In many ways the John Cena-Randy Orton rivalry should be held up as one of the top rivalries in WWE history. Both pretty much came into the company at the same time, and rose to the top of the card at the same time as well, and both have such different personas, it would make sense to pair them up.
Cena, the face (pun a little intended) of the company, a charismatic performer with the “it” factor that makes him marketable to the pre-teen crowd, even if it is to the detriment of his gimmick to the smark contingent of the audience. Orton, the cold and calculating viper, due to his cocksure demeanor probably a much better heel character than a face, but despite his successes he has never really obtained the “keys to the kingdom” the way others with his resume have.
Maybe that’s why Orton gets over as part of a heel unit, whether as the protégé in Evolution, or the leader of Legacy, or Edge’s partner in Rated RKO, or currently as the hand-picked “face of the company” by The Authority, while Cena has never, willingly, been part of a faction and tends to have storyline fueled tag partners or “friends.” Hell, Cena has participated in only three Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Matches in his nine Survivor Series match appearances, and hasn’t been on a team since 2006, while 2012 saw Orton be in his eighth such match in his current 11 times wrestling on the Survivor Series card. You get a rub by being near Cena, while Orton is good for the havoc wreaking units that faces have to conquest.
In any event, the two are amongst the most highly decorated Superstars in the company’s history.
Cena, is the owner of 21 title reigns to go along with his two Royal Rumble victories and one Money In The Bank win. His total is good for a tie for 7th all-time, and he has won either the World or WWE heavyweight title 14 times (11 times WWE champion, and now on his third World Title reign), also is a three time US Heavyweight champion, which is the second most in terms of reigns behind Booker T’s four (time, four time, fo…oh sorry) reigns since the belt was introduced in the summer of 2001. All three of those reigns though came in 2004 as he was rising through the ranks on the Smackdown mid-card. After defeating The Big Show at WrestleMania XX, he would hold it until July 6th when he was stripped of it by GM Kurt Angle. He would win it back in October, but dropped it to Carlito a few days later, then defeated Carlito on November 16th and held it through March 1st of 2005. Which of course would lead into defeating John Bradshaw Layfield for the WWE Title at that year’s WrestleMania.
Cena’s four times with a tag strap have been storyline fueled reigns; with Shawn Michales in 2007 as part of the lead up to their WrestleMania XXIII match early in 2007, with Batista for a week in early August of 2008 as part of the ramp up to their SummerSlam match. In 2010 and 2011 Cena would have a pair of one day tag reigns, one in late October of 2010 with David Otunga as a combination of The Nexus, and the other In late February of 2011 with The Miz, both as part of his war with The Nexus. The latter would also serve as part of the hype up to their WrestleMania XXVII match.
Meanwhile Orton has 13 reigns to his credit (tied for 20th all-time) along with his one Royal Rumble and one Money In The Bank win. Also Orton has a disproportional amount of Heavyweight reigns with eight WWE titles as compared to three World Titles. Though like Cena, Orton had a mid-card title push just before entering the Main Event picture to stay. Unlike Cena though, Orton only has the lone mid-card belt reign, but it was a nice long reign with Raw’s Intercontinental belt. Winning it in December of 2003, and finally dropping it in July of 2004, just in time to capture his first reign with The Big Gold at SummerSlam of 2004 and his ejection from Evolution soon after. While on the surface his only tag title run with Edge as Team Rated RKO looks like a pair of thrown together single stars, they did hold the straps for a good run, from November 13th of 2006 through January 29th of 2007 (Interestingly dropping it to the Cena and Michaels team).
So it is probably due to the “Brand Extension” era of having brand specific PPVs, not to mention injuries and suspensions through the years, that the two never had a good program together until 2007, which does take away the element of “these two have battled constantly on their ways up the ladder” that you have with a Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels or a The Rock-Triple H war. But they have been involved in the same PPV match 20 times. That includes:
Three Royal Rumbles,
Two Elimination Chamber matches,
A six-man elimination match,
A four-way elimination match,
A five-way match,
Two fatal four-ways,
Two three-way matches
And one where Cena is the referee for Orton’s match,.
To go along with their seven solo matches, that is still quite a lot of matches for one rivalry to have. It should also be noted that with the exceptions of the Rumble matches, which of course has future title match implications going back to 1992, and the 2011 Elimination Chamber match that was for the number one contendership, the WWE title was on the line for each match, and that should add a little to the underrated-ness of the feud.
For the triviality of it, the first time that they are involved in the same match on PPV is the 2004 Royal Rumble. Orton entered that match at number two, but is gone by the time Cena entered at number 28. So it is notable just for that statistical fact, as it wouldn’t be until 2007 that the two would be in the same match on PPV together again. And that would begin a war that still rages.
