Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Opinion: John Cena's 100 Greatest Matches (20-6)

John Cena sucks. John Cena sucks. That's how the old song goes. Thousands singing in building around the world to this theme song, just to show how much they believe Cena "sucks". And I suppose this list of bouts is my reply to them, in a way. However, it's also a celebration of Cena's return to WWE from injury this coming Monday on Raw on the USA Network, Sky Sports and elsewhere. The 39 year old's return will almost certainly give the show a boost, both in terms of excitement and TV ratings, with a number of mouth-watering potential feuds and storyline opportunities. There's a real story to be told with Cena trying to find his place within the "New Era". 

So to get you all lathered up for The Cenation Leader's return, here's 100 of his best matches. You can find matches 100-21 here, we'll be going a bit more in depth from now on, as we look at Match 20-6, before the final article will complete the Top 5. This second part includes matches against the likes of Kevin Owens, Edge, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Cesaro and Shawn Michaels in matches ranging from the main event of SummerSlam to the main event of Monday Night RAW! The list has been kept to no more than four competitors for singles matches and no more than three-a-side for tag bouts, so there are no Royal Rumbles, Money in the Bank Ladder matches, Elimination Chambers, Survivor Series tag bout etc. here. Enjoy!

20 – vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Survivor Series 2009

With a superb twist at the very beginning of the bout, these three guys work very well together to produce a perhaps surprisingly satisfying triple threat bout in the main event of Survivor Series 2009. With the WWE Championship on the line, this is, in my opinion, the best three-way match that Cena has ever participated in, full of great near-falls and dramatic moments.

19 – vs. Seth Rollins – SummerSlam 2015

Rollins has featured a number of time on the list so far, but for me this was the best match between the two (so far). The crowd is red hot throughout, as Rollins and Cena battle over both the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and WWE United States Championship with a number of creative sequences and stellar false finishes. The match would probably find itself higher up the list if it weren't for the shoe-horned appearance of comedian Jon Stewart at the very end of the contest.

18 – vs. Cesaro – Monday Night RAW #1153

Seriously, how many great matches has Cena had with Cesaro and they've all come on Monday Night RAW! As part of Cena's United States Open Challenge that lit up WWE's TV product last summer, The Cenation Leader and The Swiss Superman once again put on a great match that has the crowd coming unglued. Similar to Rollins match from SummerSlam, it's finish is the reason that it doesn't find itself higher up the list.

17 – vs. CM Punk – SummerSlam 2011

The first singles match on this list against CM Punk finds itself in the lofty position of 17th as the pair main evented SummerSlam over the WWE Championship. An often over-looked bout, because of it's rushed build, Cena and Punk's chemistry is still on full display here, in a slow-burner that produces compelling action and features some brilliant false finishes. Triple H's role of Special Guest referee adds an extra narrative string to the bout bow. Again, another case of the finish not quite standing up to the rest of the match, but this one has less of an effect than previous mentions.

16 – vs. Randy Orton (Iron Man) – Bragging Rights 2009

A very different type of Iron Man match as Cena and Orton battle over the WWE Championship in the main event of the first Bragging Rights PPV. The Falls Count Anywhere, Anything Goes gimmick provides a number of interesting story-telling elements, as the duo put on the best bout of their storied rivalry. Big spots and over-the-top moments create a hugely entertaining match, where the hour time-limit seems to fly by.

15 – vs. Edge (Last Man Standing) – Backlash 2009

When Cena reignited his feud with Edge in 2009, the pair created a brutal Last Man Standing match that was full of all the hatred and emotion that made their rivalry one of the best remembered of the decade. With some huge spots, including an Attitude Adjustment into the crowd, the contest builds rather nicely as the duo attempt to keep each other down for the count. Perhaps let down slightly by it's mildly screwy finish, but in my opinion the closing spot more than makes up for any misgivings.

14 – vs. Brock Lesnar (Extreme Rules) – Extreme Rules 2012

A bloody brawl that is anything but pretty, yet remains a captivating watch from start to finish. With a narrative that couldn't be any more John Cena as he get's his arse kicked and digs deep to pull out an impressive victory, this bout was completely different from anything WWE was producing at the time. Whilst this is a loud and brash contest, it's made by a couple of nuances in the pairs selling and reactions to each other throughout, as they keep adding and adding to the branches of narrative. A couple of sports-entertainment flourishes  remind you that you'll still watching WWE! 

13 – vs. Umaga (Last Man Standing) – Royal Rumble 2007

Remembered as one of the best Last Man Standing bouts of all time, there's an argument to be made that this is the best bout of it's kind to ever have occurred in a WWE ring. Cena pisses blood in a cleverly crafted, character-driven encounter. A creative finish, builds nicely over a few minutes to offer a wonderful closing visual. 

