John Cena returned to the WWE after a two-month hiatus for the final episode of SmackDown Live in 2016, and one month later he captured the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. His victory is noteworthy, of course, because he became a 16-time World Champion, tying the legendary record set by Ric Flair. Coincidentally, if he breaks the record in 2017 with his 17th reign, it’ll have come 17 years after Flair originally set it.
There has been little fanfare outside of Flair singing the praises of John Cena for WWE’s online outlets, but to be fair, the victory only occurred two days ago. We noted on Monday how original creative plans called for Flair to come down to ringside and celebrate with Cena, but that was scrapped in favor of John going into the crowd and celebrating with a Make-A-Wish child.
Not only that, but John Cena is not expected to be the WWE Champion for more than two weeks as plans call for him to drop the title at the SmackDown-exclusive Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on February 12. WWE officials felt that, even though his win is historic, there isn’t much sense in celebrating it too much because the championship will change hands in such a hurry.
The plan, as noted, for the WWE Championship, is for Bray Wyatt to emerge victorious in the main event of Elimination Chamber, and then face Randy Orton for the title at WrestleMania. Orton, of course, is guaranteed a championship match in light of his victory in the Royal Rumble match. At this point in time, it’s actually the only match set in stone for the grand stage in terms of SmackDown stars, leaving guys like John Cena, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose and others without a definitive direction yet. At least, not publicly.
Privately, John Cena’s opponent for WrestleMania has been determined by Vince McMahon and his WWE officials, but they are keeping it quiet for now. They’ve actually had Cena’s match in place for a little over a week, but despite his monumental win on Sunday night, it still won’t involve the WWE Championship. And according to the latest episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, it won’t come against someone who will move the needle all that much either.
It was noted that once Cena’s opponent is revealed, it won’t necessarily be good news, nor will it be celebrated. For the longest time leading up to this year’s big show, the prevailing thought was that John Cena would face the Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 this coming April. All that was left to be decided was if a championship was to be on the line and whether the Undertaker would be wrestling for the final time.
We got a glimpse of a change of direction during Cena’s first promo back when he opened up that SmackDown on December 27. John ran down the stacked lineup for that night’s show and then asked aloud, “Why am I here?” Right on cue, the crowd drummed up an Undertaker chant in unison. At first, Cena appeared humbled, but then he responded in kind.
“Hearing that makes me think a lot of people have been speculating and planning my future. 2016 wasn’t exactly a super year for ‘Super Cena’ if you know what I’m sayin’. Because I heard things like that, but i also heard that I’m damaged goods, I’m washed up. Hell, I’ve been called a part-timer.”
John Cena and the Undertaker were no longer on the table, and Vince shifted the Deadman to RAW because he was lining up a match between him and Roman Reigns instead. The one name rumored to face Cena at WrestleMania after the Undertaker news broke was Samoa Joe. But that, too, is no longer an option with Joe debuting on RAW Monday night to attack Seth Rollins.
We can also safely assume that since John’s opponent won’t be celebrated, we can eliminate names like Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura from contention. The rivalry with AJ Styles is most likely over as rumors have also swirled around the idea of Styles facing Shane McMahon in Orlando. That leaves SmackDown stars like Dolph Ziggler, Baron Corbin, Dean Ambrose, The Miz and Luke Harper as potential options. Any of those names catch your interest?
[Featured Image by WWE]