Love him or loathe him, John Cena has been the face of the WWE for the best part of the last decade. His image is so recognisable that an audible groan of derision, or shriek of delight, is conjured at the merest glimpse of his shoes.
Cena is the most influential figure in the WWE at present.
However, his reign at the top is coming to an end. This is nothing to do with Cena as an onscreen character or what the creative team chooses to do with him. This is simply a matter of time.
The only wrestler from the modern era that surpasses Cena's time at the top is Hulk Hogan. The rise of HulkaMania happened in 1983 and ran through to the end of 1992. An amazing nine-year run where Hogan was "the man."
Hogan would go onto further success in WCW as part of the NWO. However, the significant change in his character effectively made him into a new entity within the fan's mind. A heel turn may or may not be part of Cena's future, but it would still stop him being the face of the WWE like he is now.
John Cena has been the top star in the WWE for nearly seven years. Stone Cold's time at the top was only five years while the Shawn Michaels era flashed by in under two years. This really puts into perspective how long Cena has dominated the WWE landscape.
Nobody has been on top for more than 10 years in the modern era of professional wrestling for a significant amount of time.
So this goes back to the question, what happens after the fall of John Cena?
The best way to answer that question is to look at what happened when the three stars mentioned above moved on.
Hogan's popularity had fallen to a career low by the time he left the WWE.
Hogan still maintained a loyal fanbase, but there was an increasing amount of anti-Hogan sentiment. Hogan had been in the same position, doing relatively similar things, for too long and the majority of people wanted to see something new.
The period after Hogan was a strange time for the company and its popularity did take a knock. There was plenty of talent coming through, but it was in two generations.
Several wrestlers who had notable runs with and against Hogan, like "Macho Man" Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, were vying for the championship. However, their time had already passed to some extent and new exciting talent like Bret Hart and The British Bulldog were as likely to headline a show.
A power struggle developed which held back some talent and left the situation confused. Strangely, it was resolved by the WCW coming in and poaching much of the older talent. This allowed the younger workers to come through.
This could happen if Cena's reign lasts too long.
There is already a generation waiting to break out headed by CM Punk. However, there could be another one coming through. These are the former ROH stars who are already following in CM Punk's footsteps.
The good news is that once the confusion was organised, it did allow for the rise of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.
The bad news is the aftermath of losing a star like Hogan can lead to a sustained amount of upheaval and political games backstage. This could create brilliant television or appalling dross depending on who is in control.
Shawn Michaels may have returned in the summer of 2002, but there should be no doubt that his retirement in 1998 was one of the most shocking things to ever happen in the WWE.
The WWE had revolved around Michaels for the previous year. D-Generation X had launched the lewd part of the Attitude era. The Montreal Screwjob was fresh in people's memory, which had seen the rise of Vince McMahon and subsequently Stone Cold Steve Austin. Even legendary boxer Mike Tyson had been in Michaels' corner at WrestleMania.
Michaels having to retire created a huge hole in the WWE's roster.
Through that hole came a generation of stars who are held in the highest regard. The Rock would go on to take Michaels' place as the company's top heel. The comedy was taken on by the newly reformed DX and the development of the Mankind character.
Many undercard wrestlers took the opportunity to be involved in gimmick matches. These men recreated and then furthered the high-flying style Michaels had brought to the ring.
Michaels could not be replaced by one person. However, different people took part of his charm and made it their own, so the WWE roster became deeper than ever before.
Cena does not have the charisma of "The Heart Break Kid" nor is Cena as good a technical wrestler. Cena hasn't been involved in as many revolutionary matches or feuds, either.
However, Cena has dominated a lot of television time. That time could be exploited to allow people to come up with their own revolutionary moments. If the end of Cena created those, it could open up the possibility of wrestling modernizing itself like it did in the Attitude era.
The "Rattlesnake" was not at the peak of his popularity when he left the WWE, but fans were not ready to see the back of him like they were Hogan. Austin was also sharing the limelight with The Rock and, to some extent, Triple H, which lessened the blow of his loss.
Why Austin left is still a matter of some controversy as well.
Austin had been in a number of high-profile feuds, including being the leader of the WCW invasion force, but he was no longer a high priority to be World Champion. Others, like Kurt Angle, had moved through to take that role and Austin was involved in special-attraction matches or helping along future stars. Austin was also hurting from the broken neck that had launched his career.
No one will ever really know whether Austin left because his career was in decline or if it really was a health issue.
The fallout of Austin's departure launched a new era in the WWE.
One of the noticeable moves was to move towards pure wrestling. The emerging force of Brock Lesnar was put alongside Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle. Smaller but technically skilled wrestlers were also pushed up the card with Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam establishing themselves in the main event.
Arguably, this change had already started. Certainly, Angle was already established and Chris Jericho, who was very much the prototype for these smaller technical wrestlers, was the first "Undisputed Champion."
Austin may well have decided that the writing was on the wall and walked away.
This could be stencilled on the WWE right now.
Cena's focus has been on special-event matches, such as his WrestleMania encounter with The Rock. Title matches have been lost more often than they have been won. His place is no longer as the long-term champion of the company.
Other wrestlers are also coming to prominence. CM Punk is certainly selling a lot of merchandise and has been one of the longest reigning champions in the last five years. Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes have been getting more attention, with many fans calling for them to be in the title hunt.
Cena may be losing his place without it being his decision.
Whether a toned-down Cena figure could co-exist with a new order of business is something that is a complete unknown.
These previous experiences will not be identical to the phase after John Cena's departure.
The positive news is that the departure of an iconic figure has been the signal for an influx of talent. The hole left by the outgoing star opens up the opportunity for people to show their abilities and gain fan interest. This often leads to a much stronger roster.
More characters can then lead to new ideas and new storylines, which makes the wrestling world feel fresh and new again.
However, it can also become confused and bogged down when the WWE tries to push stars who are inappropriate for the era. Some wrestlers from the previous era can also feel overlooked by the new faces. This leads to conflict backstage, which pulls down the quality of the overall product.
This period of uncertainty can last years if there are too many wrestlers trying to claim too few spots.
The best news is that there is always a next era. A new beginning, which will launch a new set of characters, and we, as fans, will enjoy that ride every single time it happens.