The Batista vs John Cena Rivalry That Defined Wrestling In The 2000s

Hamish Woodward


Batista and John Cena came along to the WWE at the perfect time to stamp their mark on the history of wrestling, and become two of the top stars in wrestling.

As The Rock and Steve Austin hung up their boots as the famed Attitude Era came to a close, Vince McMahon’s WWE were at a crossroads. For too long had they relied on stars coming in from outside the company, jumping ship from WCW or coming in through the territory system. They had set up their own developmental system of sorts that saw Edge, Christian and more come through, but that was soon disbanded when Dory Funk Jr left the company.

They knew that they needed to adapt to survive. They had to build their own stars from the ground up, moulded in the WWE way that had never been seen before. The early 2000s saw the first real build for a WWE developmental territory to build new main event stars to launch them from the Attitude Era and into the new age of Ruthless Aggression.

There were many talents who came out of the first class at Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). Three of the most notable were Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and Shelton Benjamin – all top stars in their own right – but those aren’t the ones we’ll be looking at. It will be the other two big stars to come out of the promotion and the career long battle for supremacy in the WWE main event scene. This is about John Cena vs Batista.

The Face Of Raw vs The Face Of Smackdown

John Cena and Batista both entered the WWE at similar times but under very different circumstances. Cena, who portrayed a robot who could reverse his speech to repeat his promos in OVW called “The Prototype”, was brought up simply under his own name. He dropped the robotic nonsense and instead wore simply wrestling gear, matched to the colours of the city he was in for a cheap pop at the start of the night.

His debut came against Kurt Angle on June 27, 2002 on Smackdown. Cena answered Angle’s open challenge, revealing that is “Ruthless Aggression” was what he possessed that meant be could go toe to toe with the Olympic Gold Medallist. He fought valiantly but ultimate came up short, although he impressed both Angle and The Undertaker, who shook his hand backstage and showed him respect for his efforts.

On the other hand, Batista was the monstrous Leviathan in OVW, but was repackaged as Deacon Batista once he was called up to the main roster. He played the Deacon to Reverend Devon, collecting money from the crowd as he stood ringside holding a collection box, looking menacing. It was ultimate a failure and did not last long before he was repacked simply as Batista, an animalistic killer inside the ring.

He then got put in the new Stable on Raw called Evolution. Lead by Triple H, the foursome originally included Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Mark Jindrak. However, soon after forming it was clear Jindrak didn’t fit the team, and Batista was drafted in as the muscle of the group.

John Cena and Batista soon rose up the card. Cena took on a rapper gimmick which ultimately saved him from getting fired, dropping diss tracks on his opponents in promos to the delight of the crowd who couldn’t boo the hilarious lines he was saying. He soon grew into the main event on Smackdown, challenging Brock Lesner unsuccessful for the Undisputed Championship in 2003.

The two men were the biggest young stars on the up in the WWE. World Championships were in their futures but the Batista vs John Cena Rivalry finally came to a head at the 2005 Royal Rumble – in hilarious consequences.

2005 Royal Rumble

Batista and John Cena cemented themselves as main eventers at the 2005 Royal Rumble. The two stars from opposite brands outlasted 28 other men to find themselves in the final two in the Royal Rumble match. The 2004 Royal Rumble a year prior had seen Chris Benoit win the match and became a world champ in WWE for the first time ever and history looked to repeat itself with these young stars.

The pair faced off at the end of the match, each hoping to earn the spot in the main event of Wrestlemania. Batista looked to have thrown out John Cena at the climax, but tumbled over the rope himself. In one of the most lucky situations in WWE history, both men’s feet somehow touched the floor at the exact same time – this was not planned, as Batista was supposed to win the match.

The Smackdown referees claimed Cena was the victor, while the Raw referees were on Batista’s side. The confusion ended up with Mr McMahon storming to the ring, demanding the Batista vs Cena portion of the match to be restarted. He also hilarious tore both of his quads as he did it, leaving the hilarious image of him sat in the ring, barking orders and unable to move.

The match restarted after the WWE Chairman was wheeled out of the ring and Batista flung John Cena out of the ring and claimed his first victory in the WWE Royal Rumble match (both John Cena and Batista would win the match twice each in their career).

Batista would win the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania after turning on Triple H, main eventing the show for the first time in his career. However, Cena would not miss out, as he defeated JBL to win his first of 16 WWE Championships earlier on in the show.

It would be another three years before the two met in singles competition but it would not be quite as exciting as fans hoped.

Batista tossing Cena over the top rope to win the 2005 Royal Rumble

Batista vs John Cena

The first big Batista vs John Cena match happened at Summerslam 2008. The match pitted face-vs-face, with fans at odds on who they wanted to win. The feud was a weak one, with it all stemming from Cena accidentally punching The Animal and even lead to the duo winning the tag team titles together (although their reign only lasted a week).

