This really sucks, both for fans and WWE. I know there are still plenty of holdouts on the anti-Cena bandwagon, that blame WWE creative's lazer focus on his storylines for everything that has gone wrong with the company in the last decade. But even they can't deny that Cena's US Open Challenge was one of the best parts of 2015 - well, not without lying to themselves, their mothers and God.
I really expected the upcoming WrestleMania to be really big for Cena. Now, by default any match Cena is in on a PPV is very important. But, the last two years he has been paired with Bray Wyatt and Rusev in forgettable contests. This year I expected something BIG. I mean really BIG.
In my mind he was set for one of three scenarios:
1. Cena would regain the United States Championship from Alberto Del Rio leading into WrestleMania, and would host an open challenge at the event. Then, they would have the perfect way to debut a new star for the main roster immediately, like Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, or AJ Styles.
2. Rumors suggested the Undertaker was being lined-up for Cena. While the major appeal of that match disappeared when Brock Lesnar broke the Streak, it would have been a great way for the Phenom to bow out, in Texas, against the biggest star in WWE. No matter who won or lost, it would have been memorable.
3. This might of been unlikely, but something I would have marked out for - Cena wins the Royal Rumble thanks to the Authority. He becomes their guy and Cena 'sold his soul' to be level with Ric Flair in World Championships. Then he defends the title against Reigns at WrestleMania, and whoever wins carries on into a dominant 2016.
Clearly, none of these scenarios will be taking place now, which is a real shame. In my mind at least, these were five viable options which ensured that Cena would have a significant, positive impact on the biggest show of the year. With these major angles now having to be shelved or simply lost to the passage of time, is there feasible way that WWE can salvage something from this wreckage and find someone to replace the face that runs this place? (try saying that five times)
My answer, they will physically replace him, but no one will be able to adequately fill the Cena-shaped hole in WrestleMania's card. He's not just another spoke on the wheel - he's virtually the whole damn bicycle! They can find opponents to battle the Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, but will it have the same impact as Cena? Absolutely not, and this has been a problem that WWE has been provoking for far too long.
The last time Cena suffered a severe injury, he rushed back to fitness, and has since been performing with very little respite. 2014/15 has really been the first time his schedule has lightened somewhat, but he has also performed in some of the longest and most physically-demanding contests of his entire career. And despite his advancing years and struggles with injuries, WWE has not worked hard enough to build up suitable replacements for him - that takes years, not the weeks they have before WrestleMania.
Yes, they are now transitioning their focus almost completely onto Reigns, the chosen one in the eyes of those backstage. But they need more. Imagine if Reigns gets injured, and after this year would that really be a huge surprise? WWE would be left with the collection of mid-carders that have been constantly trading victories while not generating any tangible momentum and part-time stars that are only relevant 3-4 times a year at most.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and many will argue that WWE should have been preparing for this eventuality. That doesn't mean they cannot salvage anything out of this - it is the chance to make stars out of names like Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Neville and more. It is a chance to bring big-hitters from NXT up and build them for Cena's return. It is the chance for WWE Creative to live up to its name and be 'creative'.
Personally, I would love the rumored plans to pit Brock Lesnar and Kevin Owens together, up until the point I realize that Owens would lose that match and be forced to regain momentum when Lesnar disappears. Undertaker against Finn Balor would be a remarkable spectacle simply for the entrances alone. And Roman Reigns could best Triple H for the WWE title like has been suggested to leave a decent card for WrestleMania.
But there is a difference between optimism and blind hope. Cena's injury means WrestleMania buyrates are going to suffer, the quality of the event will diminish, and this is shaping up to be a rough, twisting road to the Grandest Stage of Them All.