John Cena's streak and the best moment from each year
On SmackDown, John Cena will wrestle in his first match of 2022, securing an incredible streak for the 16-time world champion. Since starting with WWE in 2001 at Ohio Valley Wrestling, Cena has wrestled a match for the company every year for twenty-one years.
That's, honestly, a spectacular feat. Not only has Cena wrestled with the same company for over two decades, but he's been at the top of the business for nearly his entire career. It's one of the many reasons that the man is a legend and one of the greatest to ever step foot in a ring.
Today, we'll be taking a look at some of John Cena's greatest moments throughout the years, alongside his best match from every year since his debut on SmackDown in 2002.
2002: John Cena vs. Chris Jericho (Vengeance)
As far as actual match quality, this is definitely the worst on the list. An early, pre-Thuganomics John Cena taking on an already-established world champion star in Chris Jericho.
Le Champion told a story on Chris Jericho's Saturday Night Special a few years ago, stating that Vince McMahon was against him putting Cena over.
"I remember I called Vince the night before the show and basically told him that me winning was the wrong finish. It should be John. Vince didn't see it. I said, I'm telling you this guy has got something. Vince was like, 'Fine. Put him over if you want.' And that was kind of the beginning with John."
It was a good call from Chris Jericho and goes to exemplify why the veteran has been in the industry for so long.
2003: John Cena vs. Kurt Angle (No Mercy)
While speaking to TV Insider earlier this year, Kurt Angle said that this was his favorite match against John Cena. Their bout at No Mercy in 2003 took place a year after the well-known "ruthless aggression" promo after Angle issued an open challenge to anybody he'd never wrestled before.
"I would say probably where I made him tap. I believe it may have been No Mercy 2003. We had a really good match. John stayed with me and worked really hard. He hit all his moves. The match was magic and one of my favorite matches. All my favorite matches though are when I make someone tap out. [Laughs]," Angle said.
In 2002, Cena was a bright spandex-wearing rookie looking to make a name for himself. By No Mercy 2003, though, Cena had become a lot more comfortable as the brash, arrogant Dr. of Thuganomics.
While the 16-time world champion faced the likes of Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker in singles competition that year, his 18-minute bout against Kurt Angle was what some considered his coming out party.
2004: John Cena vs. The Undertaker (SmackDown, June 24)
John Cena spent his second year on SmackDown as a heel, but by this point had WWE fans were firmly behind him as a major face for the blue brand. A constantly fighting US Champion who was a part of the fight against then-General Manager Paul Heyman, the crowds were 100% pro-Cena.
During his feud with Heyman, Cena was placed in a match against The Undertaker as a form of punishment. And while the young United States Champion already lost to The Deadman back in 2003, he put up a much better fight this time around.
Although he failed to beat The Undertaker yet again, Cena showed a lot of heart that left fans around the world with more respect for the future main eventer.
2005: John Cena vs. JBL (Judgment Day)
It came down to this or his first WWE Championship win over John Bradshaw Layfield at WrestleMania 21, but their war at Judgment Day is one of the bloodiest I Quit matches WWE ever produced. This was a must-win for John Cena, who couldn't afford to lose the WWE Title one month after capturing it on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Cena ended the match in a crimson mask, with his blood painting the canvas of the ring and the rest of the arena. Still, he gutted out a brilliant and violent win, forcing JBL to say "I Quit" mere moments before sending him crashing into a plate of glass.
2006: Elimination Chamber (New Year's Revolution)
Much like the last bout, this was one that left John Cena in a bloody heap by the end. Still, the leader of the Cenation pulled out one of his greatest victories in the brutal Elimination Chamber. Facing Carlito, Chris Masters, Kane, Kurt Angle, and Shawn Michaels, this was Cena's greatest test of his first WWE Championship run.
Cena and The Heartbreak Kid entered the match first, and The Champ would last eliminate Carlito to retain the title in a nearly 30-minute car crash of a match. Unfortunately for Cena, this also saw the end of his reign as Edge would cash in the first Money in the Bank contract mere moments later.
