Quick Takes: John Cena Returns, Punk and Bryan in AEW, Moxley's Future and More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2021

Quick Takes: John Cena Returns, Punk and Bryan in AEW, Moxley's Future and More

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    John Cena's WWE return was perfectly executed, and the follow-up is sure to be stellar as well.
    John Cena's WWE return was perfectly executed, and the follow-up is sure to be stellar as well.Credit: WWE.com

    Between crowds coming back, potential signings and blockbuster returns, it couldn't be a more exciting time to be a fan of WWE and All Elite Wrestling.

    For the first time since WrestleMania 36, John Cena resurfaced in WWE at Money in the Bank and immediately positioned himself as the next contender to the Universal Championship. Unlike other legends, his returns still feel special because of his infrequent appearances in recent years, and the build to his prospective SummerSlam match with Roman Reigns is off to a strong start.

    Cena wasn't the only name making headlines this week, however. According to Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful (h/t Joshua Gagnon of Wrestling Inc) and Cassidy Haynes of Bodyslam.net, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are looking likely to debut in AEW sooner rather than later and are about to shake up the road to All Out.

    AEW has been gradually building momentum since returning to the road earlier in July, and the addition of those two to the roster would be massive. Of course, the company must also ensure that its homegrown stars aren't overshadowed by all of the incoming talent.

    One of those AEW originals is Jon Moxley, whose immediate future is in doubt creatively after he lost the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship during Night 2 of Fyter Fest.

    What's next for the former AEW world champion will be discussed in this installment of Quick Takes along with Keith Lee's return, Karrion Kross' less-than-stellar Raw debut and more.

AEW Can't Lose Sight of Its Homegrown Stars in Favor of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan

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    CM Punk and Daniel Bryan would be game-changers for AEW if they do indeed sign with AEW. They are household names, have achieved immense levels of success and would have an incredible crop of competitors to work with.

    Simply put, the company would be foolish not to sign them and further establish itself as an equal to WWE in terms of their talent. It already boasts one of the best rosters around, which is why it's crucial that it doesn't allow ex-WWE stars such as Punk and Bryan to overshadow the athletes who have been with AEW from Day 1.

    Adam Page, Darby Allin, MJF and Sammy Guevara are all excellent examples of wrestlers AEW has largely built from the ground up and done an exceptional job of focusing on since its inception in early 2019. Bringing in top talent from other promotions is acceptable as long as it doesn't come at the expense of the aforementioned individuals.

    The storyline surrounding Page and Kenny Omega has been beautifully crafted and must culminate in an AEW World Championship victory for Hangman. AEW has a strong enough track record to suggest that seems to still be the plan, but the booking could change now that Punk and Bryan are reportedly on their way in.

    It would be a major mistake to curtail the push of Page or anyone else already on the ascent in AEW in favor of potential signees. That said, AEW's handling of Chris Jericho, Christian and others of that caliber should be enough of an indication that homegrown wrestlers will be just fine.

Will Keith Lee Ever Ascend to Main Event Status in WWE?

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    From beating Randy Orton in his singles debut on pay-per-view to disappearing for five months for an undisclosed reason, to say Keith Lee's WWE main-roster career has been a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement.

    At long last, he returned to Raw one night removed from Money in the Bank and answered the open challenge of WWE champion Bobby Lashley. Despite scoring some offense, he was defeated decisively in under six minutes and not seen again once Goldberg emerged to confront Lashley.

    Fans already had an issue with Goldberg challenging for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam when Fightful Select (h/t Marc Middletown of Wrestling Inc) broke the news earlier in July, but it was almost understandable in that Lashley didn't have any fresh competition left.

    Now that we know Lee has been cleared to compete, he would have been the perfect opponent for The All Mighty at the August extravaganza. The fact that he wasn't being aggressively pushed prior to his hiatus means nothing as WWE could have easily made him a threat to Lashley in one night.

    Lee contended for the WWE Championship on the first Raw of 2021, losing to Drew McIntyre. Much like Monday night, his loss was immediately followed by Goldberg returning and staking his claim at the WWE title.

