He probably has about 2-3 years left of consistent WWE programming, might even be shorter. As of right now, where would you rank him? Top 5? Top 10? Top 20?
I would rank him outside of the top ten, maybe outside of the top 15 even. I think he had more potential from what he achieved. He is great on the mic when given freedom. His character is very stale and has been for years. He gets booed a lot even though he is supposed to be a top face. Ratings, when he has been in the go to guy in the company, have not been great.
His wrestling skills aren't terrible but you wouldn't confuse him with a Bret Hart. I think he would have been great in the attitude era but he got stuck in the PG era and sometimes even G era.
WWE neutered his character. He could've done WAY more than he was allowed. It's like you said, the PG/G constraints really hurt him. He's not a great wrestler, but he can really step up his game in big time situations (MITB 2011 for example).
Early 2005 Cena was great, he had an edge to him and was actually cool. Then, the whole PG movement started, with it bordering into G, and Cena's just been a happy-go-lucky Hustle Loyalty Respect character for kids.
EDIT: actually, he would be high on the list, not top 5, but he'd be up there, but he couldve been even higher on it.
i feel he has to be in the top ten/fifteen somewhere just because he has been a top draw for so many years...yes we ***** about him and his character, but in reality its not all his fault...he's just a good company man...
but facts are, when necessary, he's great on the mic, he "CAN" wrestle, and has made a mint for vince....
I'll give him top 15 or so, although I did also agree with his face being on the WWE Mount Rushmore thing. He's just the best this era has seen by far. The former stars are miles ahead of him though, through no fault of his own. The product just isn't what it once was.
I don't think Cena minds being "top 15-20" to the IWC though. He's getting filthy rich either way.
He has been moving a ton of merch consistently since 2005. That is an incredible feat. He's also been a great PR tool for the industry since he seems to stay out of trouble, and is very charity oriented. This is a business that values PR very highly given their reputation in the mainstream, so Cena's PR ability certainly accounts for something.
You just don't come across such reliable assets in this business for such a long span of time. For that alone, he's got to be on a very short list. He'd arguably be #1 if he was able to fully transcend the business.. He didn't have much success in that regard so that leaves him a notch below the likes of Rock and Hogan.
John Cena is like a Bob Backlund, Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, he was put into a position to be the guy when he simply isn't able to pull it off beyond the base of the promotion's audience (The kids in Cena's case). I'm not saying Cena has the athleticism of those 3, I prefer all of them over Cena, but that is his sort of card drawing power, he draws, but not enough. WWE has made money with Cena, sure, but its role in popular culture has shrank significantly.
He's a slump main eventer, not on the level of Rock, Flair, Savage and Austin, and certainly not on the level of Andre or Hogan.