WWE is bringing back John Cena to SmackDown for more than just a one-off appearance.
The company announced that the 16-time World champion will be appearing on eight total episodes of SmackDown in September and October:
When Cena returned to SmackDown in December 2022, he boosted the blue brand’s viewership to a record high. Now, WWE is undoubtedly looking to keep that trend going after Cena’s recent hot streak and the success of last week’s episode, a tribute to the late Bray Wyatt and Terry Funk that attracted more than 2.6 million viewers.
With WWE taking a slight step back from the three-year saga of The Bloodline, a massive draw on SmackDown, Cena is here to save the day. The SAG-AFTRA strike in Hollywood has freed up Cena to work more dates for WWE, and in essence, he’ll be on Friday nights to replace Roman Reigns.
This will mark the longest TV run for Cena in several years, giving “The Champ” the opportunity to feud with a number of marquee WWE stars. Here are the best potential opponents for Cena upon his return to the brand that helped him become a household name.
If WWE wants Cena to wrestle a familiar foe, there is no better opponent for Cena than AJ Styles, one of his greatest rivals. WWE hasn’t really pushed Styles much on SmackDown, but he and Cena have undeniable chemistry, previously putting on Match of the Year candidates at 2016 SummerSlam and Royal Rumble 2017.
With just a handful of upcoming appearances, WWE really won’t be able to build an extended rivalry for Cena. But running back a dream match? That’s totally doable, and it could be a great hook to bring in viewers who remember the greatness of the Cena-Styles rivalry that defined the company in 2016.
In addition, it could serve as a way to reignite a push for Styles, who’s been lost in the shuffle for the better part of a year.
Cody Rhodes recently revealed that he asked John Cena to consider him as a potential opponent if and when Cena steps back into the ring. And let’s just tell it like it is: Rhodes is the perfect opponent for Cena.
Fresh off granting his first Make-A-Wish wish since returning to WWE, Rhodes is essentially the 2023 version of peak Cena. A massive merchandise mover, a top draw and a beloved fan favorite, Rhodes—despite technically being a Raw star—has been used on both Raw and SmackDown after firmly positioning himself as the top babyface in the company.
WWE’s window to capitalize on Rhodes’ incredibly popularity may be smaller than expected, and the timeframe to do Cena vs. Rhodes is paper thin. If not now, then when?
WWE has a slew of likable babyfaces right now, but you could argue that no one is generating the type of roof-shattering reactions LA Knight has been getting over the past few months.
It’s odd to call him a “rising” star given that he’s already 40 years old, but in pro wrestling, 40 has become the new 30. WWE’s top merchandise seller in July, Knight is exactly that, but one thing that has held him back, if ever so slightly, is a career-defining win. Knight’s ongoing feud with The Miz has been surprisingly good, but Miz’s credibility has taken a hit in recent years.
Though beating Miz should be a shoo-in for Knight, nothing would elevate him more quickly than a “passing of the torch” victory over Cena.
WWE may be pumping the brakes a bit on The Bloodline, but the group isn’t gone altogether. That could be good news for Solo Sikoa, the youngest and least proven star of the bunch but one who’s already shown main event potential.
Sikoa’s in-ring style is similar to that of the late Umaga, perhaps Cena’s most underrated rival, and it’s likely that he and Cena would make magic inside the squared circle. While Cena vs. Styles, Knight or Rhodes would be a battle of babyfaces, Sikoa is a heel through and through and the prototypical Cena foe. Outside of Reigns, Sikoa is probably SmackDown’s top heel, too.
Sikoa vs. Cena would be a great placeholder story while The Bloodline saga sits and marinates, wouldn’t it?