John Cena recently shared a story about how his WWE debut match against Kurt Angle wasn’t supposed to happen, but WWE “had no other options” at the time.
Cena’s WWE TV debut was on the June 27, 2002 edition of Smackdown when he answered the open challenge of Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who was a well-established main eventer at that point. When Angle asked Cena what made him think he could face Angle in a match, Cena replied with: “Ruthless Aggression.”
Angle faced Cena in a match that was very competitive with Angle hooking the arms and floating over into a successful pin attempt. Cena wanted a handshake post match, but Angle (who was a heel at the time) refused. After the match, Cena was shown in the backstage area where The Undertaker shook his hand out of respect. The 25-year-old Cena was elated.
While he was speaking during a Q&A session at the Florida Supercon, the 16-time WWE Champion Cena discussed his start in WWE while noting it was a bit of luck just like some other things in his career:
“It’s surreal and it all happened so fast [match with Kurt Angle and shaking hands with The Undertaker]. It wasn’t even supposed to happen. 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.”
“So it was all surreal, it was all like a blur but I remember I was ready to wrestle Kurt and he brought, technically the best out of me and forced me — he tried to run me ragged but I hung in there with him and yes, they filmed backstage moments of other superstars shaking hands there because it was genuine. Everybody was like, ‘Yo, good job’ because when you see a new guy in the locker room, the jury is still out and it worked. So even Kurt himself came up and thanked me and everybody was great and after that I sucked but for that one moment… but it was all such a [whirlwind]. It was crazy.”
When Angle was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017, it was Cena who inducted him. Angle wanted Cena to be his retirement match in 2019, but WWE went with Baron Corbin instead.