This is one of those opinion pieces that I am passionate about. When talking about the greatest wrestlers of all time, please do not lump John Cena in a category he does not belong.
After listening to a lengthy conversation the other day amongst wrestling fans over how superior the 16-time world champion was to any other performer in the history of professional wrestling, I felt the need to use my words instead of my voice, which would have cussed out these neophytes for their lack of knowledge.
There is Cena, who is a superstar and one of the greatest performers of all time. Then there are wrestlers like Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, The Funks and many others who put this business on the map. Cena helped it become more mainstream because of WWE’s constant need to move away from the purity of wrestling and step deeper into the sports entertainment abyss.
There are few who have enjoyed the success Cena has through his popularity and prowess in the ring. There is no denying he is the ultimate star, who has made the transition as this generation’s Hulk Hogan look seamless. But in a “wrestling match” can he hold a candle to those who open the door for him to walk through? The answer is a resounding “No.”
It’s a resume many would be proud to have. There are 25 championships throughout his career, 16 world titles. He is a five-time United States Champion and a four-time world tag team champion. Most wrestlers would do anything to have half the championship success as “The Champ” has had.
After beating A.J. Styles for his 16th title at the 2017 Royal Rumble, I wrote a column on another website stating the win was hollow, anti-climatic and an insult to how Flair was by far a superior champion. I still believe that today. WWE has done a better job if respecting their brand titles with longer championship reigns. There is little doubt in my mind Cena’s run as company champion is done with.
With Cena’s age (41), his movie career and other business dealings and the company’s desire to move forward (unless the company needs to move more tickets so they bring in aging veterans to get us all amped up a bit), the debate will continue about Cena and his place in wrestling history.
Is he a great performer? One of the best of all time. Is he the greatest champion of all time? Not even close. Cena has never been a wrestler first and performer second. Just like Hulk Hogan. Just like The Rock. Just like Triple H. All three are on a list of the greats of all time. Some would debate if that’s because of wrestler or entertainment.
For Cena, it’s about entertainment. The rest continues to be an open debate.