“John Cena as WWE Universal champion.”
“Randy Orton as WWE World champion.”
I can’t shake it. This feels right. How did we get here? In 2019, I’ve thought of countless avenues the WWE could take to get to the two biggest stars of their era back on top. If you would have told 2007 Chase this would be something 2019 Chase would be fascinated by he would have laughed in your face and gone back and listened to the latest Mood Muzik mixtape. No. Way.
The case for Cena is different than the case for Orton.
Cena, with his crazy hair and all, is a part-timer at this stage in his career. From April to December last year, he competed in five matches for the company. Would you like to guess how many matches the WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar competed in during that same stretch of time? Five. The part-timers have a lot in common -- they work matches every now and then, non-wrestling fans know who they are, but most of all, they’re one of three part-timers who still move the needle for the company. ( The Rock being that other part-timer, but even calling him a part-timer at this point seems too generous. Also, if you are one of those of pro wrestling fans who does not think Lesnar is still a needle-mover, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. People like seeing Brock Lesnar do Brock Lesnar things.)
The Finn Balor Character Rehabilitation tour has been fun, and people still like screaming “Burn It Down” for Seth Rollins as he works to scrub those nasty remains of that disastrous Dean Ambrose feud off his tights. Mariah Carey would be quite proud, as these two belong together. Everybody likes Balor; everybody likes Rollins. Everybody thinks Rollins should be handed the keys to Raw; everybody thinks Balor should be handed the keys to Raw. With Balor beating Rollins at SummerSlam years ago to become the first WWE Universal champion they became forever linked. Nobody benefits from Lesnar taking down Rollins or Balor. Everybody benefits from Balor wrestling Rollins on the biggest stage.
Outside of Rollins and Balor, who is else is ready for Lesnar? Kevin Owens is still on the shelf, Elias is three years away from being three years away, and outside of the Demon and the Architect, are there any other over babyfaces on Raw? (If you even thought about Dolph Ziggler or Bray Wyatt here I am not the sportswriter for you, my guy.) To be sure, it is entirely the WWE’s fault for only having three over babyfaces on their flagship program, but that also doesn’t mean you shoehorn somebody who is not ready for this sort of push and create another Roman Reigns-like problem. Your options are Balor, Rollins and Cena. Give me The Beast versus The Prototype.
On Smackdown Live, the Randy Orton For WWE World champion idea is, well, you guessed it, different. The blue brand is already a very good professional wrestling program with a plethora of fun, intriguing options for either Daniel Bryan or AJ Styles -- Rey Mysterio, Andrade, Big E, Samoa Joe, even Mustafa Ali. There are a lot of paths Road Dogg and the fellas can follow, but it comes down to how you perceive the New Daniel Bryan schtick. If you think that it has a short shelf life -- check -- the idea of keeping the world title on him through WrestleMania seems like a dangerous one. If the odds are high fans grow tired of the fickle-shouting on the road to the ‘Mania, you do not have Bryan go over the top babyface at the Royal Rumble on Sunday. You put the title back on Guy Charlotte and reset a bit.
Enter the Viper.
The “o” and “r” in Orton really stand for old reliable. After 36 years on the main roster, Orton has this whole professional-wrestling thing down. He knows who he is. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He is also very entertaining as a psychopathic heel. You could make the argument that the best thing Styles did in 2018 was his feud with another psychopathic heel -- Samoa Joe. With Orton winning the Royal Rumble and Styles knocking off Bryan, you could revisit that feud but on a larger scale. As great as Joe was and still is, it was clear he was not going to win that feud with Styles. With Orton in that spot, you could see it going either way. With Orton going after every child’s favorite babyfaces on Smackdown over the past few months, would the logical conclusion to the Randy Orton Hates Your Hero tour not be setting his sights on the Phenomenal One? In what universe does Orton versus Styles at WrestleMania not sound like a must-see event? Even if you’re not a big fan of Orton once the bell rings -- “there are dozens of us...dozens!” -- you know the lead-in to the match will hit all the right notes. Like some sort of mixture of Lesnar and Orton from a few years ago to Joe and Styles from last fall. It can be sold even easier than that: who would have even thought this kind of match was possible outside of Universe Mode on WWE 2K before 2017? If you are ever going to pull the trigger on Orton versus Styles this is the only chance to do so.
So then Orton wins.
And then Cena wins.
Then you wait. You wait to give the rub to the right babyface, in Orton’s case, or the right heel, in Cena’s case, at the right time. You use this temporary Cena title reign that gets him to No. 17 to give Adam Cole his Kevin Owens moment on Raw. You use this temporary Orton title reign to give Aleister Black his Undertaker moment by refusing to die as much as Ruthless Randy would prefer him to. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, standing in the ring with Cena or Orton still holds weight. The WWE has a star problem, they have a NXT-to-main-roster problem, and they can kill two birds with one stone by throwing Cena and Orton one last bone to try one last time to create the next iteration of Cena and Orton. This means less movies for Cena, and less Top Golf excursions for Orton, but it is for the best. The year is 2019 and their time is not up, no, their time is now.