RondaRousey.com’s Classic Match series takes a closer look at significant and super cool matches from wrestling history.
In addition to the matches inside the structure that gave the show its name, the 2015 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view included a straight-up, one-on-one battle of pride, a champion vs. champion match between John Cena and Kevin Owens. The stories of each man’s journey up to this point couldn’t be more different, but they found they were evenly matched in the ring, which made for an epic fight with a surprising result.
By May 31, 2015, United States Champion John Cena had been to the top of the WWE mountain many times. He’d been working on the WWE main roster since 2002 and been the face of the company for many years. Cena was well-established as a man who loved the fans and would work day in and day out to entertain them. He’d held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for a 15th time before Brock Lesnar rocked his world (destroying him at SummerSlam 2014 and taking his championship).
Since then, Cena had been an anti-Authority hero and tried to get that championship back, but no avail. Instead, after the 2015 Royal Rumble, he shifted to a perfectly fitting role as the challenger for the then-undefeated United States Champion Rusev.
The RAW after Cena defeated “The Bulgarian Brute” at WrestleMania 31, he announced that he would be issuing an open challenge each week, allowing any man on the roster to step up and try to take his title.
Really, Kevin Owens being on RAW at all was unexpected. He had started wrestling when he was 14 years old, climbing his way slowly through Canadian independent promotions, then American companies like CZW, PWG, and Ring of Honor, where his feud/friendship with El Generico (now known as WWE’s Sami Zayn) was one of the most engaging in non-WWE wrestling. Owens could do every cool move in the book and hang with the best in the ring, but his average-looking body made people think he would never be hired by the biggest wrestling company in the world.
But then in 2014, Kevin Owens signed to NXT and won the championship from Zayn only two months after his debut. And now, a few months after that, here he was brashly challenging John Cena on the main roster.
When Owens entered the arena that Monday, John Cena already knew who he was, but took offense to Owens calling fans who didn’t a waste of his time. Owens, on his part, didn’t take kindly to Cena deciding to bestow “veteran advice” on a 15-year vet who “just didn’t get a break until now.”
Making the best of that break, Owens made a challenge of his own, one to the status quo of WWE. He turned down the United States title shot since he had his own title already, but added: “You and I, we are going to fight someday. But it’s going to be on my terms, not yours.” After a surprise attack that ended with Cena laid out by Owens’ signature pop-up powerbomb, the NXT Champion left the arena.
Although Cena, standing up for the honor of WWE fans was clearly the good guy and Owens the disrespectful bad guy, their champion vs. champion match at Elimination Chamber was set up in a way that respected the abilities of both competitors. It was hyped as an epic battle, summed up in the pay-per-view opening video with the question, “What’s more threatening, one’s pride or one’s arrogance?”
For fans who weren’t “Cena Kids” and might have been hoping for a changing of the guard in WWE, Owens saying that “John Cena has beaten every single person that’s ever set foot in a WWE ring with him. But he’s never beaten me” and paraphrasing the popular counter-chant to “Let’s go, Cena!” (“Cena sucks!”) was very appealing, as evidenced by shots of “Fight Owens Fight” and “K.O.” signs in the crowd along with Cena-themed fanmade posters.
Cena landed the first offensive blow of the match with a shoulder, kicking off those dueling chants. But soon it was Owens who controlled the pace with strikes and stomps, just generally beating up Cena. The resilience of the man with the catchphrase “Never Give up” was being tested by a WWE newcomer.
The match became an exchange of attempts by both men to finish the other. Cena managed to escape, then kick out of the pop-up powerbomb. Owens blocked and later kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment. Owens tried to cockily beat Cena with his own moves, but that didn’t work either. Both wrestlers reached deep into their bags of tricks but neither was able to pick up the win until Owens hit another pop-up powerbomb which, after so much damage had been inflicted on Cena, put his opponent away. In Owens’ first official match on the WWE main roster, a guy who was never supposed to make it there defeated a 15-time world champion.
On the mic, Owens was clearly not surprised by the result, unlike many in the crowd. Just like his first night on RAW, he made a brash, confident statement:
“My first night on RAW, I said anyone who didn’t know me yet wasn’t worth my time. Well, now everyone knows who Kevin Owens is! I’m the man who started a fight with John Cena and I’m also the man who just finished that fight. And now that I’ve beaten John Cena, John, I have some veteran advice: It’s time for you to go because your time is way up, but my time is now, because the champ is here!”
Ultimately, the feud between Owens and Cena would continue and Cena would come out on top, defeating his rival in rematches at Money in the Bank and Battleground. Owens would lose the NXT Championship to Finn Balor at The Beast in the East WWE Network special in
You can watch this match in its entirety along with the rest of the 2015 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on the WWE Network.