The battle begins in 2007. Their first time would be at April’s Backlash where two former teams, Cena and Michaels and Rated RKO, also broken up by now, would battle in a Fatal Four Way Match for the WWE title, held by Cena. Cena would retain in the match, which didn’t feature a lot of interaction between him and Orton. But Cena did get to pin Orton for the victory, though due to getting hit by Sweet Chin Music by Michaels and falling backwards onto Orton, who had just been speared by Edge.
June’s Vengeance would again feature the two in another multi-wrestler match for Cena’s title. This time former ECW (WWE’s version) Champion Bobby Lashley, King Booker T, and legend Mick Foley were in the match. Again, not a lot of prolonged interaction between Cena and Orton in this one, and Cena gets the pin on Foley.
The fun of the feud really kicks off during the summer. At SummerSlam the two have their first one-on-one matchup. This is Orton’s first fully fledged title shot since his World Title run in 2004, and where you can start seeing changes in Orton’s character and demeanor. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler even start referring to Orton as snake like, or “Viper,” during the match. Orton even started doing his “uncoiling” RKO preparation moves at this time as well. Cena is able to pick up the win and continue his long reign.
Orton was then forced to take drastic measures to get a title shot for the next month’s Unforgiven, and attacked Cena’s dad on a Raw episode. The match was signed, but Orton’s plan would actually backfire as Cena’s attacks in the corner of the ring were so prolonged that he got DQed, retaining the title.
This was clearly a setup for a third match, a Last Man Standing Match, at No Mercy in October, but Cena would be knocked out of action due to a torn pectoral muscle. Booking on the fly, Orton was handed the title at No Mercy, then dropped it to, and won it again against Triple H in the same night.
Orton would hold the belt for the rest of the year, and Cena was rushed back in time for a surprise entry in the 2008 Royal Rumble, in which he would win. The decision was then made to have a little detour on the traditional Road To WrestleMania with Cena demanding to have his WrestleMania title shot against Orton on the February PPV, No Way Out. So to finish off the Cena-Orton storyline left dangling from 2007, the match was held, but with a bit of a weak finish as Orton would attack the referee to draw the DQ and retain the title, leaving Cena, at the time, out of the WrestleMania WWE Title match picture.
With Triple H gaining number one contendership in an Elimination Chamber match, Cena was able to get his way into the WrestleMania XXIV WWE title match as a three-way. In a pretty decent see-saw battle, Orton was able to retain his title by pinning Cena who was pedigreed by Triple H.
The next month at Backlash, another multiple man match was created, with John Bradshaw Layfield being added to the mix for a Four-Way Elimination match. Cena would be the second elimination in the match though, by Orton. Triple H would then pick up the win by pinning Orton, capturing his 12th overall heavyweight title in the WWE.
Orton would spend the rest of 2008, and early 2009 on the shelf with various injuries, but would return leaner (with a look, minus occasional varied levels of stubble facial hair, that he retains to this day), and more vicious than ever in the summer of 2009. Mostly due to having Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr. as running partners in a faction called Legacy. The Raw on July 18th would see Orton pick up his fourth WWE title in a 4-way match against the champion Batista, Triple H, The Big Show and Cena. Cena and Triple H would then earn their way into a Three-Way match for the title at the July Night of Champions PPV. With help from an interfering Rhodes and DiBiase, Orton RKO’d and pinned Cena to retain his title.
For the second time in three years, Orton and Cena would have a WWE title match at SummerSlam, this time Orton was able to sneak out a win using quite a number of nefarious means, including; trying to get another DQ finish, trying to get counted out, and having a “fan” run-in. During the run-in, Orton was able to take advantage and pinned Cena off of the RKO.
In order to try and thwart Orton’s devious plans, their next encounter at Breaking Point was made into an I Quit match. Despite taking the brunt of the punishment in the match, Cena, with the help of well-placed handcuffs, managed to get Orton to say “I quit” while having his own arm in the choking part of the STFU. Thus, Cena captured his fourth WWE title.
Orton being a very desperate man, and hungry for the title, would challenge Cena inside the Hell in a Cell cage, at the first PPV with the name in early October of 2009. So the two would square off again, this time with Orton was able to get the upper hand in the end, and captured his fifth reign with the belt.
