John Cena's 10 greatest rivalries
Think it’s easy being John Cena? Try holding on to your spot as the top star of the world’s biggest sports-entertainment company while Wrestling Machines, Cerebral Assassins and a certain Beast Incarnate try to knock you off your perch.
Cena’s career has been filled with many challenges — he’ll face some more in the thriller, “The Wall,” in theaters now — but the 16-time World Champion has been nothing if not resilient in his time as "the man" in WWE. Even so, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been pushed to his limit (or, as may be the case with Brock Lesnar, far beyond it) by opponents that enjoyed nothing more than putting that "Never give up" catchphrase to the test.
They don’t want none, unless “they” is John Cena, in which case they want some. From the second AJ Styles confronted The Cenation Leader on Raw to the deafening sounds of dueling “LET’S-GO-CENA/AJ-STYLES” chants, the then-15-time World Champion couldn’t get in the ring with him fast enough.
Their rivalry lasted less than a year, but the two turned in classic performance after classic performance in every possible permutation, from two singles bouts (at Money in the Bank and SummerSlam) to a Six-Man Tag (at Battleground) to a Triple Threat (at No Mercy), culminating in a final showdown at the Royal Rumble in which Cena defeated Styles to win his record-tying 16th World Championship. The best part? They might not even be done. The two started off the 2017 Elimination Chamber Match. Guess what the crowd was chanting. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
We all know the story. A ferocious Olympic Gold Medalist issues an open challenge. A young bodybuilder with a truly awful crew-cut accepts. He flaunts his “ruthless aggression,” slaps the veteran across the face and ignites one of the era’s defining rivalries.
No one knew who John Cena was when he and Kurt Angle first squared off, but it was Angle who made Cena into the man he is today. The relentless Wrestling Machine followed young Cena wherever he went, pushing the upstart to his limit in the ring while forcing him to build his “Never Give Up” reputation. And it was Angle and his patented Ankle Lock that led Cena to adopt the STF in late 2005.
Their final singles encounter was a merciless First Blood Match on Raw just after New Year’s in 2006 that left both men in a messy heap. A fitting end to a rivalry built on “ruthless aggression.” — ZACH LINDER
The rivalry between John Cena and Triple H has never been too personal. It’s always been about business — and the WWE Championship.
Cena and The Game’s first high-profile encounter came at WrestleMania 22 with the WWE Title on the line. Cena retained, but it would be far from the last time the two Superstars waged war. In fact, they clashed one month later at Backlash, and again at WrestleMania XXIV in a Triple Threat Match with Randy Orton.
To this day, the animosity between John Cena and Triple H still exists, although The Game now prefers to take action from his executive position, leaving the dirty work to Cena rivals like Kane, Randy Orton and even the monstrous Brock Lesnar. — KEVIN POWERS
The WWE Universe
Man, do some of you guys really hate John Cena. Hate, hate, hate him. And therein lies the greatest irony of John Cena’s unprecedented career in WWE: A good chunk of the people he batters his body to entertain simply — vocally, passionately, unendingly — dislike him. The endless cavalcade of titles and victories, the Five Moves thing, the T-shirts; whatever it is, it simply drives a certain cross-section of the Universe into a shark-feeding frenzy with Mr. Fruity Pebbles as their intended chum.
The further irony within that irony, though, is that he genuinely doesn’t care — and not just in the dismissive, haters-gonna-hate way. Cena is just as vocal in his support of the boo birds as he is in the Cenation. He’s even known to pal around with some of his more visible detractors at ringside (hello, “We Hate Cena!” Guy). The 15-time World Champion has never once wavered in his stance of some-of-you-like-me-some-of-you-don’t, which isn’t just unprecedented for a WWE Superstar, it’s almost shocking in its sincerity. Cheer him, boo him, he loves you guys just the same. It’s fitting, in a way: John Cena never did meet a rival he didn’t respect. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
It takes a bold, bold man to call himself The Best in the World without any hint of showmanship to it. CM Punk was nothing if not bold. The self-appointed heir apparent to Cena as the face of professional wrestling, Punk’s agitation over being passed over festered into an earth-shattering “pipe bomb” that took Cena, the McMahons, and the institution of sports-entertainment itself to task. He then promptly won Cena’s WWE Title and gallivanted off into retirement, but you probably don’t need Wikipedia to know The Straight Edge Superstar couldn’t stay away for long. He eventually came back to further challenge Cena’s dominance and beat him more often than not. These two were having classic matches for years after that initial clash. Perhaps the greatest disappointment in Punk’s untimely departure is knowing they definitely had a few more in them. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
John Cena and The Rock already had some beneath-the-surface beef when The Great One returned in 2011 to host WrestleMania XXVII. So it wasn’t all that unsurprising when Rocky called out the Cenation leader in his epic, 20-minute return speech, nor that the two eventually agreed to a showdown at WrestleMania XXVIII. What was surprising was how personal things got in the run-up. Rock, whose best mic moments stopped just short of verbal disembowelment, hit Cena with everything he had and Cena gave it right back.
