On paper, the facts look bleak.
Former WWE Champion and cornerstone of the company John Cena is 35 years old. He’s been plagued by injuries and ailments in recent years, as all the bumps, hard-hitting matches and tough WWE schedules take its toll. He’s also been on top for nearly a decade now, and may be past his expiration date as a star.
Yes, after a long run on top, time is definitely ticking for him as a main event player.
With all this in mind, this question has become more and more pertinent: Can Raw, WWE’s flagship show, survive without him?
It’s a difficult question. Of course, some would point to the recent poor ratings performance of Raw as strong evidence that, no, it almost certainly can’t.
In light of his recent elbow issues, Cena has been used sparingly on television as he heads home and attempts to recuperate. Raw ratings have simultaneously plummeted.
Considering Cena’s solid history of drawing ratings, this probably isn’t a coincidence, although going up against ratings monster Monday Night Football is clearly a factor too. And, unsurprisingly, after the October 1 episode of Raw’s drew a truly dreadful 2.5 rating, Cena was brought back the following week, likely to help the floundering numbers.
Sure enough, likely thanks to Cena, the ratings rebounded. Vince McMahon’s wacky and action-filled street fight with WWE Champion CM Punk no doubt helped as well.
While the company must have been relieved at the number, it also led to questions about just what WWE would do when they couldn’t use Cena anymore to bring up the viewing figures on a regular basis.
Of course, a counter-argument is that Cena is both the solution and problem in today's WWE. He’s a ratings draw, of course, and the company still sells truckloads of his bright, colorful merchandise to his loyal army of followers.
He is indisputably their top star, a fact that has become abundantly clear in the past year as WWE Champion CM Punk has found himself playing second fiddle to his more popular and relevant co-worker—something that the recently turned Punk has brought up in several promos .
Yup, title or no title, Cena is the No. 1 guy in WWE.
But has his overexposure, often at the expense of other up-and-coming wrestlers, become its own kind of problem? Indeed, Cena has been on top for so long it’s been practically impossible for anyone else to get over. As noted, even Punk has been demoted to a supporting player in the last year, as Cena continues to be plastered all over the product.
In fact, in recent times, only Ryback looks to have broken through and gotten over hugely with the fans with his Goldberg-esque monster gimmick.
No wonder WWE doesn't have many options for when Cena is on the bench; they’ve limited themselves greatly by pushing him and only him for the past several years.
It’s very possible that without Cena on the roster, WWE would be forced to go all the way with some rising talent—likely Ryback—and that would help turned around business. The company desperately needs new stars, something Cena is increasingly getting in the way of.
So can Raw cope without John Cena?
In the current circumstances with the show’s distinct lack of stars, the answer is probably not. However, if the company starts making a solid effort to build up younger stars, maybe a future without the former WWE Champion on the show wouldn’t look so frightening.