2007: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (Monday Night RAW, April 23)
2007 saw John Cena face some of his greatest adversaries at a time when the WWE Universe had begun to grow tired of his shtick. So heading into some of the most important matches of his career, he'd often be hounded by "Cena sucks" chants no matter where he was.
To be fair, many other matches could've taken this spot. One other match that is highly;y recommended is his Last Man Standing match against Umaga from the Royal Rumble. He also faced Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton, and more in some pretty exciting match-ups.
Still, his WrestleMania rematch with Shawn Michaels on April 23 stands above the rest. Not only is it his best match from 2007, but many consider it to be his greatest match. A hot UK crowd helped turn this non-title bout into a legendary moment still talked about to this day.
When Shawn Michaels pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring, which had been a rare feat against the 16-time champion, the roof blew off the arena.
2008: Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble)
It's been brought up in every 'Best Royal Rumble Match' list created, and for good reason. John Cena's return on January 27, 2008, was truly miraculous. After tearing his pectoral in a match with Mr. Kennedy in October, Cena was forced to vacate the WWE Championship.
Recovery time following his surgery was set for four to six months, yet Cena returned in three, winning the Royal Rumble as the 30th entrant. This was just one of many instances that proved that Cena was the Superman of the WWE.
2009: John Cena vs. Edge (Backlash)
While WWE may try to sell the idea that Randy Orton is John Cena's greatest rival, don't be fooled. Nobody hated Cena more than Edge. The rivalry was so intense that it involved the families of both men, including a moment where Edge invaded the home of Cena's father and attacked him.
In the promo above, Edge claims that this "has to end." At Backlash, that's exactly what happened. Edge and Cena went to their limits in a Last Man Standing Match that ended with one of the most "shocking" moments in WWE history.
With Edge claiming recently that he was nearing his second retirement, hopefully, we can get one last match between the two in 2023.
2010: John Cena vs. Batista (Extreme Rules)
Nearing Batista's first exit from WWE, he picked up this arrogant, pompous, rock-star attitude. Dressed in pants so tight you could see his muscles through the fabric, Dave Batista began expressing his disdain for John Cena.
Both were chosen as the future of the business at WrestleMania 21, where they were both crowned champions of their respective brands.
However, Cena was the one the machine chose, and despite Batista's best efforts, even beating Cena in a match in 2008, Cena was always number one. At WrestleMania XXVI, The Champ defeated Batista to capture the WWE Championship.
He'd go on to face Big Dave two more times, including a simply awesome bout at Extreme Rules.
Cena simply could not keep the Animal down and resorted to a crafty tactic to secure the WWE Championship. While Batista was momentarily dazed, Cena grabbed a roll of duct tape and trapped his opponent's legs around the bottom of the turnbuckle, ensuring he couldn't answer the ten-count.
2011: John Cena vs. CM Punk (Money in the Bank)
Of course, it's this match. What else could it be? 2011 was a strange year for WWE, to say the least. The ever-fading remnants of Nexus, People Power are in full swing, and CM Punk promising to leave WWE with the top prize.
Nobody expected CM Punk to defeat John Cena at Money in the Bank, and even if he could, most assumed he'd be cashed in on by whoever won the briefcase that night. Still, the crowd in Chicago was on fire as their hometown hero challenged the face of the entire company. It was also Title vs. Career, as Cena was told he'd be fired if he lost to Punk.
Against all the odds, Punk managed to claim his first WWE Championship in what is, to this day, an all-time championship change. What helped it all, though, was the fact that this match was simply phenomenal.
Punk and Cena had a chemistry that nobody exactly expected. Both great wrestlers in their own right, this ended up locking in rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
In the end, Cena's boy-scout attitude prevented Vince McMahon from pulling off another screw job, which would cost him the championship.
2012: John Cena vs. The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)
Originally a "once in a lifetime" match-up, John Cena and The Rock was a bout that was set up a year in advance. The Rock cost Cena the WWE Championship against The Miz the year prior, and the two took jabs at one another throughout 2011 and 2012.
After teaming up with one another to take on the Awesome Truth at Survivor Series 2011, we moved on to WrestleMania XXVIII. It was built up by WWE as the greatest match-up in the company's history.
