John Cena was officially anointed as the top guy in WWE the moment he won his first of an eventual 15 World Heavyweight Championships at WrestleMania 21. Fast forward ten years later to WrestleMania 31 where Cena defeated Rusev to capture the United States Championship, a belt he hadn’t held since 2005.
Cena has spent the last decade establishing his legacy as one of the all-time greats in WWE history. Like it or not, his name deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as that of Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Rock, Undertaker, Bruno Sammartino and other legendary figures in WWE folklore.
However, what distinguishes Cena from the previously mentioned names is the vocal backlash he receives from the audience. No other babyface (wrestling terminology for good guy) in history has experienced such a negative reaction from fans. To many, Cena is the physical embodiment of WWE’s shift from being an edgy, mature product into its current vrersion that is geared more towards children. His long tenure on top combined with his somewhat stale character and lack of finely tuned technical abilities is the reason why this contingent of the audience relishes the opportunity to chant “Cena sucks” at every turn. While Cena will never be confused with the likes of a Kurt Angle or Shawn Michaels inside of the ring, he’s a more than respectable worker with a long list of memorable matches to his credit.
Whether it was with Michaels, Angle, Umaga, Batista, Chris Jericho, Edge, Rock, Big Show, C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler,Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, or Randy Orton, Cena has run through the best of what WWE has to offer.
However, I find his current run as U.S. Champion to be among the more unique periods of his storied career.
Since becoming champion Cena’s top priority has been to help elevate young talent. His recent tussles against former NXT sensation Neville and current NXT star Sami Zayn, two guys who should have extremely bright futures in WWE, have shown that Cena has no problem using his star power to give others the rub.
Cena is set to meet current NXT Heavyweight Champion Kevin Owens at the May 31 Elimination Chamber special on the WWE Network. A long-term rivalry between the two has the potential to be one of the standout programs of 2015.
Who would’ve ever thought a year ago that Cena would be fighting the likes of Zayn, Neville and Owens within such a short time period. Certainly not me.
There is little question of what Cena’s ultimate legacy should be. He’s unquestionably the biggest wrestling star that the industry has produced since 2001, and has defined WWE for the last decade. He’s also the most polarizing babyface in modern wrestling history.
When you peel off the layers of Cena’s colorful t-shirts, catchphrases and patented five moves of doom, you will find a talented individual with a drive to succeed that few others possess.
I feel that that most fans won’t truly appreciate what Cena has brought to the table until long after he’s retired from active competition. Only then will they realize that Cena was one of those larger-than-life figures who comes along once every generation or so.