John Cena is headed for a rematch against Brock Lesnar at WWE Night of Champions on Sunday, September 21. The bout will be for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a title Lesnar took from Cena at SummerSlam back on August 17.
That match saw Cena beaten down to the point of no return as Lesnar completely dominated WWE's top guy. And while many fans likely believe Cena will regain the championship at Night of Champions, the fact is that anything can happen. Cena could very well lose once again to The Beast Incarnate in the middle of the ring.
SummerSlam was a shock to the system for many fans who believed Cena would once again overcome the odds. After all, the WWE faithful have witnessed Cena do just that for over 10 years as the company's top Superstar, and despite the threat of Lesnar they felt he could do it one more time.
However, their bout at SummerSlam was not exactly a wrestling match so much as it was a mauling.
Lesnar completely decimated Cena, hitting 16 German suplexes and punishing him from the opening bell to the closing bell. Cena was barely able to keep up, and in many ways he was left behind from the moment the match began. Lesnar was on a seek-and-destroy mission, and he did just that.
Many believed that win was a major statement by WWE that Cena's time in the sun was nearing an end. Lesnar looked amazingly dominant at SummerSlam; he was simply untouchable, and Cena could do nothing to stop him.
Cena's performance on August 17 was not that of a man carrying the banner of WWE but more like that of a man passing that banner to the next star.
Cena is already at a huge disadvantage heading into Night of Champions, as he has not really proven he is any more mentally prepared now than before SummerSlam. He was not fighting any injuries before August 17 and is basically in the same shape he was before Lesnar took him down.
He may be more determined now, but that may not be enough to give him the win at Night of Champions.
So assuming he does lose on September 21, the question is: What happens to Cena after that? How does that loss affect his character, and what can fans expect afterward?
To imagine that Cena would drop consecutive losses in championship matches on the pay-per-view stage seems highly unlikely, but again there seems to be very little to suggest it will not happen.
The biggest cause for concern as it relates to Cena losing at Night of Champions is the fact that he will perhaps look weaker than he ever has before. While many fans may have no problem with this, the truth is that Cena is still the top guy, which makes him the top earner in the company.
Fans want his merchandise; they want to see his face on the program and in the main event. They want to support their favorite and thoroughly believe in him. His critics also want to see him, simply to boo and hate him. No matter which segment of fans is being considered, the fact is Cena is still the one getting the most attention, and that keeps him on top.
Whether fans love him or hate him, Cena must look strong, because if his star were to slip and his position were to become shaky, WWE really has no one ready to take the reins. So if he does indeed lose at Night of Champions, what happens then?
Will the company rest in the hands of Lesnar, who is rarely ever used on TV? Would his reign as champion, surrounded by other talents to take up the workload, be enough to sustain the company for an extended period of time?
Cena is in a tough spot, as a win against Lesnar would very likely cause some fans to cry foul, mostly due to the notion that he makes the product stale. But if he loses, then fans could perhaps begin to wonder why he cannot beat Lesnar, which opens the door for his star to possibly fade.
There is arguably no one else ready to go in terms of being a top main event star. Roman Reigns is perhaps not quite there yet, Chris Jericho is not a full-time Superstar anymore, Daniel Bryan is still out and Randy Orton is a heel in The Authority. As of now, Cena is basically on his own.
A loss to Lesnar poses more questions than answers and leaves WWE's top star somewhat in the lurch. The only way this perhaps would not happen is if Cena does not lose cleanly at Night of Champions. That would allow him to save face and also maintain Lesnar's momentum when he meets the next challenger for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Of course, Lesnar did not need to cheat in order to pin Cena at SummerSlam. So why would he need to start now?
A loss to Lesnar at Night of Champions would perhaps not be the end of the world for Cena. He could very well rebound and regain his footing at a later date. If that happened, then he could be fine in terms of his place in the company and the fans' demand to buy his merchandise.
However, that rebound may not come easily this time. Cena was not just beaten at SummerSlam; he was dominated. If that bout had been closer, if it could have gone either way, and circumstances would now be different. But that is just not the case.
Can WWE have it both ways with Cena? Can he still be presented as the top guy, fully capable of fighting every challenge who comes his way, even after being thoroughly trounced two matches in a row? If there is an answer to stop Lesnar, then Cena should be that answer. If not him, then who?
Cena needs to defeat Lesnar at some point. If not, then fans will surely begin to ask what exactly WWE's plans are for him. As of right now, the answer to that is very unclear indeed.