Thank You, Cena: John Cena Will Go Down as The Greatest of All Time When He Retires

John Cena's connection with his fans is unmatched. To this day, he is making young wrestling fans smile. John Cena will go down as one of the greatest of all time.
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John Cena will go down as one of the greatest of all time. I've known that since 2008. Ahead of me are thousands of other young kids. My brother and childhood best friend stood with me, literally buzzing with excitement. I knew the other kids at school would be jealous. I was going to meet John Cena. For hours, we snaked through the central atrium of the Milford Mall at a snail's pace. I never broke focus from the mass of people ahead of me because I wanted to see him first. Finally, the table came into view; my time was now. I remember him commenting, "Strong grip, fellas," with a chuckle after we shook his hand. That made both of us beam; Cena said we were strong. He politely asked us who our favorite wrestler was, but everyone in line would have said him, especially in those days.

The young man behind us was in a wheelchair. He was probably a little older than I, 12 years old at the time. John Cena, seeing him struggle to get through the line, finished signing our pictures, thanked us again for coming out and being fans, and passed our photo down to the late great Ashley Massaro for her signature. I remember him then going up to the young man so he didn't have to come behind the table. He talked with him, signed his picture, and gifted him one of his armbands. My mother was particularly impressed by this, and she hadn't ever watched more than 30 minutes of Raw. Cena had made a new fan and inspired at least two kids that day, and he didn't even need a microphone or a ring to do it. Nobody in the industry now or before could do that, and for his retirement, it is past time for the WWE Universe he helped create to deliver flowers to his dressing room on the Peacemaker lot.

His body of work is enough to say John Cena will go down as the greatest of all time.

Even his most ardent critics agree that John Cena is a cultural phenomenon. The safe middle is to acknowledge his impact beyond the ring. That is ignoring Cena's genuine skills as a physical performer, not just as an actor with a wrestling background. In fact, John Cena will go down as the greatest of all time because he has the majority of WWE's most memorable moments over the past 20 years. He put on classic bouts with Shawn Michaels, reintroducing one of the best to a brand-new audience. He gave his colleague Randy Orton a Superman for his Lex Luger, making a legend of the original legend killer. Any number of WWE superstars have had their most exciting feuds and best matches against Cena before he functionally left, and the product got much worse.

A top star needs to create credible challenges or obstacles for themselves to overcome. John Cena did a lot of overcoming, which may be a valid criticism. Less valid is the John Cena golden shovel narrative. As one of the greatest of all time, he established a ton of talent, and not just in his recent returns. Seth Rollins, Edge, and CM Punk are all stars today, direct beneficiaries of having feuded with John Cena. There is an entire sub-group of stars like AJ Styles and Kevin Owens that are still riding the main event fumes that Cena exudes, even after just one run with him. If John Cena buried anyone, there is somebody else whose house, car, you name it, is from Cena's ability to tell an excellent pro wrestling story.  

The leader of the Cenation was the unlikely face of a new era in WWE.

Nobody debuts as the greatest of all time, not even John Cena. Brock Lesner, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, and Randy Orton were all among the names that joined him in WWE's development in 2002. Each one was a phenomenal talent who could have broken out to be bigger than anyone else in WWE history. Based on early appearances, the belief internally was almost certainly not one of John Cena's will go down as the greatest of all time. Guys like Randy Orton and Batista worked with titans and legends of the industry early on. Brock Lesnar was called "the next big thing."

By contrast, John Cena had a midcard title run facing superstars like Carlito or Renee Dupree. Even his big moment, winning his first of 16 world titles, was against JBL. The gulf in star power didn't matter, as Cena made more out of less. Now, he is a WrestleMania legend in his own right. Throughout the transitional period from 2003 to 2007, Cena was WWE's most consistent top star. When WWE went PG to expand globally, he was the only natural choice. He had made himself and a few others true stars over the past few years; it was only fair he got to lead the next era officially.

Firm booking made John Cena the public face of a global enterprise.

So, "firm booking" is an understatement. We all know that Super Cena lore is very well-established. WWE and Cena don't get enough credit for how often they were able to make that fan sentiment a part of Cena's story and presentation, but such is life. What they do get credit for, along with lots of money, is becoming a global brand. The Hulk Hogan generation made the modern wrestling industry, while the Attitude Era essentially monopolized wrestling in North America under The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. John Cena was given a much more demanding task: bringing WWE to the broader world of entertainment on a global scale. The results speak for themselves as WWE continues to sell out on every continent they visit to this day.

Yes, seeing the same thing over and over again is going to bother people. Recently, WWE's Bloodline saga has received this criticism. Given what it has done for wrestling as a global industry, it is hard to argue against it with hindsight. John Cena powered the rise of WWE as a worldwide brand, easily becoming their best ambassador ever. The charitable work that WWE does to this day was a play to reduce some of the Attitude Era stigma about the carnival nature of WWE. You don't ask for John Cena as a make-a-wish if he's just a guy. If Cena hadn't looked so strong, none of WWE's business moves would have happened. That may sound like a blessing to a specific sect of fans, but it most definitely isn't. Despite the limits of consistently winning, Cena usually managed to deliver something that felt important, even if the outcome was clear.

John Cena will go down as the greatest of all time because of the fans.

The concept of innocence and the essence of childhood are slated to end permanently sometime in 2025 as John Cena says goodbye. He hustled, loyalty-ied, and respected his way into the hearts of a generation of wrestling fans, my generation of fans. Even as we grew older and started to rebel at his expense, the Doctor of Thuganomics would take us to school, teaching "Being a Real Star 101". We cheered, and we booed, often in equal measure. Through it all, we never believed for a second there would come a time when we couldn't see him again in a ring. That day is approaching.

There are a lot of ways John Cena can go out, but when he does, the wrestling world will have changed forever. Cena's connection with his fans is unmatched. To this day, he is making young wrestling fans smile. That run is unprecedented. As a child fan from his early rise, I can confirm nobody on any roster at any point in history could have replaced Cena from 2005 until 2015. The old days were fading at a rapid pace. 12-year-olds in 2008 grew up differently than in 1988 or 1998. The world itself was a much different place. For that moment, seeking out unflinching and uncomplicated heroes, Cena delivered. In an era when a lot of people, not just kids, needed to believe that you can't give up, Cena delivered. Then, every subsequent year, as things changed, Cena, in his way, delivered. Regardless of how it ends, John Cena will go down as the greatest of all time because no matter the occasion, he delivered.