At WWE Royal Rumble 2017, John Cena will collide with AJ Styles with more than gold on the line. The WWE Championship match will affect WrestleMania positioning, the record books and the direction of the New Era.
Cena is on the precipice of becoming a 16-time world champion. He's on the verge of earning another headline spot at WrestleMania.
Should WWE lean on its longtime cornerstone again, or is it better to keep the crown atop Styles' head?
Ahead of the Jan. 29 pay-per-view, WWE isn't faced with an easy decision. There are narrative and booking advantages to both potential results. The choice will come down to whether the company chooses the status quo over the surging, unsure future.
Pro: The Pursuit of History
A story of a man chasing a legend awaits to be told.
Hall of Famer Ric Flair has the most world title reigns in wrestling history with 16. Should Cena best Styles at the Rumble, he would match that mark.
There is plenty of drama to harness from Cena drawing even and surpassing Flair.
As we saw with The New Day's historic run with the tag team titles, closing in on history opens up compelling narrative avenues. It adds electricity to the present product. It invites comparison between present-day stars and the all-time greats.
A Cena victory at the Rumble would allow WWE to trumpet a historic feat and drive home how special he is.
Con: Derailing a Shooting Star
Since his arrival at last year's Rumble, there has been no one hotter in WWE than Styles. He rattled off instant classics, delivered strong promos and took the company by storm.
It's a shame to put that rise on hold to make way for Cena's latest ascension.
A Cena win at the January PPV would be more of the usual. To instead emphatically back Styles and let him conquer Cena once more would be a bold, intriguing move.
Should WWE keep The Phenomenal One champion, his momentum will continue to grow. He will look more and more special as his title reign rolls on.
If Styles is WWE champ after the Rumble, he will be assured a massive match at WrestleMania. Without the title, it's no guarantee he doesn't slide down the card.
To lose to Cena now would almost feel like the big brother returning to claim his spot after the little brother ruled in his absence.
Pro: The Birth of a Dream Match
Should Cena emerge from the Royal Rumble with WWE gold in hand, a marquee match for the ages would be halfway in place.
The guys at Busted Open laid out a tantalizing scenario for the PPV:
Cena vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 would be huge without anything tangible on the line. If, however, it becomes a title vs. career match, the bout would soar into rare air.
The champ and The Deadman for all the marbles is an obvious WrestleMania headline match. It will entice casual fans and stir up ample buzz. It will have a "match of the century" feel to it.
Styles vs. someone else in that slot is not as safe a bet.
But that's where WWE has to make a key decision. Will the company go the safest, surest route or take chances with an eye toward the future?
Con: A Move Away from the New Era
Cena has been world champ more times than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Undertaker combined. He's headlined WrestleMania five times. His legacy is set.
Before he ventures off to Hollywood for more long-term stretches, WWE would be smart to invest in fresh faces on the marquee.
A win at the Rumble all but assures Cena a spot in the climactic match at WrestleMania. That's a missed opportunity to elevate someone else and make a clear statement about WWE entering the much-ballyhooed New Era.
Radio host Bill Matz suggested an alternative non-Cena headline bout:
That doesn't have the name power of Cena vs. Undertaker, but it would be a refreshing, eye-opening move. It would give Styles a shot at joining the same tier those men stand on. It would celebrate The Miz's recent surge and invest in two talents sure to stick around far longer than Cena and The Deadman.
The WrestleMania event itself is what sells at this point, anyway. Fans buy up tickets before the card is even close to finalized.
Sticking with Styles at the top would be a sign of change. It would tap into what's clicking and flourishing at the moment, moving away from an over-reliance on nostalgia.