John Cena is back, and the 15-time world champion is intent on making another championship run.
On the last episode of SmackDown Live in 2016, Cena announced his intention to challenge the WWE champion at the Royal Rumble—there was a Triple Threat match for the title that night, so he didn't know which Superstar he would be facing.
So while Cena may be able to capture title No. 16 in San Antonio on Jan. 29, the real focus is on Cena's opponent at WrestleMania 33.
How will WWE set up what is sure to be one of its marquee matches at The Show of Shows? And who will be the one to face off against Cena?
Royal Rumble Sets Up Cena's WrestleMania Foe
The number of possible WrestleMania 33 opponents for Cena is longer than Chris Jericho's list.
Many have been speculated for months. Most sound intriguing at first but wouldn't make sense in the current landscape of WWE.
The Royal Rumble, the opening stop on the Road to WrestleMania 33, is likely only the precursor to whatever WWE deems to be Cena's WrestleMania moment. It's historically been the promotion's blueprint for Cena feuds.
Two years ago at the Royal Rumble, a post-show scuffle led to Cena vs. Rusev, a feud that lasted through WrestleMania 31. And before that in 2014, a distraction from The Wyatt Family during his WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against Randy Orton found Cena and Bray Wyatt locked in a rivalry.
It's likely that same script will be followed this year. Take into consideration Cena's proclamation at the beginning of SmackDown on the night of his return and one line in particular: "I'm sick of this New Era B.S. It ain't the New Era. It's the my time is now era."
That seems to suggest Cena's WrestleMania storyline is either defending or acquiring the WWE Championship or facing off against an up-and-coming Superstar to prove he is still relevant in today's WWE.
Extrapolating that quote and looking at the likely opponents, it's not a stretch to say that Cena's WrestleMania 33 opponent will be one of three Superstars: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin or the winner of the Royal Rumble match.
Pros and Cons with Each Potential Opponent
Each opponent has his pros and cons. Styles and Cena, who will clash at the Royal Rumble for the WWE Championship, are always good rivals for business. However, that would mean three more months of the same promos being delivered and the same matches on SmackDown.
Corbin has been on a tear lately, delivering excellent matches on SmackDown and becoming more comfortable with his promo work. He added fuel to the speculation that he would challenge Cena sooner rather than later by laying out the former champion on the most recent episode of SmackDown during the Royal Rumble contract signing.
However, one has to wonder whether WWE would do the same thing to Corbin as it has done with other recent Cena opponents: namely, bury them with losses to Cena. Recent history suggests that strong heels who face Cena at WrestleMania—Wyatt and Rusev are the latest—are destined to fail.
As Blake Oestriecher of Forbes recently wrote, Cena and Corbin will face off on Tuesday's episode of SmackDown: "If the match ends early, especially in controversial fashion, that might be WWE's way of telling us we're getting the match again, possibly at 'Mania."
Lastly, he could headline WrestleMania 33 against the winner of the Royal Rumble. The identity of the opponent in that equation isn't as fascinating as what it would require to happen. For that scenario to unfold, Cena would have to become the WWE champion between now and April, tying Ric Flair's record for championship reigns.
Would WWE allow that storyline to unfold outside of WrestleMania, its biggest stage? Or would it want to save that story and build it for The Showcase of the Immortals, when the lights are shining brightest?
A WrestleMania Match Against The Undertaker?
What about the most talked-about of all of Cena's potential WrestleMania matchups, The Undertaker?
Speculation has this as the most likely WrestleMania feud for each man. Phil Oscarson of Camel Clutch Blog wrote, "This is a match that Vince McMahon clearly wants to happen. Cena vs. Undertaker is one of the few genuinely fresh matches left in the WWE uppercard."
Unfortunately, recent developments make such a match a head-scratcher. First, Undertaker appeared on the 900th episode of SmackDown and proclaimed that "WrestleMania will no longer define" his legacy. Making such a bold statement before having a headlining match against Cena at WrestleMania would go against the whole premise of the promo.
In addition, Cena's quest to become champion again would require The Undertaker to win the Royal Rumble match. That would mean a soon-to-be 52-year-old, once-a-year attraction would face off for a major title at the company's biggest show of the year.
Many longtime WWE fans might relish such a development, especially if it is a way to send The Deadman into retirement with one more title run. However, it could also create a backlash among the company's most dedicated fans, who don't want another part-time wrestler—especially one who works as limited a schedule as The Undertaker—holding the company's most prestigious belt.
More than likely, if an Undertaker-Cena match was slated for WrestleMania 33, it would mean neither man was a titleholder. As such, the build would be more organic. Cena could lose his title match against Styles at Royal Rumble, and Undertaker could get eliminated from the Rumble match in a quick and dramatic fashion.
This would allow Cena to question why Taker is continuing on in his career and tell The Deadman to ride off into the sunset. Undertaker responding with a "one more match" stipulation for WrestleMania 33 would make for a showcase.