it came to memorable adversaries. The Rock returned to prove to Cena that he was still the Great One, and better than him in every imaginable way. This rivalry was purposely extended for months and months as their main event match at WrestleMania 28 was booked a full year in advance. Vince McMahon would like most casual fans to recognize The Rock as Cena’s greatest and most formidable rival. Heck, they even made a DVD set about the damn thing! Cena and The Rock wrestled each other at back-to-back WrestleManias, with Rock winning the first battle and Cena winning the next, this time with the WWE Title on the line.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Rock vs. Cena in Miami. As the months in the between ticked by, Cena found himself in a memorable clash of egos with the man who would become the WWE’s next ascendant superstar: CM Punk. But unlike false starts like he had with Orton and the false promises we had with The Miz and Wade Barrett, Punk actually rose to the occasion and he and Cena helped deliver some of the best promos and matches in recent WWE history. Even when they took a break from one another in early 2012, the rivalry got cooking again in the latter part of the year and never lost its momentum until The Rock ended Punk’s historic title reign earlier this year. As hard as WWE creative worked to make certain that Rock and Cena did battle on the final marquee, it always seems like it was Cena and Punk that crafted true magic while the Rock/Cena tension seemed deliberately transparent.

Even though it seems like Cena is destined to do battle with Orton once more as the face of the WWE when he comes back, it seems like a good time to debate among all the mentioned feuds that Cena has taken part in, which ones really stand the test of time. Some would even be clever enough to say that Cena’s biggest rival is more a figurative one like the fans, who have refused to embrace him fully as the WWE’s de facto leader of the PG era. It actually makes sense when you realize the fact that even as the years pass on, it is the fans who have always been at odds with Cena longer than any other character in the company’s history.

So I will pass this along now to an impressive group of PTB writers in Kati Price (whose unbelievable life story is a must read), Caliber Winfield, and one half of the Hard Traveling Fanboys, Greg Phillips. Who is John Cena’s greatest rival? Did the WWE botch or mishandle any feuds in Cena’s history that could have gone farther than they did? Does Cena’s Superman status make it difficult for him to maintain a true equal in today’s WWE in the same situation that Hogan had in the 80s and 90s? Where do Tensai and David Otunga stack up on this list? I’m joking about the last question. But seriously, Tensai?!

Kati Price

As mentioned in last month’s article, I’m fairly new to wrestling. The first PPV I saw was the 2010 Elimination Chamber. So, the first John Cena rivalry I really saw was Cena/Batista.  As a newcomer to wrestling (and a girl), I LOVED John Cena. This all happened before I really understood “heels” and “faces” and how professional wrestling worked. So, of course, I did exactly what the WWE wanted me to do: love Cena and despise Batista. When Cena hit the AA off of the car during the “I quit” match at Over The Limit, I was certain wrestling couldn’t get much better.

I’m not sure how long it takes the average newcomer to get over Cena, but after about a year, I was over John Cena. I remember the John Cena/Miz match at Over The Limit the following year was terrible. Cena’s victories are always the same. He gets beat up for a large portion of the match and then, when it seems impossible for him to win, he comes back, hits his signature moves and wins. With very few exceptions this seems to always be the case. When Cena does lose, it seems pointless. He rarely appears to care, and why should he? Win or lose, he’s established as the face of the WWE. There also seems to be a trend of him almost looking mad and like he might turn heel, but then he just shakes their hand or something and then leaves. Obviously a John Cena heel turn is probably the most unlikely scenario, but they still throw that in there to tease us.

The WWE has John Cena on a pedestal that puts him on a different level. For this reason, I think John Cena has no greatest rival. They all seem ridiculous to me. In my opinion Cena isn’t on a different level. He is really good on the mic and a decent wrestler, but, especially now, the WWE has others. In recent days, in particular, Daniel Bryan has proven to be amazing on the mic and even better in ring. I honestly think he is a better talent. But then, Cena is so big because children love him and he is great at making the company look more family friendly? I think the “family-friendly” angle is why people hate Cena so much.

Cena has no greatest rival, because there just isn’t anyone the WWE seems to want to put on his level. The only way I could imagine caring who John Cena battles is if there was a Cena heel turn, and that’s a really big if. I’ve seen clips of the Cena’s “Thuganomics” days and I feel I might have liked him more back then. I don’t know anything about his wrestling or feuds back then so all I can comment on are from 2010 to present.

If I had to pick, Cena/Punk was actually not awful. I was very impressed with their Money in the Bank match. I remember thinking “Cena can wrestle?” Also, the most recent Cena/Bryan feud was awesome, but it was too brief, almost certainly due to Cena’s injury. Even that one, I think was only so great because of Daniel Bryan. I’ll give Cena the benefit of the doubt and say because of his injury, he just wasn’t on his A-game. The Punk/Cena rivalry was a rarity that I doubt we will see again, without a Cena heel turn.

To sum it up, my official answer is Cena has no greatest rival because the WWE refuses to bring anyone up to John Cena’s undeserving level. And that’s why no one likes John Cena.

