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Injuries, Creative Bankruptcy Force WWE to Turn to John Cena, Brock Lesnar

Erik BeastonJune 22, 2022

Credit: WWE.com

WWE again finds itself in an unenviable position, with its creative plans struck down by injuries to Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes, and creative bankruptcy preventing it from having replacements ready to step in and headline one of the most significant pay-per-views of the year.

Its solution? The same as it always is: Recruit two Superstars from yesteryear to bring star power to its shows.

Brock Lesnar returned on Friday's SmackDown and will challenge Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in the main event of SummerSlam on July 30 in a Last Man Standing match.

And John Cena will celebrate his two decades with the company Monday night on Raw and is expected to jump-start a program that will culminate at the same event at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.

WWE @WWE

Mr. McMahon prepares the WWE Universe for <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnCena?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JohnCena</a>’s return. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WWERaw?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WWERaw</a> <a href="https://t.co/2Adhub19Ff">pic.twitter.com/2Adhub19Ff</a>

None of this should be surprising to fans familiar with the WWE product over the last decade, but it does beg the question: What will this most recent run have in store for the returning icons and the fans who tune into the company's television programming?

But first, how we got here.


A Reliance on Part-Time Stars

By 2011, it became clear WWE was no longer the star-making machine it had been in previous years.

The company looked to The Rock, who returned from a seven-year hiatus for a two-year program with Cena. The Undertaker and Triple H popped up on TV to hype major PPV matches, and even Kevin Nash made his presence felt in a desperate attempt by the company to bolster its young roster with marquee names.

A year later, Lesnar would return to the company, the latest in a trend of WWE officials increasingly relying on part-time performers to help sell major PPVs rather than taking the time and effort to create new stars to run atop the card for the future.

The retirements of Undertaker and Triple H, and a return to Hollywood for The Rock, ensured that subsided somewhat, but Lesnar continued to pop up from time to time, typically as WWE prepared for WrestleMania or SummerSlam.

B/R Wrestling @BRWrestling

BROCK LESNAR IS BACK 😳<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/WWE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WWE</a>)<a href="https://t.co/VPogdWJUqq">pic.twitter.com/VPogdWJUqq</a>

Then Cena, once a critic of The Rock for failing to appear consistently to show his love for WWE and its fans, found success of his own in movies and television and took on a part-time schedule that has seen him pop up when needed for a big-time bout.

On one hand, it makes sense that an entertainment company would recruit its most recognizable stars to help sell a major production. If Universal or Fox Studios wanted to sell a passion project by Hollywood's biggest director, they would turn to a Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts or George Clooney to help do that, even if they had not been regularly acting to that point.

The same goes for WWE, which recognizes the need for an attraction and calls in the heavy hitters for its most prestigious extravaganzas.

On the other hand, it does prevent the company from building its current crop of stars to slide into that role in the future. With only Reigns really standing head and shoulders above everyone else as the undisputed star of the promotion, where would WWE go if he retired or was injured?

There is no other Rock, Cena or Lesnar walking in the door anytime soon, and nor is there anyone on the roster right now who could popup a decade from now for a one-off match and create the impact these men do when they return to WWE programming.

Thus, it becomes paramount WWE utilizes the names it has on its roster in a way that helps them achieve that level of stardom so that it has a pool to select from when it needs major attractions years down the line.

While Lesnar vs. Reigns hardly helps with that situation, Cena could be poised to confirm one of the brightest young stars as the future of the company with his upcoming return.


What to Expect from Cena, Lesnar

On June 6, Cena posted an image to his Instagram account of a black boot smothering the United States Championship.

As is typically the case on that particular account, it appeared to be a subliminal message over what fans can expect from the all-timer when he returns to WWE programming.

Sure, the 45-year-old is scheduled to celebrate two decades with WWE on Monday's Raw, but would it surprise anyone if a certain egotistical young U.S. champion interrupted the legendary competitor and jump-started a feud that could culminate at SummerSlam?

Theory has been one of the breakout stars of WWE over the last few months and recently took to his own Twitter account, in connection with a recently released photoshoot, to seemingly taunt Cena.

Theory @_Theory1

Sincerely yours, Stan <a href="https://t.co/9tTPWda0xx">pic.twitter.com/9tTPWda0xx</a>

Pairing the 24-year-old against the biggest star WWE has produced since the Attitude Era is a brilliant move, should that be the direction the company chooses.

It not only gives Theory the rub of sharing the ring with an internationally recognized professional wrestler but also a bonafide Hollywood star.

Such a pairing announces to the world that WWE believes in the younger man as the next face of the company and you should, too.

It is the type of reaffirmation that stars across the roster could have used over the years to better strengthen their credibility and prepare them to jump into a program in case of emergency, such as the one WWE currently faces with the absences of Rhodes and Orton.

Most importantly, a match with Cena provides Theory with one of those early highlight-reel moments he can pair with his WrestleMania 38 match against Pat McAfee and show as proof of his ability to perform up to the moment, against high-profile opponents.

That, as much as booking, is important to a Superstar's credibility and the fans' perception of them as a big deal.

Lesnar and Reigns will have another heavy-hitting main event that leads to questions about WWE's reliance on that particular contest to draw fans when the audience has already been overexposed to it.

Thankfully, Cena vs. Theory is a match that may not grab as many headlines, but it could be the catalyst for the latter's rise and the start of a Hall of Fame career.

All thanks to a star such as Cena, who recognizes the importance of veterans in helping to establish a young performer—just as Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho did for him.

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