One of the two faces of the Attitude Era and arguably the best from that point on, The Rock, against the face of the Ruthless Aggression and PG Eras, John Cena. It was, without doubt, the most exciting match the company had produced in years, and it delivered.
While they did face each other one year later, with Cena capturing the WWE Title from The Rock at Mania XXIX, this was definitely the better of the two. After suffering this loss, Cena would have one of the toughest years of his career due to a downward spiral caused by The Brahma Bull.
2013: John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan (SummerSlam)
Much like CM Punk at Money in the Bank, this was a match that had fans on the edge of their seats. Would WWE give us what we wanted? An indie darling rising to the top and knocking off the poster boy at one of the biggest events of the year?
Turns out, yeah, that's exactly what they did. With the added stipulation of Triple H as a special guest referee, it was assumed that shenanigans would ensue. While that did happen, it took place after this barn burner of a contest between two of the best in the world. Daniel Bryan led a raucous crowd to chant "Yes" as he cracked Cena with the Knee and pinned him clean in the middle of the ring.
This was also an early point in what some dubbed "Workrate Cena," where Big Match John began pulling out banger after banger against everyone he went up against. But we'll get to that soon enough.
2014: John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam)
SummerSlam has never been John Cena's favorite event. Despite fans' claims that he wins "all the time," Cena is 5-10 at the Biggest Party of the Summer. When you talk about his greatest losses, this beatdown by Brock Lesnar is right in the top spot.
This wasn't a match. It was a mauling. Destruction at its absolute best. Cena was completely demolished by The Beast Incarnate, who earlier that year ended The Undertaker's streak at WrestleMania XXX. What was next for Lesnar? Well, the WWE Championship, of course.
Cena handed Lesnar a loss in his first match back in 2012, so Lesnar needed to right that wrong. He did so with 16 German suplexes.
2015: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (Elimination Chamber)
Back in 2015, then NXT Champion Kevin Owens made his debut on RAW in shocking fashion. Amid John Cena's US Open Challenge run, which is chock-full of fantastic TV matches, the Prizefighter made a statement. After laying Cena out with the Pop-Up Powerbomb, Owens stomped on the US Title, making the statement that the NXT Championship was the superior prize.
At Elimination Chamber 2015, Owens faced Cena in a non-title match. It wasn't about the gold, it was about proving a point. Kevin Owens had wrestled longer than Cena and demanded respect. After a Pop-Up Powerbomb that caught Cena out of nowhere, KO secured what was possibly the greatest victory of his career.
Cena, after delivering another fantastic fight on pay-per-view, rolled right out of the ring and left Owens to soak in this moment.
2016: John Cena vs. AJ Styles (SummerSlam)
It's time to...beat up John Cena! In 2016, we saw the debut of the Phenomenal AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble. Dubbed by many to be the Shawn Michaels of his generation, Styles dominated every company he'd been in. Ring of Honor, TNA, New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He'd done it all, and it was time to conquer WWE.
His first major feud was against the face of the company in a dream match that many felt we'd never get the chance to see. Not only did Styles face Cena one-on-one three separate times in 2016, but he won all three matches. And every match was simply phenomenal.
Their best bout of the year was at SummerSlam. With Mauro Ranallo joining the SmackDown commentary team for a brief time, his big fight style at the desk helped amp up the second in what would turn into a quartet of spectacular bouts. After kicking out of an avalanche Attitude Adjustment, AJ Styles countered another AA with the Styles Clash and finished Cena with the Phenomenal Forearm.
2017 John Cena vs. AJ Styles (Royal Rumble)
Speaking of his matches against AJ Styles, let's talk about the night he finally defeated Styles. At 2017's Royal Rumble, WWE Champion Styles faced Cena in what ended up being the greatest match of their series.
It also secured Cena his 16th world championship, tying him with Ric Flair's record.
The Champ's win over Styles was a momentous occasion, securing his legacy as one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time.
