As painful as the idea of John Cena sitting at home for months would be to company officials, WWE would be wise to remove one of its cornerstones in order to repair it.
Should the 15-time world champ follow up his Night of Champions bout with some time at home to rest and heal, WWE will allow emerging stars to step up, offer freshness on the marquee and, in the end, boost Cena's popularity.
According to PWInsider's subscribers-only section (h/t WrestlingInc), Cena is dealing with both nagging shoulder and neck issues. The report goes on to say that people within WWE believe that he is working in pain and slowing down because of it.
As punishing an industry as pro wrestling is and as much as Cena has given to it during his career, this comes as no surprise.
Per CageMatch.net, Cena has worked a total of 978 matches since 2009, including 202 in 2011 alone. Many of those have been longer, grueling bouts thanks to Cena's position as a top star.
Having him spend much of the fall on the couch after Night of Champions makes perfect sense for his physical well-being. The time away would also be good for WWE as a whole.
Next Men Up
Cena will eventually start to wind down his wrestling career in favor of taking on more movie roles. As Batista, The Rock and Steve Austin have no doubt found out, being an action hero is nowhere near as taxing as battling in the ring every night.
WWE can't build its brand around him forever either.
He's 37 years old. He's had surgeries to repair a torn pectoral muscle, a herniated disk in his neck, a torn triceps and to remove bone chips from his arm. With the latest word that he's reportedly gutting it out through shoulder and neck issues, it's increasingly clear that, despite his uncanny toughness, he's going to break down at some point.
When he does, there is no clear-cut heir to his throne.
The top-star baton has been handed off many a times. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, The Rock and Brock Lesnar have all passed it along. When it's Cena's turn to step down, who does he hand it to?
Should Cena miss Hell in a Cell, Survivor Series and TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (especially if Lesnar isn't around for all those shows), it affords a number of up-and-comers a chance to main event. WWE can perform some test screenings so to speak with Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins.
Have Ambrose vs. Rollins headline Hell in a Cell. Put Reigns vs. Triple H in a key spot at Survivor Series. Let Wyatt close out 2014 in the TLC main event.
If Cena sticks around, those opportunities will likely go to him instead.
Not only would these chances at the top of the card give those younger stars valuable experience, it helps the company gauge how they would do with similar roles in the future.
Consider Cena's absence a test run for the next line of megastars and see how Raw does ratings-wise with those men as the featured performers. Check the viewership number for the Cena-less pay-per-views.
If Wyatt doesn't prove to be a draw or Reigns struggles to put on a lengthy, compelling singles bout, WWE can rely on Cena in the short term when he returns.
And then rethink who to anoint as Cena's successor.
A Shift to the Status Quo
WWE fans simply aren't used to seeing one man dominate the company the way that Cena has. Aside from Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan, WWE's centerpieces have usually had shorter runs on top.
Injuries forced Austin to leave while still a top star. Hollywood called The Rock away. The lure of the NFL and UFC ended Lesnar's run early.
Cena has been WWE's headlining act since 2006.
In that time, he has main evented or been in a world title match in a staggering eight of the last nine WrestleManias, per ProFightDB.com. As CageMatch.net reminds us, 2012 is the only year in the last eight years that he wasn't a world titleholder.
He's sat in his throne for so long that it's hard to remember what it was like when he wasn't there. Letting him step away for an extended period would be refreshing.
Some casual fans are sure to drift away with Cena gone, but there will be a different energy surrounding the shows with Superstars scrambling to earn the right to be Lesnar's next challenger. Besides, Cena's affect on TV ratings are overstated.
Last year when he missed time after SummerSlam, the Raw ratings weren't great. The following are the numbers from a five-week period in his absence:
- Aug. 26—3.07
- Sept. 2—2.85
- Sept. 9—2.9
- Sept. 16—2.96
- Sept. 23—2.81
That didn't change when Cena returned after Hell in a Cell, though. His first five appearances on Raw didn't magically boost the numbers:
- Oct. 28—2.98
- Nov. 4—2.75
- Nov. 11—2.75
- Nov. 18—2.73
- Nov. 25—2.93
Ratings from Gerweck.net.
Averaging those two five-week periods actually shows a slight bump minus Cena. The show averaged a 2.92 rating in that span without him as opposed to a 2.82 rating with him.
That should compel WWE to allow Cena to take more time off. History shows it won't sink the show. In the meantime, fans can see some new faces and new stories.
Absence Increases Fondness
It's often not until we are without something that we truly appreciate it.
CM Punk was hugely popular before his abrupt exit this January, but not having him around has made fans hunger for him. Crowds chant his name long after his departure, even after it became obvious that he wasn't coming back.
If he were to step behind the curtain next week, the arena would shake from the resulting reaction. We saw a glimpse of that when Paul Heyman entered to Punk's music a few months back.
That response for Punk wouldn't be nearly as passionate had he simply worked week after week from the Royal Rumble on. That's an example of the power of making fans long for you.
There have been few chances for Cena fans to do that. Even when he's injured and expected to be out for months, he's not gone long.
Stepping away from the ring for a longer time would allow Cena to recover from his reported nagging injuries. It would also allow him to be a bigger treat when he returned, just as Lesnar and Chris Jericho have been after their stints of inactivity.
Flash back to the 2008 Royal Rumble, when Cena had been gone since early October thanks to a torn pectoral muscle. By the time Jan. 27 rolled around, fans were antsy to see him again. That's what the fervent reaction to his surprise return said.
That kind of passion inspired by missing him can happen once more with some time off. It's time away that he appears to need and WWE could use to solidify its future.
While Cena is recuperating, a collection of princes can look to prove that they deserve to be the next king.