Perhaps the tensest moment in this three-year rivalry (the book finally closed at WrestleMania 29, when Cena won the WWE Title from Rock) came in 2011 when Cena took The Brahma Bull to task over having gone to the ring with talking points scrawled on his meathook hands. In that moment, with The Great One momentarily rendered speechless (!), it looked like Dwayne was set to drop the pretense and kick the hell out of Cena then and there. It looked like Cena was ready for it, too. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
By 2010, Batista had grown tired of spending nearly a decade in John Cena's shadow and challenged the Cenation leader in the bitterest rivalry of that year. Following a grueling Elimination Chamber Match where Cena retained the WWE Championship, Mr. McMahon offered The Animal the chance to win the WWE Championship, which he did. The two collided again at WrestleMania XXVI with Cena winning, and again at Extreme Rules in a Last Man Standing Match where Cena used a roll of duct tape to tie Batista’s legs around the ring post to secure victory.
Relentless in his pursuit of dethroning John Cena, Batista battled his nemesis one last time at Over the Limit in an “I Quit” Match. Following a brutal contest, The Animal quit before Cena unceremoniously executed an Attitude Adjustment off of the roof of a car, sending Batista crashing through the stage below. — KEVIN POWERS
Although John Cena and Brock Lesnar crossed paths as both were beginning their in-ring ascents, it wasn’t until The Beast Incarnate returned to conquer WWE in 2012 that the pair’s rivalry became the stuff of sports-entertainment legend. Still recovering from the diverticulitis that cut short his UFC career, Lesnar nevertheless brought Cena to the brink in an Extreme Rules Match in April 2012, forcing the incorruptible Superstar to take full advantage of the savage stipulation. Making use of the steel steps and a chain wrapped around his right fist, Cena ultimately felled the behemoth — but just barely.
Cena’s fortune would change drastically when he next clashed with the juggernaut at SummerSlam 2014, where Lesnar utterly incapacitated the Cenation leader with 16 German suplexes, giving Cena the most horrific beating of his 12-year career and capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Title with apparent ease. Superman, meet your Doomsday. — JAMES WORTMAN
No WWE Superstar has pushed John Cena to the edge (pun intended) quite like The Rated-R Superstar.
Cena and Edge’s rivalry began in historic fashion when The Ultimate Opportunist cashed in his Money in the Bank contract at New Year’s Revolution 2006, capturing his first World Title at the expense of the Cenation leader and kicking off a legendary rivalry. Their ensuing battles pushed the boundaries of civility, as demonstrated by their brawl that left Edge swimming in the Long Island Sound alongside Cena’s spinner WWE Championship. Not to mention the night The Rated-R Superstar entered Cena's childhood home and slapped his father flush across the face. Explosive encounters like that not only elevated both Superstars, but also temporarily transported the WWE Universe back to The Attitude Era. — SCOTT TAYLOR
On paper, John Cena and Randy Orton are two Superstars that should have a lot in common. They each honed their craft together in WWE’s former developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, they each made their WWE debut in 2002 and they’ve both cemented themselves as the icons of their generation with nearly 30 World Championships between them. But while Cena embodies “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect,” the calculating Viper represents everything Cena isn’t. Naturally, the two haven’t meshed all that well over the years and have given the WWE Universe some of the most brutal and deeply personal clashes in recent history.
From their intense collision at SummerSlam 2007 to their wince-inducing “I Quit” Match at WWE Breaking Point 2009 to their history-making Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match to crown the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion at WWE TLC 2013, Cena and Orton have forged a rivalry that spans more than a decade … and it isn't over yet. — JAMES WORTMAN