WrestleMania 39 just feels different—like a changing of the guard for WWE. Brock Lesnar isn’t in a title match, Cody Rhodes has a chance to dethrone Roman Reigns, and main event mainstays such as Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch are taking a backseat.
It’s a refreshing change for WWE to shift its focus to newer stars, but to transform those rising stars into bona fide main eventers, it needs established stars to do the honors. Enter John Cena.
WWE announced on Monday that Cena, arguably the greatest star in WWE history, will make his TV return on the March 6th edition of Monday Night Raw in Boston. Cena’s appearance is expected to set the stage for Cena vs. Austin Theory, a match that is reportedly set for WrestleMania 39 after both stars have spent much of the past year teasing the dream match.
Cena will essentially be looking in the mirror when he feuds with Theory. The parallels between the two stars are, after all, quite clear. It was roughly two decades ago that a 20-something Cena broke onto the scene by stepping up to Kurt Angle, and Theory is following a similar path. Not only does Theory look a lot like Cena, but he’s got charisma, in-ring skills that were better than Cena at this stage of his career, and perhaps most importantly, he’s shown that he has all the makings of a potential main eventer
If ever there was a time for Cena to pass the torch, this is it.
WWE is undoubtedly in a transitional period. Even though part-timers continue to be sprinkled into the mix, there are plenty of new names rising up the card and right on the cusp of being solidified as top stars for the next decade, a list that includes Belair, Ripley and Theory himself. As perennial main eventers, like Edge, Lesnar and Rousey are finding themselves out of the title picture for a change, potential main eventers and world champions like Montez Ford and Johnny Gargano are fresh off breakout performances at Elimination Chamber.
When Cena returned to WWE late last year, he demonstrated that he still has the drawing power to put more eyes on the WWE product whenever he’s around. That’s something that Roman Reigns has done during his captivating feud with Sami Zayn, who has reportedly developed into WWE’s biggest ratings draw thanks to his enthralling involvement with Reigns and The Bloodline.
The lesson? Having rising stars in the trenches with established household names is—though not a surefire success—the best way to ensure that a star who isn’t quite there yet gets over the hump.
Of course, the storytelling involved is key. Zayn wouldn’t be the most popular babyface in WWE in the past decade if it weren’t for the tremendous twists and turns that have made him so beloved. No star in WWE is going to become an overnight success unless the crowd relates to that star in some way, but Theory, though certainly not on the level of Zayn, is halfway there.
WWE fans absolutely despise Theory, who is one of the most hated heels in all of WWE and arguably the top antagonist on Raw right now. He knows how to draw heat. What he doesn’t have, however, is a signature win, even despite feuding with top stars like Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley fairly consistently.
The creative team is still in the process of transitioning Theory from a cowardly heel into a more credible one, and there is no better way for someone to become credible than by beating Cena. Whenever he’s around, “The Champ” is still the measuring stick, and in a situation that works out ideally for WWE, he is also at a stage of his career where he certainly doesn’t need to be winning any more matches.
The role of Cena the part-timer is to pass the torch, and a quick look at WWE’s roster shows that there isn’t a more ideal candidate for Cena to light the flame for than Theory. A WrestleMania feud, regardless of the outcome, will do wonders for Theory’s career, but if he loses yet another marquee rivalry?
That’s another big blemish on Theory’s record, and the more of those he has, the steeper his climb to full-blown super-stardom will be.
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