The two most recognizable and accomplished WWE superstars on the SmackDown Live brand are, without a doubt, John Cena and Randy Orton. Both debuted for the WWE in 2002, along with Batista and Brock Lesnar, in what may be the greatest rookie class in sports entertainment history. Clear first-ballot Hall of Famers Cena and Orton have combined for 27 World Championship reigns, carrying an established sense of star power to the relative unknown of Tuesday nights.
Yet, on SmackDown’s first brand-exclusive pay-per-view of the new era, neither John Cena or Randy Orton wrestled a match at a Backlash show that will most likely be remembered for the main event between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose, with Styles walking out as the new WWE World Champion.
Orton was advertised to compete in a match with Bray Wyatt but was pulled on Sunday because of a concussion suffered during his marquee match with Brock Lesnar at last month’s SummerSlam. Meanwhile, John Cena has been kept off of television since August 21 as he prepares to film the second season of the FOX reality competition series American Grit.
It’s interesting to note that while Cena has not appeared on a single episode of WWE programming since losing to Styles at SummerSlam, he has been booked for nearly every SmackDown and several RAW shows to boot. Cena has worked the dark match segments on those occasions, meaning he’s come out after RAW or SmackDown have gone off the air to participate in a spot or a match to send the live crowd home happy.
— A.A.A. (@IAmAlexandero) August 23, 2016
Many have wondered that why he can’t appear on the live show if he’s booked to be in the arena. For one, the plan was to keep him off television because there wasn’t a significant feud to be had at present, as AJ Styles needed to work the main event after beating Cena on two separate occasions. Cena was also booked to work the live event tour in China and Manila this past week, making it rather difficult for him to return to Virginia for Sunday’s pay-per-view.
But according to Ringside News, John Cena is currently scheduled to return to TV in order to work his next program which would culminate with a match at SmackDown’s next brand-exclusive pay-per-view, No Mercy, on October 9. The plan is for Cena to reignite his feud with AJ Styles, who, of course, is now the WWE World Champion. However, the report indicates that John will then take another extended hiatus shortly after No Mercy, which would likely take him off television for the remainder of 2016 as he finishes work on American Grit.
It should be noted that Cena is booked to work Monday’s house show in Fairfax, Virginia, as well as Tuesday’s SmackDown in Philadelphia. It is unclear if he’ll appear on the actual show on Tuesday or simply work the dark match again. But if he is to work Styles in less than a month, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that he’ll be live on SmackDown.
— Hawke's Nest (@ViewsHawkeNest) August 22, 2016
The wild card in all of this might be Dean Ambrose. The Lunatic Fringe may have lost his title, but Styles won via a low blow that the referee did not see. Ambrose will certainly want to exact his revenge and is entitled a rematch. This might result in a triple threat match between Ambrose, Styles, and Cena at No Mercy unless the plan is to move on from Ambrose before then to allow Cena and Styles to compete in their first-ever main event.
The John Cena-AJ Styles feud began on Memorial Day and appears to be regaining steam after Labor Day. Their program has been some of the most compelling stuff on WWE TV this year, and adding the World Championship to the mix makes it that much more intriguing. With Cena departing shortly after No Mercy, it may make the end result somewhat predictable, but the feud has been so hot that the WWE can’t afford to hold off.
[Image via WWE]