The time has come for 30 men to enter a WWE ring, with only one emerging when the dust finally settles.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Royal Rumble is looming right on the horizon.
And heading into the event, the clear-cut favorite to win the match is John Cena.
No, he might not be the most popular choice or even the most skilled. But Cena brings a certain intangible to his approach, and that alone is what could carry him to victory.
Cena has become a major media darling and a bona fide celebrity. However, he has also become a caricature for what professional wrestling was before the Attitude Era kicked off in the late 1990s.
He is a proven hero, and the WWE’s resident savior. He has won the Royal Rumble twice (in 2008 and 2013) and is a 14-time world champion. He is to modern wrestling what Hulk Hogan was in the 1980s and 1990s. No matter how down he gets or how impressive the threat, in the end, Cena will always come out on top.
And while no one is questioning Cena’s credentials, having him enter—and probably win—the most talked about match of early 2014 is something that no one wants to see happen.
Granted, Cena is a marquee name. No one in the company seems to do as much public relations or charity work, and few make as many public appearances on television. Cena is a machine when it comes to making himself a true pop culture entity.
However, his constant triumphs over seemingly insurmountable odds have become tired, and very few in the WWE Universe seem to be throwing their support behind him lately.
In fact, the biggest cheers that Cena has gotten in recent months have been for his promos in which he mentions Daniel Bryan—who, at the moment, is the hottest thing going in the WWE.
And now with the impending return of Batista, it makes little sense to place Cena in the Royal Rumble match to begin with. The company would not bring back a proven, albeit 44-year-old, former world champion only to have him quickly eliminated from the match.
It stands to reason that Batista will enter, and ultimately win, the match, setting up a blockbuster match at WrestleMania with Randy Orton.
While Cena remains a popular superstar, for some reason the company continues to make him the focus of every villain that debuts in the company. He has now bested every legitimate threat in the company, and he will continue to do so until he is either unable to compete any longer or he simply walks away.
For some reason, the company thinks that watching Cena repeatedly defeat heels he has already beaten countless times is still entertaining to the WWE Universe.
His lengthy feud with Alberto Del Rio became tired after one match and proved that both are far weaker in-ring technicians than they are made out to be.
The Shield looked to be a dominant and unstoppable entity when they debuted in November 2012. And they did have an impressive run of being completely unstoppable.
But the entire time, audiences simply watched and waited until they finally stepped over the line and made the mistake of attacking Cena. Once they did, the group has never been the same. While Cena never beat the trio on a grand stage, just the experience of facing him seemed to shatter the allure of the group.
Yes, it was incredibly impressive to see Cena return several months early from triceps surgery. Few thought he would be able to work at the level that he once had, at least when he initially made his return.
However, Cena has looked pretty good since coming back in October and has returned to form, consistently beating opponents everyone knows he will have no trouble dispatching.
That trend could easily continue at the Royal Rumble. Placing Cena in the match will guarantee one thing: cleaning house.
Expect Cena to enter when there is a whole mass of humanity in the ring. Once his music hits, he will emerge, rush to the ring and throw out countless other Superstars.
However, he will not, and must not, win.
It is always far more intriguing to see the good guy chase the bad guy who has gotten the best of him. It is not particularly entertaining, however, to watch Cena do the same thing year in and year out. His act is tired and completely predictable. And for all of the talk about the company wanting a fresher product or trying to implement younger stars as top guys, it does not ever happen.
If history is any indication and the company sticks with tried-and-true methods rather than shaking things up, expect Cena to be tossed out of the match by whoever the company plans to have him feud with next.
It might even be Batista, who will need a series of high-profile matches with Cena in the months leading up to WrestleMania to build his momentum and prepare for his possible battle with Orton.
In any event, Cena’s presence does nothing to increase the compelling nature of the Royal Rumble match itself. Audiences react well to shocking events, not tried-and-true methods.
The return of Diesel at the event in 2011 caused monster reactions. The same goes for Goldust in 2013.
Whoever the surprise entrants into the events this year are, they will likely get a shockingly deafening reaction, while Cena’s possible participation will be met with the normal mixture of a chorus of boos and cheers. But more boos.
While he continues to be a proven commodity, and many younger fans eat up whatever Cena is serving, it might be time for the company to let the 36-year-old Cena take a slight step back in order to let more compelling and younger superstars begin their ascent to the top of the WWE ladder.
But in all likelihood, we will still be having this same conversation in 10 years, as Cena prepares to lace up his boots for what will be his “final” Royal Rumble match.
Which, of course, means we will have the same conversation in 20 years as well. And maybe even longer after that.