John Cena has main-evented, and/or had a world championship match at every SummerSlam event since 2005. With the Dr. of Thuganomics set to embark on yet another major match this Sunday, I thought it would be fun (and I use that term loosely) to re-watch and rank all of John Cena’s SummerSlam bouts since his event debut in 2004. Below are the results.
11. SummerSlam 2004 – John Cena vs. Booker T – Match No. 1 of a best-of-five series for the United States Championship
Despite debuting in 2002, Cena didn’t make his SummerSlam debut until 2004, where he faced off against Booker T in match one of a best-of-five series for Booker’s United States Championship.
Believe it or not, this one didn’t quite reach the levels of Booker’s best-of-seven with REDACTED in WCW.
It’s funny to go back now and watch Cena’s early career, because while his “Word Life” gimmick was super over, his in-ring work was so bad. It’s clear these two either had no chemistry or Cena was just legitimately incapable of performing offense without injuring his opponent. It’s basically Booker keeping the heat on himself in a rest hold for six minutes before Cena powers out hits the FU and wins.
I vaguely remember the fifth match here being a little bit better, but there’s no way I’m going to watch any more 2004 John Cena matches to find out. Next.
10. SummerSlam 2009 – John Cena vs. Randy Orton – WWE Championship match
Full disclosure, I watched these matches in order over the course of about two days, and I think I was feeling some full Cena fatigue by this point. I knew that Nexus, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Brock Lesnar awaited me in greener pastures ahead, and I did not want to watch this formulaic late 2000s WWE main-event match between Cena and Randy Orton.
Still, I don’t think my fatigue is the reason why this match was an overbooked clusterf*ck. This match was restarted, not once not twice, but three times. Orton tried to get himself disqualified, counted out, and pinned Cena with his feet on the ropes. The finish finally comes when Brett DiBiase (?!?!?) interferes and creates an opportunity for Orton to win.
This came soon after Orton transformed his character to be “The Apex Predator” and his entire offense changes to be as slow and methodical as possible. I guess you have to appreciate how his move-set completely differers from when he was “The Legend Killer” or when he’s a babyface, but holy sh*t is it boring to watch.
Twenty minutes of boredom leading to three match restarts and a “fan intruder” angle as the finish. I’m so happy I wasn’t watching WWE in 2009.
9. SummerSlam 2007 – John Cena vs. Randy Orton – WWE Championship match
Two years prior to them going at it in 2009, Cena and Orton main-evented the biggest show of the summer in 2007 with their first WWE championship match. Considering how many times we’ve seen these two wrestle, it’s hard to go back in time and imagine when this match-up could have possibly felt fresh, but I did my best.
Cena was in the midst of a year-long WWE title reign, having defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania, and he was getting maximum boos at this point as the fans turned almost completely against him.
The build-up here was something about concussions, as Orton was beginning his transition from “Legend Killer” to “Viper” but none of that even matters because we get the most 1980s style Hulk Hogan match to occur in 2007.
I mostly think the Super Cena tropes aren’t fair, but, in this match, Cena legitimately gets almost zero offense before hulking, er… powering up, kicking out of an RKO, hitting the FU and pinning Orton clean. It’s not a bad match per se. It’s great if you want to watch the beginning of the evolution of orton’s character, and see him really find his rhythm as a performer. But it’s also not so good because, you know.
8. SummerSlam 2005 – John Cena vs. Chris Jericho – WWE Championship match
Cena’s run at the top of the card started in 2005 when he defeated JBL to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21. He was drafted to Raw afterwards, and Christian and Chris Jericho were lined up as his first challengers, with Eric Bischoff as the evil general manager who didn’t like John because he was just too darn positive or something.
Despite the fact that Jericho was essentially done with the WWE at this point (and wouldn’t return for two years), he carried still green as grass John Cena to something at least resembling a main-event style WWE match at SummerSlam ’05.
People still chant “You Can’t Wrestle” at John Cena in 2015, which is absurd, but it’s not like the chants originated from nowhere. Around this time, his move-set was basically clotheslines, shoulder blocks, more clotheslines, the STFU, and the FU. Say what you want about him now, but the fact that Cena is even throwing things resembling a springboard stunner and a code red is a miracle in and of itself.
This match was helped by a super hot crowd who was still pretty into John’s shtick at this point, as well as an intelligently crafted the finishing sequence, which showed off Cena’s only real weapon at this point… his strength.
Passable, but certainly not worth seeking out.
7. SummerSlam 2012 – John Cena vs. Big Show vs. CM Punk – Triple threat match for the WWE Championship
Here we had the second SummerSlam in a row of Punk vs. Cena (more on that first one later), but Big Show was added in as well to make it “fresh.” This was during Punk’s 400-plus-day title reign where he still was getting no main-events, including this show, which was main-evented by Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H because why would your champion ever main-event a show when THE KING OF KINGS or Johnny Ace is wrestling.