2018: John Cena vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 34)
Without a doubt, this is the worst match on the list, but it's less about the quality in the ring and more about the moment. John Cena tried his best to get a WrestleMania moment in 2018. He'd failed to win the Royal Rumble and was unable to win the Elimination Chamber the following month.
His last chance was a six-pack challenge for the WWE Championship where, of course, AJ Styles was the champion. After failing to secure his 17th world title, Cena was out of options. There was only one thing to do, call out The Undertaker. He challenged The Deadman and expected to see him at the Show of Shows.
After months of taunting Taker and even getting an appearance from Kane, Cena walked into WrestleMania 34 with no sign of the Phenom. After watching the majority of the show in the crowd and a brief attack from Elias, Cena was finally met by The Undertaker.
Was it the match of a lifetime? No, far from it. John Cena was squashed by the legend in under three minutes. But it was a great story leading up to it, with Cena more flustered than we'd seen him in decades.
He wasn't going to be denied his moment, even if he ended up on his back counting the lights by the end.
2019: John Cena vs. Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin vs. Drew McIntyre (Monday Night RAW, January 14)
In January 2019, John Cena returned with the hopes of earning a WWE Universal Championship match against Brock Lesnar. In a Fatal Four-Way match, he faced Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre, and the eventual winner, Finn Balor.
Putting Cena in a ring with these three guaranteed an exceptional car crash of a contest. Baron Corbin, a highly underappreciated talent, took a lot of punishment from all three of his opponents. Drew McIntyre and Finn Balor both had great highlights from this, with both men hitting their finishers on Cena by the end of the night.
Of course, what made this moment worthwhile was John Cena's public ringing endorsement of Finn Balor. After eating a Claymore and a Coup De Grace, Cena was pinned by Finn Balor. Heading into a match with the WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, Balor needed all the momentum in the world.
Cena was pinned clean by the Prince and put his full faith into the inaugural Universal Champion post-match.
2020: John Cena vs. The Fiend Bray Wyatt (WrestleMania 36
In his one and only match in 2020, John Cena battled The Fiend Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Fun House match. Everything revolving around The Fiend at this point was convoluted, and the character itself left fans quite divided. However, Cena gave The Fiend its greatest moment when the monster of Bray Wyatt's creation essentially killed the legacy of John Cena.
There is no explanation for why Vince McMahon and the company signed off on this character assassination of the face of their promotion for the better part of two decades. Wyatt took Cena and the WWE Universe on a wild, twisting, mental ride going through Cena's career and giving us some "What if" scenarios.
Cena turning heel and being in the nWo? Nobody saw the image coming.
As far as the match goes, it...well, it wasn't a match. It was a segment. A short film. But for what it was, it was spectacular character work that hinged on tearing down everything John Cena had built on for almost two decades.
Considering this took place during the Pandemic Era when there was no crowd and the show had to go through some massive changes on short notice, this ended up taking our minds off of the worries of the world.
2021: John Cena vs. Roman Reigns (SummerSlam)
As mentioned earlier, SummerSlam is not John Cena's best night. Unfortunately, for Big Match John, he returned to challenge for the WWE Universal Championship amidst the greatest title reign in the modern era. Roman Reigns had already defeated the likes of Braun Strowman, Jey Uso, Edge, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and more by this point.
After a 33-minute victory over Edge at Money in the Bank 2021, Roman Reigns' celebration was interrupted by the returning John Cena. In no time, we had our main event for SummerSlam. While Cena and Reigns had clashed before, they delivered the main event caliber match fans were hoping for on this night.
In a 23-minute war, these two powerhouses held no punches. Much like the last half of his career, though, Cena spent most of this match putting over the sheer dominance of Roman Reigns. The Tribal Chief dominated Cena for the majority of the match, with Cena needing to pull out last-second counters to keep up with the Universal Champion.
Cena came as close as he could when he AA'd Reigns through the table, but it wasn't enough to keep the champ down. Cena eventually fell to Roman Reigns and was added to the list of legendary names The Head of the Table has dominated in his incredible reign.
John Cena returned to WWE for his first match in 2022, teaming up with Kevin Owens to take on Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn.
Did we name your favorite John Cena match here? If not, let us know in the comments what we left out!