John Cena has been at the top of the professional wrestling world for more than one-and-a-half decades. He’s a 16-time world champion, main-evented 5 WrestleManias, won 2 Royal Rumbles and he’s a role model outside the ring. Cena has done more 'Make A Wish' visits than anyone else in history and is transitioning into television and movies. Cena is irreplaceable in more ways than WWE can even think of. When casual fans think of WWE, they still think of John Cena.
When Cena finally retires, WWE have to be very careful with who gets the honor. This person has to be talented enough and have enough of a connection with the crowd to be bestowed with the spot of being Cena’s ‘heir’. WWE have to be careful that this person will be able to carry the immense pressure on their shoulders.
A number of names come to mind from WWE’s current roster so let’s take a look at the possibilities.
#7 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens made his main roster debut by taking out John Cena. He beat Cena clean in their first PPV match against each other and with WWE pushing Owens as one of the top heels of the New Era, Owens will be one of the top contenders to be John Cena’s last opponent with Owens possibly turning into a tweener following his match with Cena – Owens should never go full babyface, an anti-establishment tweener is a better fit for his style.
The former WWE Universal Champion and Cena can tear the house down on their night and the match will be one fit for the retirement of a legend like John Cena. Owens has the potential to be one of the faces of WWE – fans believe that he’s a once in a generation talent – and retiring Cena would help Owens break through the stratosphere and remain as one of the top names in WWE.
#6 Finn Balor
Finn Balor has achieved a whole lot in a very short period of time. Balor held the longest NXT Championship reign ever, before he was overtaken by Adam Cole, and became the first WWE Superstar in history to win a WWE World Championship on their PPV debut when he defeated Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam 2016.
Even though Balor had to relinquish the title the next night due to the injury, Finn Balor was still an enormous star. He may not have had the best run once he returned, but by going back to NXT, he once again established himself as a top Superstar. Balor will definitely be in the running to retire John Cena – especially if he’s a heel at the time. Balor’s retiring Cena would push Finn to Superstardom overnight and we all know how much faith Triple H has in Balor – Balor is definitely a Triple H guy.
The former Bullet Club leader and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion definitely has the pedigree to be Cena’s last opponent.
#5 Shinsuke Nakamura
The former NXT Champion definitely has the pedigree to be John Cena’s last opponent. Shinsuke Nakamura has impressed since WWE debut, and although he has not quite lived up to his potential, his matches have always been more than entertaining. He’s one of the top performers in the world, an internationally traveled veteran with boatloads of charisma and he’s slowly but surely introducing himself to WWE’s casual audience – and retiring Cena would instantly cement Nakamura as a big deal even to casual fans who may not be fully aware of his history.
Realistically though, Nakamura has very little chance of this spot but this match would be huge – the face of Japanese wrestling vs the face of WWE.
#4 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is already a star. A former member of The Shield and the first NXT Champion, Rollins was also the first person in history to cash-in his Money In The Bank contract during a Wrestlemania main-event – Rollins has had a storied history with John Cena including their title vs title match at SummerSlam 2015 which Cena lost after Jon Stewart hit him with the steel chair. Rollins also broke Cena’s nose on the road to SummerSlam which left John Cena out of action.
Cena vs Rollins has already taken place before but Rollins will still be in the contention to be the one to retire Cena. Rollins is one of the most popular Superstars WWE have right now and has the potential to be a red hot babyface as well as a smarmy heel. Cena and Rollins have already shown us that they have great chemistry in the ring so the match itself will be one for the ages.
WWE has also shown that they have a lot of faith in the former member of the Shield, and that might play a part in him getting to be the one to actually retire the Leader of the Cenation.
#3 CM Punk
This one has the least chance of happening but wouldn’t it be the perfect choice for every smark out there? CM Punk has repeatedly said that he never intends to return to WWE in the ring. However, he was not exactly successful in MMA and lost on his UFC debut against Mickey Gall. Punk tapped out in under 30 seconds and even though he entered the Octagon again, it was to another losing effort. It has been clear for quite some time that the 37 year-old doesn’t have much of a future in MMA even though he reportedly wants another UFC fight.
Even though Punk has said he’ll never return and he has been very outspoken about WWE which went as far as him being involved in a lawsuit filed by WWE doctor Chris Amann, there’s no doubt that Punk and WWE could do phenomenal business if he returned. He has already put aside a lot of his differences with the company and joined WWE Backstage, where his segments are extremely popular. We all know that Vince McMahon is capable of putting personal issues aside for business.
We all remember Punk and Cena’s history together. Punk’s famous pipebomb promo had some really scathing things about John Cena and their match at Money In The Bank 2011 with CM Punk threatening to leave WWE with the belt if he won (kayfabe). Punk retiring Cena could be an option that WWE could explore – this all depends on if CM Punk re-signs with WWE in an in-ring capacity.
#2 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns probably has the most chance of being John Cena’s opponent – a decision hardcore WWE fans might have vehemently disagreed with a couple of years ago. Roman has been relentlessly pushed by WWE in the last couple of years in the face of increasing fan backlash. In a way it will be apt, the most polarizing Superstar in WWE history being retired by the most polarising Superstar of the New Era polarizing Superstar in WWE history being retired by the most polarising Superstar of the New Era.
Undoubtedly, ‘The face that runs the place’ vs ‘the guy’ will be a huge match even though the live crowd will be split through the middle. But, isn’t that the beauty of Cena matches? The match will have a unique atmosphere and will deliver in the ring.
No matter what the internet wrestling community may choose to believe, Roman has come forward in leaps and bounds inside the ring over the last few years and Cena is good enough to work with Reigns to make it believable. With his struggle with Leukemia, fans have forgiven a lot of the issues that existed with Roman's earlier push, and this might well be the match to make.
#1 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn has the potential to be the biggest babyface of the New Era. There’s something very Daniel Bryan-esque about him. Zayn is one of the purest babyfaces you’ll ever come across and he has the potential, talent, and connection to be Cena’s successor. He has also shown his ability to be a natural heel when the time calls for it, and has been one of the more cowardly heels, using the help of multiple Superstars to get exactly what he wants. WWE has not always seen him as the biggest star, and that has been obvious, but it has felt like that impression is changing slowly.
Zayn has shown the WWE Universe what he’s capable of when he has a good storyline and a good opponent. He’s also an extremely talented in-ring performer and will definitely be able to take Cena’s place as WWE’s go-to babyface if he receives the proper booking. He’s as polished outside the ring as he is inside it and should also be able to take Cena’s non-WWE responsibilities in his stride.
Cena vs Zayn could easily be a babyface vs babyface match, or it could even have Zayn show his heelish nature along the way. However, the match could be even more intense if Cena shows a few heelish tendencies – resulting from his jealousy of Zayn, who he sees as a younger version of himself (and a better wrestler).
Whether this will ever happen or not remains up in the air, but if it does, it has the potential to be one of the best matches of all time. All Zayn needs is a proper push.