John Cena's day in the sun appears to be over.
The man so many WWE fans love to hate, the man who has reigned over the company for a decade plus, now seems to be on the way out. But anyone that's followed Cena's career knows that he's likely not done just yet.
The question is when will he return?
Cena's "exit stage right" came after losing to Roman Reigns at No Mercy. The WWE touted the match as a must-see main event, though many fans wanted nothing to do with it. The reason for that had to do not only with Cena's love/hate relationship with the WWE faithful, but also with Reigns' position as the most hated babyface on the roster.
Reigns always gives his best effort to be the top protagonist, but he remains an extremely polarizing figure in the company. Without Cena in the mix, Reigns has now become the top polarizing figure in the company.
However, Cena's passion for the business has always been there, which means he will be back at some point. No amount of "John Cena sucks" chants can keep him away; the 16-time world champion will show his face in a WWE ring again in perhaps the near future.
Raw, SmackDown, or the Pay-Per-View Stage?
Cena's arrival on Monday Night Raw appeared to be quite the coup for the red brand. Little did anyone know he would soon be off TV once again.
So when the time is right, will Cena be back on Monday nights?
Cena claimed that he only came to Raw because of his desire to work Reigns. But that feud is apparently one-and-done. So what other reason would Cena have to come back to the WWE's flagship program? Perhaps the better question is does he even need a reason?
The same can be said of SmackDown Live. Would the man who carried the WWE for longer than any other top guy in company history need a major angle to appear on either program? Or would he just pop back in anytime he wanted, if for no other reason than to just cut a promo, then leave?
This is the type of territory typically owned by Shawn Michaels.
The Heartbreak Kid's last match was in 2010, and he's never expressed any real desire to ever get back into the squared circle. However, he has appeared on WWE programming over the past several years in a variety of roles.
Whether he's a special guest referee, delivering Sweet Chin Music, or just making the crowd smile, HBK has always been just on the outside of the company. He's not around all the time, but depending on the situation, he's available.
No one expects Cena to just fade away overnight, but he could quickly assume this type of role. Much like Michaels, Cena has done it all and the focus now would be on having fun. Being positioned on top would no longer be imperative to Cena's booking; he would only need to show up and drop bombs on the mic.
So while many fans likely feel Cena's return should happen in a pivotal moment on pay-per-view, that may not be the case. He's probably past that now. Cena is a TV star and he always has been, which means he can give the fans more if he's on either Raw or SmackDown.
Perhaps the best time for his eventual comeback is in the first half of November.
On November 19, WWE Survivor Series will take place in Houston, Texas. It's an event that will feature both brands, which means there's a possibility that fans will once again see Team Raw vs. Team SmackDown Live. If that is the case, then Cena could easily be involved.
Which side he would represent is unknown, but just the fact that he's involved would immediately increase the overall importance of Survivor Series.
But is a guest spot as Survivor Series team captain, or even co-captain going to be enough for Cena? Or does he want more?
A Rookie, A Top Star, or A Legend?
Cena has nothing left to prove, that much is true. He also doesn't need to be the top guy in the WWE anymore, that much is true as well. But though his run on top has winded down, has his level of competitiveness done the same?
Despite any criticisms he's received to the contrary over the years, Cena is a workhorse in the ring. His style has been that of a brawler instead of a technician, but that does not mean he's worked any less hard than any of his opponents.
Cena prides himself on being able to deliver in the big matches, and that will not change when he steps back into a WWE ring. Considering how much he loves performing and how hard he's worked to succeed, it's difficult to believe he would be content to just walk away after working mini feuds that go nowhere.
Will Cena come back to elevate a new star?
Veterans give back to the business; it's what they do. Top guys are not top guys forever, and eventually, those guys have to give back to the business that made them famous to begin with. Cena did just that when he did the honors to Reigns at No Mercy.
But whether or not Cena would be willing to do that with a rookie on the rise, as Kurt Angle did with him, remains to be seen. The rookie in question would need to be special, and he would need to be someone who would be capable of doing great things on the back of a victory over Cena.
That rookie may or may not be in the WWE right now, but he may be there soon. If so, then Cena could be the man to give him a rub like no other.
Of course, a run against another current star would not be out of the question. The only issue there becomes who would get the nod? Cena has already worked Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Nakamura and Reigns. He had the potential to get a PPV WWE title match with Jinder Mahal, but it did not happen.
So if Mahal makes it past Nakamura at Hell in a Cell, then maybe he could run into Cena on SmackDown Live. After all, it's hard to imagine the WWE would not give Cena his 17th world title at some point; why not do it against The Modern Day Maharajah?
Then there are the legends who could be on the shortlist for a big match with Cena. Chris Jericho's part-time schedule may be what Cena is transitioning to, so a match between them would make sense. Triple H may also be on the radar for Cena, if for no other reason than to prove who was the better of the two between the ropes.
What about Brock Lesnar?
The Beast Incarnate won the feud with Cena, and Cena has never had the opportunity to get another shot at him. So why not book one more match between the two, bringing both men full circle in their WWE careers?
What about The Undertaker, the man that Lesnar took down on two separate occasions in recent years? Lesnar ended the undefeated streak, and he also beat Taker in their last run together. Reigns may have retired The Deadman, but it was not the same Undertaker that Lesnar twice defeated before.
Many fans love the idea of Cena vs. Taker, and why not? The Phenom gave Cena his stamp of approval when Cena first debuted on WWE programming, and the two have never had the epic showdown they should have. Maybe that's how Cena should begin 2018; a legendary battle with a legendary star on the grand stage of WrestleMania.
In the meantime, however, Cena will likely make his presence known at Survivor Series and eventually against the man holding the WWE Championship. Both scenarios fit him perfectly and now it's up to the company to book him in just the right spot, when it matters the most.
Cena may be gone for now, but he will return.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com