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The brutal history of John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar
There’s dominance, and then there’s John Cena.
Since he debuted a dozen years ago, Cena has been the indisputable face of WWE. 15 World Championships later, he has defeated savages, punks, animals and authority figures. He has ushered us from the eras of Ruthless Aggression to Reality. He has sold countless T-shirts, starred in action movies and made stunning recoveries from injury. Yet for all of Cena’s dominance, one man has dominated him: Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar left WWE in 2004, just as Cena was becoming a bona fide main event Superstar. While Cena was performing in the ring, Lesnar was fighting in the octagon, becoming a legitimate UFC Heavyweight Champion. The two have had four singles matches against each other. And in each and every one, Brock has systematically dissected his opponent. At six-foot-one, 251 lbs., John Cena isn’t a small man, but he’s completely physically outmatched by the larger Brock Lesnar. When they meet for the fifth time at SummerSlam, Cena has got to prove he can hang with an MMA powerhouse, an asskicker and The Beast Incarnate.
Because there’s pain, and then there’s Brock Lesnar.
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar: SmackDown, Sept. 19, 2002
The first meeting between Lesnar and Cena came less than a year after each man debuted. Brock, five months into his WWE career, was already the WWE Champion, having plowed through The Rock at SummerSlam. Cena was only two months newer, but light years behind the rapidly ascending Lesnar. And for this one, the future 15-time World Champion might have wished he stayed back home in West Newbury, Mass.
The six-minute Non-Title “Match” was essentially a showcase for the tremendous power of the new champion as he prepared to defend against The Undertaker three days later at Unforgiven. Only 30 seconds after the opening bell, Cena was clutching the ropes for dear life as Lesnar dragged him onto the mat. Once on his feet, Cena’s jaw dropped, incredulous that a monster like this could exist. Brock used a combination of meaty elbows, organ-wrenching submission holds and the F-5 to completely demolish his opponent. So much for ruthless aggression. Thanks for coming.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena: SmackDown, Feb. 13, 2003
By the time the calendar turned to 2003, the tables had been turned. Brock was fresh off a Royal Rumble Match victory and was now being cheered by WWE fans. Cena, on the other hand, had been reborn as a villainous Dr. of Thuganomics, setting opponents straight with rhymes rather than bodyslams. And on this night, he made a tremendous error in judgment by dissing his rival before even stepping through the ropes.
Fueled by blind rage, Lesnar pounded on his opponent in the ring and out, hoisting Cena above his head and dropping him face first onto the announce table. Some competitors climb the turnbuckle to send a message, but Brock viciously pounded Cena’s skull into it. The Massachusetts native had only one option: Cheat. He wrapped his chain around his hand and rammed it into Lesnar’s face. Brock managed to kick out, but it gave Cena the opening he needed to get an offensive flurry onto his opponent. The opportunity was short-lived, however. Lesnar swiftly regained impressive control and won the match. After the bell, Brock asserted his dominance by F-5’ing Cena into the ring post, and his victim folded like a bad poker hand on the floor below.
Lesnar went on to win the WWE Championship the following month, in the main event of WrestleMania XIX. John Cena? Not even on the card.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena – WWE Championship Match: Backlash 2003
Two months after Cena’s knee was shattered by Lesnar with that F-5 into the ring post on SmackDown, The Dr. of Thuganomics was out for payback. Once he won an eight-man No. 1 Contender tournament — and pinning The Undertaker along the way — Cena’s quest for revenge became a genuine golden opportunity. Not even a year into his WWE tenure, and in only Cena’s second match on pay-per-view, he challenged Brock for the WWE Championship.
For a while, it looked like third time was the charm for the rapper wannabe. Clad in Yankee pinstripes, he hung with the champion for 15 minutes, nearly double the length of each of their previous two bouts. Ultimately, though, he bit off more than he could chew. At this point in their careers, Cena was simply not in Lesnar’s league. Cena wouldn’t win his first title — the U.S. Championship — nearly a year later, and his first WWE Championship a full year after that.
For Cena to stand toe-to-toe with Lesnar’s power at Backlash, he pulled out all the stops. First, he shoved his opponent’s skull into the ring steps, then nailed a low blow and also attempted to use his steel chain. Yet when the referee confiscated illegal object, Lesnar was able to score an F-5 and the pinfall victory to score the Cena hat trick.
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar – Extreme Rules Match: Extreme Rules 2012
And then things got extreme.
Nearly a decade later after Cena and Lesnar’s last meeting, Brock made a shocking return to WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII and delivered an F-5 to his old rival on Raw. During Brock Lesnar’s eight years away from sports-entertainment, John Cena had become the company’s mainstay and perennial champion. With the landscape very different in 2012, the two faced off for the fourth time at Extreme Rules in Chicago.
Although Lesnar was coming off one of the most successful MMA runs in the history of the sport, and Cena had never stepped foot inside the octagon, this meeting seemed to have the pair on a bit more equal footing than their previous encounters. Leading the match, the two had a vicious, pull-apart brawl on Raw, during which Brock Lesnar stated, “I’m not a Superstar, I’m an asskicker.” And that’s exactly what Brock did in the Windy City.
During what seemed like an 18-minute mugging, the returning Lesnar clobbered Cena from the onset and left the hero a hobbled mess screaming from the intense pain of the Kimura Lock. Late in the extreme melee, Brock sent Cena hurtling from the ring apron to the floor below, but fell along with him and tweaked his knee. It didn’t matter. The fighter quickly recovered with a demented smile.
Somehow, the Cenation leader was able to notch the three-count after knocking Lesnar out with the familiar steel chain and an Attitude Adjustment onto the steel steps. Considering the physical shape he was in after the final bell, however, viewers argued if Cena truly was a winner.