12 – vs. John “Bradshaw” Layfield (I Quit) – Judgment Day 2005

I've described the previous two matches on the list as “bloody”, this match takes things to the next level and beyond. In my opinion, WWE's best “I Quit” match, Cena and JBL go to war, using a number of interesting props and objects in a hard-hitting brawl. There's some quality moments all along the way, including some brilliant use of the gimmick, which lends itself to spots that are still as impressive over ten years later. If there were any doubts about Cena's main event credentials after a mediocre WrestleMania 22 match between the two, then this clash should have dispelled them, in his best match to this point. It could also be argued that this is JBL's greatest bout!

11 – vs. CM Punk – Night of Champions 2012

The second match with CM Punk inside the top 20 is their WWE Championship bout in the main event of 2012's Night of Champions. The duo work so well together here, pulling out a number of quality transitions and reversals, in an intense clash. With Punk now a fully blown heel, the bout can explore avenues that previous encounters couldn't, as we get some rather brilliant story-telling, helped along by a hometown crowd for Cena with his father also in attendance. Perhaps let down slightly by the finish, which after both men had kicked out of numerous finishers from each (including Punk hitting a Rock Bottom) leaves things a flat, had things ended on a slightly different note then this would have made the Top 10, at least.

10 – vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels – Backlash 2007

Two WWE Hall of Famers and two first-balot future Hall of Famers do battle in a Fatal Four-Way match and it's just as good as it should be. Some thrilling sequences of action involving all four guys, with their numerous relationships and storylines giving the match a little extra depth. Each man is on top of his game with plenty of in-ring chemistry between each, which really helps to drive the match and stop it from becoming an spot-fest. However there is shit loads of superkicks and who doesn't love superkicks? 

9 – vs. Edge (TLC) – Unforgiven 2006

The peak of one of Cena's biggest feuds, this is one of the best singles Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches in wrestling history. The hatred between the two men can almost be felt coming through the screen as they batter each other with nasty chair shots, with the match escalating quickly as both men take huge bumps off ladders and through tables. It's a nice inversion of the “Fighting against the odds” narrative, as Edge's hometown crowd are almost 100% behind him, adding a unique feel that completes the bout. The finish, that see's Cena hit an FU off a ladder through two tables, has perhaps never been bettered since, as the match became Cena best match up to this point. A real marquee clash for a performer whose main event run was still in it's infancy. 

8 – vs. Kevin Owens – Elimination Chamber 2015

A different type of wrestling match than John Cena is known for, as he and Kevin Owens have pacy, back and forth bout, that verges on being a spot-fest. The two characters instantly connect and the performers soon follow with the two creating some crisp sequences of action with a real impact behind them. The crowd laps it up, popping for the near falls with Cena and Owens both having some tremendous false finishes that had everyone convinced that the match is over. Cena works extremely hard throughout to make sure that the “debuting” Owens looks as good as possibly, bumping all over the shop for his opponent and selling like he's been in a real battle. Owens winning the contest creates a moment that will be talked about for years to come and is the icing on the cake for this instant classic.

7 – vs. Kevin Owens – Money in the Bank 2015

The rematch that outdid the original...just. Maybe it's not a crisp and free-flowing as the first, but for me, this is the better match because there was something on the line. As good as the first match was, it was still in essence an exhibition match, whilst this one had the real consequence of a rebuilt United States Championship being on the line, as well as Cena looking to gain a modicum of revenge in a way, for the initial defeat. There's a bit more of a narrative element to this contest as well, with Cena trying out new things and using moves he'd rarely used, whilst Owens stuck to the gameplan that won him the original match, it's a brilliantly subtle piece of psychology that becomes the back bone of contest.

6 - vs. Cesaro - Monday Night RAW #1154

Just a week after the other match with Cesaro inside the Top 20, the two were back at it again and this time it was even better. Everything that had been done so well the week previously was done even better this time with the two waging war and taking things to the next level. The duo pace things perfectly, with neither man staying in control of the action for long and the pendulum of momentum swinging between the two throughout. Top notch submission sequences, believable near falls and a crowd that falls in love with the action as the match builds, by the end of the match, the men's' facial expressions are making the action even better, selling pain, frustration and determination all at the same time in a fabulous piece of television. As opposed to the last match, this one has completely clean and satisfying finish! Inside the Top Five matches in Monday Night RAW history...but as we'll see in the Top 5, it's not the best Cena has had on the show...

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