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One of the countless things making the rounds on social media was a topic asking fans to name their Mount Rushmore of WWE wrestlers. A bunch of people picked it up, including Jim Ross who mentioned that John Cena was on his Mount Rushmore. Of course, all hell broke loose as a bunch of people jumped on board to state that in fact, Cena is not on their Mount Rushmores.
The question is, how does Cena compare to other wrestlers in WWE history? Is he one of the four greatest performers in company history?
I will attempt to answer that question as objectively as possible. John Cena is not one of my four favorite wrestlers in WWE history; but he is certainly one of the most important stars the company has produced in nearly 60 years. How does he compare to the other great wrestlers in WWE history, and can he crack the top four?
Something that doesn't work in Cena's favor is that I think three of the four spots are locks. If we are doing our best to be objective about this, I think three names are clearly in front of Cena.
Bruno Sammartino was the anchor of the company for the better part of two decades, and dominated the first 15 years of the company, holding the world title for nearly that entire period. Sammartino's connection with the audiences of the WWWF's major cities, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh, was the bread and butter for the WWWF and without Sammartino, it is possible the company would never be in the position it is today.
Hulk Hogan is the epitome of "larger than life" superstar and while his career isn't without controversy, he is easily one of the handful or so most important wrestlers in the history of the industry, let alone just WWE. Hogan was the horse that took the WWF from a regional territory to a worldwide phenomenon, and he was a top draw for nearly a straight decade, often setting box office records year-over-year.
Steve Austin broke many of those records set by Hogan, and was the top guy that turned the tide during the company's war against WCW when the company was under immense pressure. He didn't have as long of a run as Hogan or Sammartino, but from a numbers perspective he was a bigger draw and to this day, is still the biggest PPV draw in wrestling history.
So with those three names out of the way, how does Cena stack up against the rest of the field. First, let's look at Cena's resume. For a solid ten years, from 2005 to 2015, he was the biggest babyface in the company and kept business relatively strong. Cena wasn't the draw that Sammartino, Hogan and Austin were, but he is by far the biggest drawing card in all of wrestling since 2005. If we adjust drawing power to era, Cena is probably right with those other names.
Cena has his faults, his character became one dimensional, his personality often consumed his opponents instead of elevating them (although, it wasn't like Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, Austin and a bunch of other all-time greats were not guilty of the same thing) and he sometimes had some really bad matches. All of that led to a certain amount of disdain from hardcore fans, but at the end of the day, none of that really factored into business that much. Year after year, Cena proved to be the biggest merchandise seller, the biggest house show draw and the biggest ratings mover in the company. Cena wasn't a perfect performer, but he was the biggest star in the company for a full decade.
So who has a case over Cena? I think the obvious answer most people think of is The Rock, who was nearly the perfect performer that Cena was not. Certainly The Rock was an amazing performer, and in 2000, he set the record for most big shows headlined, making that the greatest attendance drawing year any wrestler has ever had. That being said, The Rock was really only that kind of super draw for five years, from 1998-2002. Cena never reached that level, but also lasted for twice as long, meaning in the long run he probably caught up to some of The Rock's overall numbers, even if he wasn't as big at his peak.
Another wrestler might be The Undertaker, who has kind of the opposite argument as The Rock. The Undertaker wasn't as big of a draw as Cena, but he has shown staggering longevity, being a major draw for at least 15 years, before becoming a part-time special attraction. I would still rate Cena over The Undertaker though, unlike Cena The Undertaker was rarely the top guy in the company even if he was a big star. He never quite was that driving force that Cena was.
Both Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were great, great workers and overall performers, but they never drew on top the way Cena did. Hart is pretty similar to Cena as both men presided over "down" periods for the company, but business was always better when they were on top than when their peers were in the main event. However, Cena also was a top draw for about twice as long as Hart. Michaels really didn't draw well as world champion at any point in his career, despite his talent inside the ring.
Triple H has tremendous longevity within the company, and there was a time frame where he was the top guy in the company, although that period really was only from probably around 2003 to 2005, although he had been a consistent main eventer since 1999. Triple H's peak was strong because he was often working with Austin and The Rock, once they left he wasn't nearly as big of a draw, although that isn't really his fault since the company was always going to suffer when those guys went away. Still, he wasn't a top draw for nearly as long as Cena, and Cena was a better draw when he was the top guy.
Andre the Giant was one of wrestling's great drawing cards, but outside of his late-career work in WWF, he was never really a consistent performer in WWF. He traveled constantly, all over the world and when he came to the WWF he drew, but it wasn't anything like Cena drawing week in and week out.
Randy Savage had a great year drawing as the WWF Champion in 1988, but in some ways he was still secondary to Hogan, the two biggest shows of his run, SummerSlam 1988 when he tagged with Hogan, and WrestleMania V, when he faced Hogan. Savage would be a top draw for several more years in the company, but he didn't have that much of a run as the top guy.
Perhaps the guy with the most understated case is Bob Backlund. Backlund held the WWF Championship from 1978 to 1983, a run of 2,135 days, the second longest in wrestling history. Backlund was also a big draw on top, during a time when the WWF Championship meant everything. However, outside of that long title reign, Backlund didn't do that much else in the company, he would come back a decade later and have a blink-and-you-missed-it world title run, but didn't do anything major on top. His original title run is super impressive, but is it equal to what Cena did?
I have to say, comparing all of these names to Cena, Cena's time on top of the company is staggering, especially during an era with weekly television and monthly PPVs, something that Sammartino and Hogan did not have to deal with. Most of the major wrestlers in the company were not around as long as Cena, and if they were, they were not on top for as long as Cena. If you add up just the sheer length of Cena's peak, just week after week of television ratings and month after month solid PPV buys. Maybe he didn't deliver the monster ratings that Hogan or Austin did, but he did for much longer than Austin and much more frequently than Hogan. I believe that John Cena is solidly the fourth most important wrestler in company history.
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