WWE introduced a new era of pro wrestling in 2016. Their product went through several crucial changes during this time. The company also reinstated the Brand Split, which provided RAW and SmackDown with their separate rosters.
WWE's intention to present a more exciting product led to many never-seen-before rivalries. One such dream rivalry happened between John Cena and AJ Styles.
The feud started before the 2016 MITB pay-per-view and continued for the next seven months. The two superstars, surprisingly, shared incredible chemistry. They brought the best out of each other every single time.
The character development, in-ring action and promo work during this feud were simply flawless. It was a career-defining rivalry for both superstars. Let's go down memory lane to relive this iconic WWE feud.
In this article, let's look at the five most memorable moments from the John Cena Vs AJ Styles rivalry.
#5. AJ Styles turns heel on John Cena: WWE RAW
John Cena made his much-awaited return to WWE RAW in May 2016, after being out of action for months. He talked about WWE's new era and questioned the toughness of the new superstars.
After Cena's promo, AJ Styles made his way to the ring. He told the Franchise Player about his long time desire to share the ring with him. The two superstars shook hands afterward as a sign of mutual respect.
However, they were soon interrupted by AJ's former teammates Gallows and Anderson (The Club). Due to some internal conflicts, Styles decided to separate himself from his teammates. It didn't sit well with Gallows and Anderson, who now looked to beat up both AJ and Cena.
The Phenomenal One pretended to team up with Cena. However, Styles quickly showed his true colors by attacking his own teammate. The Club also joined him in this beatdown. It was one of the most perfectly executed heel turns of all time.
It brought back relevancy to AJ Styles, who had got lost in the shuffle after his consecutive losses to Roman Reigns. It also gave John Cena a tough opponent to deal with. Moreover, this segment introduced the world to the popular #BeatUpJohnCena trend.
#4 Styles and Cena cost each other a WWE title opportunity.
At WWE Battleground, Dean Ambrose (now known as Jon Moxley) was supposed to defend his title against his former buddies, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Unfortunately, Reigns got suspended by WWE due to a wellness policy violation.
Due to this development, the status of this dream Shield Triple Threat became uncertain. On the last RAW episode of June 2016, Seth Rollins expressed his frustrations about Reigns' suspension. He asked WWE to remove the Big Dog from the WWE title match.
However, Dean Ambrose still wanted the bout to remain a Triple Threat. Both were interrupted by John Cena and AJ Styles, who demanded they get added to the title match. Stephanie McMahon came out and announced two qualifying matches for that night.
The stipulation was that if Cena and Styles win their respective bouts, they will get added to the WWE title match at Battleground. In the first of those two matches, John Cena collided with Seth Rollins.
In the final moments of the bout, the Cenation Leader locked Seth Rollins up in an STF. However, The Club distracted Cena by surrounding the ringside. Rollins took advantage of this distraction and hit Cena with a Pedigree. He then pinned him for the three count and prevented him from getting the title opportunity.
In the main event of the show, Styles went one-on-one with the WWE Champ. He gave Ambrose a run for his money but wasn't able to put him down. The Club eventually came out to help Styles win the match. However, John Cena evened the odds for Dean Ambrose by taking out both Gallows and Anderson.
The Lunatic Fringe then hit the Dirty Deeds on Styles and beat him by pinfall. The animosity between Cena and Styles became even more intense after this RAW episode. Styles was visibly furious with Cena for costing him a WWE title opportunity.
3. John Cena and AJ Styles stole the show at WWE SummerSlam 2016
At WWE SummerSlam 2016, John Cena finally got to face AJ Styles in a proper one-on-one match. It wasn't their first bout, as they previously collided at the MITB pay-per-view. However, that bout didn't have a clean finish due to The Club's interference. It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.
Due to the WWE Draft, The Club was no longer together. Gallows and Anderson got drafted to WWE RAW, leaving The Phenomenal One on the Blue Brand. Thus, people were thrilled to see a proper singles match between Cena and Styles.
The two superstars tore the house down with their outstanding performances. It was undoubtedly one of the best matches of the last decade. The WWE Universe was delighted to see this dream match living up to the hype.
Everything about this match was just Phenomenal (no pun intended). It also showcased Cena's incredible wrestling skills, which are often underestimated by the wrestling community.
The biggest surprise came in the final moments of the contest. The Cenation Leader executed a top rope Attitude Adjustment on Styles and quickly went for the cover. However, Styles kicked out of the lethal maneuver, leaving Cena in disbelief.
He went for another AA attempt on Styles. But the latter reversed the move into a Styles Clash. He then planted the 16-time World Champion with a Phenomenal Forearm to pick up the victory.
It was an unexpected victory for AJ, as there have not been many WWE Superstars to beat John Cena clean in the WWE. This win changed the trajectory of Styles' career and turned him into a main-event player.
#2 John Cena gives AJ Styles a lesson in respect: WWE Smackdown
After a short absence, John Cena returned to WWE television just before the Royal Rumble 2017. He had last performed at WWE No Mercy 2016, where he failed to take the WWE Championship from AJ Styles.
On the first promo since his return, Cena laid down a big challenge for the WWE Champion. He declared that he was coming for AJ Styles' title at WWE Royal Rumble.
In the buildup to this match, Styles talked about Cena being handed everything by the WWE administration. He said that the Franchise Player does not belong in the WWE. Styles also told him that he could never be as good as him.
John Cena ultimately fired back at Styles one week before their title match. The Cenation Leader confronted AJ on the go-home show of Smackdown before the Royal Rumble. During the segment, AJ Styles expressed his frustrations about being disrespected by the WWE Universe.
John Cena was triggered by this statement. He criticized Styles for complaining about not getting respect. John said that he remained the top face of the WWE despite being constantly disrespected by the WWE Universe. He even took a shot at the indie wrestling scene.
Cena said that he was built for the WWE. He claimed to be bigger than all of the indie companies out there. He declared Styles to be an unoriginal superstar who wants to take his place in the WWE.
The aggression of the multi-time World Champion throughout this segment was too good for AJ Styles. John Cena's heelish antics during his promo were quite surprising for everyone. It helped in making this rivalry even more intense.
#1 John Cena wins his 16th World Championship: WWE Royal Rumble 2017
After weeks of trash-talking, Cena and Styles finally collided against each other at WWE Royal Rumble 2017. While Styles looked to solidify his WWE title reign by beating Cena, the latter was laser-focused at winning his 16th World Championship.
The match was an in-ring masterpiece. The quality of this bout succeeded their SummerSlam encounter. The contest had everything, from beautiful mat wrestling to insane technical combat. There were also some unique reversals as well as shocking finisher kick-outs.
In the final moments of the contest, AJ looked to finish off John with a Phenomenal Forearm. However, Cena picked him up from the top rope and blasted him with two consecutive Attitude Adjustments to pick up the victory.
It was a truly remarkable moment for John Cena, as he finally equaled Ric Flair’s record of most World Championships. It was a perfect ending to this rivalry. It made Styles look strong in defeat while allowing John Cena to fulfill his title prophecy.