Soon after it was decided that this chapter of the rivalry needed a fitting conclusion, and so for the next PPV later in October, Bragging Rights (centered around Raw vs. Smackdown related matches), the match would be a 60-minute Iron Man Match that would have No DQ and Falls Count Anywhere rules. With the bonus stipulation added, that if Cena lost the match, he’d leave Raw for Smackdown. The falls started early with Orton tapping to the STFU at the 3:53 mark, and probably the highlight of the early going was a double pin at 16:58 with Orton nailing the RKO as Cena was hitting the Attitude Adjustment. Then both would have a series of controlling minutes featuring one dominating the other with outside the ring falls. Highlights include Orton going all pyromaniac with the pyrotechnics, and Cena getting an AA on the announce table. But in the end Orton tapped out to the STFU at 59:55 to give the match to Cena 6-5, and giving Cena his fifth reign as WWE champion.
The two would not lock horns on PPV again until the Elimination Chamber PPV in February of 2010. Cena was the last wrestler to enter the match, and was used as a tool for the breakup of Legacy as DiBiase would use an opportunity where both Cena and Orton were knocked out to get the pin on his mentor. Cena eventually won the match, capturing his sixth WWE title, only to lose it to Batista a few moments later in a match setup by Vince McMahon.
Cena would get his title back at WrestleMania, and defended it against Batista in an I Quit Match at Backlash. Then a Fatal Four Way match was set up for the June PPV, entitled Fatal Four Way, in which Cena would defend against top contenders; Edge, Orton and Sheamus. Orton and Cena would get some interaction, including Cena eating an RKO, but it was Sheamus taking home the title by taking advantage of a Nexus beat down during the match.
During the summer, Cena was front and center of the WWE’s battle with the Invading Nexus, while Sheamus was still holding onto the belt. At Night of Champions in September, Cena and Sheamus were together in a Six-Pack Challenge Elimination match for Sheamus’ title. The others included Orton, who had turned baby face following the breakup of Legacy, Edge, Chris Jericho, and Nexus leader Wade Barrett. Cena and Orton would get a little alone time in the ring, but just for a brief while and it was quickly broken up by Edge and Barrett. Orton ended up winning the match though, capturing his sixth WWE title by eliminating Barrett (with help from Cena, who had just been eliminated, neutralizing members of Nexus, whom came down to the ring) and Sheamus.
The Cena-Nexus War would continue in the fall, with Cena becoming a part of the stable. Barrett would earn himself a title shot at Survivor Series against Orton, and in order to ensure a victory positioned Cena as the referee; with the stipulation that if Barrett won, Cena would be freed from the Nexus, but if Orton retained, Cena would have to leave the WWE. Following an argument where Barrett laid hands on Cena, Cena pushed Barrett into an RKO, and Cena would get story-lined fired. He’d still would show up to terrorize Nexus the next few weeks until Barrett was forced to get him rehired and have a one-on-one match at the February PPV, TLC.
In Janurary of 2011, both men would be a part of the 40 Man Royal Rumble, with Orton coming in at #39. Cena, one of the remaining eight men in the ring after being in the ring for around a half-hour, and Orton would have a stare down after Orton eliminated Kofi Kingston and Sheamus. The stare down would be broken up by Kane’s entrance and a Barrett attack from behind. The two would also share a stare down as part of the final five (well technically four as Santino Marella was camped out underneath the ring for a while after rolling out, only to be tossed out last by the winner Alberto Del Rio) men in the match. This time a slug-out fest did break out, but again Barrett was involved in breaking up the tease.
Then in February, both men were a part of the Raw Elimination Chamber match. They would have a decent amount of interaction, leading to an RKO on the steel grate. The RKO though would be followed by CM Punk hitting the GTS on Orton, eliminating him. Cena would pick up the win, which gave him the title shot to face The Miz at WrestleMania.
After a little over a year the two wouldn’t be in the same PPV ring until the 2013 Royal Rumble. Both ended up being among the last five wrestlers in the match, but didn’t interact with each other until Orton did a series of spots taking out everyone else in the ring before being eliminated. Cena would wind up the winner, and go on to face, and defeat, The Rock at Wrestlemania XXIX for his 11th WWE title.
And of course most recently, while not on PPV specifically, their paths would cross after Orton captured the Raw Money In The Bank briefcase at the same time that Cena held the belt, meaning that Orton would taunt and tease cashing in his briefcase during the ramp up to Cena’s match at SummerSlam with Daniel Bryan.
So now the latest chapter is to be written, some might say this is a rivalry that isn’t really all that over and questioning why the WWE is pushing it down the WWE Universe’s throats yet again, while it appears that the Daniel Bryan mega Main Event push has stalled.
Of course the question is, if one champion really WILL be crowned, this being professional wrestling and an industry of evolving narratives. But it still will be an interesting turn for arguably one of the biggest rivalries of this “PG Era” and while “unbiased” historians are probably not going to rank it amongst the best ongoing feuds of all-time, it still deserves some measure of respect for being something to build such a match around.