John Cena made his WWE debut in June 2002, answering Kurt Angle's open challenge with an unforgettable show of "Ruthless Aggression." Over the next twenty years, Cena built an all-time great career, winning two Royal Rumbles and a record five United States and 16 world championships.
Prior to his iconic introduction to the WWE Universe, The Champ trained in Ohio Valley Wrestling under head booker Jim Cornette. He was part of a group of superstars that made their WWE bow in 2002 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest classes of company recruits to be called up from the same developmental territory.
These superstars changed the industry in many ways, taking different paths to arrive at legendary status. A common debate surrounding this group is who is the greatest WWE Superstar among them.
As part of John Cena month, let's rank their two-decade careers in the company based on criteria such as achievements, influence and ability. Let us know what you think in the comments!
#5: Shelton Benjamin is John Cena's most underrated class of 2002 colleague
During his time in OVW, John Cena and Rico Constantino lost the Southern Tag Team championships to Shelton Benjamin and Brock Lesnar. They met again on the main roster, most notably in a tornado tag team encounter on May 15, 2006 where Benjamin won the Intercontinental Championship.
The Gold Standard is the only man on this list who has not yet captured a world title, but he has nonetheless had a memorable career. Mostly used as a tag team specialist, the ten-time champion's 244-day reign with the IC title (which Cena never won) in 2004 was the longest of the decade.
Benjamin possesses as much ability as the rest of the men on this list, and a late career run in the main event scene would be much deserved.
#4: Batista draws the most career parallels with John Cena among the OVW 2002 class
Batista and John Cena have had similar career paths since arriving in WWE twenty years ago. The duo won their first world championships on the same night at WrestleMania 21, having been in the final two of the 2005 Royal Rumble. After rising to the top of the company, both men later pursued Hollywood careers, where they are established stars today.
The Animal is a six-time WWE world champion and two-time Royal Rumble winner. He would rank higher on this list had he spent more time in the company as an active competitor. However, his exploits in the movie industry have afforded more opportunities to performers hoping to cross the divide between the two media.
#3: Brock Lesnar and John Cena's WWE careers are so similar yet so different
Before John Cena became the face of WWE, Brock Lesnar was the chosen one to lead the company into the Ruthless Aggression era. The Next Big Thing became the youngest world champion in company history, defeating The Rock at SummerSlam 2002. However, his eight-year journey through the NFL, NJPW and UFC and back to WWE changed the company's plans
Lesnar went on to break The Undertaker's streak and become a 10-time world champion, but his success in the UFC was the main catalyst for his superstardom. Additionally, his trailblazing paved the way for MMA stars such as Ronda Rousey to crossover to WWE.
The Beast may well be the most successful combat sportsman ever and biggest draw in the industry today, but there are two fellow class of 2002 superstars who embody the company even more than him
#2: OVW class of 2002 alum Randy Orton is closest to John Cena in embodying WWE
Randy Orton and John Cena's WWE journeys have been entwined for more than a decade. The pair faced each other 22 times on television and premium live events from 2005 to 2017, and have won 30 world championships between them. Cena aside, only Ric Flair has won more world titles than Orton.
While The Viper has not had the crossover success of Lesnar and Batista, his incredible legacy within the business is surpassed by neither. Thus, the longevity of the youngest world champion ever lands him in second spot on this list
#1: John Cena is the greatest WWE Superstar to emerge from the OVW class of 2002
Nobody has embodied what it means to be a WWE Superstar for the past two decades like John Cena. The 16-time champion led the company through the Ruthless Aggression and PG eras, reinventing himself from a very popular rapper character to the ultimate babyface. He main-evented the highest-grossing WrestleMania in history alongside The Rock, and helped introduce stars such as AJ Styles to the WWE Universe.
Away from his stellar in-ring achievements, The Champ's record with merchandise sales, granting Make-A-Wish requests and media appearances set the blueprint for future top stars.
Cena earns the top spot on this list by virtue of gaining greater stardom inside WWE than his peers on this list before pursuing his Hollywood career. Twenty years after his first appearance, Cena is a legitimate contender for the company's Mount Rushmore.
Poll : Is John Cena the biggest star among the OVW 5?