    He won't be positioned as the main event player he has the potential to be until WWE stops relying so heavily on the part-timers. Raw needs new stars at the top, and Lee could flourish at that level if afforded the opportunity.

Karrion Kross the Latest Example of WWE Attempting to Fix Something Not Broken

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    On the subject of making new stars, WWE had the chance to do just that with Karrion Kross upon his arrival on Monday's Raw but failed to do so because of how horribly he was booked.

    Kross has been the NXT champion since early April, when he knocked off Finn Balor to regain the gold. He was undefeated for more than a year before losing to Jeff Hardy in unspectacular fashion on Raw.

    It was among the worst NXT call-ups to date, and no matter what the aftermath is, it established Kross as a secondary player out of the gate. He can avenge the loss to Hardy on the next episode of Raw, but the problem is the message the defeat sends about NXT.

    Kross walked to the ring wearing the NXT Championship, and the fact that he was made to look inferior made NXT look second-rate as well. The notion that it's a third brand next to Raw and SmackDown was erased when Kross was disposed of like an enhancement talent in his official main-roster debut.

    In addition to all of that, there was nothing wrong with the presentation of Kross in NXT, yet WWE felt the need to change it by stripping him of everything that made him special on Raw. The updated entrance is nothing out of the ordinary, he's without Scarlett and he's no longer on an undefeated run.

    Top stars in NXT are better off staying there or leaving for another promotion if it means not moving to Monday nights and potentially being ruined.

What's Next for Jon Moxley in AEW Following His Loss of the IWGP U.S. Title?

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    Jon Moxley has arguably been the best-booked star in AEW since the company's inception in 2019. He was positioned as a top player from the get-go and has suffered few losses in the past two years.

    Although he hasn't been the AEW world champion since late last year, he was doing great work with the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship by defending it on AEW programming every few months. He finally dropped the strap on the Wednesday's edition of Dynamite, and it's unclear what the future holds for him.

    Looking at the landscape of the AEW roster, most of the top heels are busy in other storylines. Kenny Omega and The Elite are locked up with Adam Page, Cody Rhodes has been paired off with the debuting Malaki Black, and MJF is still feuding with Chris Jericho.

    Miro doesn't have any set opponent for the AEW TNT Championship, but that might be a step down for Moxley. If CM Punk and Daniel Bryan sign with the promotion and come in as babyfaces, then a heel turn could be what's best for Moxley.

    He never had a chance to be the heel he could have been in WWE because of poor booking, and AEW could use another elite-level villain on its roster. Feuds with Jungle Boy, Christian Cage and, specifically, Darby Allin would then become possible.

    If Moxley is going to be a part of All Out in early September—and he should be—then AEW needs to figure out a program to put him in for that event and fast.

Cena vs. Reigns Is Shaping Up to Be One of WWE's Hottest Feuds in Years

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    John Cena vs. Roman Reigns has been in the works for months, and if it weren't already a marquee match on paper, they sold the majority of the WWE Universe on their upcoming outing with what they did this past week.

    Cena's grand return to WWE programming after more than a year away could not have been booked better. Even with rumors running rampant that he would be back to start his storyline with Reigns, his comeback was white-hot and generated one of the loudest reactions from any WWE crowd in recent years, if not ever.

    Their face-off alone was epic, but the promos from both Cena and Reigns on Raw and SmackDown in the days that followed were even better. Cena proved he hasn't missed a beat on the mic. Reigns, meanwhile, is clearly more motivated than he's ever been, resulting in some of the strongest mic work he's done to date.

    Of course, Cena and Reigns are no strangers to each other, having previously feuded in the fall of 2017. Their dueling promos were excellent even then, and that was prior to Reigns' much-needed heel turn. As such, their segments going forward are bound to be even more magical.

    Cena's WWE appearances are set to run through SummerSlam, so although there isn't a ton of time to build up the bout, they will make the most of the month he's around for and ensure the match lives up to its lofty hype based on what we have seen so far.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.