The WWE Championship was defended by AJ Styles in an absolute classic against John Cena Sunday night at the Royal Rumble. It was the only SmackDown-exclusive bout on the main card of the pay-per-view, but as Daniel Bryan bragged on social media (and most agreed), it was the highlight of the show. And as well known by now, Cena was victorious, becoming a 16-time World Champion and tying the historic record set by Ric Flair.
Immediately after the show, initial speculation projected that Cena would go on to defend his WWE Championship against Randy Orton, the winner of the Royal Rumble match. It was Orton’s second-career Rumble victory, and it could have fittingly set up a bout between the two as both superstars celebrate their 15th anniversary on WWE’s main roster.
However, WWE officials have other plans for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania in Orlando this coming April. As the Inquisitr pointed out earlier on Monday, while Orton will still challenge for the WWE Championship, his opponent is expected to be fellow Wyatt Family member Bray Wyatt. They’ll get there by putting Wyatt over in the main event of the Elimination Chamber, which comes our way in two short weeks.
Cena is set to defend his WWE Championship against five other superstars inside the Elimination Chamber. Styles is the only other confirmed name as of this writing, but the other participants are expected to be named on this week’s SmackDown. And just as WWE creative team members had different ideas for the WWE Championship bout at WrestleMania, they had something else in mind for the finish to Sunday night’s battle between Cena and AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble.
According to a new report, after the WWE Championship match concluded, original plans called for Ric Flair to come down to ringside to congratulate and celebrate with John Cena upon tying his record. However, those plans were scrapped very late during the course of the show. Instead, Flair remained backstage and did an interview for WWE’s online distribution. Flair also tweeted his approval and later posed with Cena for a picture on Instagram which you can see below.
A photo posted by Ric Flair® Nature Boy® (@ricflairnatureboy) on
Cena had not held the WWE Championship (or any variation of a world title) since 2014 when he dropped the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in stunning fashion to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Ric Flair’s record had stood for 17 years and was once considered a long-shot to ever be matched, let alone broken. Cena’s longevity in sports entertainment is perhaps what’s most impressive about his career in the WWE.
As he’s done throughout his career in big matches (and less significant ones for that matter), Cena celebrated his WWE Championship victory with a Make-A-Wish child in the Royal Rumble audience. It’s unclear whether that (likely pre-planned) celebration made WWE officials re-think their decision to bring out Flair or if it was just a timing issue. Regardless, as the Inquisitr reported in the linked article above, Cena’s celebration is not expected to last more than two weeks.
SmackDown’s next brand-exclusive pay-per-view, Elimination Chamber, is set for February 12 on the WWE Network. The quick turnaround is what prompted the creative team to have Shane McMahon announce the main event for the show several weeks before the Royal Rumble so that creative plans and storylines didn’t feel so rushed. And even though Cena and the WWE are celebrating the historic WWE Championship victory, he is expected to drop it quickly.
There has yet to be any discussion as to when Cena would pursue the WWE Championship again, as another win would then break the record and put him in elite company all by himself. WWE officials wanted the 16th title reign to commence at a marquee pay-per-view, and it’s very likely they’ll want the same for the record-breaking win. But with plans already in place for the WWE Championship at this year’s WrestleMania, that will have to wait at least another year unless SummerSlam is deemed worthy enough.
[Featured Image by WWE]