Every match from here on out, I would at the very least say was “decent,” and that’s where this one falls in. Every once in a while, WWE remembers that Big Show is 7-freaking-foot tall and weighs 400 pounds and probably shouldn’t be literally dressing up like a gigantic baby, and should actually be presented as a credible threat to win matches.
This was the most dominant Big Show was in a main-event match… ever? He just tossed Punk and Cena around like rag dolls for 12 minutes before it was time for the finish, which saw Punk and Cena both lock in their signature submissions on Show and him tapping out, only for general manager A.J. Lee to skip her way down to the ring and restart it, allowing Punk to get the win.
“No respect” heel CM punk was a delight, and Cena knows how to position himself in big multi-man matches (for example, Royal Rumble 2015). Combine that with Show getting to look like a legit beast for once, and you’ve got yourself a nice little title match, albeit one that probably shouldn’t be headlining on a show as big as SummerSlam.
6. SummerSlam 2010 – Team WWE vs. Team Nexus – seven-on-seven elimination match
Fun fact: Only four out of the 14 men in this match are booked on SummerSlam five years later.
This is one of those matches that’s tough to look at objectively in retrospect for what it was, without thinking about what came next. I clowned on Cena earlier for NEVER GIVING UP and always winning, but that’s actually… not the case, at least at SummerSlam. Cena’s SummerSlam record is 4-7. He hasn’t won a match at the event since 2010. The issue is, that win in 2010 was a really bad win.
Let’s let Chris Jericho and Edge give you another reason to hate John Cena, from an episode of Talk Is Jericho in 2013, where they discussed the finish of this match.
Chris Jericho: “It was Team WWE vs. Team Nexus, and the finish boiled down to [Edge] and [Jericho] in there, but it was Cena against a couple of them. John wanted to do things a certain way, and we told him, ‘You’re wrong.’ He did it, anyways, and it sucked. And then after, he came over to us and said, ‘I should have listened to you, but I wasn’t seeing it that way.'”
Edge: “I remember. I was like, ‘Fine. I’m out of the match by that point, anyway.'”
Chris Jericho: “He wanted to get DDT’d on the floor by Barrett, then kick out and beat them both. And you and I were like, ‘That’s the dumbest thing. That’s just throwing it away for no reason.'”
Edge: “They should have gone over because they were so hot.”
Chris Jericho: “We were fighting for Barrett to go over. And where’s Wade Barrett now?”
Yeah, so this was basically the epitome of LOLCENAWINS and, allegedly, it was Cena this time who pushed for it. The Nexus was the absolute hottest thing in wrestling, and then, with one crappy STF, Cena basically killed it.
All of that being said, there was a lot to like about this match in a vacuum if you can get over the finish. Daniel Bryan’s first real star-making moment didn’t come until he won Money in the Bank almost a year after this, but seeing the American Dragon get introduced as the final member of Team WWE (Matt Striker was barely able to contain himself on commentary), immediately eliminate Darren Young, last until the final two of his team, and not even be beaten cleanly when he was eliminated, kind of gave you a little bit of a clue that WWE had a some sort of an idea of what they had in him even back then.
HEATH SLATER PINNED BOTH CHRIS JERICHO AND EDGE IN THIS MATCH. Sorry, I got a little excited there, but, without context, that sentence is probably the unlikeliest sentence in the history of pro wrestling. Ryback also got to look pretty good, before he was even called that, and it’s still confusing to me how Justin Gabriel (that’s King of the Mountain Champion PJ Black to you!) never really became a thing.
Once person who didn’t look all that great in this match was Wade Barrett, who was a surefire future WWE Champion until John Cena AA’d him all the way to the fifth dimension.
**A quick aside: This match may have had the worst commentary in the history of WWE. At one point after Skip Sheffield took a codebreaker from Chris Jericho, Matt Striker literally just started quoting lyrics from Tom Sawyer by Rush for no reason. Meanwhile, Michael Cole was in full Miz jerk-off mode and spends the entire match just sh*tting on Daniel Bryan, who is making essentially his WWE main roster debut and not calling the match. Jerry Lawler was also there, which didn’t help.**
5. SummerSlam 2008 – John Cena vs. Batista
Lo and behold, John Cena’s only singles match at SummerSlam that didn’t involve a championship.
For whatever reason, Triple H was defending the title against The Great Khali, so the Raw brand main-event was John Cena vs. Batista for the “first time ever,” which isn’t entirely true, but we’ll let it slide.
