John Cena
Photo Credit: Den of Geek

Why John Cena was Unfairly Criticized While he was the Face of the WWE


During John Cena’s career in what is known as “the PG era,” Cena was typically booed by the older wrestling fans but cheered on by a vast amount of the younger fans and women causing the most unusual bi-polar reaction of any crowd in history.


Many of the older fans, predominantly male, criticized him by saying he had a generic Superman-like character that always won, and that he was a horrible wrestler. Ironically, many of those “haters” were left begging for Cena to come back before this year’s Wrestlemania. 


“It’s often debated, but Cena is clearly one of the best wrestlers of all time. He did more during his time as the face of WWE than most wrestlers ever will.” (World Wrestling Entertainment) Most of Cena’s “haters” agreed that he buried a lot of talent. This statement had some truth to it, but it was not a reason to completely despise Cena. Many wrestlers such as Triple H, Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg have buried people, but Cena seemed to get the most backlash for it. Although some examples of this are accurate (Ryback, Damien Sandow, Rusev, and Baron Corbin), Cena also helped elevate many wrestlers as well.

Photo Credit: WWE

Even though he beat some of them in matches, he also pushed them into the limelight. Wrestlers like CM Punk, Kevin Owens, A.J. Styles, Enzo Amore, Colin Cassidy, Bray Wyatt, and Shinsuke Nakamura are a few examples of wrestlers who benefitted from Cena’s sphere of influence. CM Punk was an amazing wrestler and storyteller, but his push to the main event could not have been done without Cena.

The storyline for Money in the Bank 2011 was one of the best in history. CM Punk and Cena’s promos developed the plot perfectly. CM Punk’s contract was about to expire, so he promised Vince McMahon that he would win the championship and then leave the company with it. 

Both wrestlers were “face” (good guys), but CM Punk was built as the underdog who rebelled against authority. Then there was Cena, who fans viewed as a suck-up to WWE who was always the cookie-cut do-gooder. Cena embraced his respectful views in this storyline and then put up arguably the best match of his career against CM Punk. Without this storyline, it’s unlikely that WWE would have pushed CM Punk to achieve the level of success he accomplished. 


John Cena had another phenomenal rivalry against Kevin Owens, all centered around defending his WWE United States Championship. 


Owens actually beat Cena clean at Elimination Chamber 2015, but the championship was not on the line. Even though Owens ended up losing the last matchup with Cena at Battleground 2015, this storyline helped push Owen’s to the main event scene, where he still plays a big role to this day. 

Photo Credit: WhatACulture

Cena also helped show the WWE Universe that A.J. Styles is more than ready and should be in the main event of the company. They had three one-on-one matches against each other and Styles won the best of two.

Their match at Money in the Bank 2016 here in Las Vegas was easily the match of the night, which Styles won in front of a loud, enthusiastic crowd. Even though he won because Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfered (from his stable, The Club), it showed that Styles could hold his own with the likes of a superstar, such as John Cena. After that, Cena lost to Styles at Summerslam 2016, which is known as one of the best Summerslam matches in history.

 AJ Styles and John Cena found themselves squaring off again at the Royal Rumble in 2017, and this time, Cena won the match. At that point, Styles was already seen as a “main eventer” and was a WWE Champion. To continue Cena’s rivalry with The Club in 2016, Cena partnered up with Enzo Amore and Cassidy to take on The Club at Battleground. Cena, Amore, and Cassidy pulled out the victory that helped elevate Amore and Cassidy as the top tag team, regardless of what WWE did with them afterward.


John Cena also helped develop Bray Wyatt before leaving the company.


Photo Credit: WWE

Even though Wyatt lost to Cena at Wrestlemania 30, Cena eventually made up for it. During an Elimination Chamber match in 2017, Bray Wyatt pinned John Cena to become the WWE Champion. He even pinned Cena in a triple threat match on an episode of Smackdown, just to defend his championship again shortly after that. WWE messed this up again by having Wyatt lose to Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 33, killing his momentum. Despite what happened after that, you can clearly see Cena elevated Wyatt during their program together.

