WWE got quite the scare at last month's Night Of Champions pay-per-view (PPV) event. John Cena injured his ankle during his match with CM Punk, which probably caused Vince McMahon's heart to skip a beat. Thankfully it was only a rolled ankle, an injury that would require minimal time off under normal circumstances. But Cena went into the bout already banged up, having bone chips in his elbow, and surgery could not be delayed any longer. Though he had dodged a bullet with his ankle, the damage to his elbow was much more serious than initially expected, meaning that he would be out of action for at least six weeks, three weeks longer than anticipated.
With Cena possibly missing the next PPV, Hell In A Cell on Oct. 28th in Atlanta, GA, talk within WWE naturally intensified about what they would do without him when the day comes that he inevitably suffers a much more serious injury or wants to wind down his career, as Dave Meltzer discussed in the Oct. 2nd Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
"With [John] Cena having issues with his back, hip, elbow and neck and being such a workhorse for all these years, and now being 35, there has been talk for months about who is the next guy. Some, sensing Vince [McMahon] now 67, have said that the next guy after Cena may be Vince's last ever hand-picked top guy. While Cena is not going to be replaced on top until his body breaks down or the public tires of him (and booing him isn't tiring of him if he's still the biggest draw, which he clearly is aside from guest appearances by once or twice a year guys like [Brock] Lesnar, [The] Undertaker or [The] Rock), there is the feeling you have to think about the future as Vince has never gone with anyone older than 40 as his top guy because the feeling is he cuts bait early and moves on."
However, given his monopoly position, Vince has grown more conservative and is much less likely to kick a proven draw to the kerb when there is still plenty of life left in him, as demonstrated by Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker all headlining major WWE PPVs well into their 40s, and the many comebacks of Hulk Hogan after WCW went out of business. So I wouldn't get your hopes up yet, Cagesiders, of a WWE Universe that doesn't orbit around Cena's star.
The main beneficiary of all the concern for Cena's health is Sheamus, as Vince McMahon has told his writing team that angles and storylines for him are the top priority, after any ideas for Cena, of course, and Triple H was already a big supporter of his. However, even though Sheamus has less miles on the clock than Cena, he is clearly not a long term solution, being only 15 months younger than Cena. Moreover, though his babyface push has been well received, there's clearly still a huge gulf in popularity between the two. Indeed, he's isn't much more over as a babyface than Punk before his heel turn and Randy Orton is now. But Punk is too outspoken, small and alternative looking to be ever pushed as the WWE franchise and Orton has the baggage of already having two Wellness strikes against his name, whereas Sheamus is tall and never gives management any headaches.
Sheamus is far from a great fallback plan, but he'll have to do for now, as there aren't any can't miss prospects in WWE developmental at the moment and no young stars on the outside that can be raided from other groups or enticed back. If you were Vince McMahon is Sheamus the horse you would back, Cagesiders, or would you pick another young stallion?