John Cena is returning to the WWE just in time for their latest Hell In A Cell pay-per-view. Just months removed from a significant arm injury, some are stunned that Cena is going to try to return this far ahead of schedule. While it's impossible to tell from the outside just what is planned for his match against Alberto Del Rio, let's focus on what this tells us about his physical condition.
Cena is believed to have had a torn triceps. Given the appearance of the arm (link not for the squeamish), it is most likely that the muscle tore proximally, or nearer the shoulder. The muscle then "rolled down," and blood and fluid pooled around the muscle.
The muscle needed to be reattached surgically, a standard procedure that was performed by Dr. James Andrews, top sports medicine physician in America. Andrews has worked on many WWE athletes in the past, including Triple H, CM Punk and Shawn Michaels.
The triceps is a collection of three muscles that work in an interrelated fashion to extend the elbow. The purest motion for the triceps is swinging a hammer forward to the nail. It is also key for stabilizing the elbow and the forearm. All of those are things an athlete needs to perform.
Normally, there's a four-to-six-month recovery time after surgery like this, but Cena will be making his comeback at just eight weeks. Cena has been a fast healer in the past, but this is Wolverine territory. Unless there's something we don't know.
The cynical fan will say that Cena is coming back to be squashed, a kayfabe to allow him to look tough but extend the absence when Del Rio focuses on the arm and "re-injures" Cena. I think we're missing something and underestimate both Cena and the WWE.
Look again at the picture of Cena and Andrews just after surgery that I linked above. Cena's arm is wrapped, but the wrap does not extend up to the shoulder. That makes it very unlikely that Cena's triceps strain was focused on the proximal (shoulder) end of the muscle. Instead, after talking with several doctors and therapists, I believe that Cena had a significant strain of the muscle near the elbow, but that the inflammation we saw was due to structures such as a bursa sac and the capsule being damaged.
If Cena's injury was focused on the distal (elbow) end, the time frame is actually shorter for similar surgery. While there's still significant risk in a such a quick return, we're talking about four-to-six months rather than six-to-eight.
There are still dangers. Cena will have healed significantly. Inflammation should be gone, and with his physique, we have to imagine that there's still significant strength. There will be atrophy on that side, but that could be guarded by some sort of brace, much like the one worn last week by Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. The WWE does love the Cowboy Bob Orton angle.
The match can also be set up so that Cena doesn't use the arm significantly. Del Rio will have to be very focused to make this work, but he is a handpicked opponent, so we have to assume that both Cena and the WWE crew feel good about this for reasons beyond storyline.
Cena will have to avoid lifts, which is easy enough and easily sold. Few of his moves require this. Even the "Attitude Adjustment" could be modified to be allowed. The biggest worry will be unanticipated falls. Cena would not want to instinctively catch himself with the still-healing arm, where the triceps and elbow would be stressed, perhaps too much.
Look for Cena to keep the match slow and steady. He and Del Rio will have to sell the match more psychologically than physically. Pauses can be built in, with one or the other going outside the ring or pausing. There will likely be very little in the way of rope work or jumps. There's no way that Cena will grapple much or lift Del Rio in the match.
It's also possible that this could be a very quick match. While it's hard to imagine Cena coming in to be beaten quickly, there's certainly an angle to be sold, such as: "Cena wanted to be back so much, but he just wasn't ready. What a warrior mentality!" Selling that he's still injured without setting up a longer absence could go a long way in reestablishing Cena with his working-class base.
The WWE and John Cena are taking a calculated risk, putting one of their top box-office stars back in the ring so quickly after a significant injury. I believe they've calculated this out and have a workable plan—and likely, several workable plans. The match can be set up safely, as I've detailed above, and work as yet another piece of John Cena's mythology.