LOS ANGELES — If you were scoring the John Cena-Roman Reigns rivalry on how the two talked against each other, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Cena didn’t get the win. But talk only gets you so far, and it was Reigns who walked out of WWE No Mercy as the victor of a WrestleMania-caliber match between WWE’s two most commanding and divisive Superstars.
Cena had said earlier that he thought No Mercy would be a “cakewalk,” and he appeared all too happy to play to the WWE Universe rather than take Reigns seriously, even offering to leave the match entirely when they voiced their displeasure for both Superstars. That earned him a less-than-favorable response from Reigns, who tossed Cena into the steel steps, stalked him around the ring and delivered a pinpoint Drive-By when Cena attempted to stagger to his feet.
The 16-time World Champion didn’t just get stuck in the blocks; he seemed completely unprepared for Reigns’ answers to his maneuvers — that trip into the steps brought him to his knees, and Reigns wiped the ear-to-ear grin off Cena's face with a jaw-shattering right hand as he attempted to hit his notorious “Five Moves of Doom.” Yet, as he always does, Cena did eventually rally to hit his big maneuvers, including the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, an STF and a reversal of the Superman Punch into an Attitude Adjustment.
None of those moves put Reigns down (he shook off the Shuffle, reversed the STF into a one-armed powerbomb, and kicked out of the AA at two), but both Superstars quickly learned that each of them were as advertised as they began to unload their respective match-enders. Cena kicked out of a Superman Punch and olé’d Reigns full-speed into the turnbuckle when The Big Dog attempted a Spear, but Reigns also kicked out of the near-bulletproof second-rope AA.
It was at this point that Cena tapped into his old reserves of ruthless aggression, but Reigns’ persistence didn’t just surprise him, it nearly broke him. First, Reigns reversed Cena’s attempt of an AA through the announce table by spearing Cena through the desk that had been meant for him, and then his kick-out of two consecutive AA’s unnerved Cena so much that the typically stoic Superstar went nose-to-nose with referee John Cone over the count. Ultimately, Reigns had one more ounce in the tank left than Cena did, as the 16-time World Champion walked straight into a quick-strike Superman Punch-Spear combo out of nowhere moments later, leading to the most precious three-count of Reigns' young career.
It was what happened afterward, though, that may truly define this contest for years to come. Cena raised Reigns’ hand in a gesture of respect and received a nod of his own from The Big Dog, yet The Cenation Leader remained in the ring while Reigns made his exit. Once Roman had left, Cena rose to his feet and bowed to the audience to the tune of a standing ovation and a “Thank You Cena” chant. So now, he’s got Reigns’ respect. He may not have wanted it, but he’s got it. The WWE Universe’s too, though it’s fair to say he may have always had that after all.