Unless you currently reside under a rock, even the guy who pays no attention has heard about the legendary record of 16 world championships, owned by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the one tied this weekend at the Royal Rumble by the workhorse John Cena. Cena overcame AJ Styles, and not only gained his first pinfall victory versus AJ Styles at a Pay-Per-View, but he did set a remarkable feat that only one other man has done. There’s a lot of mixed feelings about John Cena emerging victorious and recording his sixteenth reign at the Royal Rumble event, and I look forward to peeling back the layers to what that result truly meant.
To put Cena’s accomplishment into perspective, only one other man has won 16 world championships, and it goes without saying. Ric Flair is credited for those 16 championships, but where did they come from? The total comes from eight NWA World Heavyweight Championship reigns, six WCW World Heavyweight Championship reigns, and two WWF/E World Heavyweight Championship reigns. If you do the math, that is sixteen total. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to note that Ric Flair could be given credit for more world championships. The WWE doesn’t recognize a couple of his championship reigns as the NWA and WCW Champion respectively, and there’s an underlying debate on if he has 16 reigns, 18 reigns, or as many as 25 world championship reigns in his career. No matter the amount, Ric Flair is and will still be recognized as one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation, if not in the all-time discussion. Ric Flair could play his character like no other, he could make the common fan despise him and boil with jealousy, all while getting it done in the ring with anyone on planet Earth. Ric Flair could be justly compared to Tom Brady. Flair “cheated” to get a few of those, but at the end of the day, decades later, we’ll always remember him as the guy who held the most prestigious belt plenty of times.
A lot of traditionalists and the diehard wrestling fans who grew up watching Ric Flair, they had a bad taste in their mouths when John Cena hit the final Attitude Adjustment to win his 16th. People believe this puts John Cena at the same level of Ric Flair, or possibly even in position to be on a level above the Nature Boy. While this may be true, you can’t deny John Cena has earned the right to sixteen world championships. John Cena has won sixteen world championships in a span of twelve years. Cena won his first world title in 2005 at WrestleMania 21, and won his sixteenth nearly twelve years later. Depending on how you want to weigh it, John Cena winning all sixteen with one company is a tremendous feat. That has truly never been done before at this level and deserves a celebratory cookie minimum. Ric Flair won’t ever lose his position among the wrestling immortals, just like Joe Montana will never lose his spot among the football immortals, but John Cena’s name will come up when discussing the world championship.
One last message to the traditionalists and the ones who supported pro wrestling before John Cena’s time. You realize how much Ric Flair meant to wrestling back in the 1980’s, I’m sure. People who didn’t watch wrestling knew who Ric Flair was. Now go post a survey on Facebook for non-wrestling fans and ask them to name you just one wrestler today. I would bet good money John Cena’s name is mentioned the most in the comments. John Cena is the modern day wrestling rockstar. Cena’s popularity and his work ethic in and out of the ring is remarkable, and it’s unknown when we’ll see a superstar of this magnitude again. Cena was the perfect man to tie this legendary record.
Coming from one of his biggest critics over the years, John Cena earned his sixteenth world championship. With all the work put into the company since his debut in 2002, Cena deserved that special moment. To try and discredit Cena’s work by calling it “scripted” or placing that solely on Vince McMahon, in this case, is completely uncalled for. The WWF/E Championship alone, that Cena has held a total of 13 times, has been held by 48 other wrestlers. Do you know how many people have only had one run with the championship? 22 of the 48. Only 16 have held that championship three times, 11 people at least four times, and 7 wrestlers the minimum five times. This means since 1963, the creative realized only a select few could truly carry the company on their back. If you’ve held the company’s most prestigious championship more than five times, I would say you could draw the ratings, sell merchandise, put butts in seats, and do it all. John Cena is the only one who held that specific championship more than ten times, and he could do all those things to the best of his ability. Cena, if nobody else, deserved to be the guy to tie Ric Flair’s famous record.
So far, we’ve established Ric Flair’s championship history, as well as his legacy, and John Cena’s credibility to be the one to tie. But if anything in the business means everything, it is the timing. Here’s where I begin to question WWE’s decision making as it pertains to John Cena’s 16th title win.
To commend the WWE, they didn’t let this drag out until John Cena was a part-timer and only came back to pad his stats. I believe we’d all agree that would have been the wrong call, so I approve Cena winning while he can still wrestle a good chunk of days. WWE also didn’t do this too quickly, and waited until John Cena gained the respect of all. I have met plenty of John Cena haters, but since his United States Championship run in 2015, nobody disputes the fact Cena can put on a great match with nearly anybody on a consistent basis. The timing in terms of his career was a smart move, but why at the Royal Rumble? Grant it, WWE was trying to make this Royal Rumble “memorable”, but was it the right decision for Cena to get the reign now? To me, a feat like that should have only come at one or two Pay-Per-Views, that being WrestleMania or SummerSlam. The Royal Rumble is in the “Big 4”, so to speak, but a once in a lifetime accomplishment like that needs the big stage. If John Cena ever wins his seventeenth, I would be extremely disappointed with WWE’s timing if it didn’t come at one of those events. I feel the time was now (no pun intended) for Cena to win #16, but it just wasn’t the place. Right time, wrong place.
Another thing that will be in question for a while is the same question that is proposed in debates about Brock Lesnar conquering The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania 30. There’s the discussion that arises if it should have ever been done. The Undertaker identified with The Streak, and it was this larger than life characteristic about him. The same goes for Ric Flair, because he was identified as the 16-time World Champion, and that was too large of a number to fathom anyone topping. People grew up on The Streak, and when it ended, it’s as if their childhood kicked the bucket along with it. It’s an interesting question to pose if Ric Flair’s championship record should have ever been matched, and we can debate on this for days, but it’s more respect of the unreachable throne more than anything else. The people who felt Cena shouldn’t have tied Flair on Sunday feel there’s a respect factor involved towards Ric Flair and his work for the industry to keep him solely at the top. Grant it, Ric Flair’s been on record of supporting John Cena and has tremendous respect for Cena as a competitor.
I have evaluated both sides along with you. Where does that leave us? As a man who rooted for AJ Styles to head into WrestleMania with the championship, and a deep fan of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, I was upset with John Cena’s victory at the Royal Rumble to tie Flair’s glorious 16-time world champion record. Yet, as a pure wrestling fan and realizing the contributions Cena has made to the WWE, I recognize John Cena was the perfect man to tie that record and may even win number 17 before it’s all said and done.
Now, there’s one thing you should remember. John Cena has not beat “The Man” yet, but he certainly has tied him!
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