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John Cena Looks Back At 20 Years Of 'Tribute To The Troops' – What Are The Best Matches?

Cena himself has been a part of some of the most memorable moments in Tribute to the Troops history!

By Chris Phelan
WWE Troops Holiday Tribute

There is a very special 20-year anniversary coming up, and it has nothing to do with a particular WWE Superstar or moment. In fact, it has everything to do with the American men and women who serve in the armed forces.

“WWE’s commitment to those who serve has remained steadfast for two decades,” said John Cena, speaking over a YouTube video WWE posted yesterday. 

Beginning in 2003 with a visit to Iraq and continuing on today, the WWE has made annual visits to pay respects to the men and women who protect our freedoms the best way they know how: by performing for them. These televised events usually stray away from the week-to-week stories told on Raw and SmackDown, instead acting as an exhibition of sorts for the troops. Of course, it being WWE – memorable moments still occur, as evidenced by years and years of smiles on the troops’ faces. 

This Saturday, WWE presents their 2022 Tribute to the Troops special to once again give the WWE Superstars, in the words of Stephanie McMahon, the chance to say “thank you to our servicemen and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedom.”

Over the past 20 years, John Cena unsurprisingly was the face of WWE for these Tribute to the Troops specials and was a part of some truly unforgettable memories in the process. Here are some of Cena’s very best Tribute to the Troops moments!

There’s A First Time For Everything – 2003

Before the inaugural edition of Tribute to the Troops aired, neither the troops themselves nor the WWE Universe knew what to expect. After all, pulling off a show in the middle of a literal warzone brought up some major logistical challenges. The first-ever Tribute to the Troops show featured a bare-bones presentation with a lot of passion to go along with it. It was in 2003 when John Cena battled The Big Show in a match that was memorable in its own right but was ultimately overshadowed by the circumstances. Servicemen and women were literally sitting on sand dunes and piles of dirt surrounding the ring; the Superstars themselves entered through an entrance tent at the end of a makeshift entrance ramp. 

And although the presentation would improve leaps and bounds over the years, Cena and Big Show gave off major Roman Coliseum vibes — just two gladiators fighting with everything they’ve got in front of an absolutely rabid crowd!

A WrestleMania-Worthy Match – 2006

The year is 2006, and John Cena and Edge are embroiled in a blood feud that WWE has rarely seen before. Those two men spent the better part of the year absolutely hating each other. 

So what would be a better gift to the troops than a red-hot match between Cena and Edge during the apex of their rivalry? That’s exactly what the men and women in Iraq received that day: A match that certainly encapsulated the hatred between Cena and Edge. Unsurprisingly, Edge did not have any crowd support at all that day, leading to Cena picking up the victory and starting an unforgettable victory celebration. Man, that Cena sure knows how to send the troops home happy, huh?

A Star-Studded Main Event – 2008

The sheer amount of star power that competed in this match in 2008 is jaw-dropping, as it featured Cena teaming with Batista and Rey Mysterio against Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and the Big Show. Maybe this match came about because all six Superstars wanted to tangle with each other – or maybe it came out because all six men wanted to show their gratitude to the men and women in Iraq that day.

The match was a blur of a contest, with every Superstar hitting their signature moves at some point – much to the delight of the crowd watching in the desert. In the end, Team Cena was victorious, thanks to a well-timed Batista Bomb to go along with a simultaneous Attitude Adjustment after Mysterio managed to hit the 619 against both Jericho and Orton. It was the perfect ending to a perfect edition of Tribute to the Troops.

Saluting From The Heart – 2011

The WWE Universe knows that if there's one thing John Cena can arguably do better than actually wrestling, it’s speaking openly and honestly with a microphone in his hands. “Let the world hear the spirit of the United States of America!” Cena bellowed into a microphone in 2011 in front of a packed crowd at Fort Bragg.

It was one of John Cena’s most genuine moments in WWE. Throughout this speech, his verbal salute to the troops stands as passionate, proud, and at moments eye-watering. It’s living proof that Cena doesn’t have to perform a single Attitude Adjustment on an unsuspecting opponent to speak to the hearts and minds of everybody watching.

With the 2022 edition of Tribute to the Troops, John Cena himself isn’t currently scheduled to appear, but we still wouldn’t count him out, as he is at this point synonymous with the event. Either way, we’re looking forward to many more memorable moments this year and every year going forward.

Catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.

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