Introduction – Best John Cena Matches
So, let’s talk about John Cena. He lays claim to 16 heavyweight titles in WWE, and he was the face of the company from 2005 to 2015. Ironically, he was often underappreciated for the bulk of his era-defining main event run in the company. But his contributions are impossible to overstate, and he waged war with just about everybody you could think of. Currently appearing for WWE semi-regularly during the Hollywood writer’s strike, Cena’s presence arguably means more nowadays than ever before.
During his heyday, though, Cena participated in plenty of memorable matches, ranging from hidden gems to iconic WrestleMania main events. And despite his reputation amongst “smarks”, Big Match John very rarely disappointed fans with his high-profile encounters. But which matches emphasise why Cena was the ideal choice to follow Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock? Which of his bouts should you watch if you’re learning about Cena for the very first time? That’s what we will examine here as we rank the best John Cena matches. So, let’s take a look at the best matches of John Cena!
Best John Cena Matches – Top Ten
10. John Cena vs. Triple H – WWE WrestleMania 22, WWE Championship Match
We start our list of the best John Cena matches with the main event from WrestleMania 22. I recently rewatched this bout and was much more impressed than I was at the time. And that’s because WWE capitalised on growing hostility against Cena to create a unique narrative for its top star. Namely, how HHH called out Cena’s weak in-ring acumen in the hope of generating sympathy and derision in equal measure.
During the match itself, HHH toyed with Cena aplenty, treating the match like it was a day off. But Cena grew into the contest and started troubling the cocky Game. HHH did survive an FU (the first man to do so0, but Cena withstood a sledgehammer strike. And as HHH signalled for a Pedigree, Cena instead caught the King Of Kings in an STFU. And to the astonishment of the Chicago crowd, HHH tapped out. Despite his first WWE Title win at WrestleMania 21, to me, this victory truly made Cena the face of WWE.
9. John Cena vs. Umaga – WWE Royal Rumble 2007, WWE Championship Last Man Standing Match
Next up on our list of the best John Cena matches is this war from Royal Rumble 2007. So, Umaga – the Samoan Bulldozer – suffered his first loss against Cena at New Year’s Revolution 2007. In response, Umaga somehow earned a second crack at Cena’s WWE Title under Last Man Standing rules. Going into this one, I wasn’t particularly enthused because we’d just seen Cena (no jokes) beat Umaga. What difference would this rematch make?
The answer: a lot. Because Cena and Umaga delivered a simple yet effective tale of a resilient babyface enduring a monster heel’s onslaught. The highlight came when Umaga hit a stunning running splash across the announcer’s tables in a never-before-seen spot. A fresh spot came from the ending too, as Cena wrapped the loosened ring ropes around Umaga’s throat. Cue an STF-assisted victory, with Cena surviving one of his greatest threats to remain WWE Champion. Umaga gets a lot of praise from fans, and this was, without question, his greatest match.
8. Edge vs. John Cena – WWE Unforgiven 2006, WWE Championship TLC Match
We continue our list of the best John Cena matches by spotlighting what was arguably his greatest rivalry. Edge once noted that Batman needed the Joker, and Cena needed Edge, which was pretty accurate. So, after many months of feuding, the two men agreed to a high-stakes encounter. That this was a TLC match for the WWE Title raised eyebrows in its own right. But they would collide in Edge’s hometown of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Oh, and Cena would have to leave Raw if he lost.
This was one of the better main events from a great year for WWE. Edge looked a little nervous, but still delivered to a high standard in front of his adoring fans. As for Cena, he took some brutal bumps that you wouldn’t have seen from most other main eventers. Not least, his back-first drop through a ringside table. But Edge took the biggest bump when Cena sent him flying through stacked tables off a ladder, FU/AA style. Cena was a three-time WWE Champion, and he had secured his most meaningful victory over his most memorable rival.
7. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens – WWE Money In The Bank 2015
During 2015, WWE would push Roman Reigns as the new face of the company, despite growing hostility from the masses. In the meantime, Cena settled into his role as the gatekeeper for the faces. In particular, he had an epic run as United States Champion that led to many great battles. (Cesaro was a particularly strong opponent, whose shots at Cena’s gold almost made this list.) Along the way, though, he made an enemy in the then-NXT Champion Kevin Owens. KO defeated Cena in a stunning upset at Elimination Chamber 2015.
That led to this rematch at Money In The Bank 2015. And both Cena and Owens delivered one hell of a match with tons of big moves and near-falls. This formula would soon become repetitive on the main roster, but it was still fresh on this night. And especially for Cena, who treated fans to an otherwise-unseen repertoire of manoeuvres. In the end, though, Cena gained revenge for his previous loss with a decisive win over the Prizefighter. It misses out on the higher end of our rankings for the best John Cena matches. But it’s still a terrific battle that I urge you to watch if you haven’t already.
6. John Cena vs. CM Punk – WWE Raw, February 25 2013, Winner Goes To WrestleMania 29
One of Cena’s most notable feuds concerns a certain CM Punk. A lightning rod for controversy, Punk nevertheless had and still holds a healthy respect for Cena. Not least because they created plenty of memorable matches over the years. Now, if this was CM Punk’s list, we’d be talking here about Money In The Bank 2011. But instead, the focus shifts to the last Cena vs. Punk match from a Raw episode in February 2013.
So, the story was that Cena had never beaten Punk in a meaningful match. And Punk had dared Cena to defend his WWE Title shot at WrestleMania 29 against him. In return, we got one of the truly great Raw matches, which could have headlined WrestleMania in its own right. Punk breaking out a piledriver was a jaw-dropping moment for the time. But Cena rebounded, and after a head-turning hurricanrana, Cena drilled Punk with a match-winning AA. So, Cena was heading to WrestleMania, having vanquished Punk once and for all. A truly great bout, and one that is rightly remembered amongst the best John Cena matches.
