John Cena and Batista are two of WWE’s biggest ever stars, and their rise to the top and respective careers have been near parallel.
At the start of the 2000s with the Attitude Era ending and megastars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s careers winding down, the WWE was in desperate need of creating new stars.
The first of these was Brock Lesnar, who rose to the top of the company in record quick fashion in early to mid-2002. Also graduating from the Ohio Valley Wrestling “Class of 2002” were Shelton Benjamin, Randy Orton and of course John Cena and Batista.
The latter three went on to become the backbone of the “Ruthless Aggression” era, alongside Edge, and all debuted on the main roster in the summer of 2002.
Both Cena and Batista were saddled with bad gimmicks to start with. Batista debuted first, under the name of “Deacon Batista” on the May 9th episode of Smackdown, working as a heel enforcer for Reverend D-Von.
Batista teamed with the former Dudley Boy in his in-ring debut, fittingly pinning Randy Orton in the process.
Cena, on the other hand, debuted as a white-meat, blue chip babyface, with little to no character depth to speak of. He answered Kurt Angle’s open challenge on the June 27th episode of Smackdown, declaring he possessed “Ruthless Aggression” and slapping the Olympic Gold medalist.
Cena lost but gained the on-screen respect of the locker room, leading to a first feud with Chris Jericho, who he defeated at Vengeance in his pay-per-view debut. Jericho had been Undisputed WWE champion just months prior and signified the company’s trust in Cena.
Or you would have thought? Cena soon began spinning his wheels, with his “Ruthless Aggression” persona being bland and boring to both audience and higher-ups.
Cena and Batista’s career direction completely altered because of gimmick changes in late-2002. Batista moved to Raw, where he became “The Animal,” and joined Evolution alongside Triple H, Ric Flair and Orton.
While he was a silent destroyer, Cena was the complete opposite. Remaining on Smackdown and using his freestyle rap talents, he took on the moniker of “The Doctor of Thuganomics,” a brash loudmouth heel.
2003 saw both men’s stars begin to shine, with Cena competing at Backlash for the WWE title versus Brock Lesnar and Batista landing the tag titles with Flair at Armageddon. The two were by now firmly positioned in the upper-midcard of their respective brands.
WrestleMania 20 was the first appearance for both on the grandest stage of them all. Cena marked it with his first singles title in WWE, the US title, sealing it with an FU on The Big Show.
Batista, as part of an Evolution team with Flair and Orton, defeated “The Rock ‘N’ Sock connection” in a 3-on-2 handicap. A significant night for both, and recognition of their ascension.
Brock Lesnar’s abrupt departure from the company after ‘Mania led to Cena and Batista’s star making more urgent, and both were quickly shifted up the card.
Their first meeting came due to this, as the last two men in the Royal Rumble 2005. In an unfortunate botch, they both fell over the top-rope and touched the ground at the same time, leading to confusion on who was the winner.
In a surreal moment, Vince McMahon stormed to the ring to announce a restart, but slipped entering the ring tearing both of his quads. He made the statement from a seated position to the bemusement of all at the time.
Batista eventually won the match, and turned on Triple H and Flair, challenging the former for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21. Cena became No.1 contender for the WWE title, taking on JBL on the same stage.
Their near parallel rise to the top culminated at ‘Mania, when they won the biggest titles in the company and shot into superstardom.
A decision had to be made on who the face of WWE would be moving forward, and Cena was the man. The 2005 WWE draft signified this when the two swapped brands, with Cena now the franchise player on Raw, the company’s flagship programme.
From here, the two had little to no interaction for the next three years, with both busy as the standard bearer for their respective shows. Multiple world titles came both their ways, but Cena closed out WrestleMania 22 and 23 as the era’s Hulk Hogan.
Their paths crossed again when Batista was drafted back to Raw in 2008, the first time the two had been on the same brand since their opening weeks on Smackdown six years earlier. A collision of the two biggest babyfaces of the “Ruthless Aggression” era was inevitable.
Summerslam was the stage for their first ever one-on-match and the storyline focused on their near-identical rise to the top, one which saw two constantly compared and each aware of the other.
As WWE tend to do, rivals were forced to team in the build-up to their match, and Cena and Batista became tag champions, if only for a week before dissension in the ranks inevitably exploded.
In something of a surprise, Batista was the victor at Summerslam, one of few men to defeat Cena clean during this time. Cena suffered a legitimate neck injury in the bout, putting any long-term rivalry on ice for the foreseeable.
A fully-fledged rivalry finally happened in 2010, with a series of matches between the pair. By now, Batista had turned heel (memorably on Rey Mysterio) and sided with Vince McMahon in his feud with Bret Hart. Cena took the side of The Hitman.
As reward for Batista’s help and punishment for Cena, “The Animal” was granted an impromptu WWE title match vs Cena at Elimination Chamber 2010, just minutes after “Big Match John” had won the belt himself.
Batista easily disposed of a tired and beaten down Cena, setting the scene for a rematch at WrestleMania 26. The build up to this focused again on their parallel rise but with a twist. Batista could not understand or handle how Cena was made the no.1 guy over him.
Batista claimed he was the biggest name and star in the company, to which Cena retorted that “The Animal” did this for money, while he did it for the moment. Batista referenced Cena’s neck injury at Summerslam 2008 and promised more of the same.
Cena defeated Batista at ‘Mania by submission and followed it up with two more victories at Extreme Rules and Over the Limit, the first a Last Standing Match and the second an “I Quit” match, definitively ending their rivalry.
The night after Over the Limit, Batista quit the WWE in a storyline temper tantrum about his treatment. In reality he left the company due to disagreements with the direction it was moving in, although he did make returns in 2014 and 2018.
This direction of course was the move from TV-14 to PG. While Batista left due to this, Cena became the face of WWE PG programming. Fruity pebble t-shirts and all. A notable difference between the two men.
Their career paths again merged with both going to Hollywood. Batista has led the way, starring in James Bond: Sceptre and Guardians of the Galaxy amongst others.
Cena, eight years younger, continued in the WWE full-time until 2016, when his filming schedule began to take precedence.
Both John Cena and Batista are now major stars in the industry, following in the footsteps of The Rock. Their careers will forever be linked both on and off-screen, in wrestling and film, due to their near-identical paths over the last two decades.