Caliber Winfield

John Cena has had just as many, if not more, big time matches with big name opponents as any major superstar, past, present, and without a doubt, future. If there’s been a wrestler who’s name has been worth anything in the past 10 years, John’s had a tussle with them. Given that, there’s an enormous list of wrestlers one could choose from for John’s greatest rival, a seemingly infinite supply of superstars. My choice is a rival that John fights every time he steps into the ring;

The fans.

When Cena finally found his niche, it was in the form of a hard-edged rapper who wanted help from no one, and spit in the face of respect & tradition. By the time he won the WWE Title from JBL and switched over to Raw, he’d become as big a superstar that the then somewhat struggling WWE could hope for. The crowd was completely behind him as he began his reign. As time went on however, feuds with Edge & Shawn Michaels were showing that some in the crowd were growing tired of Cena’s act. As WWE headed into the PG-Era, so did their flag-bearer. Suddenly, Cena was no longer delivering an FU, but an Attitude Adjustment. He was no longer putting people in the STFU, but simply the STF. As he changed, so did the fanbase. While before he’d had an aura of underground cool, he was now a smiling, clean cut hero for all the children, and he was on your TV screen at any given chance. You can’t see him. Clearly, some fans were wishing this true.

Despite delivering quality matches at a non-stop clip, and being involved in numerous well received feuds, 50% of the crowd wasn’t showing him mercy. Chants of “Cena Sucks!” “You can’t wrestle!” and “Same ol’ shit” were as much a part of Cena as his jorts. Fans have wanted him to switch to the heel side for years now, with absolutely zero chance of that happening anytime soon. At this point in WWE, Cena is as valuable to them as Stone Cold was for the Attitude Era. He single handedly keeps the ship afloat with his merchandise sales, as well as putting an ass every 18-inches. It’s funny, considering that in some regards, Cena is one of the biggest heels that the WWE has had in years. Before WWE started making “Cena Sucks” t-shirts, fans would make their own. You can even see a few of them at places like WrestleMania 25 & 26, and it’s shows like these where Cena wins my respect, as both on both of those referenced occasions, he walks over to the fans who are jeering the hell out of him, smiles, and poses for a few pictures.

In the end, Cena has had feuds with The Rock, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Edge, Randy Orton, Triple H, and Batista. However, when it’s all said & done, his greatest rival are the people in the seats.

For the record, as far as this writer is concerned, Cena doesn’t suck.

Greg Phillips

Some interesting points have already been raised, but I prefer to look at this from a strictly on-screen standpoint. While Cena has engaged in numerous feuds of varying quality through the years, only rarely has he been forced to step up his game on the microphone and in the ring to deliver a truly memorable “total package” of a feud. In order to be a total package feud, the matches must match the promos, and vice versa.

With Cena, that limits the feuds to a handful — vs. Kurt Angle, vs. Edge, vs. Shawn Michaels, vs. The Rock and vs. CM Punk.

Looking at it closely, it becomes easy to eliminate Angle and Michaels. Cena wasn’t fully developed as an in-ring performer when he wrestled Angle, and it’s clear that the Wrestling Machine carried him in those early encounters in 2003 and 2005. Though Cena’s promos were strong in the 2003 feud, they were less impactful by 2005.

Michaels gave Cena, in this man’s humble opinion, his greatest match — a 60-minute classic on Monday Night Raw in 2007. But I can’t remember a single interview from Cena leading up to their WrestleMania 23 bout or any of the subsequent rematches.

The Rock, contrarily, brought out some of Cena’s all-time best promo work. Unlike some, I found the Rock/Cena feud gripping from beginning to end, with strong promos from both men that smartly towed the line between work and shoot in a way that captivated audiences young and old. Unfortunately, while their WrestleMania 28 match was a tremendous spectacle, the two wrestled in front of a largely silent crowd at WrestleMania 29 in a lackluster end to an interesting feud. Ultimately, that mediocre match drags the feud down, so let’s scratch that.

That leaves Edge and CM Punk, and an argument could be made for either foe. While Edge incited strong character work from Cena, it was Punk that drew even better matches. Ultimately, I’ll go with the opponent who forced Cena to step up his overall game slightly more, and that’s Edge.

While Punk was cutting scathing, classic promos seemingly every week, Cena recited the same boring, tired, corny dialogue that has plagued his character for years. While I can’t claim that he delivered any all-time classics against Edge, Cena/Edge was a rivalry fueled by hatred on both sides, so Cena had more to sink his teeth into, character-wise. The Punk feud, for the most part, was simply about finding out who the better man was. Edge and Cena became much more personal, and while they never reached the soaring heights in the ring that Punk and Cena would hit at Money in the Bank 2011 or Night of Champions 2012, they were seemingly incapable of having anything less than a ***1/2 match, and most of their matches hold up as some of the best of a rather forgettable 2005-2009 era in WWE.

Author: Andrew Riche

Andrew Riche is a Place To Be columnist for sports and pop culture. He is a fan of Louisiana sports and currently resides in Mandeville, LA. He knows nothing about cars and has no shame in watching Dawson's Creek episodes. Send Andrew an email