Examining John Cena’s Legacy After WrestleMania 31 #WWE
John Cena is now the United States Champion after defeating the previously ‘undefeated’ Rusev at last night’s WrestleMania. Rusev came out on a tank, and was ready and willing to destroy John Cena and retain his title, but John Cena had the spirit of America behind him, and it looks like HHH’s long planned revitalization of the mid card titles is finally happening. Cena’s journey has been a long one, and he’s had one of the most unique careers in WWE history.
While John Cena debuted in 2002, he really arrived on the scene as a main event talent in 2005 at WrestleMania 21, where he beat John Bradshaw Layfield. That date is important, because last night’s WrestleMania marked the 10 year anniversary of that title win. Cena is the most polarizing figure in WWE history. There have been more popular superstars before him, guys like Hogan, Austin and The Rock, but none elicited a response from the crowd quite like John Cena. He’s booed, he’s cheered, he’s hated, he’s loved; one thing that has always been a constant when it comes to John Cena is that everyone has an opinion on him. 10 years in the main event scene in any era is a tremendous feat, and it’s something few, if any, have done before. What makes Cena so special is that he’s done all of this during the rise of the Internet era, where promos, matches, storylines and even personal lives are overanalyzed one hundred times over. Cena can’t wrestle, Cena sucks, Cena gets too many t-shirts; if somebody dislikes John Cena, they won’t have to look too far to find something to support that opinion. I decided to look back and find out just how impressive this current run is for Cena, and we don’t have to look any further than the three biggest stars in WWE history to see how Cena stacks up to all the greats (while Cena isn’t in the main event or title picture at the moment, he did begin the year with a title match in the main event at the Rumble, and we all know he’ll be back there eventually).
Hulk Hogan: Hogan is Cena’s closest peer. Hogan won his first WWF Championship and headlined an incredible eight of the first nine WrestleMania’s. While Hogan’s popularity and crossover appeal is unmatched in wrestling history, putting a wrestler in eight of nine WrestleMania main events in this era is impossible. Wrestling in the 80s was primarily a spectacle, and the main event scene was dominated by Hogan, which meant the match quality suffered. Hogan had his bright spots, but for the most part relied on his charisma to keep the fans interested in the matches. While he continued to main event into the late 90’s, and re established himself as a popular heel, I think Hogan benefitted from the era he worked in, as someone with his skill set would get eaten alive by today’s audiences. His longevity and impact on the wrestling business should never be questioned, but Hulk Hogan trying to get his baby face persona over in 2015 would be an ugly scene.
Stone Cold Steve Austin: While Austin is unquestionably one of coolest and most popular guys in wrestling history, his career was cut far too short thanks to various injuries. Austin was just below the main event, yet had the best match at WrestleMania 13 with Bret Hart in 1997, and one year later he defeated Shawn Michaels to become the WWF champion. His main event reign would end at WrestleMania 19 in 2003, meaning Austin only main evented in the WWE for 5 years. Unlike Hogan, Stone Cold is a character that could have thrived in any era, especially this one, but his five year reign is only half as long as Cena’s, and I think John still has a lot left in the tank.
The Rock: The Rock and Stone Cold’s careers mirrored each others in both their arrivals and departures from the main event scene. Both rose to prominence in 1997, and while Austin left in 2003, The Rock departed in 2004. Rock was both an effective heel and baby face, and he did return for a two year main event run in 2012 and 2013, but it wasn’t the same. If The Rock chooses to return for WrestleMania 32, he will no doubt be put into a main event match, but it shouldn’t be judged the same as a guy like Cena who is there for 52 weeks out of the year. Similar to Austin, The Rock’s character would have fit in any era, but Cena outlasts him as well when it comes consecutive years in the main event scene.
Cena is a 15 time champion, only trailing Ric Flair, and at the 10 year anniversary of his first WWE Championship win, he started the long journey of solidifying a mid card championship and bringing prestige back to the United States title. He has literally done everything in the WWE, and I think last night the WWE officially signaled a changing of the guard. There is no doubt Cena will be back on the mountaintop before his career is over, but for now he is going to solidify the mid card while future stars like Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns battle it out in the main event. We’ll probably never see another John Cena, but it won’t be for lack of trying. I’m just not sure there will ever be another guy like him.