In the last two editions (part one and part two) of the OVW 4, we covered 3/4ths of the greatest developmental batch in wrestling history. We took a look at the careers of Brock Lesnar, Batista and Randy Orton. The third and final part of this series will look at none other than the former franchise player of WWE himself. The man who didn’t just seize the opportunities given to him, but he would become a megastar that transcended the company.
He would become the fourth-ever face of WWE and have the longest tenure on top of the company in the modern era of WWE. We’re talking about none other than the franchise player himself – John Cena.
It can’t be understated as to just how much of an impact that Cena had in WWE. In his time, he would spend a whopping decade on top of the card, and though he was the most polarizing superstar at the time, he would take a backseat, which allowed fans to fully realize how great Cena was. Moreover, the controversial rise of Roman Reigns also allowed Cena to get some widespread popularity, even from the people who once booed him.
Let’s take a look at Cena’s OVW story.
John Cena, similar to Batista, never originally intended to get into the pro wrestling business. He tried his luck as a bodybuilder first, but that didn’t really work out as he had hoped to. He got his big start at Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW), where he moved to California in 2001. This would be where he developed his character “The Prototype”, a semi-robotic man. His run with UPW would see him pick up the top title of the promotion and he even trained alongside Samoa Joe, a man who would have to take a much longer route to get to WWE.
Cena was a can’t miss prospect for WWE and in 2001, he signed a developmental deal with Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). He would become an important figure in the developmental territory. In hindsight, his pairing with Rico Constantino was certainly an odd one, but regardless, they found tag team success as the OVW Southern Tag Team Champions.
After Rico Constantino left OVW to go to the main roster, Cena would became the OVW Heavyweight Champion, beating Leviathan for the title. You might know Leviathan as “Batista” today. He would hold the title for nearly three months before dropping it to Nova. Around the same time, he began to receive more tryouts and main roster opportunities. He would then start performing at WWE Live Events and even receive several opportunities in dark matches at TV tapings, indicating that his main roster call-up was soon to come.
Cena was deemed ready for the main roster quite early on, and he would have his OVW farewell after being defeated in a “Loser leaves OVW” match against Kenny Brolin. His main roster debut would coincide perfectly with The New Era. It was around this time that Vince McMahon made his famous speech in the middle of the ring on RAW, declaring to all the talent, new and current, that he expected to see Ruthless Aggression from them.
When John Cena did make his debut by answering Kurt Angle’s challenge on SmackDown, Ruthless Aggression was exactly what he showed, foreshadowing that he had exactly what it took to make it big.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Cena would have an incredible 3-year progression on SmackDown, where he transitioned into a heel rapper and then in late 2003, turned babyface when he refused to join Paul Heyman and Team Lesnar at Survivor Series. The babyface turn would be a major career turning point, as he would quickly begin an ascent to the top. His very first WrestleMania in 2004 saw him open the show, defeating The Big Show for the United States Championship. Even before that, he was taken a serious contender, but a year after his incredible WrestleMania XX win, it was time for WWE to pull the trigger on him.
And thus, he was pit up against JBL in the main event match of SmackDown, for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21. This was the first true defining night of his career, as he ended JBL’s record WWE title reign to win his first of sixteen World Championships. When he became WWE Champion, Batista was subsequently coronated in the main event. The two would have parallel rises to the top, but at the end, WWE decided to choose Cena as the face of the franchise.
In the words of Bruce Prichard, there was simply nobody that worked harder than John Cena, and night after night, he proved why he was the biggest asset to the company. There’s nobody who can deny that WWE made the right call, because as the face of the company, Cena would go on to win fifteen more World Championships, main event WrestleMania 5 times, beat the very greatest that the business had to offer and become WWE’s go-to media person.
Many people don’t realize just how heavy the weight he carried on his shoulders was. To be on the road every week of the year, meet all those Make-A-Wish kids, constantly be the go-to guy for media and more, Cena truly held his own without complaining, despite fans constantly showering him with hatred.
Being the highest merchandise seller in WWE history, there was simply no superstar more important to the company in the Ruthless Aggression Era and the PG Era. He took the company to new heights, and his legacy will see him go down as nothing less than the greatest of all time.