On April 3, 2005, at WrestleMania 21, John Cena was crowned WWE Champion for the first time.
A few months later, he was drafted from SmackDown to Raw and became the face of the company.
There have been some growing pains over the years, but the long journey has its reward. In 2015, at the age of 38, John Cena is fulfilling his in-ring potential like never before.
Cena is on a level not seen in North America in a decade, consistently delivering high-quality singles matches on major events. 7 of his matches on pay-per-views or other special events in 2015 have received a 4-star rating or higher from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
- Royal Rumble: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (****3/4)
- Elimination Chamber: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (****1/2)
- Money In The Bank: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (****1/2)
- Battleground: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (****1/4)
- SummerSlam: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (****1/2)
- Night Of Champions: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (****)
- Live From MSG: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (****)
You have to go back to 2005 to find another string of performances like Cena’s. That’s when A.J. Styles had 8 pay-per-view matches for TNA with a WON rating of 4-stars or higher. The last WWE wrestler to match Cena was Kurt Angle, who had 7 back in 2001. Looking further back, Ric Flair had 8 in 1989. And if you’re willing to compromise on your definition of “major event”, you can argue Rey Misterio, Jr. matched Flair and Styles with his matches in WCW, ECW and at the World Wrestling Peace Festival in 1996.
John Cena could surpass all of them by the end of the year.
John Cena is performing at a world-class level inside the ring, keeping pace with his more-celebrated contemporaries around the globe. In addition to pay-per-views and special events, Cena has 3 other matches from Raw this year rated 4-stars or higher by the Wrestling Observer. That grand total of 10 4+ star matches is ahead of New Japan stars Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi. It’s as many as A.J. Styles and Seth Rollins. It’s just one short of Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto. This is the elite company Cena is keeping in 2015.
It’s an astonishing surge. Cena’s previous high for a single year was 6 matches rated 4-stars or higher in 2007, and not all of those were on major events. Last year, Cena had 5.
What changed? The quality of wrestlers Cena has shared the ring with can’t be ignored. Cena’s 10 WON 4+ star matches thus far in 2015 have involved just 4 different opponents: Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and Cesaro.
Some of you may dismiss the Wrestling Observer star ratings as one publication’s opinion, but it is the authority on these matters, and it’s not alone. CageMatch.net uses a crowd-sourcing system to rate matches. 6 of the 30 highest-rated matches from John Cena’s career are from 2015.
We may not always like what we get from John Cena, or how much of it we get (he’s now second only to Undertaker in most matches all-time in WWE), but it’s impossible to deny Cena has elevated his game inside the ring in 2015. Not only is he establishing a new high for himself, he may be setting a lofty, new standard for pro wrestling in North America.
And now, a quick word about the Young Bucks…
It doesn’t necessarily fit with the Cena narrative I’m presenting in this column, but it’s impossible to ignore the quality of matches from the Young Bucks in 2015. If you are willing to accept the following definition of “major event”, the Bucks are matching Cena’s remarkable pace, with 7 matches in North America this year rated 4-stars or higher by the Wrestling Observer.
- PWG From Outta Nowhere: Young Bucks vs. Ethan Page & Josh Alexander (****1/4)
- ROH 13th Anniversary: Young Bucks vs. reDRagon (****1/4)
- ROH/NJPW Global Wars: A.J. Styles, Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson & Young Bucks vs. Hanson, Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe, Ray Rowe & Roderick Strong (****1/2)
- ROH Best In The World: Adam Cole, Matt Taven & Michael Bennett vs. A.J. Styles & Young Bucks (****1/4)
- PWG Battle Of Los Angeles (Night 1): Marty Scurll, Tommy End & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Young Bucks & Roderick Strong (****1/2)
- PWG Battle Of Los Angeles (Night 2): Andrew Everett, Biff Busick & Trevor Lee vs. Young Bucks & Super Dragon (****1/2)
- ROH All-Star Extravaganza VII: Young Bucks vs. The Addiction vs. Michael Bennett & Matt Taven (****)
This isn’t even counting their matches for New Japan. Again, it’s one publication’s opinion, and it never hurts to name one of your big moves after the man in charge of it, but this kind of year for a tag team appears to be unprecedented.
But that is another column…
Special thanks to friend of the Wrestling Mayhem Show Buddy Landell. He was first to point out Cena’s string of highly-rated matches to me, and is directly responsible for me writing about it for this week’s column.