John Cena hasn’t wrestled for WWE in more than nine months, but his recent comments have sent mixed messages about whether or not he’ll ever wrestle again.
According to Cagematch.net, Cena’s last WWE match took place on the January 14 edition of Monday Night Raw, and “The Champ” has since entered the longest non-injury-related stretch of his career without wrestling a match for the company. Of course, it’s no surprise that that Cena has been appearing only infrequently as a part-time performer, and the reason why is a common one that you hear from many veteran stars: The daily grind of the notoriously difficult WWE schedule is simply too much to handle. Here’s what Cena recently said on NBC’s Sunday Today (h/t SEScoops):
“When do I walk away? And when do I walk away with essentially a sense of mental and physical sanity? And I’m right at that precipice...I will never walk away from WWE. That’s the great thing about WWE, you can perform in any capacity, and, as long as I’ve made a promise in the in-ring aspect of things, as long as I can keep up with the current product, I can perform...If I didn’t have these opportunities, I still would be taking, actively taking, time off. My body just can’t handle the schedule anymore.”
Former WWE star Dean Ambrose, now known as Jon Moxley in AEW, recently called WWE’s schedule “stupid,” noting that the company’s stars are working too many days and too many matches without enough breaks. The comments made by both Cena and Moxley have reignited the debate about the need for a WWE offseason, while Cena’s remarks have reinforced the notion that he’s about as close to retired as a WWE superstar can be without actually being retired. Following the recent retirements of all-time greats like Batista and Kurt Angle as well as The Rock’s apparent retirement from in-ring performances as well, Cena has appeared to be the next star who will follow suit.
Back in June, Cena told TMZ (h/t Complex) the following about his future in pro wrestling:
“I think an individual's career is up to the individual...I've been having the same conversation with myself and I'm only 42. It's something we've got to address each day that's individually specific.”
Those remarks echoed similar comments Cena made in 2018, when he told ESPN that he would be done inside the ring when he “can’t keep up the pace.” According to ESPN, Cena wrestled just 13 TV matches in 2018, down from 22 in 2017 and a far cry from his days of wrestling more than 200 bouts per year at the height of his run as the face of the company. Those days are long gone, however, as Cena–like numerous others before him, including Triple H, The Undertaker and Lesnar–has clearly entered the point in his career in which less is more. But every time Cena comments on his future inside the squared circle, you get the sense that he may have just a handful of matches left, if that.
Cena has stated that he will “never” leave WWE and reiterated that sentiment just last month, but he’s also suggested that “never leaving WWE” entails working with the company in some capacity that doesn’t necessarily involve wrestling. Obviously, Cena is someone who keeps himself in phenomenal shape and looks just as good now as he did 10 years ago, but it’s hard not to compare him to The Rock, who looks like a million bucks but hasn’t wrestled a legitimate match for WWE since way back in 2013–despite the huge payday he could receive for working one more match and despite WWE’s reported desire to get him in the ring one last time. Just as The Rock has become one of the busiest men in Hollywood, so too has Cena, who has a budding acting career that seemingly has him destined to follow in The Rock’s footsteps as one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
Cena has, for all intents and purposes, been away from WWE for a few years now, which has left WWE without its biggest draw as Roman Reigns has been unable to replace him in that regard. As Cena himself has said, WWE appears to be moving forward with the idea that the company won’t have just one top star and will instead build around a core of five to 10 performers, and that strategy has helped minimize the effects of the absence of Cena, who was the face of WWE for roughly a decade. However, the potential loss of Cena can’t be overstated because he’s easily the biggest star WWE has created this millennium as the company has struggled develop new ones in his absence.
Just as The Rock’s WWE appearances became less and less frequent as his acting career took off, so too have Cena’s, and given all of his recent comments, you have to wonder not when we will see Cena wrestle again but if he will at all.
Because if Cena’s schedule or movie studios won’t allow it, then it isn’t clear when he might step into the squared circle or where he’ll fit in if he does. Cena has, of course, done it all in WWE but is just one world title short of becoming a record 17-time world champion while he’s also never wrestled for NXT, which makes a possible final world title feud or a brief move to the yellow brand both very intriguing possibilities for “The Champ.”
But with each week that passes by, Cena’s WWE future becomes even less clear, and fan reaction to WWE’s overuse of part-timers becomes more negative by the day. So, we have to start asking ourselves: Is there even a place for him in WWE anymore?