The champ is missing.
John Cena is once again out of the WWE picture, though that will likely not last long. The 15-time world champion is doing what so many fans have been waiting for: He's stepping back from the company. In this New Era, other talents are rising up as WWE is looking to move ahead.
But he will be back, of course, and he needs something to do when he gets there.
Cena's in a great spot because he does not need to be immediately thrust back into the main event picture. There's no need to rush him. He's over in any capacity WWE decides to use him—from the opening segment to the last segment.
When Cena's in the ring, the fans have to watch him.
They may not like what they see, of course, and that's been the case for quite some time. The man who has carried WWE on his back for so long has always had a massive love-hate relationship with the fans. Despite how good he is or what he does to play nice, the live crowds typically boo him out of the building.
That's happened for so long that it's now expected.
But as the fans make their voices heard, there's no denying that Cena has worked harder than anyone to make them happy. He always gives his all in the ring, he's done an amazing amount of charity work and he's been the infallible face of pro wrestling for over 10 years.
He's not perfect, but it's not been for lack of trying.
So considering he can still get a huge reaction and be effective in any situation, there are multiple options available to him.
Tying the Record
Cena is knocking on the door of history.
Many fans have been waiting for the moment when Cena becomes world champion again, tying Ric Flair's record of 16. It's a milestone that no other active WWE Superstar is working toward, and it's likely that the company would want to make this happen.
WWE has always paid respect to Flair, but Cena is its guy.
To book him as a 16-time world champion would be a major moment in WWE history, and it would solidify Cena as one of the greatest of all time. The company could even suggest that Cena is indeed the greatest of all time, which would place him at the pinnacle of the industry.
But some fans want nothing to do with it.
Flair's record perhaps should not be tied, as it's one of the last remaining records of substance left in the business. It's a real, tangible thing, and to overshadow that with a tie is maybe not what should happen here.
The biggest problem is that the win would perhaps come for the sake of tying the record and nothing more.
Cena is not a full-time Superstar anymore, and that means he would probably not be on TV every week if and when he becomes the champ again. Though this was also the case for Brock Lesnar and The Rock, would Cena be OK with it?
Don't the fans deserve more than a part-time champion?
Longevity is an issue here as well because, if Cena is stepping aside to allow the next generation to come up, how would this title win benefit those Superstars? Cena would not be the long-term answer—just a quick moneymaking solution.
This will not stop WWE, as Cena will likely wear the gold again. His time will come, and that time could happen at WrestleMania 33 in 2017. It's the best night for it, as the company would have ample time to plan and promote it.
There's no better moment for Cena to make pro wrestling history. But he must stay busy until then.
The Semi-Main Event
If the world championship is meant to be the main event, then Cena's best course of action upon his return is to headline in the semi-main event scene.
It's a great place for him, as he still gets incredible exposure and can still be an asset to WWE. When Cena's on at the end of the night, the anticipation among the crowd is high, and that's the case whether he's facing a veteran or a rookie.
Cena is a big-money player, and he brings that reputation to every match he works.
But the question of if he should do so with a secondary title is an intriguing one. Cena brought the United States Championship back from the dead, so should he go after the Intercontinental Championship on SmackDown?
Perhaps a tag team title run would be a good move for him instead.
Either way, WWE has the same issue here as it does with the big belt; Cena is a part-time Superstar. He would likely not be able to dedicate that much of himself to a championship right now, and that includes any title under the WWE world strap.
So he should be used without a belt, and that means he would be booked against big names in order to draw money for WWE.
Working one-off matches on SmackDown Live may not sound like an ideal proposition, but it would keep Cena in the fold while reminding fans of just how important he is. He brings great intensity and incomparable showmanship every time he steps into the ring, and that will be the case when he comes back.
Using Cena in short feuds would be good for his opponents because they would get exposure from working with him. Cena doesn't lose all that much, so beating younger opponents right now would not be a problem because the heat wouldn't last that long.
His opponents could move on to the next match and not be negatively affected.
Baron Corbin would be a good choice to face Cena because he's attempting to build his main event resume. The Miz might be an ideal candidate, thanks to his history with Cena. But AJ Styles would cross paths with Cena again, which would eventually lead to the record-tying WrestleMania match.
The fact is that Cena's automatic. He can do anything at any time, and he can do it at a high level. He's at the point where he doesn't need a title to get over, but he can carry one if he needs to. He is a draw regardless of how WWE chooses to use him, and he is always a great addition to any program he works.
But fans expect him to go after the WWE World Heavyweight Championship again, and that is what will happen. It's likely too tempting for the company to pass up, and it's more important for him to make history than to never realize it.
Winning the Royal Rumble on Jan. 29 would be the best way to set up his title shot, and it would bring Cena to the biggest night of his career at WrestleMania. Many fans may not love it, but many cannot wait for it. It's inevitable, and that is a fact that will have to be accepted.
The champ will be back, and he will be the champion once again.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online here