John Cena made a major splash in his return to WWE programming this past Tuesday night, which should come as no big surprise. Cena’s first appearance on SmackDown Live in more than two months kicked off the WWE’s final show of 2016. He declared that he’d challenge the WWE Champion in a match at the Royal Rumble once the dust settled from the evening’s main event match between AJ Styles, Dolph Ziggler, and Baron Corbin.
Styles, of course, emerged victorious to retain his WWE Championship to set up the third one-on-one pay-per-view showdown with Cena. Cena’s only victory over Styles came as part of a six-man tag match that also included Enzo and Big Cass and Anderson and Gallows at the Battleground show in July.
However, the more high-profile decisions have gone to AJ, winning memorable singles matches at Money in the Bank and SummerSlam, the latter of which is certainly in contention for the match of the year in WWE, or any other promotion for that matter.
Back in the summer, when Cena and Styles were mired in arguably the WWE’s most compelling feud of the year, the Undertaker was barely a blip on the radar screen. Granted, the Deadman will always hover over the periphery of the company until he rides off into the sunset for good, but WWE fans were fantasy-booking opponents for Styles that were part of the full-time roster seeing how AJ has been with the WWE for less than a year.
But lo and behold, the Undertaker emerged from Death Valley last month to help commemorate SmackDown Live’s historic 900th episode. Cena was still on hiatus at the time, off filming the second season of American Grit for FOX. But along with WWE superstars Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, James Ellsworth, Dean Ambrose, Edge, and Shane McMahon, AJ Styles was front and center for the Phenom’s declaration.
Not only did the Undertaker claim that WrestleMania would no longer define his legendary career, but he also warned the aforementioned stars as well. The blue brand was on the eve of facing off against Team RAW at WWE’s Survivor Series in what amounted to nothing more than a battle for brand supremacy. But the Undertaker added a level of intrigue to the storyline when he told Team SmackDown that they’d have to answer to him if they lost.
One original idea pitched was to have Styles cost his team the Survivor Series match, thereby setting up a match with the Undertaker. But somewhat curiously, Team SmackDown won the match as Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton had their hands raised as the sole survivors. The SmackDown stars avoided any repercussions, and the Undertaker hasn’t set foot in a WWE ring since.
Even with the blue brand winning that match, the plan as of late November was to have AJ Styles defend his WWE Championship against the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. Less than two weeks later, Vince McMahon fired WWE’s managing lead writer, Tom Casiello, and creative plans changed, according to Cageside Seats. It’s not completely clear whether the two are related, but it’s awfully coincidental.
Keep in mind, the Undertaker is still recovering from recent hip surgery and simply may have not gotten clearance for competition yet. There always remains the possibility that WWE officials are planning on having him enter the Rumble match as a surprise entrant, but any proposed match with AJ Styles doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the WWE’s plan to book the Undertaker and John Cena in a marquee match at WrestleMania 33. Originally, Undertaker was going to defeat Styles at the Royal Rumble and then defend the WWE Championship against Cena at ‘Mania, where Cena would win and tie Ric Flair’s record for 16 world title reigns. Tying the record still appears to be part of the plan, but in a different way than originally scripted.
[Featured Image by WWE]