The Case for John Cena as One of WWE’s All-Time Greats

John Cena

Courtesy of John Cena – WWE Universe Facebook

Many “smart” wrestling fans like to think they’re above kayfabe, but every once in a while we let ourselves get sucked into the ballyhoo of professional wrestling and logic flies out the window. Your author is no different.

For years I have been a John Cena detractor. His character is lame, he always wins and he still uses the same five moves in every match. He’s booked like superman, winning matches where he’s savagely beaten the entire time, only to “Cena-up” and quickly dispose of his opponent.

Unfortunately, here’s where kayfabe prejudices get in the way of sound thinking. Cena, believe it or not, does not have control over how he is booked. Cena doesn’t have creative control, nor does he script his own material. One could argue that he should — that whatever he could come up with would be far superior to the oftentimes hideous material he’s provided with. Yet he doesn’t. Cena plays ball the same as everybody else, and that includes the laying out of his matches.

It’s also about time we accept the fact that Cena may not be the horrible wrestler he’s considered to be in many circles. Does he always look smooth in the ring? No, he doesn’t. Does he always crisply execute moves or apply holds correctly? No, he doesn’t. However, there’s more to the game than knowing the difference between a hammer lock and a wrist lock.

Cena is one of the most charismatic wrestlers of all time. His facial expressions, his ability to sell pain and the way he makes the crowd part of his match are top notch. How many Cena matches have you seen where the crowd just sat on their hands in silence?

Another element of the game we must consider is delivering in big matches. I’ve lost count of how many huge matches Cena has been involved with, but it’s a rare occasion indeed when he doesn’t deliver. You may not like the outcome, but the very fact that you cared about the outcome of a fake pro wrestling contest is a testament to how good John Cena really is.

Let’s take this debate one step further. If John Cena really “sucked,” as the chant often goes, would he still be on top in WWE? Cena has been a steady main-eventer in WWE since 2005. He still sells the most tickets and the most merchandise in 2014. Make no mistake, if Cena wasn’t still the top dog, somebody else would have taken his place by now. That’s how the business works. There are no favorites.

People discount the fact that he’s an eleven-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. While there’s no question the title has been watered down over the years, when you wear the strap you are the face of the company, and many fans don’t understand the pressure and responsibility that goes along with that.

If the average person was confronted with Cena’s yearly schedule they would vomit. From Saturday into Sunday this past weekend, Cena worked the main event at a house show in Madison Square Garden (which I attended), spoke at a conference in Austin, Tex. the next morning and followed it up by working another house show later that day in Jonesboro, Ark. This is par for the course for Cena, and he’s not even the company’s world champion. Not to sound sycophantic, but he’s also found the time to legitimately fulfill more Make-A-Wish requests than anyone else in history. When you’re the top dog, let’s just say you’re not home all that often. Not everybody is cut out for it.

In terms of combined days as champion, not including Cena’s three reigns as World Heavyweight Champion when the company was using two heavyweight title belts, Cena ranks fourth all-time with 1,191 days. The only people ahead of him are Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino. Pretty elite company.

You don’t have to like Cena, but give the guy his proper due. Few men in the history of the business have accomplished what he has, and it’s not because he’s the golden boy who won’t let go of his spot on top. Let the arguments begin!

Dan Marsiglia is a Pro Wrestling columnist for Follow him on Twitter or add him to your network on Google.

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  • Randy Jones

    All Time Great? Hell no. Cena still is lame and will never be as great as the all time greats. My opinion by the way and If you think he is, more power to you.

    • Dan Marsiglia

      I agree he’s still lame, probably will always be lame as long as he’s a face. But you gotta give me a reason why he’s not an elite performer and why he doesn’t deserve his spot.

      • William Bontrager

        I think it would be awesome if he turned heel though. I think he would discover a whole new fan base out there. He has excellent mic skills to pull it off. A heel can get away with having only a few moves as long as they understand the psychology in the ring. As long as he is a face he will always be a Rock wannabee though.
        His fist drop is just like the people’s elbow and when he talks on the mic, as good as it is sometimes, he sounds like the Rock. I don’t mind if he even gets his spots, which he has in abundance, but why does he have to be at the very top every time?
        When he got injured he returned almost immediately and beat Alberto Del Rio for his belt. Then he beat Sandow with one arm, and caused him to lose the Money in the Bank contract when Sandow has great athleticism and heel charisma to back it up. Now Sandow is like a clown in those rare moments we get to see him.
        Couldn’t Cena simply take a year off? Or if he wants to wrestle that badly couldn’t he help out some young wrestlers and give them a pop? No, he can’t. It is his ego if I had to take a guess. It took him three matches with Cesaro for Cena to allow him to spin him, although the crowd was shouting for it their first match.
        Now he is going up against Bray Wyatt. Before his exchange with Cena, Wyatt was a dark, dangerous character. His gimmick reminds me of some of the great WWE originals like Kane or Mankind. What would Mankind have looked like when he first started out if some entitled pretty boy beat him? It would have taken away his credibility.
        This is what is going to happen to Wyatt. I imagine that John Cena saw the awesome chemistry behind Wyatt and Bryan and envied Bryan for it, and wanted it himself. There is just one problem, Cena’s character does not have the depth to be on Wyatt’s level. He will destroy the Wyatts this early in their career with wise cracks and Rock-like statements.
        I wrote a book, sorry. I do not like Cena as you can tell, and think that he is a one of the major problems in WWE right now.

