WWE recently announced the return of 16-time World Champion John Cena to Smackdown – his first WWE appearance since July 2019’s RAW Reunion episode.
While the leader of the Cenation has been busy furthering his acting career in recent years, it meant that for the first time, we had a year of no John Cena matches.
Cena is a wrestler who can always be relied upon to deliver a great match. With reports of him lobbying for a position on the show at Wrestlemania 36, I can’t help but hope to see him wrestle on the show.
As a result, I would like to explore what I see as a possible road to Wrestlemania for John Cena. When considering the opponent I would like to see Cena face at Wrestlemania, I saw a chance for some long-term storytelling, going back as far as 2018 in the lead up to Wrestlemania 34.
Cena spent much of those months calling someone out, only to lose to them very quickly on the Grandest Stage of Them All. So this is how I would book John Cena trying to correct his past mistakes and facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania 36.
Smackdown: 28th February
The advertised return of John Cena, the main event segment.
The opening chords of ‘The Time Is Now’ play and Cena sprints out onto the stage to a great reception. Maybe we hear the crowd singing “John Cena Sucks!” or we get a loud deafening pop as he returns home.
In the ring, Cena tells the audience he missed them too. He is happy to be home, not just in WWE but on Smackdown.
Let him run down Memory Lane for a bit, referencing the debut match vs Kurt Angle in 2002, his celebration when he won the WWE Championship, congratulate Edge on returning to WWE.
He stops for a “Let’s Go Cena”/”Cena Sucks” chant as he smiles. He then looks up at the sign for Wrestlemania 36.
The lights go out, the pop gets very loud and the familiar music plays. From the blue lights and the smoke emerges the Undertaker.
Cena does not take his eyes off him as the Deadman slowly walks to the ring. Entering the ring, he walks up to Cena. The two stare down, the audience are loving the moment.
Then, Cena turns slightly, pointing to the sign. Undertaker looks up at the sign and has a smirk on his face. Looking back at each other, John Cena motions “You Can’t See Me”, Taker in response motions the cutting of the throat.
Smackdown: 6th March
Throughout the week, WWE officially announces John Cena vs the Undertaker for Wrestlemania, with RAW and NXT feature plugs about the match.
Cena is later confirmed to appear on Smackdown that Friday to speak about it. Big Match John makes his way to the ring, the audience now dueling chants of “Let’s Go Cena”/”Undertaker.”
He gets on the mic and speaks of the history he has with the Undertaker.
“Over the years, I have always had a great respect and admiration for the Undertaker, who wouldn’t? The very first night I came to WWE, he shook my hand and complimented me on what I did. Over the years we fought a handful of times, traded wins. But there is one match that sticks in my head.
“You see, even with the time away working on acting projects, I could not get past the idea that the last image you all have of me at WrestleMania in a match is losing to the Undertaker in under three minutes. You all know it, and Undertaker knows it, I can do better. So when he appeared last week, it made it very clear to me that this WrestleMania is a chance to right a wrong.
“At WrestleMania, not only will I deliver the match that the Undertaker deserves to get out of me but I will walk out with my head held high. I will defeat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. I await your reply, hopefully on the mic and not on Instagram.”
Cena drops the mic and walks out. His digs about Undertaker’s social media activity did wonders for the build to WrestleMania 34 so it would make sense that since Taker now has his own Instagram and Twitter that Cena references this.
RAW: 9th March
On this episode of RAW, it is announced that John Cena will return to action, as he faces Seth Rollins.
Rollins will likely be in a program with Kevin Owens so he will be on the lookout for Owens, as will his allies, Murphy and the Authors of Pain.
Cena and Rollins put on a great twenty minute match. Rollins goes for a stomp only for Cena to propel him up and catch him for an Attitude Adjustment.
He hits it and then goes for the Lightning Fist when Undertaker’s gong is heard. Cena looks to the ramp as a haunting video plays, showing highlights of Cena’s previous losses to Undertaker.
Rollins orders AOP and Murphy to the ramp in case Taker comes out. The lights return to normal. Cena is at the ropes near the ramp with the referee, demanding to know if Undertaker is here.
Rollins stands in the middle of the ring ready to attack when Kevin Owens turns him around for a stunner. Rolling out of the ring before the ref sees it, Cena grabs Rollins for an AA and the win. Cena looks into the hard camera, telling Undertaker “nice try.”
Smackdown: 13th March
On this Smackdown, we hear from the Deadman. Undertaker is announced to respond to Cena’s prior comments from the previous Smackdown and from RAW after the match.