Best John Cena Matches – Top Five
5. Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Royal Rumble 2015, WWE Championship Triple Threat Match
As we come to the five best John Cena matches, we have something a little different: a Triple Threat match. Sometimes, a three-way serves to enhance one particular competitor. Other times, it fits into the narrative; think of Stone Cold vs. Undertaker vs. Kane at Breakdown 1998. But occasionally, it can achieve the task of enhancing all three participants, playing to everybody’s individual strengths. And that’s what happened at the otherwise-maligned Royal Rumble 2015.
The fun begins with Lesnar destroying J&J Security within seconds of the opening bell. He looks every bit the Beast until Cena and Rollins each take him out of the equation at ringside. Inside the squared circle, though, Cena and Rollins have a terrific battle of their own. Seth would steal the headlines based on his own performance, but Cena is the perfect babyface challenger here. In the end, though, an F5 by Lesnar to Rollins would keep the WWE Title around Brock’s waist. It’s an amazing match, and one of the best three-ways in WWE history.
4. Randy Orton vs. John Cena – WWE Breaking Point 2009, WWE Championship I Quit Match
A key element of Cena’s character is the phrase “Never Give Up”. It’s a positive mantra to live by, but it’s also a great representation of what made Cena’s character special. Yes, it was infuriating to many viewers, but Cena was true to his word; he never gave up. (Well, if we ignore him tapping out to Kurt Angle in 2003, but that was before he became a mega-star.) And there’s no better example of this than his I Quit clash with Randy Orton at Breaking Point 2009.
Indeed, Cena takes a visibly brutal beating with a kendo stick-wielding Orton, creating some shocking visuals during the PG era. Furthermore, Cena was handcuffed to the ring post as he took rib-shattering blows from the stick. Yet the handcuffs were to Orton’s detriment, as Cena broke free and attached himself to The Viper. Cue a significant beatdown by the challenger, who wrapped the cuffs around Orton’s throat to secure the victory via STF. Tiresome though the Cena vs. Orton feud was, they did create magic at times. And this was their most significant clash. However, it doesn’t make the three best John Cena matches on our list.
Best John Cena Matches – Top Three
3. The Rock vs. John Cena – WWE WrestleMania XXVIII
As we come to the three best John Cena matches, it’s time for sizzle rather than steak. By which, I mean that this is a match where the focus is on spectacle rather than merit. That’s because Cena and Rock’s initial encounter is the biggest match of a generation. Indeed, there was over a year of hype before the two legends finally clashed at WrestleMania XXVIII. It’s one of those rare encounters that feels bigger than almost anything before or since; truly, Once In A Lifetime.
Now, the match itself isn’t too bad, but I can admit that we’ve seen better efforts from both. Hell, their rematch at WrestleMania 29 is arguably better from an in-ring standpoint. But it would be a travesty to not include this amongst Cena’s best work. Especially considering the shock ending, where a Rock Bottom saw Cena take the surprise defeat. As a complete package, Rock vs. Roman Reigns represents an opportunity to create something that even closely equals this contest. Otherwise, don’t expect any upcoming match to eclipse what Cena and Rock achieved.
2. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE WrestleMania 23, WWE Championship Match
We’re nearly at the end of our list of the best John Cena matches. Now, I wanted to include Cena’s unforgettable Raw clash with HBK from 2007. But the lengthy nature of that contest is basically the legacy of what went down that night in London, England. For their original clash at WrestleMania 23, however, the match quality is what stands out the most. So, the two men had formed an alliance shortly after Royal Rumble and captured doubles championships to boot. Yet, it was “when” and not “if” Shawn would turn on Cena, and that moment arrived just six days before Mania.
In Ford Field, we got a signature Cena Mania entrance, as he drove a Ford Mustang through the streets of Detroit. In the ring, meanwhile, Cena silenced those who claimed he “couldn’t wrestle”. Yes, he was in there with the master, HBK, but Cena’s own transitions and execution were spot-on throughout. Indeed, the fluidity of the match, especially during the final third, is something to behold. And with a clean submission win via STF, this also serves as a defining victory for the Champ.
Top Ranking – Best John Cena Matches
1. John Cena vs. AJ Styles – WWE SummerSlam 2016
And so we round off our “John Cena best matches” list. And our top choice is a bit unorthodox because, at first glance, it’s a peculiar decision. After all, the stakes are non-existent for this encounter beyond “who is the better man”. And it’s actually part two of a three-PPV trilogy of singles contests. Therefore, on paper, it’s the least interesting of their series. But that would greatly overlook what John Cena and AJ Styles achieved at SummerSlam 2016.
Indeed, they had a truly epic, unpredictable, and at times innovative encounter. Stealing the show on a stacked dual-brand PPV, Cena and Styles brought their A-game to Brooklyn. And with this coming during Cena’s “I know more than five moves” phase, Johnny Boy breaks out some eye-catching spots. Yet the one thing he couldn’t achieve was a victory, even after an Attitude Adjustment off the ropes. Instead, AJ would snatch a clean victory with a Styles Clash/Phenomenal Forearm combo. Yes, Cena’s Royal Rumble 2017 redemption win, and 16th World Title victory, means more. But purely from an artistic standpoint, Cena’s performance in this match is unparalled throughout his career. And that’s why it sits at #1 on our rankings of the best John Cena matches.
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So, those are our thoughts on the best John Cena matches. But what do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below!