Wrestlemania 29 unfolds this weekend in the normal WWE style. We'll have the end of several storylines as the WWE wraps them up with a bow during its biggest pay-per-view. We'll have the start of new ones that will carry us through the year. We'll see who the WWE is pushing and who might be pushed to the rear. What we won't see is the training room behind the curtain, where some of the WWE's best athletes and most popular entertainers are helped to fight through real injuries that are the result of their high-flying, hard-hitting antics.
The key injury is still something of a mystery. CM Punk is in the unenviable position of facing off with The Undertaker. While Punk is coming off one of the best years of any WWE Superstar in recent memory, he's also had a grueling schedule as part of that push. He's had some epic matches and taken bumps that have taxed him.
Many have tried to figure out why Punk is gearing down his schedule, with many of his post-WM29 appearances being pulled. It is less likely that he is fighting through a single injury and instead is simply worn down. The schedule and sheer amount of abuse he's had heaped on his undersized body has taken a toll, especially considering the lack of rest.
Punk is going to make it through his big match at Wrestlemania but do not be surprised if he ends up coming out of his match with The Undertaker "injured." This work would be created to give him the time off he needs to recover and set up for his next match, while allowing Paul Heyman—who has done brilliant work alongside Punk over the last year—to shift his focus to Brock Lesnar's upcoming push.
The WWE is likely to give the title back to John Cena at Wrestlemania, flipping the script from last year. While the personalization of this latest push has been a bit uncomfortable for fans, Cena remains a charismatic entertainer despite some drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is his history of major injuries. Combined with his age, the worry is that Cena would have to take another extended leave of absence from the ring to rehab, leaving the back room scrambling to make key matchups.
The fact is that a WWE fan only needs to look around to see that 35 is not old for a wrestler. Heck, the WWE just did a deal with Honky Tonk Man, a 60-year-old legend. Other top wrestlers like The Undertaker, Kane and Shawn Michaels are pushing 50, so Cena has plenty of time, even if he's not at his peak by that point.
Cena may have to change his physical style, but he could go in any direction. He could bulk up a bit and go the power route of a Triple H. He could go the Shawn Michaels or Chris Jericho route, getting a bit less bulky and relying more on his skills on the mic than the gymnastics of the past. (Admittedly, Cena has never been a high flyer in Michaels' class.) Cena has shown the skills on the mic—though inconsistently—if given the right storyline and material.
The end of his year-long feud with The Rock should free up Cena to take his career into a new direction. Part of that consideration is going to have to be how to keep him productive and healthy. When Cena raises the belt this weekend as expected, the WWE is going to have to consider the next decade rather than the next year.
Finally, Mark Henry hits the ring in one of the biggest matches—literally—on the schedule. With Henry weighing in around 400 pounds and his opponent, Ryback, coming in at a solid 300, they'd better reinforce the ring. This power on power matchup should be one that cements the status of Henry while elevating Ryback in the eyes of the fans. If Ryback's power stands up to Henry's "World's Strongest Man" strength, it won't be hard to see.
The downside is that Henry's weakness has always been that size. He's carrying a lot of weight and lacks mobility, which can lead to situations like what happened two weeks ago. Henry was clearly injured in a match against Kane, with most focused on his knee. Henry has been able to wrestle since, but his mobility has been limited. How he'll be able to move in the Wrestlemania ring will go a long way in determining how this match will go and if both wrestlers get the push they deserve.
Wrestlemania 29 figures to be another huge success for the WWE, but the work behind the scenes is already taking place. The doctors, trainers and physical therapists are hard at work trying to keep the bumps and bruises from turning into the latest vacation for the circuit's top talent. We'll see how they did this weekend.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and he regularly appears on the Steel Chair Slamcast. Google