While John Cena could tie Ric Flair’s world title record at the 2017 Royal Rumble, it’s better for AJ Styles to retain the WWE Championship.
The Royal Rumble is always considered the first stop on the annual Road to WrestleMania. The winner of the traditional 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal earns a guaranteed main event match for a championship at WrestleMania 33. With the recent brand split, it will be even more interesting to see how the WrestleMania card starts to shape up this year.
But there’s more to WWE’s Royal Rumble 2017 than just the Royal Rumble match. Both Raw and SmackDown Live are featuring their own championship matches.
Both will help set the tone for WrestleMania 33 on April 2 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. But John Cena and AJ Styles for the WWE Championship could be a major match Jan. 29 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
In one corner of the ring, AJ Styles has certainly made himself one of the biggest names in the WWE. The year 2016 was good to the Phenomenal One. Considering how he’s flourished on SmackDown Live, there’s no reason for any drastic change this early in 2017. However, some feel that this could be the match where John Cena ties Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championships.
It’s really just a matter of time before Cena ties and then breaks the record before he hangs up the jean shorts and sneakers for good. But the 2017 Royal Rumble doesn’t seem like the perfect time for Cena to make WWE history. There are several reasons why AJ Styles should defeat John Cena for the WWE Championship; the following are the top five.
We are a few years past the height of John Cena’s popularity in the WWE. While there’s no denying that he made major contributions to the WWE for more than a decade, his time has passed. Sure, his entrance theme can continue to claim that it’s still “now,” since he’s still one of the most requested WWE superstars for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He’s also still getting roles in a few movies here and there.
But this is a new generation of the WWE. One that doesn’t need John Cena to be the main event staple that he once was. Fans are tuning in to see superstars like AJ Styles hold onto the WWE Championship. This is the same generation of WWE that has Kevin Owens headlining Raw as the WWE Universal Champion. It arguably started back when Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns became big stars.
Throw in the names of superstars who could be big in WWE’s future, John Cena is no longer a priority for the company. That’s not to say he’s irrelevant. But he doesn’t need to be. The WWE has plenty of star power to where he can start taking time off here and there.
Cena might be better suited for a veteran role similar to Shawn Michaels’ last run in the WWE – putting over younger superstars and getting the occasional main event matches.
It’s been a big discussion point for a few years now. The Undertaker possibly facing John Cena at WrestleMania. The stars haven’t quite aligned perfectly for this kind of feud. Regardless of whether fans think they have this year, it might be the last opportunity. The Undertaker is now 51 years old and there were pictures circulating online of him holding crutches.
The health of the aging Phenom have been a concern among wrestling fans for years. But as time continues, one has to imagine that it’s going to be sooner rather than later. If this is indeed going to be the Undertaker’s final dance in the WWE ring, Cena is really the best opponent for a WrestleMania match.
While many would argue that a younger superstar would benefit more from being in Undertaker’s final match, this isn’t for the undefeated WrestleMania streak. Therefore, there isn’t anything much for an up-and-comer to gain. You can thank Brock Lesnar for ruining that option.
But Cena has a special history with the Deadman. After his “ruthless aggression” debut against Kurt Angle in 2002, Undertaker approached Cena to shake his hand. This could set up a feud where Undertaker said he saw something in Cena nearly 15 years ago. That something was the sense that Cena would be the one to end his WWE career. No championship is needed to make this one a big match.
AJ Styles has certainly established himself as the face that runs the place on SmackDown Live. He’s great as a heel, but he’s also someone viewed as a legitimate world champion. But one of the biggest benefits to having a heel as a world champion is the payoff from a babyface winning it.
It’s not officially certain who is going to win the 2017 Royal Rumble. There are a number of options from both Raw and SmackDown Live who could be a great challenger. There’s even a chance for someone from Raw to invoke the clause that allows him to jump brands and challenge Styles for the WWE Championship. One name that comes to mind is Sami Zayn.
Regardless of the outcome for the 2017 Royal Rumble, there’s something special about a good guy getting the big upset win over a dominant heel. Let’s just say Zayn wins the Royal Rumble and challenges Styles at WrestleMania 33. For one, it would be a fun match to watch that the crowd will enjoy.
Fans would get behind the babyface challenger as the match progressed. Whether or not the WWE would plan on Styles dropping the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33, it would still be an exciting storyline.
2. Cena’s 16th World Title Should Be Won at WrestleMania
Whether you like John Cena or not, there are certain truths that have to be accepted. Cena was the biggest draw in the WWE since about 2004. Cena has become a superstar with a popularity comparable to Hulk Hogan. He’s also one of a very small number of wrestlers who deserve to break Ric Flair’s 16 world championship record.
Denying that is only a sign of ignorance. However, now doesn’t feel like the right time for Cena to win the WWE Championship. The leader of Cenation is just returning to the WWE after taking some time off. Having him win the WWE Championship right away feels like poor booking that hurts Styles’ momentum.
Being able to tie Flair’s record should be built as a big moment in WWE history. It needs some time to really grow and get the fans invested in a match where it could happen. It should be the base of a storyline for a Wrestlemania. But not this year. Maybe Cena has another rough year in 2017 with key losses.
But a win at the 2018 Royal Rumble could help set up what could be advertised as Cena’s last possible chance to tie Flair’s record. It could be a great main event storyline for WrestleMania 34. It just needs the extra year to build; not a few months or less.
In 2016, AJ Styles made the biggest impact out of everyone on the WWE main roster. He came into the company during the Royal Rumble and received quite the welcome. He was able to build on that momentum with quality matches against Chris Jericho and other WWE veterans. Styles showed why he belonged in the WWE.
Styles was someone who was able to benefit the most from the brand split and become a headline superstar on SmackDown Live. He’s embraced the villain role, but was also able to back up the talk with key victories over John Cena, Dean Ambrose and others. While every run has to come to an end at some point, it doesn’t seem like Styles’ momentum is going to slow down anytime soon.
SmackDown Live was able to beat Raw in the final week of television ratings for 2016. But the gap between the perceived A and B shows was closing throughout the year. Styles is arguably a big part of that. Cena hasn’t been around for most of the year and hasn’t had the impact that he once did.
This is a matter of the future of the WWE taking over and the main event stars in the past allowing new stars to shine. As mentioned earlier, Cena is likely going to get his 16th world championship to tie Flair’s record. But now is not the time for that to happen.