There's a funny thing that happens whenever John Cena returns from an absence. It doesn't matter whether it's becuase of an injury, an outside endeavor, or just a storyline. But, pretty much always, the second he returns, he gets put into the highest-profile match possible. Cena returned to SmackDown on Thursday night and, yet again, history repeated itself.
AJ Styles came out to kick off SmackDown, and declared himself the "champ that runs the camp." Lame tagline aside, it was a cool moment for fans who had been waiting to see that for a while. And then Cena came out. Cena, with an all-business attitude, said that he was back, and he was going after something he had decided not to go after for a while, the belt.
It's a bit weird for Cena to say that he hadn't cared about the title, but we'll let that pass for now.
That brought out Dean Ambrose, who told Cena he would have to wait, and the two of them got into it, with Cena telling Dean that he had no balls and that Stone Cold was right about his criticisms of Ambrose on the podcast (which was a weird line that felt like it came from someone besides Cena). Ambrose responded by telling Cena that he's just a lazy part-timer. This brought out Shane McMahon, who said that Ambrose would have to wait for his one-on-one rematch, and that the No Mercy main event would be a triple-threat between Styles, Ambrose and Cena.
Now, when I say that history is repeating itself, I don't necessarily mean it as a bad thing. Cena is indisputably the most important wrestler in the past decade, and he has certainly earned his spot at the top of the WWE totem pole. However, we also have to look at facts here. Cena has not won a singles match on pay-per-view in a year. He lost to Alberto Del Rio (cleanly) in October, he left to film, came back and got hurt again before another PPV. He returned, he lost to AJ Styles in June, won a six-man tag in July, and then lost to AJ Styles (again, cleanly) in August. And even though he is John Cena, that should matter. AJ Styles won that feud, and quite frankly, proved that as of now, he's above Cena on the totem pole. For Cena to come back, and just be thrust into a title match with the man who just resoundingly defeated him is asinine. It would be one thing if he had to prove his worthiness, but he didn't. He was just given the match. And that makes no sense.
If we're supposed to pay attention to these endless pay-per-views, then the results have to matter. Why should we care if AJ Styles wins a feud against Cena if Cena isn't going to have any negative side effects for it? That was the one nice thing on AJ's side of that. He won a feud against Cena, and was rewarded for it. The opposite should apply. It's one reason why one of my personal favorites right now is Lucha Underground. A group came up and demanded a title shot, and because they had lost at Ultima Lucha, which is their season finale, the boss said, "No, you don't deserve it right now. Wins and losses matter."
Cena is a different entity in WWE. I get it. But this sort of thing needs to stop. Give me super-Cena. Give me hard working Cena. But don't give me "He's here so he has to be given everything" Cena. Nobody wants to see that.
The rest of SmackDown:
* The other big storyline on SmackDown revolved around The Miz. Miz came out and bragged about winning at Backlash, which brought Ziggler out. Ziggler wanted a rematch, and before Miz could answer yes or no, Daniel Bryan came out. Bryan said that there would indeed be a rematch. However, Miz reminded Daniel Bryan that he asked for a renegotiation of his contract, and walked out. Miz would return later as AJ Styles was supposed to wrestle Ambrose and Cena. Styles' partner was supposed to be the returning jobber James Ellsworth, but Miz attacked Ellsworth during the entrance and took his place. Miz would later take the pin from Cena in the match. Ambrose also attacked Cena after the match, dropping him with a Dirty Deeds.
This storyline is interesting. While Miz is doing a fantastic job of still being a heel, and dropping Ellsworth was a fantastic way to ensure he still was a heel, he's also very much in the right in this. Daniel Bryan has expressed his distaste for Miz, ordered by his superior to not get involved with Miz anymore, and yet, he still finds a way to get involved in everything The Miz does. So we're setting up an interesting role reversal here where we have a wrestler rebelling against authority, but in this case, we're supposed to believe the authority is in the right, as he is the face. It's a fascinating twist to the classic storyline.
* After Becky Lynch won the SmackDown Women's Title at Backlash, SmackDown went ahead to crown a new No. 1 contender. I will say, it's interesting the need for SmackDown to rush to set up the next PPV a month before it happens, as we've already presumably made two matches for it just days after the last PPV. The five women besides Becky who competed at Backlash faced off, and in the end it was Alexa Bliss who came out on top in a little bit of a surprise. I like it. It keeps the feuds fresh, and gives Alexa a bit of a spotlight. She has been given the least amount of time to develop her character since coming up, and now she'll have that chance.
* Heath Slater finally signed his SmackDown contract, which went off without a hitch in a bit of a surprise. At the end of the contract signing, The Ascension of all teams came out and demanded a title shot right there, and a bit surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly considering how Shane has been more than willing to give anyone a title shot) it was granted. Heath and Rhyno ended up winning though.
* Baron Corbin was supposed to have a match with Apollo Crews, which ended up devolving as Corbin just threw Crews to the outside and started beating on him. This brought out, of all people, Jack Swagger, who was previously on RAW. It had been mentioned on RAW that his contract was running out, so now he's a SmackDown superstar. Corbin backed down, and Swagger was given time to cut a quick promo about how he's more or less new and improved. Swagger being given a push could be good, though it begs the question: Why would RAW draft Swagger and give him a six-week contract?
* The Usos beat the Hype Bros after a bit of cheating from the new heels.