John Cena remains a polarizing figure in WWE today. Although his schedule is more geared towards movies and TV shows at the moment, Cena's track record with WWE highlights the megastar status he has acquired since joining the company in 2002. Various title reigns, main event matches, and incredible rivalries alone, Cena is regarded as this generation's Hulk Hogan. Just like any successful star, Cena has gotten tremendous jeers over the years. Recently, though, he has changed up his career motive and giving back to the newer stars of the company instead of holding the spotlight hostage.
It all started when he won the United States Championship at Wrestlemania 31 from Rusev.
The two had been exchanging words since the beginning of the year, but it was at Wrestlemania that Cena managed to end Rusev's undefeated streak and usher in his reign as U.S. Champion. Immediately after the Show of Shows, Cena kickstarted a new venture every Monday night: the U.S. Championship Open Challenge. Any superstar in the back could come down and have a championship match with Cena. Although Rusev would pop up now and then, it was the Open Challenge that made Monday nights interesting again for WWE fans.
Cena's early challengers were Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, even a brash Bad News Barret. They were good matches, to say the least, but one challenger surprisingly answered the call that raised a lot of eyes on what this storyline could produce.
John Cena vs. Sami Zayn – United States Championship Match: Raw, May 4, 2015 www.youtube.com
Introduced by Hall of Famer Bret "The Hitman" Hart, then-NXT star Sami Zayn arrived to accept Cena's challenge. Despite some nagging injuries, Zayn laid his heart out there to make a real go at Cena's title. I can't spoil everything for you, so check out the full match if you can online or at the WWE Network.
Exit: Sami Zayn. Enter: The Prizefighter.
After Zayn's prolific and gutsy performance, Cena managed to open the door for ANYONE to accept his challenge. Even other champions. Then-NXT champion Kevin Owens answered the call, but not for a second title. He wanted to make an impact on the main roster as he engaged in several feuds at the same time, his watershed moment being defeating Cena in a non-title match.
Kevin Owens confronts John Cena: Raw, May 18, 2015 www.youtube.com
Owens-Cena was the summer's best rivalry due to the unpredictability of Owens' character. His first win on the main roster, and subsequently his first PPV, propelled him as a major star for the future when Owens' time in NXT was up. The two fiercely brought out the best in each other, but Cena repelled the new guy on the block and stepped right back into his Open Challenges.
Cena's best match of this run would be against Cesaro, the workhorse wrestler who floundered in WWE for some time as a tag team specialist and a singles guy. His main event match against Cena on Raw proved to be an effective one, a match that people still talk about three years later.
John Cena vs. Cesaro - United States Championship Match: Raw, July 6, 2015 www.youtube.com
Cena's matches would continually get better and better each night he held the Open Challenge, which also set the tone for Raw getting more and more viewers. Although the ratings never peaked as they did back in the Attitude Era, Cena did manage to bring the best wrestlers down the aisle and take him to the limit.
Until he got to Summerslam and lost the title to Seth Rollins due to John Stewart's interference.
As soon as Cena lost the title to Rollins, it was over. Even after Cena won it back a month later, it was over. Cena would eventually lose the title to a returning Alberto del Rio before taking time off due to injury. The title flourished in the mid-card once again, including a disastrous reign from Roman Reigns who took it as a 'demotion', according to Cena.
The point was proven, though:
John Cena made the U.S. Title meaningful once again while also elevating new talent to superstardom.
That's how it was in 2015 when Cena made something special out of a title run rather than maintaining a tight grip on his ego. We have him to thank for Rusev, Owens, Zayn, Cesaro and others' prominence in WWE.