Lastly, John Cena was not always in the main event. Towards the end of his run as a full-timer, he lost meaningful matches, including the number one contender match for the WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura on an episode of Smackdown in 2017. Nakamura was already popular with the crowd, but that stellar performance helped him get pushed to the main event. He challenged Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship right after that but lost along with whatever momentum he had going for him. It’s not Cena’s fault that WWE dropped the ball on pushing Nakamura afterward. 

Even though his constant rallying back after being beaten down annoyed many fans, it was good for the storytelling of his matches. Cena’s natural ability to make storylines interesting and being able to elevate others in the process proves that he was unfairly criticized for burying talent. He was criticized for not being a good technical wrestler,  but that isn’t accurate in any way. He did not perform many flashy moves like flips or top-rope maneuvers, but Cena still impressed the flow of matches with moves such as “Attitude Adjustment”, “The Five Knuckle Shuffle” “The Diving Leg Drop”, “The Tornado DDT”, “The One-Handed Bulldog”, and “The Springboard Stunner.” 


Many people also said he only utilized five moves, which was far from the truth.


Photo Credit: WWE

During his last run as a full-time wrestler, Cena introduced new moves such as “The Electric Chair Drop” and the “Sunset-Flip Powerbomb”. He constantly changed and added to his move set during his time in the WWE. The result was always the same: his uncanny ability to have great matches. 

He won the PWI (Pro Wrestling Illustrated) “Wrestler of the year” award in 2006 and 2007. Dave Meltzer (wrestling journalist) has only given a few matches in the WWE five stars, but John Cena vs CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011 was one of them. Many argue that Cena’s match against Shawn Michaels on an episode of Raw in 2007 should have been a five-star match as well, leading some to feel that star ratings should not be the only way to rate a match.

Cena has been involved in the PWI “Match of the Year” award five times in his career. Those matches were against Shawn Michaels, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt, and A.J. Styles. It takes two to tango in wrestling. Therefore, Cena deserves a lot of credit for every one of those matches. There is no doubt Cena has had some of the best matches in WWE history with the likes of A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, Edge, Seth Rollins, JBL, Daniel Bryan, Triple H, and Randy Orton.


Lastly, people criticized Cena because they said his character was the typical generic superhero wrestler like Hulk Hogan.


Photo Credit: WWE

Those “haters” seemed to forget that Cena is a part of the entertainment business. He did many things in WWE that were far from ordinary which include destroying JBL’s (John Bradshaw Layfield) limo, hitting the “Attitude Adjustment” on Jon Stewart, hitting the “Attitude Adjustment” on John Laurinaitis through an announcer’s table, and taking beatdowns from Brock Lesnar that left him bleeding profusely. Every wrestler has their moments, but John Cena made history with moments that were above and beyond what a typical wrestler would accomplish.

On the microphone, not all of his promos were him being the overly positive good guy either. He infamously called out The Rock for writing his promo on his wrist during their buildup to Wrestlemania 27. He even acknowledged his disdain of CM Punk during a promo on an episode of Raw where he said that CM Punk, “probably thought he was too PG, was another Hulk Hogan rip off, and that he should show off his heel (bad guy) side.” He told CM Punk that, “if he wanted a phony, he should look in the mirror.”

This promo was one of the best he cut and showed that he was not just like every other ordinary Superman archetype character that came before him. Cena made history with most of those moments. Even if one were to disagree and think Cena’s character was typical, it was not his fault he was booked like that. He was a quality technical wrestler and one of the best storytellers in WWE history. Storylines play a massive role in what makes the WWE as interesting as it is, and Cena was one of the best. Many wrestlers are good technically, but not many have the charisma and storytelling ability that John Cena does

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-Kyle Randolph – Franchise Sports Media


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