Taker walks out and puts over the accomplishments of Cena. He respects Cena for what he has done in WWE. However, he takes issue with Cena resorting to comments about family.
“What happened two years ago was you ran your mouth, begging for a fight. You insulted me, you insulted what I have done for WWE, you even insulted my family. And John, I may be the Deadman, but mention my wife again and I’ll dig a hole just for you.
“You went away and tried to find meaning by acting in movies. I have always admired your passion to blaze your own trail, it’s pitiful to see you now doing what others have done before you. Rock did it better John, I suggest you get back to what you do best.”
Music plays but it isn’t Cena, it’s King Corbin. He comes out demanding to know why ‘his’ TV time is being occupied by Undertaker and Cena.
As he makes his way into the ring, Undertaker grabs him, connecting a chokeslam. He takes off the hat and coat to deliver a Tombstone Piledriver to Corbin. He stands over him and turns into a waiting John Cena, who delivers an AA to the Undertaker.
Cena motions “You Can’t See Me” as he poses for the audience. Cena lands the first strike.
Smackdown: 20th March
The WWE social media pages have been speculating all week as to what Undertaker will do in response to Cena’s attack.
Cena is out in the ring, where he tells the WWE Universe that he is offended by the Undertaker’s dismissal of his work outside of WWE.
Cena says that while he does what he does to be happy, he also does it to bring eyes on WWE. He wants WWE to continue to grow just as much as Taker does and to hear him mock him, claiming he copied the Rock, he says Undertaker should apologise for impersonating a Kid Rock fan as the American Badass.
He demands that Taker stop criticising him for making something of his life when Taker is “sat at home playing “house-husband” to Michelle McCool.”
Lights dim, the bell tolls and Undertaker emerges on the stage. The Phenom tells Cena that when he comes after the Undertaker’s family, he should be ready for the rest of the family.
Cena has a moment of terror as he turns around into Kane’s waiting hand. Kane chokeslams Cena. Telling Cena that next week, he has an obstacle in his path to facing Undertaker. Kane vs John Cena is scheduled for the next Smackdown.
Smackdown: 27th March
The Undertaker opens Smackdown, proclaiming that John Cena angered the Brothers of Destruction with his disrespect and that Kane is at Smackdown not to destroy John Cena, but simply to teach him a lesson in respect.
Cena comes out onto the stage and before he gets to speak, Kane’s pyro goes off at either side of him on the stage, spooking him before he looks back at a grinning Undertaker, finding amusement in Kane’s mind games.
Backstage later that night, Cena is walking through the backstage area where he is haunted by the shadow of the Undertaker. He walks past a corridor where the Deadman’s shadow can be seen standing.
Fast forward to the main event, Kane takes the fight to Cena, brutalising the 16-time champion. Cena goes for the Five Knuckle Shuffle when Kane grabs his throat.
Cena counters and scoops Kane for what looks like a Tombstone when Kane reverses into one of his own. Three seconds later, Kane pins John Cena.
Undertaker starts making his way to the ring when Cena manages to land an AA on Kane. Cena turns around into a big boot from Undertaker who takes Cena to a corner and begins a beat down.
Cena manages to get out and hits two shoulder tackles. As he tries for the spin-out powerbomb, Kane attacks him, pairing with Undertaker for a double chokeslam.
Kane vacates the ring as Undertaker picks up Cena to hit a Tombstone of his own.
Smackdown ends with the Brothers of Destruction posing over Cena.
Smackdown: 3rd April
The week after, the go-home edition of Smackdown, Cena has not been heard from since the assault from Kane and Undertaker.
The Undertaker opens Smackdown, speaking of how much he looks forward to facing Cena at Wrestlemania.
Knowing that what he has done over the last few weeks has lit a fire in Cena, making him need to defeat him. As he says this, a commotion is heard as the tron now shows Cena attacking Kane backstage.
Cena lays him out and tells Undertaker to be careful what he wished for. Undertaker marches backstage, the show then features segments where Undertaker is backstage on the hunt for Cena.
During the penultimate match of the night, the audience begin reacting to something happening off camera. Cena and Taker are brawling in the crowd!
They make their way to ringside as they continue the fighting. Eventually Triple H appears with the roster to break them apart, with Cena being held by the New Day and Braun Strowman, and Taker by Triple H, the Usos and Cesaro.
Cena and Taker then break through to continue the fight once more, before Cena is dragged out of the ring by the majority of the superstars.
