Apparently blessed with the same healing powers as Wolverine, John Cena's absence from WWE was short-lived.
The two-month Cena hiatus taught us that he isn't the ratings powerhouse we thought he was. The numbers bear out that Raw pulls a similar amount of viewers with Daniel Bryan at the helm. Still, Cena's absence also showed that WWE is unsure of relying on its new top star.
Cena's aggressive approach to rehab has prevented WWE's hunger pangs for him returning to ever get too severe. Maybe that's why WWE seemed to be holding out for him to come back and so delayed placing a crown on Bryan's head.
Hesitant to Name Heir
As loud as chants for Bryan have been and with as many signs folks carry into WWE arenas bearing his likeness, the company seems trigger-shy in terms of making him the true top guy.
His battle to become the face of the franchise is the heart of his current storyline, but it feels as if it's born form real-life sentiment as well.
Since Cena has been gone, Bryan has not taken his place as WWE's Superman, but instead been the superhero who has just discovered his powers and falls off buildings trying to fly. Countless episodes of Raw and SmackDown have ended with Bryan being beaten down.
WWE heroes do stumble, but they always eventually get their moment of glory.
Such moments for Bryan have not lasted long. People have waited in line for Star Wars tickets longer than Bryan's two WWE title reigns combined.
The WWE Championship has been vacant since mid-September. It's been upheld longer than The Iron Sheik was champ.
A part of that is a result of the narrative, but it smells like indecision as well. It's hard to believe the title would remain without a champion to hold it for this long if Cena had been around.
Triple H, Randy Orton, Stephanie McMahon and Big Show have all been as big a star as Bryan during Cena's absence. This feels like a result of WWE lacking the confidence to fully place Bryan in Cena's position. The company has instead made the starring role a team effort.
What if Bryan is WWE champ and the chants for him die down? What if he isn't able to be the franchise player his fans predict he can be?
Those are the questions that have seemingly slowed WWE's hands. Before Bryan's ascent up the mountain is complete, Cena, the safe-bet Superstar WWE knows can be on top and thrive, will be back.
However, the ratings say that Bryan as top dog is just as effective as having Cena there.
Cena is No Cure-All for Ratings
Without Cena's stardom to put butts in seats, Raw didn't fall on its face. Actually, it did a touch better.
Anyone who wants to blame Bryan for Raw's recent low ratings needs to slide their finger from the flying goat to the pigskin. The NFL taketh away from WWE's ratings, with or without Cena.
This year, with Cena out of the picture, Raw has had highs and lows in terms of viewership.
Those numbers won't remind anyone of the Attitude Era, but they weren't below the much-desired 3.0 point because Cena wasn't around. Baseball playoffs, Monday Night Football and likely the fact that Raw is three hours all did their part.
2012 dealt with all those same issues and didn't fare much better. Even with Cena in the WWE title picture, last year's numbers look much like this year's.
- Sept. 10, 2012: 2.88
- Sept. 17, 2012: 2.9
- Sept. 24, 2012: 2.72
- Oct. 1, 2012: 2.54
- Oct. 8, 2012: 2.8
- Oct. 15, 2012: 2.79
The 2.65 we saw after Battleground doesn't look so bad when you remember that Raw had a paltry 2.54 rating on the first episode of October.
The highest number during this period in 2012 was the 2.9 on Sept. 17, 2012. Minus Cena, Raw's top number outdid that with a 2.96 rating. Average out the six episodes from the two years and it comes to 2.81 without Cena and 2.77 with.
Cena is commonly thought as the biggest draw in the WWE, but the company actually did slightly better when he was on the bench. That's not saying that he's not needed, but the roster clearly has some other members who positively affect viewership.
That won't stop Cena from stampeding back to the ring, though.
No One is More Driven
It's not as if fans didn't know that Cena was a hard-working, committed Superstar, but the effort he put forth to cut his recovery time displayed a superhuman drive.
Even if WWE threw out a false return date to make Cena's comeback more impressive, going to battle just over two months after surgery is impressive.
Cena's attitude during his rehab was that of a warrior attacking an enemy. He's been on top of the WWE for years and has made a load of money along the way. No one would have blamed him for taking it easy and enjoying his time off.
Instead, he charged back at a rate that has some wondering if he's putting himself at risk of further injury or if his comeback is somehow a swerve waiting to happen.
Kobe Bryant said he "shattered" the timetable, per SportingNews.com, in terms of returning from an Achilles tendon injury. That's thanks to his tirelessness and intense competitive spirit.
That same spirit is clearly living inside Cena.
He said in an interview on WWE.com that he is a "very dedicated physical therapy patient" and talked about much he missed being in the ring, despite not being gone for long.
Fans learned, just as they did when he returned to win the world title just months after repairing a herniated disc in his neck, that Cena is a beast, a freak and a man with WWE surging through his blood.