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Analyzing John Cena's Prior Returns from Injury and Predicting His WWE Future

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterOctober 21, 2013

Photo: WWE.com
Photo: WWE.com

John Cena's journeys from injury to the WWE ring have felt like science fiction coming to life.

Torn muscles, bone chips and neck injuries have taken Cena away from action but never for long. Even if WWE is giving misleading timelines each time, there is something mystifying and difficult to believe about how quickly Cena has gone from the surgeon's knife to administering headlocks.

He is scheduled to return from a torn tricep and elbow surgery three months sooner than many expected.

The story of his match with Alberto Del Rio will be about his toughness, resiliency and almost-supernatural healing powers, some of which is simply WWE playing things up for the sake of entertainment and some of which is another chapter in Cena's real-life Wolverine impression.

Chapter one takes us back to Oct. 1, 2007.

Torn Pectoral Muscle

Mr. Kennedy challenged Cena that Monday night because he wanted to take out the company's top dog. Early in the match, Cena was attempting a hip toss when his pec tore, hanging limply on his chest.

Cena continued the match and even suffered an attack from Randy Orton in which Orton delivered an RKO atop a table that refused to give.

The injury forced Cena to relinquish his WWE Championship and, according to WWE.com, be out of action for six months to a year. The official diagnosis was a "complete tear of his pectoralus major muscle."

The North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy details a rehabilitation schedule following surgery on this type of injury. The NAJSPT recommends avoiding heavy lifting until six months after surgery.

Cena was throwing muscular men over the top rope less than four months after going under the knife.

He was the last entrant in the 2008 Royal Rumble and eliminated Chavo Guerrero, Carlito, Mark Henry and Triple H en route to winning the event. His return was one of the biggest surprises in recent WWE history thanks to the timing.

Few could have predicted that an injury that should have put his WrestleMania status in jeopardy acted more like a speed bump rather than a roadblock. 

WWE used the fact that the Rumble participants are largely unannounced to create an electric memory. Any other event featuring a mystery opponent would have created suspicion and ruined the surprise.

Like he is doing at Hell in a Cell, he shot directly back into the championship picture. He was WWE champ just a few weeks after coming back when he defeated Orton at No Way Out 2008.

Herniated Disc in Neck

In August of 2008, Cena suffered a neck injury that forced him to undergo surgery. A clash with Batista at SummerSlam 2008 led to the injury, and Cena was forced to step away from a Championship Scramble match for the World Heavyweight Championship at that year's Unforgiven.

A herniated disc can often be healed by long periods of rest, but Cena opted for fusion surgery with Dr. Joseph Maroon.

The words "fusion," "neck" and "surgery" would seemed to indicate a long recovery time. It's not as if Cena was returning to making sandwiches at Subway, either. That fact that he was wrestling just three months later is still hard to believe.

Cena returned at Survivor Series 2008 to face Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship.

Del Rio fans or fans who are staunchly anti-Cena may see the parallels between 2008 and now and get mighty worried. Cena jumped right into the world title scene after hurrying back from surgery back then, much in the same manner that he is preparing to do right now.

WWE's presentation of the comeback is similar as well.

Videos hyping his toughness and chronicling his recovery were used to build up this match the same way the company is doing for Del Rio vs. Cena at Hell in a Cell. We learned by the images in these clips, as well as Cena's quick turnaround from the operating table, that Cena is extremely driven.

What appears to be the result of some mutant power is really just aggressiveness and commitment to physical therapy.

Bone Chips in Elbow

Fast forward to August of 2012, and Cena needed surgery once again. This time it was to remove bone chips from his elbow, a procedure that would require six to eight weeks of recovery time, per WWE.com.

Cena wearing athletic tape on his repaired elbow. (Photo: WWE.com)
Cena wearing athletic tape on his repaired elbow. (Photo: WWE.com)

This was the only time Cena adhered to the timetable.

He was back in action against CM Punk and Ryback at Survivor Series that November. WWE pulled him out of a match against Punk at Hell in a Cell, sending Ryback in his place. One has to wonder that if this surgery had come a few weeks before a more important event (i.e., WrestleMania), if Cena would have hopped back into the ring much sooner.

WWE used the opportunity to see how Ryback would do in the main event, but Cena was never far from the spotlight.

He donned black athletic tape to speed up his recovery and was still on Raw giving performances on the microphone, including stepping aside so that Ryback could take his spot at Hell in a Cell 2012 against Punk. One year later, he isn't stepping aside for anyone.

Looking Ahead

At this year's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, Cena has the opportunity to win the World Heavyweight Championship for the third time. The smart money is on him winning.

Del Rio has been champ since June and faces a man who has a habit of winning championships. WWE is also billing this as a dangerous situation for Cena thanks to his recent surgery. That's typical WWE misdirection there, making it seem like Cena is the underdog and milking the drama of him overcoming all the odds.

This would be Damien Sandow's chance to swoop in, cash in his Money in the Bank contract and make himself a champion.

Del Rio will surely work over Cena's arm, leaving him vulnerable following the match. A Sandow vs. Cena feud would be the best way to showcase Sandow as a top heel. Count on Cena winning the championship back from him at some point, though.

His 13 reigns as either WWE or world champ in 10 years on the main roster points to WWE's habit of having Cena be on top again and again. 

A rematch with Daniel Bryan is inevitable as well. The ready-made story of Cena looking to knock off the man who last beat him for the WWE Championship and Bryan's popularity make Cena vs. Bryan II too irresistible to ignore.

Photo: WWE.com
Photo: WWE.com

After Sandow and Bryan, it will be WrestleMania season.

That means WWE will be positioning its megastars for matches at that premier event. The list of big names Cena has faced is running out, and the same goes for Undertaker. As much as it would upset certain portions of the WWE fanbase, a Cena-Undertaker match at WrestleMania is the kind of big-name bout that is the hallmark of that pay-per-view.

More certain than any of those projections is that Cena will again get injured.

Pro wrestling is too violent and Cena works too often for something else on his body not to need surgery at some point. When that happens, pay little attention to the timetable that is issued afterward.

Cena may not defeat men like Bryan every time, but his record against estimated recovery time is impeccable. 

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