WWE fans have long been debating whether the company has any true draw left, and John Cena has an answer.
The superstar-turned-actor returned to WWE in a pre-taped segment on last week’s edition of Friday Night SmackDown, where it was revealed that he would team up with Kevin Owens to face Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn in a blockbuster tag team on the show’s Dec. 30 episodes.
Within mere days of that huge announcement, ticket sales for that blue brand event have soared, according to the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer (h/t SEScoops): “We always say, and it’s true, ‘It’s the brand and not the guy’, but John Cena is the exception. They’ve sold 4,000 tickets in Tampa since he was announced on that show, which is amazing. You know, he is the exception to the rule. If you’re wondering, ‘Is anyone a draw?’ It’s like, well, he is.”
In today’s WWE, it’s largely the WWE brand—rather than any particular superstar—that sells the product. Need proof? Look no further than WrestleMania 39, which has already shattered ticket sales records despite having exactly zero matches announced so far.
Over the past several years, WWE has routinely parted ways with top performers, ranging from Chris Jericho to Sasha Banks to Bray Wyatt to Braun Strowman, without so much as blinking an eye when they’re gone. The reasoning is simple: Most of those stars are replaceable, and none of them are bigger than WWE.
As noted by Meltzer, however, Cena is the exception here.
The trend of a rare Cena appearance sending ticket sales skyrocketing was evident back in June, when his long awaited return to Monday Night Raw resulted in more than 3,000 additional ticket sales almost instantly. To put that number into perspective, WWE averaged roughly 6,300 fans via live event in Q3 2022, so Cena’s effect on WWE attendance is clearly significant.
Perhaps that’s because Cena is making quite the name for himself in Hollywood. The former 16-time world champion reportedly has aspirations of following in the footsteps of Dwayne Johnson and becoming the “next rock,” and with a drawing ability like this, he’s proving to have the ability be a valuable name beyond the scope of WWE.
At a time when most of WWE’s top stars can simply be replaced with the next man, or next woman, up, Cena is still proving to be a vital asset for the company, even though his WWE appearances are becoming even more sporadic. Where that leaves Cena for WrestleMania 39 next year is still up in the air.
While a Cena appearance at Mania would take him one step closer to The Rock’s nearly untouchable stratosphere, he’s still not a shoo-in for WWE’s flagship event. Meltzer (h/d WrestlingNews.co) says that Cena is, in NFL terms, “probable” for the show, and if Cena wrestles at the event in SoFi Stadium as expected, his appearance on “The Grandest Stage of Them All” will surely result in more buzz and mainstream media attention for WWE.
That, of course, is the goal in bringing back Cena, who has outgrown WWE as a full-fledged entertainment star and certainly doesn’t need WWE. If anything, Cena’s massive boost to SmackDown ticket sales shows that precisely the opposite is true and that WWE, despite its overall brand appealing to millions of fans, needs to continue its quest to find the next star on Cena’s level.
Is that star currently in WWE? Maybe, and it just might be Reigns.
But as WWE moves forward and Cena inches closer to the end of his career, the clock is ticking on his ability to step in as needed, sell more tickets and create more hype for WWE and its biggest events. Sooner or later, WWE will have to build more stars on the same level as a Reigns or a Cena.
That, as any wrestling fan will tell you, is easier said than done, but as Cena continues to improve, is far from impossible.