Now established as the trash-talking, sports jersey-wearing “Doctor of Thuganomics,” John Cena had built a reputation as one of the most must-see superstars on the “SmackDown” roster in 2004. This buzz eventually brought him into the WWE United States Championship picture, but his first reign ended unceremoniously after then-“SmackDown” general manager Kurt Angle stripped him of it. Cena had the chance to reclaim it in an eight-man elimination match against Billy Gunn, Charlie Haas, Booker T, Kenzo Suzuki, Luther Reigns, Rob Van Dam, and René Duprée, but ultimately came up short.
Booker T walked away from that match as the new United States Champion, igniting a feud between him and Cena, who was still determined to regain the title he never truly lost. They traded victories in a Best of Five series throughout the summer of 2004, which culminated in one final showdown at No Mercy. Cena came out victorious and a two-time United States Champion, but he didn’t enjoy a lengthy or eventful reign. Two nights later at that week’s “SmackDown” taping, he lost the title to Carlito Caribbean Cool, largely nullifying his hard-fought win over Booker T.