This was surprisingly really good, with Batista pulling out a Figure Four and just raging out with two-straight Batista Bomb’s for the win including one where he caught Cena’s goofy leg drop off the top rope and planted him on the back of his neck, which caused Cena to go out with a legit injury.
By this point in his career, Cena knew what he was both in and out of the ring. Hat, t-shirt, jorts, arm bands, never give up, hustle-loyalty-respect, five knuckle shuffle, STF, AA.
He didn’t really try and do things he couldn’t do, and neither did Batista, which is what made this match so refreshing. They knew the WWE audience wanted to see the two good guys hit each other with their signatures moves until someone won, so that’s what they did. It’s like if you ever played SmackDown vs. Raw and just started with infinite finishers, but you and your friend were both really good at timing the kick outs.
If you hated these guys, you probably won’t care about this match, but it’s shockingly so much better than Cena’s two SummerSlam matches with Orton.
4. SummerSlam 2006- John Cena vs. Edge- WWE Championship match
So, Edge is my favorite wrestler of all-time, and Cena vs. Edge is one of my favorite Edge feuds, so this match might have gotten a little bump from my end.
Cena had drastically improved from his inability to wrestle just one year earlier, and he and Edge put on a really entertaining WWE title match, in which Cena was still getting boos, even though they were in his hometown of Boston.
Unlike many of his matches, Cena really sold well for Edge in this match, which really made the champ seem legit even though it was clear a clean finish wasn’t coming. These two just always seem to put on really good matches together, and Cena busted out some innovative stuff for him at the time, while Edge kept it interesting by countering the FU/AA into an impaler DDT (why do more people not do this?), which is so much cooler than just the rolling off the shoulders thing everyone else does.
Even the psychology here was great. Edge was an over-confident heel champion that was secretly terrified he couldn’t beat Cena legitimately, so he resorted to playing mind games such as attacking Cena’s dad and trying to involve Lita in the match multiple times. He’s “the ultimate opportunist,” so, when his normal outs get taken away from him (the stip here was if he gets disqualified, he loses the title), he has to resort to more clever ways of avoiding actually having a straight wrestling match. He even tries over and over to get a count-on win early on in the match because he’s afraid he can’t actually pin Cena or force him to tap. That’s good heeling right there.
Edge wins after Cena hits Lita with an AA (twas a different time, I guess), only for Edge to knock him out cold with brass knuckles. I miss Edge a lot, and this match made me miss him even more.
3. SummerSlam 2014 – John Cena vs.. Brock Lesnar- WWE Championship Match
We at With Spandex have covered this match many times over the last year or so, and it even showed up on Brandon Stroud’s Top 10 WWE matches of 2014 list.
Most of what could be said about it has been said, but I will add that watching this match at the end of having seen ten straight John Cena matches really did blow my mind.
Imagine Hulk hogan or even Stone Cold getting just brutalized like that for 15 straight minutes the way Cena was. You can’t, it’s not possible. This was everything that every “internet” wrestling fan has always dreamed would happen to Cena, and it actually did. Even a year later and I still can’t believe this match went down.
Jerry Lawler, bless his heart, takes up the role of John Cena advocate during this match, insisting to Michael Cole and JBL that they must never count out Touchdown John, and, in our brains, we were all saying the same thing. It didn’t really matter how much offense Brock got in (see above, Randy Orton, 2007) until that three was counted, there’s always that part of you that assumes Cena is going to just win. That’s what Cena does. He wins. He overcomes the odds. He pops up out of nowhere and hits an AA and braaaaappppadoooo! But nope. Not on this night.
It’s not like it would last, their rematch a month later was about as 50/50 as you could get and Cena was in position to win the title back if It wasn’t for a Seth Rollins faux money in the bank cash-in. But, for this one night, John Cena was absolutely, positively dominated, and that’s about as rare as him closing the window on an STF.
2. SummerSlam 2011 – John Cena vs. CM Punk – WWE Championship match
If you were to rank the top 10 John Cena matches in his career, I’d be surprised if half of them weren’t with CM Punk.
Cena and Punk have almost nothing in common, and that’s part of what made their rivalry so special. Punk was the indy guy who was overlooked because he had long hair and too many tatoos, and no matter what accomplishments in WWE he was able to achieve, he still had a chip on his shoulder, a belief that he wasn’t getting the respect he deserved.
John Cena, on the other hand, was the corporate champion. He was molded and crafted to be the face of the company, essentially from day one. He had a goofy white rapper gimmick and basically no wrestling ability, and he still became a champion soon after he debuted. Since then, his moves have evolved, but his character is the same. Every time there was a threat, Cena simply raised up and overcame it. Every time there was a challenger for his throne, Cena threw them off.
