John Cena’s WWE repertoire speaks for itself: 15 world title reigns, 2-time Royal Rumble winner, 9 consecutive Wrestlemania main events, 4-time US champion, a few short Tag Team title reigns and is the first superstar to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase and fail. But despite all of his achievements over his 12 year career, John Cena has never held the prestigious Intercontinental Championship.
I started watching WWE around the time Cena won his first US title at Wrestlemania 20. This was a time when WWE had the brand split with Raw and Smackdown. At that point, Cena was a Smackdown superstar and had been since 2002 when he first started in WWE, which meant he was restricted to only competing for Smackdown exclusive championships e.g. the US title as opposed to the Intercontinental title which, at the time, was a Raw-exclusive championship. While on Smackdown, Cena won the US title 3 times before losing the last one to Orlando Jordan during his Wrestlemania 21 feud with JBL.
In 2005, Cena captured the WWE title for the first time by defeating JBL at Wrestlemania 21 and from that point on, Cena was almost always a main-event superstar. Shortly afterwards, in the 2005 Draft Lottery, Cena was drafted to Raw and took the WWE title with him. This meant Cena was now eligible to compete for the Intercontinental title if he wanted to. However, at the time, Cena was a very high-profile WWE champion and it was still in the midst of his first reign, so it was highly unlikely to have seen Cena compete for the IC title in 2005. By the end of the year, ‘Super-Cena’ was in full force as he almost never lost any high-profile title matches and the fans were slowly starting to turn on him for having such a stale ‘Superman-style’ gimmick. He was rarely featured in feuds that didn’t revolve around the WWE/World Heavyweight Championships and even if the title wasn’t involved, he was more often than not in a very high-profile feud worthy of the main event (e.g. vs The Rock), so it was even more unlikely that Cena would ever have an IC title reign.
Cena remained as a WWE title caliber superstar for the next 10 years continuously in the main event of Wrestlemania either for the championship or at least a high-profile feud. But that all changed in 2015….
The brand split was a thing a of the past, the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships had unified into one World championship, as did both brands’ Tag Team titles. All WWE superstars could compete on either Raw or Smackdown and challenge for ANY championship, also on either show.
After unsuccessfully winning the WWE World Heavyweight title from Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, Cena got involved in a classic USA vs Russia feud with Rusev (kind of ironic since Rusev is actually Bulgarian!). This feud marked the first time in 10 years since Cena was involved with the US championship. Despite losing their first encounter at WWE Fast Lane, Cena would go on to defeat Rusev and win his 4th US title at Wrestlemania 31, reminiscent of winning his first US title over a decade ago.
Recently, Cena has established the US Championship Open, allowing any superstar to challenge him for the US title. This has been a very smart move on his (and WWE’s) part as it has given exposure to a lot of up-and-coming superstars from NXT as well as floundering mid-carders who have all put on great matches with Cena. This, in turn, has shown that all these challengers are worthy of putting on a good match with WWE’s top star and restored prestige to the US championship which had been almost redundant in the last few years.
The alternative scenario following the Royal Rumble 2015 is that Cena could have feuded with then IC champion, Bad News Barrett. It could have turned into a USA vs UK feud over the IC title, which could have been interesting. Barrett even holds a victory over Cena back at Hell in a Cell 2010, so there is an added element of surprise victory. Had Cena gone on to face Barrett, he could have won the IC title at Wrestlemania 31 instead of the US title and followed a similar format with the open challenges afterwards. However, Barrett’s character doesn’t exactly portray him as a British patriot, so the supposed feud may have turned out to be fairly lackluster. Given his ‘Russian hero’ gimmick and his push as an unstoppable monster-heel, Rusev seemed more appropriate to feud with Cena at the time, depicting the infamous USA vs Russia rivalry.
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Cena having an IC championship reign before he retires permanently. He’s 38 years old right now and in fairly good health, so I reckon he’s still got a few years left ahead of him. With that being said, given his age and the slight wear-and-tear from multiple injuries over the last 12 years, I think Cena may stay in the position he’s in, giving exposure to up-and-coming talent in the WWE title picture (i.e. Rollins and Ambrose) whilst acting as a beacon in the mid-card title picture. When he loses the US title eventually *cough* Owens *cough*, he could easily create a high-profile feud with a worthy IC champion. I doubt Ryback fits the bill at this stage, but whoever the IC champion may be, let’s just hope it’s a feud worth watching.
Remember, Ric Flair didn’t win his first Intercontinental title until 2005, which was long after his 16 world title reigns. Cena, at the moment, has 15 title reigns. So there is a chance that history could repeat itself. If WWE is looking to put Cena down in the history books as one of the greatest of all time, then it would make sense to let him have an IC title reign before he retires. It would make him only the 7th superstar in history to have held all of WWE’s modern championships and by my reckoning, WWE shouldn’t let that opportunity slide for marketing their golden boy. Anything can happen in the WWE, so will the fantasy become reality?