Their match at Summerslam was good – but nothing more. It was nothing to write home about and barely worth a rewatch. Both men hit all their signature moves, with Batista even paying tribute to recently retired former teammate Ric Flair, locking Cena in the Figure Four Leg Lock to try to make him tap out.

The bout ended when Batista countered a flying leg drop into Batista Bomb, before hitting the Cenation leader with a second finisher to end the match and pick up the victory. Sadly, given that he’d only returned to wrestling earlier that year at the Royal Rumble, John Cena suffered a herniated disc in his neck during his match with Batista.

He made his in-ring return at Survivor Series on November 23, defeating Chris Jericho for his first World Heavyweight Championship, putting an end to his feud with Batista with a very anticlimactic finish. They would rekindle their rivalry two years later in what would be Batista’s greatest ever performance in the WWE.

Final Feud & Batista Quits

Batista walked out on WWE after his feud in 2010 with John Cena in one of WWE’s most shocking moments. Batista left WWE in 2010 after losing an I Quit match to John Cena at Over the Limit 2010. The match was infamously followed the next night on Raw by Batista, sat in a wheelchair and confronted by Bret Hart, quitting the company and walking away from a potential match with Randy Orton.

He had been feuding with John Cena since before Wrestlemania that year. Batista had turned heel and aligned himself with Mr McMahon in his bid to become WWE Champion again. He was rewarded with an impromptu title shot at Elimination Chamber 2010, just after Cena had defended the belt against five other men in the titular match type. It was akin to when Edge cashed in his money in the bank contract on Cena, but Batista had not won the ladder match to earn his shot at The Champ.

Too tired, weary and beat up to withstand much punishment, John Cena was decimated by Batista and pinned after a spear and Batista Bomb. This earned The Animal his first WWE Championship and started a six month feud between the two which is still talked about to this day.

The two would face off in a rematch at WrestleMania 26 for the WWE Championship, with Cena winning back the championship in impressive fashion. However, the pair did not main event the show despite their immense star power, instead being overshadowed by the legendary “Career vs Streak” match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

Cena and Batista would have two more matches in this feud, a Last Man Standing match and an ‘I Quit’ match, with The Animal losing both encounters as he became more and more frustrated with his creative direction and wanting to follow his dreams of becoming an actor. He quit the company the night after their final match and went on to pursue his dream of becoming a Hollywood actor, which he did successfully after being cast in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy as Drax the Destroyer.

John Cena has since also moved into the superhero genre, taking up the mantle of Peacemaker in the DC Universe. The Batista vs John Cena rivalry continues on the silver screen but it will never be as compelling as when they faced each other to usher in a new age of Ruthless Aggression in the WWE.

The John Cena and Batista Rivalry Continued Over “Peacemaker” Role

The John Cena vs Batista rivalry continued into the 2020s, long after the last match between both men. Batista and John Cena have since moved on to Hollywood, starring on opposite ends of the superhero spectrum – Batista in Marvel’s Avengers, while John Cena is Peacemaker in the DC Extended Universe.

However, Cena almost didn’t get the role, with director James Gunn lining up Batista to play the role in The Suicide Squad and the titular TV show.

At the Florida SuperCon in 2021, John Cena revealed Batista was the first choice to star in The Suicide Squad, and was hand-picked by director James Gunn, who had worked with Batista on the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. However, Batista did not take the role, and it instead fell to John Cena, who made it his own and earned his own HBO TV Series.

I was thrown in there last minute because they had no other options. That’s like the story of my life by the way. I was just — all my opportunities came when either James Gunn was sick or nobody showed up to wrestle or they didn’t have anybody else to bet on.

I’ve never been — even for Peacemaker, I know James had Batista in mind for it. That’s okay. I think yet another lesson here is don’t ever be ashamed with how opportunity finds you. Be ready and knock it out of the park.

Meanwhile, a 2011 interview with Batista also showed his true feelings toward John Cena. The Guardians of the Galaxy star spoke to The Chad Duke Wrestling Show about Cena’s impact on the wrestling business, and hard some harsh words to say about how the 16-time WWE Champion changed wrestling for the worse.

Batista revealed that John Cena “killed hardcore, edgy wrestling”, calling him “Mr. Hokey” and accusing him of driving away the hardcore wrestling fans who left the business after ECW closed down in 2001.

I think, you know, they did the whole PG direction thing, I think that works for Cena. The little kids love him, cause he’s a great character, he’s someone they can look up to. The girls love him, good looking guy, says all the right things, does all the right things, but the hardcore fans can’t stand him. He is Mr. Hokey, Mr. PG… to me. He killed hardcore, edgy wrestling.

Batista also claimed he didn’t want to work with The Rock or John Cena in movies, which could cause some friction between the three wrestling legends next time they meet up at WrestleMania.

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