        • Greg

          William, you called the Wyatt burial absolutely right. Their rivalry has become stagnant and Bray Wyatt has lost all momentum. He had so much potential to be the next big heel of the company IMO.

          • William Bontrager

            What can I say? I was wrong. The story-line is decent. It is just fortunate that Wyatt is allowed to verbally attack Cena because Cena’s getting boo’s now. I still don’t think this story is as good as what Daniel Bryan turning heel could of been though. It is good you went through so much effort to scream, “I told you so”, after the fact. It would have taken more guts if you sent this comment immediately after my commen which was months ago, but if you think that makes you a wrestling genius than go ahead and think that. Thanks.

          • William Bontrager


  • William Bontrager

    I don’t agree. I hope he “plays ball” somewhere else. I think I’ll write an article to counter your points and how he suffocates true talent to suit his ego. Stay tuned.

    • Dan Marsiglia

      I look forward to hearing them, thank you for your feedback

  • Dan Marsiglia

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m really happy you did, because I happen to agree with 99% of it. I’m not even going to repeat it all because you said it best. I only disagree as it pertains to his ego. Cena is obviously in a position where he has a lot of pull. However, he never uses it. Instead of using his pull like Hogan did, which made
    everyone despise Hogan (despite loving working with Hogan for the money, even on an undercard for a Hogan show), he doesn’t use it at all. He simply doesn’t argue with how he’s booked. And I have to admit, he’d have to be the greatest guy in the world to say no to some of the plans he’s heard. “Hey, our plan is to give you the title when you return from injury.” “No.” Something doesn’t ring there.

    I do wish he’d use some of his pull to help guys out, especially when it comes to his interviews which you already masterfully described. However, the point of the article was meant to laud the guy for being a great performer who has been a top draw for a long time. A rare amount of time. Not a lot of guys in the history of wrestling have been on top, drawing the most, for this long. Cena is the top draw in all of wrestling. Not even a question about it. In my honest opinion, his staged wrestling persona is not relevant in evaluating his significance in the history of the sport.

    It may not be a pleasant idea, but the point of wrestling is to make money. I disagree with their booking all the time, but I also have to admit that there’s nothing theoretically wrong with riding your top guy. When Cena’s not around, they don’t do as well. They like it when their world champion is constantly involved in the world title picture. I don’t necessarily agree, but it’s not an unsound business strategy.

    Love to hear more thoughts.

  • Jonathan Brooks

    I just want to address your “he uses the same 5 moves” comment.. I have been a wrestling fan for a long time.. and recently I have been going through many years of pay-per-views on the WWE Network.. and so far I have found.. very few wrestlers in history change up thier move set…
    HBK – Flying forearm, inverted atomic drop, into either a clothesline or scoopslam, diving elbow.. tuning the band.. either hits sweet chin music or doesn’t… ( Also, a heck of a lot smaller and less durable than Cena.. gets beat on the whole match and then has enough left to kip up and do all that.. )
    Triple H – High knee for years.. opponent prepares to do a back body drop, Triple H counter with a knee to the face (for years), Arn Anderson spinebuster, Pedigree
    Rock – Punches, spits on hand, punch… Spinebuster, people’s elbow.. maybe even a rock bottom (can’t remember the last time he changed. even been doing the sharpshooter for a long time)
    Orton – Clothesline x2, duck, powerslam, spike DDT, sets up for RKO
    Hogan – Gets beat on.. hulks up, punches, big boot, leg drop
    I have been a Cena fan since he stepped out from behind that curtain and gave Kurt Angle a great match in 2002. Sure he has become predictable, but what part of WWE hasn’t.. there were times people teamed with Triple H and I said, “sooner or later he is gonna smack them with a sledgehammer and start a new rivalry” and sure enough.. it happened a lot.
    My rant may not be on your topic.. I just get bothered by the people who complain about Cena’s “same 5 moves” and yet say nothing about every other superstar who has kept the same moveset for much longer.

    • Dan Marsiglia

      you make a fair point and I agree with you, thank you for your feedback