John Cena is a shell of himself.
At least that is an effective story that can be told in order to continue Brock Lesnar’s dominant run as WWE world heavyweight champion while creating the most compelling Cena character to date.
Cena’s loss to Lesnar at SummerSlam was unlike anything any top star has been subjected to in a WWE Championship match. Win or lose, a subsequently competitive match at WWE Night of Champions will undo much of Lesnar’s championship mystique.
Many have come to the conclusion that Lesnar and Cena must have a more competitive match at Night of Champions, since another embarrassing loss would hurt the Cena character.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cena’s legacy is already cemented. He has been atop WWE for over a decade. He’s the only man not named Ric Flair to hold at least 15 world championships. Until recently, the WWE Championship was crafted in his honor. At this point in his career, Cena's legacy is invincible.
Cena once lost to Kevin Federline and carried on as if it were no different than a loss to Kevin Steen. In fact, Cena can lose the majority of his matches for the rest of his career without losing his luster. As long as there is a competent story being told, he’ll become a deeper, more convincing character.
The theory was proven during the buildup of Cena’s rematch against The Rock at WrestleMania 29.
That hype centered around a personal and professional downward spiral for Cena. Cena's slump began with his WrestleMania 28 loss to The Rock and later snowballed with losses to midcarder Dolph Ziggler, non-wrestler John Laurinaitis and even the real-life loss of his wife (a divorce reported by TMZ).
A story was told of Cena in decline, but true to his mantra, Cena never gave up and would find himself right back in the WrestleMania main event one year later. Not even a loss to a 51-year-old figurehead could derail his brand because there was a greater meaning behind it.
In 2013, Cena was mortal and, more importantly, three-dimensional. A similar character can be created with another one-sided loss to Lesnar, especially if Cena never quite makes it back to the world title picture. WWE will be responsible for asking what it all means.
Did he come back too soon? Does he still have it? Is Lesnar just that good? All are questions that can be spun off into future storylines. This will create programming far more interesting than the uninspiring even-steven booking that lumps everybody in the same boat.
Cena’s return to Raw after just a one-week absence irked some of the more hardcore fans. To them, the quick recovery indicated Super Cena was back in the worst way.
Cena makes his return to Monday Night Raw after being murdered a few Sundays ago. Time for him and hulk to have a cuddle fest— Ryleigh Lowe (@Ryleigh_Lowe) August 26, 2014
"John Cena made his return to Monday night raw"......after one week. I have a BAD feeling about this match— Manic Mountaineer (@howardschilling) August 26, 2014
Announced for tonight's #RAW: John Cena will make his return to bury Bray Wyatt in the main event.— Juan Cena (@GenericJan) August 25, 2014
If anybody was to recover from a beating like that so quickly, it’s Cena, who has made a career out of returning from injury months ahead of schedule.
But perhaps there is a bigger story being told. Maybe he’s pressing, desperate to prove to himself he can conquer WWE’s most dominant champion in years—only to fail miserably yet again.