John Cena defeated AJ Styles Sunday night to capture the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble in San Antonio’s Alamodome. The bout has already garnered match-of-the-year consideration, albeit early, with many arguing that it bested their SummerSlam classic from last August. Of course, in the process, Cena tied Ric Flair’s record of 16 championship reigns, a distinction that The Nature Boy held alone for 17 years.
A photo posted by Ric Flair® Nature Boy® (@ricflairnatureboy) on
Due to the WWE Championship result and the outcome of the Royal Rumble match, a vast majority of the WWE Universe has insinuated that John Cena will now defend his title against Randy Orton in the main event of WrestleMania 33 in April. The WWE website has even fueled that speculation themselves, publishing an article teasing that encounter with a corresponding graphic feature both veterans.
“Putting Elimination Chamber aside for a moment, a WrestleMania main event between John Cena and Randy Orton would be a fitting, if not poetic, way to celebrate both Superstars’ 15-year anniversaries in WWE. The Champ and The Viper have been peers throughout their remarkable careers, beginning with their training in former WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling, and they have waged war in many a WWE pay-per-view main event over the years.”
Fitting, perhaps, but likely not the direction the WWE will ultimately be headed on the road to WrestleMania. That same release referenced above confirms two of the six participants for the SmackDown-exclusive Elimination Chamber main event that’s set for February 12: John Cena and AJ Styles. Cena now, of course, will be forced to defend his WWE Championship inside the Chamber against Styles and four other superstars, all of which should be announced this Tuesday.
It’s been noted that WWE officials have determined John Cena’s WrestleMania opponent, but they aren’t leaking it and will rather let it develop for itself on television. That mystery opponent has never been assumed to be Randy Orton. Orton, rather, appears to be on a collision course with Bray Wyatt for the grand stage in Orlando. Last Thursday, we detailed how Orton was in line to win the Royal Rumble match and then defend it against Wyatt at WrestleMania after Bray captured it at Elimination Chamber.
On the most recent episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, it was noted that that’s the direction the WWE is still headed and that John Cena’s record-tying 16th World Championship reign will last all of two weeks. While Wyatt hasn’t been officially announced as a participant in the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, he is expected to be this week on SmackDown.
There was much more mention of Flair’s record leading into the WWE Championship triple threat match between John Cena, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose at No Mercy, as well as the beginning of the build to the match at the Royal Rumble than there was on the go-home show last week. This led some to believe that Vince McMahon changed his mind and was going to have Styles retain. Cena won, of course, with a nod to The Nature Boy, applying a Figure-4 at one point during the match.
WWE officials were set on John Cena tying the record and winning the WWE Championship at a major pay-per-view, either the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania. But by booking his reign to last just two weeks, it takes some of the luster off of it. There is a feeling that breaking the record will be a bigger deal and he can do that at another show down the line and have a longer run with the belt.
Because most of the marquee matches at WrestleMania are locked in (Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Undertaker vs. Reigns, Rollins vs. Triple H, Orton vs. Wyatt, Owens vs. Jericho), the consensus has been that John Cena will end up facing Samoa Joe on the big stage. Joe was rumored on numerous occasions to debut at Sunday night’s Royal Rumble, but that was obviously held off. If that’s the plan the WWE goes with, it’s likely we wouldn’t see Joe debut until at least the Elimination Chamber.
[Featured Image by WWE]