It’s easy to forget just how much history John Cena has in WWE. It’s not that he’s had roughly 13 years in the company, or even that he’s had 10 at the top of the card. Cena’s history is about the high-profile matches and major feuds he’s had with every great performer of the last 13 years. The man has won 15 World Championships.
What’s even more astonishing is who he’s defeated. Cena is an elite name in wrestling immortality, and he’s going to be remembered as the greatest WWE champion of all time.
The trick to appreciating Cena is to go back to where to all began. To take a long trip down memory lane to see all of Cena’s title wins. To go back to where it all began again. WrestleMania 21, where Cena won his first World Championship over JBL. Where Cena said for the first time,”The Champ is here!”
Going into WrestleMania 21, this was the main feud on Smackdown. Walking into Hollywood, JBL had been WWE Champion for 280 days. JBL was the mega heel of Smackdown at the time. Cena was the new kid on the block. This feud was about new school vs. old school. It was Cena’s thriving momentum against JBL’s run as the “Wrestling God.” JBL was convinced that Cena didn’t have enough to become champion and Cena needed to prove himself.
It’s wrestling 101 in terms of story, and it worked like a charm. To build suspense, Cena was prohibited from putting his hands on JBL. In typical heel fashion, JBL attacked Cena with cheap shots, but also attacked his moral character.
As a result of Bradshaw’s antics, Cena lost his United States Championship. Cena had nothing to lose, but he just had to wait for WrestleMania to get his hands on JBL. At WrestleMania 21, Cena and JBL fought for wrestling’s future.
The champion entered first in his Texas Bullhorn limo escorted by police. Money with JBL’s face on it fell from the sky. For the culmination of his title run, this entrance was a great sendoff for JBL’s best run. It’s a little surreal, but for Cena at WrestleMania, the entrance is simple. Granted, he wasn’t “John Cena” yet, this was the first step, but Cena coming out quickly and just looking to get down to business is interesting when you look back from today.
JBL literally kisses the title goodbye and a few moments after, the bell rings and we’re underway. The two men lock up and push one another around the ring. Cena and JBL get things started by exchanging shoulder tackles, until JBL gains the advantage and begins to punish Cena into the corner. JBL channels into the brutality that made him and pounds Cena all over the ring. Cena gets hit with a neckbreaker for a two count as JBL is in full control.
The pounding of Cena continues as JBL stomps and wears him down on the mat and ropes. They find themselves in the middle of the ring, brawling it out. Cena gains the upper hand with haymakers and a big boot in the corner. Cena lunges for a big move, but JBL hits him with a huge spinebuster to slow the momentum back to his speed.
The offense for JBL continues focusing on the neck. JBL remains in control and throws punches. In typical JBL fashion, he throws Cena around the ring and Irish Whips him into the corner and thrusts him with a stiff clothesline.
JBL knocks Cena nearly out with a huge clothesline. He goes for the cover, but Cena is close enough to get his foot on the rope. Cena has been under JBL’s control the entire match. JBL locks in a sleeper hold to finally put Cena down.
It may have been enough, if Cena hadn’t thrust JBL into the air and down for a desperate Back Suplex. Cena’s momentum starts to turn, but then both men are caught with clotheslines in the center of the ring. It seems Cena is building momentum, until JBL throws him out of the ring.
JBL brings him back in and sets up and hits a Superplex for a long two count. JBL climbs to the top and tries a crossbody that Cena reverses into a modified powerslam.
The momentum shifted. Cena finally gets something going with elbows, punches and clotheslines. Cena is fired up and finally has some offense. He hits a back body drop, then a shoulder tackle, a good hip toss and finally a side slam to set up and hit a classic Five Knuckle Shuffle. Cena pumps up his sneakers and sets up for the FU.
JBL reverses it with a big boot in the corner. Cena is reeling. JBL runs for the Clothesline From Hell, but Cena ducks it. Cena has JBL up and hits the FU for the 1-2-3. Cena has won the WWE Championship for the first time. He celebrates with the crowd and is embraced as a champion for the first time — he has achieved the dream.
Here’s the match if you’d like to see it yourself, but I’ll just say this: this match was very simple and effective for its time, but it hasn’t aged well. Cena’s lack of experience definitely shows here. JBL did most of the work, Cena had a minute of offense, an FU and a win.
This is a common complaint of Cena, especially his earlier matches. At this time, he had a great persona, promo ability, connection with the crowd, so the match quality isn’t a deal breaker for 2005.
For a first title win, it’s a good story. The match is JBL dominating, the face surviving and getting the feel good win for the fans. At the time, Cena was needed the win for his character and Smackdown needed a change.
For JBL, this was putting over the future and making him look as good as possible. JBL is of this era was an underrated heel and it is a testament to his heel work that he’s the one to put the greatest WWE Champion over for his first championship.