Sakhiwe is an avid pro-wrestling fan. Having watched since he was six, he hopes to one day step in the ring himself.
At WrestleMania 31, John Cena defeated Rusev to win the United States Championship for the fourth time. In doing so, he became the first man to pin the Bulgarian Brute since his debut on the main roster. What followed for ‘Big Match John’ was one of the greatest United States Title reigns in recent history and the birth of the United States Open Challenge, a system still used today by the current champion, Damien Priest.
The US Open Challenge worked excellently as it was an opportunity for underused talent to showcase their talents against one of the biggest names in professional wrestling history, while also making the United States championship feel prestigious, something which hadn’t been done in a long time before, or since then. With this, WWE was able to use the main event scene to develop the future faces of the company, while also not burying their biggest star at the time. Cena also showcased his own wrestling abilities, adding moves like the hurricanrana and the stunner to his moveset. Looking back, the United States open challenge provided us some of the best Cena matches at that time and maybe in his career from a purist perspective.
Dean Ambrose was the first to answer the call as he and Cena squared off on the March 30, 2015 episode of Raw. While this may have not been the best match in this series, it was a great match nonetheless and did an excellent job of showing the WWE Universe what the US Open Challenge was all about. Here we saw Dean Ambrose even kick out of the AA and hit John Cena with an STF of his own. While that is a normal sight in a Pay-Per-View event, having that happen on an episode of Raw must’ve let the WWE Universe know that they were witnessing something special. Cena ultimately hit another AA after rolling over Ambrose to retain his title.
Next on the list was Stardust who faced John on the 6 April edition of Raw. This was a very good match that showcased both men’s ability and made an underutilized Stardust look very strong. A second rope stunner followed by an AA was enough to put Stardust away and had Cena leaving the Frank Erwin Center still the United States Champion.
Bad News Barrett was next to have a go at Cena as the Englishman had the chance to bring home the United States Championship in front of a London crowd. The hometown hero had the crowd on his side despite being a heel at that time as Cena was booed throughout the match. This match had Barrett attempt to hit a Bullhammer, which Cena dodged and hit the AA, which Barrett managed to kick out of. Barrett eventually did hit the Bullhammer and Cena kicked out of that too, which was a very uncommon sight at the time. A second-rope stunner and then an AA had Cena defeat Barrett and move on to his next challenger.
Rusev had the chance to regain his championship as he challenged Cena at that year’s Extreme Rules in WWE’s first televised Russian Chain match. This match was not technically part of the Open Challenge, but Cena did manage to beat Rusev again after touching all four corners.
Fresh off his win at Extreme Rules, The United States Open Challenge returned again as John Cena faced off against a debuting Sami Zayn on May 4’s Raw in what many consider to be one of the best matches in Cena’s title reign. Raw took place in Zayn’s home town of Montreal, Quebec, Canada that night with Bret Hart introducing him before the match began. The match was an incredible way to introduce Sami Zayn to those that hadn’t seen his great work in NXT. Zayn suffered a shoulder injury very early on in the match but was able to see the bout through till the end. Again, the second-rope stunner to the AA was what Cena used to put Zayn away.
Cena’s next opponent was a then rarely seen Neville as the two did battle on the 11 May episode of Raw. ‘The Man that Gravity Forgot’ was able to bring the best out of John Cena, who seemed frustrated at his inability to put Neville away. Neville countered John Cena’s attempt to end the match with an A+ AA and hit Cena with The Red Arrow. Rusev interrupted the pinfall, however and the match ended on a disqualification. This was the first time that a United States Open Challenge match did not end in a pinfall victory for Cena.
Cena then faced Rusev again, this time at Payback, with the stipulation being an I Quit match. It was expected that John Cena was going to win this match as his entire gimmick was based on never giving up, regardless of adversity. This match had it all from tables, fighting in the crowd and even had Cena AA Rusev into the stage pyrotechnics. The end had Cena passed out to the Accolaide which had Rusev thinking he had won, however the match continued as Rusev had not made Cena say I Quit. In his anger, Rusev took apart the top rope and grabbed a bottle of water to revive Cena. Cena then used the rope to put Rusev in an STF, at that point, Lana took the microphone and said that Rusev quits, ending Cena and Rusev’s feud.
On the May 18th episode of Raw, NXT Champion Kevin Owens answered the call to the US Open challenge. Or at least it seemed like he did. After a war of words, Kevin Owens blindsided Cena and hit him with the Pop-Up Powerbomb. The two then met in a non-title match at the Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View.
In that match, Kevin Owens shocked the world as he beat John Cena clean in what was a 24-minute classic. This began a short feud between Cena and The Prize Fighter as the two faced off again in another show-stopper at that year’s Money In The Bank, with Cena gaining the upper hand this time.
After a short hiatus, the next installment of the United States Open Challenge saw Cena square off with Cesaro in what was the first of two incredible matches with The Swiss Superman on the 29th June episode of Raw. Originally, this was meant to be another match with Kevin Owens however he opted to have their third match happen on Battleground. Cesaro then emerged and proceeded to do battle in front of an emphatic Washington DC crowd with Kevin Owens watching on commentary. This was a move for move bout that had Cena showing innovation in his moveset after adding moves like the Sunset Flip to his repertoire. Kevin Owens attacked Cesaro, who had Cena in the Sharpshooter, making this the second match in the United States Open Challenge to end in a disqualification.
The next week on Raw, Kevin Owens claimed that he no longer wanted to wait until Battleground as he had lost his NXT Championship to Finn Balor (WWE Live From Tokyo: The Beast In The East) 2 days earlier. Cesaro interrupted Owens’ complaints and told him that he was incapable of beating John Cena, and accused him of being jealous of the fact that he knew Cesaro could. Owens was later made to leave the ring and we got the second match between Cena and Cesaro in a match that was even better than the first. Cena hit Cesaro with an A+ AA to retain his championship, this time with no interruption from Kevin Owens.
Battleground followed and so we got the final match in the Cena vs. Kevin Owens trilogy, this time for Cena’s United States Championship. While not as innovative as their first two bouts, this was a great match nonetheless and saw Owens hit Cena with the AA and an STF. Cena made Owens submit to the STF to retain his championship and end their feud.
Cena faced off with Seth Rollins on the 27 July episode of Raw, this match being infamous as the match where Rollins broke Cena’s nose. Regardless, this was an epic encounter between both men and did not disappoint. In the end, Cena tapped Rollins out to the STF to retain his United States Championship, defeating the then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Cena then went on to face Rollins at 2015’s SummerSlam in a match for both the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the United States Championship. John Stewart, who told Cena he would be there for him should he need help in the pre-show later turned on John Cena, hitting him with a steel chair, allowing Seth to hit a Pedigree on Cena on top of the steel chair to win the match. This meant that the white gear clad Seth Rollins became the first individual to hold both the WWE World Heavyweight and United States Championships simultaneously, ending Cena’s reign at 147 days.