The summer of Punk (WWE version) is what brought me back into wrestling, so it has some serious sentimental value to me. This match of course had its flaws, mostly from a booking perspective. CM Punk should have left, and they should have let him show up at ROH or PWG or something with the WWE title, but they didn’t have the guts to go through with that, so he was gone for a week and came back. Rey Mysterio shouldn’t have had to defend his WWE title on the same night that he won it against John Cena for no reason to set up the SummerSlam match. Triple H didn’t need to be there. Kevin Nash definitely didn’t need to be there.
But even though it wasn’t quite as special as their Money in the Bank bout a month prior, this was still a damn good match and one of my favorites of the last five years. Much like Kevin Owens, I think Punk motivated Cena to show that he could not only wrestle, but that he could keep up with the work rate of these Ring of Honor guys, so he gives it everything he has. When these two were motivated, there was hardly any better pairing in WWE.
The finish was wonky with special referee Triple H counting the three despite Cena’s foot being on the ropes, and then “LOL REMEMBER THE KLIQ?” leading to an Alberto Del Rio cash in, but whatever. The match itself is legit great, and one of the most underrated in Cena’s career, and I refuse to let what happened after this match diminish what happened during it.
The pay-per-view ended right here, right?
1. SummerSlam 2013 – John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship match
There’s a lot rumors about what the “plan” for WrestleMania 30 was really supposed to be leading up to the event, but the general consensus is that the idea was Randy Orton vs. Batista in a singles match, and Daniel Bryan was only added into the equation because Batista got boo’d to hell and CM Punk took his ball and went home.
If that’s all true, then they totally backed into it and don’t actually know what they’re doing. However, one way or another, WWE told one of their most perfect stories in 2013-14: The story of Daniel Bryan’s redemption against The Authority. SummerSlam 2013 was the beginning of that story.
Some context: John Cena got to hand-pick his opponent for SummerSlam, and because he wanted to prove himself against the best competition, he chose Daniel Bryan, the most popular guy with the crowd who had never yet really gotten his chance to be in the main-event.
The build to this match is two-pronged. On one hand, you have the rivalry between Cena and Bryan. It’s a similar story to Punk, Bryan is the guy who traveled the world proving himself as a wrestler only to come to WWE and get told that he’s going to be taught the ropes by The Miz and thrown into a game show with a bunch of guys who have never have wrestled at his level before. Cena is Cena. They can respect each other but they can’t understand each other.
The second part of the story is Vince McMahon and “the company” wanting a hand-picked champion that they believe best represents the #brand. It’s a story we’ve seen before (see: Austin, Steve), but it works here. They don’t want Cena because he has defied their wishes so many times, but they definitely don’t want Daniel Bryan because he represents everything that has been so not WWE in their history. It’s great, because there is context clues about what’s going to happen, but it’s not a dead give away.
They have a match at SummerSlam and it’s brilliant. They chain wrestle early and trade submissions as Cena proves he can hang with Bryan in a technical style match. Then they build to Bryan’s comeback sequence which is/was the absolute best in wrestling. Finally, they hit the finishing sequence. This is Cena’s turf, when it’s winning time, he overcomes and finds a way to put away his opponent. But on this night, Bryan doesn’t tap to the STF, he gets out of the AA, and he debuts a brand new finisher, a running high knee, to finish off Cena once and for all to win his first WWE Championship.
We know what happens next, Triple H turns on Bryan and Randy Orton cashes in the Money in the Bank. It’s the ultimate “pull the rug out” moment and a great start to the story (despite how angry it made all of us at the time), which culminated with Bryan taking down the three biggest heels in the company in the same night at WrestleMania. Again, whether it was planned or not, the story had a beginning, middle, and end, and it concluded with what we all wanted to see: Daniel Bryan holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after the main-event of WrestleMania.
Cena gets lost in the shuffle a little bit here, and it’s easy to give Bryan all of the love, but he deserves praise for holding his own in a match of this magnitude. Cena has his flaws as a performer, I don’t think you would find many people who doubt that. But, when you go back and watch as many straight matches of his that I did, you do gain a sense of appreciation for him. A lot of guys wouldn’t be able to hang on to the spot he’s had for as long as he’s had it, and it’s more than just his ability to sell merchandise. When these big matches happen, it’s rare that he doesn’t at least make them entertaining. Of all of his eleven matches at SummerSlam, his match with Daniel Bryan is the cream of the crop and probably one of the better WWE main-events of this decade.
So, there you have it, folks. Bet you didn’t expect to be reading 4,000 words on John Cena today, but here we are. It’s obvious that when Cena has the right opponent, he can put on highly respectable matches, and there’s hardly any better worker in the WWE right now than Seth Rollins. If his matches with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are any indication (and they likely are), I would expect the Rollins match to find its way into this top five of this list after Sunday night.