WWE: Can Cena handle the pressure?
John Cena has competed in countless matches under the bright lights of the main event, but that does not mean he always flourishes under their harsh glow. Although his in-ring effort and out-of-ring commercial appeal have never been in question, Cena’s history of getting the job done in crunch time is uneven.
As The Cenation Commander in Chief prepares for the biggest match of his career – a once-in-a-lifetime bout against The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII – WWE.com looks back at his track record in high-pressure matchups – headliners and otherwise.
From his war of attrition with Booker T, to his many trips into enemy territory (ECW and the Hammerstein Ballroom, anybody?), to his main event clashes on The Grandest Stage of Them All, Cena has spent plenty of time in the pressure cooker.
Since day one, Cena has yet to shy away from pressure. His WWE television debut came when he answered an open challenge from former WWE Champion Kurt Angle in June 2002. Cena lost the match, but nonetheless achieved a moral victory, proving to be stiff competition for the much more experienced Angle. Moreover, the bout instantly underscored Cena’s big-game moxie.
Less than two years later, Cena was inside the hallowed confines of Madison Square Garden, competing for the United States Championship against Big Show at WrestleMania XX. Taken together, the elements – championship glory, a giant foe, The Show of Shows and the Mecca – would be enough to fill even the most confident youngsters with deer-in-headlights trepidation. Cena was not fazed, however, and he won his first singles title that night.
Cena further proved his mettle when he outlasted Booker T in a best-of-five series in 2004 to begin his second U.S. Title reign. Few situations can rival the intensity and mental strain of a heated series between a hungry up-and-comer and an established Superstar. Yet, in an ultimate passing-of-the-torch moment, Cena overcame Booker T, putting to rest any doubts about Cena’s formidability.
The Cena bandwagon has seemingly picked up passengers on The Road to WrestleMania, but his reception at the destination – The Rock’s hometown of Miami – is still expected to be icy on April 1. The dynamic will be nothing new for the fearless Cena, who has never backed away from battling in enemy territory.
Cena vied for Eddie Guerrero’s U.S. Championship in an August 2003 SmackDown match held in Guerrero’s home of El Paso, Texas. A practicing “Doctor of Thuganomics” at the time, the young and cocky Cena crumbled under the immense pressure of being the “away team,” and he resorted to low-blowing Guerrero, for the disqualification. Was the gaffe caused by inexperience or inability?
The Cenation Commander in Chief walked into a danger zone in June 2006, when he put up his WWE Championship against Rob Van Dam at ECW’s One Night Stand pay-per-view. The match went down before a small but passionate crowd of ECW diehards in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom – a longtime haunt for the brand. Faced with raucous anti-Cena sentiment, Cena couldn’t even throw his shirt into the audience without pushback. (They threw the shirt back, repeatedly.)
While on hostile ground, Cena fought valiantly but came up short, due to interference by WWE Hall of Fame 2012 inductee Edge.
Cena again marched defiantly into an opponent’s backyard at WWE’s Money in the Bank 2011, when he put his WWE Championship on the line against CM Punk. Held in Rosemont, Ill. – a stone’s throw from Punk’s home turf of Chicago – the bout ended Cena’s eighth WWE Title reign, to the delight of the pro-Punk contingent.
Twice is a coincidence, but three times is a trend in the making. Will Cena’s misfortune continue in The Rock’s hometown?
Although WWE officials have not officially announced the order of matches at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena vs. The Rock is heavily expected to be the main event. For Cena, the match will represent a fourth time topping the bill of The Showcase of the Immortals, which is far and away the most pressure-filled event of the year for the WWE Universe.
Cena stands 2-1 in his WrestleMania main events, beating Triple H at WrestleMania 22 and toppling “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels the following year at WrestleMania 23. However, his most recent trip to the top – last year’s WWE Championship Match against The Miz – was anything but successful. (Of course, The Rock played more than a minor role in Cena’s loss, as the WWE Universeremembers well.)
Even though his win-loss record suggests that he is a less than clutch performer, Cena has never backed away from high-pressure situations. From answering a former champion’s open challenge on his first day to taking down Mr. WrestleMania in The Show of Shows’ main event, Cena has always demonstrated stalwart tenacity.
When all the ingredients of a high-pressure match coalesce April 1, Cena will no doubt give his all. Whether that effort will translate into success is an entirely different discussion.
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