(Huge thanks to this report on Prowrestling.net)
It’s not every surgical neck repair that ends with an athlete being able to get back into competition within four months. Sometimes it takes a year or more to heal, rehab, and be able to return in near-top physical condition. Oftentimes, even the year off doesn’t allow for 100 percent recovery. And an unfortunate number of these tales end in retirement, with no happily ever after.
John Cena was given a huge break. He had begun feeling numbness in his right arm due to a herniated disc — thankfully not a ruptured disc — which fragmented into his spinal column. (Does that sound familiar? Chris Benoit’s “Don’t try this at home” speech, anyone?) He nipped it in the bud and went in for surgery this morning — and at a fine time, too, as he’d lost about as many PPV matches as he’d won since the start of the calendar year, and since CM Punk, Batista and Rey Mysterio would be around to carry the load.
The prognosis from Dr. Joseph “What a” Maroon (kidding, Doc) is that, after removing the disc fragment compression that was causing the numbness, Cena should be able to get back into the ring in two to four months.
As I mentioned in my entry earlier today, John Cena has been very durable throughout his six-year WWE tenure. He had a scare when he was eliminated from the 2004 Royal Rumble and tweaked his leg upon his elimination, but he was well enough to F-U the 7,000-pound nasty, stinky, wart-infested Big Show. And of course there was his minor pectoral tear in the fall of 2007, which WWE spun into something huge, massive and career-threatening, so when he came back three months later at the Royal Rumble, he looked like Superman.
Well, even Superman could use some rest once in a while. Certainly, John Cena is integral to WWE’s bottom line. He’s one of the reasons, if not the No. 1 reason, house show business has been so high for the last two years. He sells merch like a mofo. And aesthetically (aurally, to be exact), love him or hate him, he gets the biggest reaction on the roster. WWE will want him back as soon as he’s able to come back.
And Cena himself will probably want to come back immediately, as well. He’s an athlete and a showman, and his passion for wrestling will drive him to get back to his stage precisely upon the doctor’s high sign.
It would be a hell of a lot smarter to let him sit out longer. Not three months until Survivor Series. Maybe five months until Royal Rumble, but only if in the month leading up to it (since the Cena Surprise has already been done at the Rumble) he wrestles the most minimal schedule possible, maybe even only making appearances but never stepping into the ring. The possibilities for any wrestler’s return, including and especially Cena right now, are nearly endless, and many of them include not wrestling a match.
This is an extreme example, but take Kurt Angle, for instance. Yes, he won an Olympic gold medal with a broken freakin’ neck, we’re aware of that, and the joke’s a little old. Whatever he did to rehab it worked only for so long, until he began his pro wrestling career. Less than four years into his WWE run, he needed surgery. One option was fusion, another a less invasive surgery that would allow him to return to the ring within weeks to wrestle Brock Lesnar in the main event at WrestleMania. Sure he felt fine at the time, but he was back on the DL almost right away, playing the general manager role to retain his television presence. And ever since then, he’s been a wrestling machine, allowing his neck to grow more bothersome while his body withers away. He’ll be a cripple in no time. Angle’s story and Cena’s story have their differences on the surface, but they have some pretty scary similarities if you dig a little deeper.
So it’s OK, John, you’re not going to lose your main-event spot. It’s alright, WWE, his soccer shirts and trucker hats will still fly off your shelves. So why risk it? Why put a wrestler in a position to do irreparable harm to himself (or herself) when the long-term returns can mean so much more than the short-term bump? A little R&R never hurt anybody. Heck, he can still do autograph signings and radio shows and interviews via satellite and the occasional house show appearance. But if he can avoid taking bumps for a little longer than two to four months, he should.
Eric Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.