He’s been called the most controversial superstar in WWE history, but whether you love him or hate him, his impact on professional wrestling cannot be undermined. For the better part of 10 years now, John Cena has carried the brand.
He won his first of 15 WWE/World Championships in 2005, and has since released an album that reached #15 on the Billboard charts, starred in movies, appeared on talk shows, endorsed products, and perhaps most importantly, granted more wishes than any other celebrity for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Cena’s merchandise moves off shelves faster than any other superstar, as he’s become an inspiration to children all over the world.
He truly is the modern day Hulk Hogan…..except….nothing about the ‘Hulk Hogan’ character is modern in 2015.
So, for years, fans have clashed over The Champ. The younger generations adore Cena for his never say die attitude, the ideals of “Hustle. Loyalty. Respect.” Older enthusiasts tend to visualize Cena as recycled junk shoved down our collective throats.
“Let’s go, Cena!” “Cena sucks!” You know the drill.
Whether it’s Sheamus’ hair, Nikki Bella’s exhaustive run as Divas Champion, Sting’s WrestleMania entrance, Jerry Springer having his own show on the WWE Network, or Seth Rollins’ naked selfies, a lot of weird things have transpired within the confines of the WWE landscape in 2015.
Perhaps the most peculiar occurrence of the year is the metamorphosis of the WWE’s cornerstone.
It’s 2015, and John Cena is having one of the greatest years of his career.
How did it happen? Flash back to SummerSlam 2014; the night I would argue Cena’s career renaissance was conceived.
Brock Lesnar was coming off of one of the biggest wins in WWE history. He defeated the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX, marking the first time the Undertaker had lost at the event in 22 years. Naturally, his legend was growing and he found himself in a position to challenge Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
What followed was the most dominant WWE main event in history. After 16 German suplexes and little to no offense, Lesnar pinned Cena. The WWE Universe was abuzz – especially the anti-Cena convocation. The general sentiment was that Cena had shown tremendous respect for the business, the championship, and his opponent that night in taking such a hard loss.
He earned points – after a rematch in September, and reigniting his classic feud with Randy Orton, Cena found himself in the main event of Survivor Series that November. In a match that would pit The Authority against Cena’s team with power and careers on the line, Cena took a back seat.
Internet favorite, Dolph Ziggler, was the shining light – supposedly saving the WWE from the scheming, despicable Authority. Fans were ecstatic that their darling was portrayed as the hero, and as a result, Cena earned more points.
Flip the calendar to 2015, and Cena found himself in what remains to this day a ‘Match of the Year’ candidate in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at the Royal Rumble. He challenged for Lesnar’s title in addition to Seth Rollins in a triple threat match.
Following this, he lost to United States Champion, Rusev, at Fastlane, in other great contest. Seeing a Cena loss has been a seemingly rare occurrence over the past 10 years, much less with a championship on the line.
At WrestleMania 31, Cena would avenge his loss and hand Rusev his first loss after a year-long undefeated run. Little doubt existed that Cena would be the one to end Rusev’s undefeated streak, but to see him take the U.S. title was a tad off.
Then came the open challenges.
Cena’s United States Championship invitationals became must-see television each and every week. The contest was usually the greatest match of the night, featuring challengers such as Dean Ambrose, Stardust, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro.
After a spring’s worth of open challenges, the WWE decided to throw us all a curveball and book Cena against Owens one-on-one at Elimination Chamber. When Owens pinned Cena cleanly, the IWC nearly exploded.
An argument can be made that Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Bray Wyatt (in 2014) are all worse off after their feuds with Cena, but they still hold victories over him, and they were still portrayed as one of the company’s top heels throughout their respective programs.
Another contributing factor to Cena’s resurgence is the expansion of his repertoire. Moves such as the springboard Stunner, and his variation of Petey Williams’ Canadian Destroyer have become commonplace and generally get good pops from the crowds when performed.
He’s raised the prestige of a championship that had become rather stagnant, but one question remains:
Where does it go from here?
Cena has been booked brilliantly over the past 12 months, and has performed up to the occasion several times – he’s hot now, but if he beats Seth Rollins (as is the anticipated championship match for SummerSlam), we might be back to square one.
“John Cena sucks!” may reverberate through arenas ten times louder each week. Will it matter? If his merchandise keeps selling and he keeps getting movie deals, probably not.
But, at least we have the internet to voice our frustration to.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, and is a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley, and follow Pro Football Spot at @pfspot.