Undertaker grabs Mustafa Ali and hurls him over the ropes, onto Cena and the superstars.
The two brawl more up the ramp, disappearing backstage. It’s the last we see of the two before WrestleMania.
The stage is set, Undertaker and Cena go on seventh. Just over the halfway point of the night.
Before the match, Cena is interviewed backstage. He tells the interviewer that had this match happened at WrestleMania 30, he wouldn’t have the confidence he has now, especially since Undertaker has lost at WrestleMania and vows to become the third man to beat him.
Cena makes the long run down the ramp to the ring. The bell tolls, since the theme of WrestleMania is pirates, we can have Undertaker emerge from a Davey Jones’ Locker style display.
Beginning his walk to the ring, the stadium is standing in respect and love for not just Undertaker but for his opponent.
The rematch begins
The bell rings, Cena and Taker stare down before Cena throws the “You Can’t See Me” motion. Taker swings for him but Cena ducks, trying to toy with him.
After a couple of attempts, Taker grabs him into the corner to begin the beat down. Taker holds the offence for the first five minutes or so. Going for Old School, Cena manages to pull him off the ropes.
The tide turns in Cena’s favour. Working over Undertaker’s legs, trying to take away the main moves he needs his legs for. He locks in a Figure-Four Leg Lock, but Undertaker manages to make his way to the ropes, breaking the submission.
Cena continues his work, going for an AA but knocking the ref over with Taker’s legs. Taker ducks out the move, sending Cena to the outside. The two begin brawling outside, where Cena clears a table to put the Deadman through it.
Taker catches him with a kick to the gut, followed by a Last Ride through the table. He takes Cena back into the ring. As Taker enters the ring, Cena grabs him into a Fisherman’s Suplex. He connects with the shoulder tackles, lands the spin-out powerbomb, then throws up his hand for the Five Knuckle Shuffle.
He comes off the ropes but Taker begins to sit up. Cena kicks him back down and finishes the move. Cena lands an AA on Undertaker. One! Two! Taker kicks out. Cena sits looking at the ref wondering how it didn’t work.
The tide turns
Behind him, the Phenom sits up, with Cena turning to be spooked by him. Taker begins unloading on him, connecting Old School, Snake Eyes, a big boot and a Chokeslam. He picks him up for a Tombstone, connecting successfully. One! Two! Cena kicks out of the Tombstone. Taker is at first surprised but then laughs, he isn’t surprised.
He picks up Cena, when Taker is then chokeslammed by John Cena. Cena gets a two count from the Chokeslam but immediately locks in an STF. Undertaker does his best to make it to the ropes but Cena pulls him back. Taker rolls them over into a pinning position. Cena releases, lifting Taker for the AA, Taker leans back, picking Cena up into a second Tombstone. Another two count. Taker is now visibly annoyed.
He grabs Cena and locks in Hell’s Gate. Cena is struggling. The ref checks his hand for life. It drops twice before he springs into life, deadlifting Undertaker for a powerbomb. He connects a swift Lightning Fist, Taker bounces off the ropes, grabbing Cena for a Chokeslam. He signals the end is near. Taker scoops Cena up, Cena this time leans back, reversing and repositioning Undertaker. He hits an AA, rolling through to hit another.
Cena is exhausted and leans on the ropes for support as Undertaker stirs, starting to sit up. Weak and fighting to the end, Taker signals for Cena to bring it. So Cena rolls him again to land a final AA. One. Two. Three. John Cena’s redemption story concludes with a decisive win over the Undertaker at WrestleMania.
Cena is celebrating when he notices Undertaker starting to make his way to the ropes. He walks over and holds out his hand, helping the Deadman to his feet. The two exchange words, with Cena telling him “I am glad I could finally give you the match you deserved outta me.” Undertaker holds out his hand and the two legends shake hands. Taker raises Cena’s hand in victory, then Cena vacates the ring, allowing Undertaker a moment with the WWE Universe before he leaves the ring.
That is how I would look at booking John Cena’s programme for WrestleMania 36.
Now it may well never happen, Cena may face a different opponent at the show, much like Undertaker may have a different opponent, with reports from WrestleZone speculating that the Deadman could be facing AJ Styles at the Show of Shows.
However, I wanted to offer a look into how such a match could happen. Regardless, whatever match John Cena takes part in at Wrestlemania, it is certain that the WWE Universe and the wider Wrestling community will be discussing it for a long time.