SmackDown Live general manager Daniel Bryan announced Tuesday that John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura will wrestle next week to determine a No. 1 contender for Jinder Mahal's WWE Championship, according to WWE's official Twitter account.
It will be the first time Cena and Nakamura have crossed paths in a WWE ring. The Miami Herald's Scott Fishman was among those surprised to see WWE giving away their first encounter for free on cable:
The Singh Brothers, who have been vital in helping Mahal retain his title, already issued a challenge to Cena:
It will be interesting to see if WWE goes in the opposite direction almost every fan expects the No. 1 Contender's match—and then SummerSlam—to unfold.
The writing appeared to be on the wall as soon as Cena returned to WWE on July 4; he comes back and beats Mahal for his record-breaking 17th world title reign. The patriotic babyface toppling the "evil foreigner" is a storyline almost as old as professional wrestling itself, and it would provide some explanation for why Cena needed to wrestle Rusev in a flag match rather than a traditional singles bout.
However, a Nakamura victory would be a big surprise and perhaps help the former NXT champion find a renewed sense of motivation since arriving in WWE.
Outside of his debut victory over Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas in April 2016, Nakamura has seemingly relied on his star power alone rather than embrace the physical style of wrestling that made him so popular in the first place.
A Nakamura championship run would also open the door for fresher matchups on SmackDown Live. Cena has wrestled almost everybody of consequence in WWE, so putting him on top of the blue brand would feel underwhelming after Mahal's title win helped create a sense of unpredictability on SmackDown Live.