John Cena's Best, Worst and Most Realistic Options for WWE Raw Return
After almost one year away, John Cena is headed back to WWE Raw this coming Monday to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of his main roster debut.
As monumental of an occasion as it's bound to be, there's been no indication what exactly Cena will have in store for the WWE Universe.
The 16-time WWE world champion was last seen on WWE TV at SummerSlam when he unsuccessfully challenged Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship.
The Tribal Chief is still in possession of the gold and is more powerful now than he was then, so Cena could be searching for a rematch to break his own record for world titles won.
It's also possible the 45-year-old is back for a one-off, as his busy schedule may not allow for anything else. He's returned to Raw in the past and interacted with Superstars from the current roster before leaving again for another year.
There are no guarantees for how exactly Cena's comeback will go down and that unpredictability only adds to the excitement, but the following are the best, worst and most realistic scenarios.
Most Realistic: One and Done
In July 2019, WWE randomly held a Raw Reunion episode of the flagship show (in a desperate attempt to boost the declining ratings) and brought back many familiar faces.
Cena, who hadn't appeared since WrestleMania 35 as The Doctor of Thuganomics, was among them.
He took part in the opening segment where he made a few jokes at the expense of The Usos before disappearing for the rest of the show, not to be seen again on WWE TV until February 2020. In other words, it was never designed to plant the seeds for anything in particular or kick off a SummerSlam storyline for him.
The upcoming celebration of his WWE debut from two decades ago could be no different. It may be as simple as him showing up, addressing the audience, thanking them for their years of support, receiving a standing ovation from the locker room on the stage and then exiting stage left.
Let the record show that Cena is in the process of filming for more movies in the remainder of this year in addition to the announced season of Peacemaker on HBO Max. That's not including any other potential projects he could be partaking in as well.
His stock has skyrocketed in Hollywood these past few years, and the more in demand he is, the more infrequent his WWE appearances are going to be. That's the reality of his run by this point, so don't be shocked if his Raw return is nothing more than a one-night event.
Best: Getting Attacked by Debuting Star
Everything about Cena's initial arrival in WWE on the June 27, 2002 edition of SmackDown was exceptionally executed and perfectly set the tone for the legendary run that followed.
In a matter of minutes, he went from being unknown by the audience to earning their respect following his hard-fought performance against Kurt Angle. He was made to look credible in defeat that night and that did wonders for his career from the get-go.
Many newcomers have attempted to emulate Cena's debut over the years, but no one came as close as Kevin Owens did in 2015. He not only held his own against The Cenation Leader on the mic but also left him laying with a pop-up powerbomb and stomped on his United States Championship.
It was one of the most memorable debuts in recent WWE history, so applying that same formula to another rookie on the rise would perfectly parallel Cena's premiere appearance from 20 years ago.
The question then turns to who that would be. Bron Breakker would have been a fine choice had he not already wrestled on Raw earlier this year, and Carmelo Hayes would thrive in that type of spot as well.
Cena wouldn't necessarily have to feud with that individual, but all eyes will be on his grand comeback Monday night and having someone show up in that segment for the first time would surely cause viewers to take notice of whoever it is.
Worst: Entering Men's Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Cena's decorated history at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view is well-documented.
His WWE title clash with CM Punk at the event in 2011 is widely regarded as one of the best in company history. A year later, he competed in his first (and only) Money in the Bank ladder match and secured the briefcase with the contract inside.
He went on to emerge victorious at Money in the Bank for the next three years (including winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in 2014) before losing to AJ Styles in a dream match at the 2016 event.
Since the 20-year anniversary of his WWE debut falls five days short of this year's pay-per-view, he could easily announce on Monday night that he intends to participate in the men's Money in the Bank ladder match on a whim.
Winning that would earn him the opportunity to chase his record-setting 17th world title, currently held by longtime rival Roman Reigns (who he has yet to best one-on-one).
Some may consider that a compelling story, but it's already been done with Cena having lost to The Tribal Chief last year at SummerSlam. In fact, Cena has no business being in the ladder match at all as he'd be taking a spot away from a more deserving individual.
Cena can compete at Money in the Bank against the right opponent, but the men's ladder match does not need him.
Best: Being Targeted by The Judgement Day
Fans forget that Finn Balor still has unfinished business with Cena from last summer, and he could be looking to exact his revenge on Monday's Raw.
In July 2021, The Prince challenged Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship and the match was made official for SummerSlam soon after. However, when Baron Corbin attacked Balor during the contract signing, Cena signed his name on the dotted line instead.
Granted, Balor ended up (unsuccessfully) challenging Reigns for the prestigious prize on two separate occasions that September, but Cena stole his original opportunity and the Irishman shouldn't let that slide.
Now that Balor has gone rogue and joined The Judgement Day, the timing couldn't be better for this marquee match to happen.
The heel faction haven't made much of a mark since booting Edge from the group two weeks ago, but attacking Cena on such an important evening would immediately establish them as a force to reckoned with. It would also lay the groundwork for a Balor vs. Cena match at SummerSlam, or whenever the actor is able to return for a full-length run.
This could even lead to Cena requesting backup in the form of a former foe: Edge. Either way, if WWE wants a ready-made main event player for Cena to work with heading into SummerSlam, Balor would be the go-to guy.
Most Realistic: Kicking off Feud with Theory
All signs currently point to Cena coming to Raw next Monday night and interacting with Theory in some form or fashion.
The 24-year-old has long looked up to Cena and said as much in many interviews over the years. From following in his footsteps into bodybuilding to becoming a Vince McMahon pet project to the United States Championship being his first taste of WWE gold, his first few years in the company has closely emulated Cena's in many ways.
Theory vs. Cena always seemed inevitable, but no one could have imagined it being a possibility so soon. Theory has soared up the card in the last eight months, and although it would tough to sell him as a legitimate threat to Cena at this moment, the storyline makes all the sense in the world.
Setting up a match for Money in the Bank would be too quick of a turnaround, making SummerSlam an ideal event to book the bout for. That would give them a full four weeks to interact on television and attempt to sell the audience on the idea that the youngster could beat Cena.
Having Theory lay out his idol on Raw only for The Champ to cost him the United States title against Bobby Lashley at Money in the Bank would be the best way to get this going.
With all the potential that he has, Theory is the perfect person for Cena to be working with at this stage of his career.