Every so often a superstar comes along that we can’t help but love. We want to see them succeed, to dominate the sport. In the 1980s, we had Hulk Hogan and he stood tall over everyone. In the 1990s, we had a slew of them, but none cast a bigger shadow than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. When the 2000s rolled around, we still had a plethora of wrestlers from the 80s and 90s, but it was time for a new star to emerge, and that happened on this day in wrestling history, June 25, 2002.
John Cena grew up in a wrestling household as his father, John Sr., worked as a wrestling announcer and businessman under the name Johnny Fabulous, so it’s not so strange that he’d eventually found his way into the sport. As was often the case, he got his start after meeting a wrestler at Gold’s Gym around 1999 or 2000, where he was encouraged to take wrestling classes at TPW (Ultimate Pro Wrestling), which was also a WWE developmental company at one point. It was his first step into stepping into the world he watched on TV as a kid, and one where he’d eventually step foot in the same ring as his heroes Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, and Shawn Michaels.
His rise was meteoric as he captured the UPW Heavyweight Championship in 2000, signed with OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) in 2001, and won the OVW Heavyweight Championship in February 2002. The sky was the limit, and he smashed through another barrier on June 25, 2002 when this day in wrestling history became his when he debuted in the WWE.
On the preceding Raw, Vince McMahon had called the entire roster to the ring and said he needed them to find their inner “ruthless aggression” for he wanted and needed one of them to stand out from the rest. It had fans wondering who would be the one to stand out, and we all had our picks ready. Names like the Undertaker, Kane, the Rock, and so on were our choices because we thought it was a current wrestler that would stand out.
On Smackdown that week, we all learned how wrong we were.
Kurt Angle had been holding open challenges for a couple of weeks at this point. They were meant as nothing more than an opportunity for him to embarrass the jobbers on the roster. He was a heel at the time (and one of the business’ best, I might add), so it made sense. Most of us kept hoping the Rock or someone else would come out and shut him up, but instead we got a face most of us couldn’t remember ever seeing before.
Once in the ring, John Cena made his presence known by responding to Angle’s challenge with, “Ruthless Aggression!”
In the subsequent match, Cena nearly beat Angle, and it was the start of something beautiful.
(Special thanks to @awrestlinghistorian https://www.instagram.com/awrestlinghistorian/ for the quote.)
“I recall when a young John Cena took WWE by storm. Even then, John pushed me to my limit. I absolutely Loved stepping into the ring with him. John has been able to stay healthy (for the most part) and dominate WWE for 17 years, which is unheard of, and nearly impossible. For that reason, He will go down in history as the most consistent, and the greatest WWE Superstar of all time.” – Kurt Angle Instagram April 27, 2019.
I don’t think much more needs to be said after that. There are moments all around us, so which one will be the next this day in wrestling history?
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