Shortly after Christmas, John Cena made his WWE return, competing on both the WWE Raw and WWE SmackDown Live brands. Although his return did not create any huge storyline, he did announce his entry in the 2019 Royal Rumble match.
On the January 14, 2019 episode of Raw, Cena was a part of the Fatal 4-Way match to determine the top contender for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble, following Vince McMahon removing Braun Strowman from his opportunity.
While Finn Balor won, WWE also reported that Cena suffered an ankle injury during the match. In addition, WWE provided an update on the injury, stating that he re-aggravated his injury while “working out.” As a result, this left his status questionable.
Then, just hours before the Royal Rumble 2019, reports surfaced that Cena would replaced by Braun Strowman at the event.
Although WWE reported it as a legitimate injury, other reports speculated that it is not the case. Dave Meltzer of F4WOnline stated that people in WWE Creative were always under the impression that Cena was not going to work the Royal Rumble match, and the original plan was for Lars Sullivan to “injure” him in order to create a storyline reason for him not to be in the match.
In addition to the original intent, WWE seemed to be using Cena’s name to promote ticket sales for the Royal Rumble since the sales were not going at the expected pace.
After just a few weeks back, Cena returned to filming on January 20 in Vancouver, British Columbia. As of now, there are no plans to use Cena for any major storyline for several weeks, although he still is expected to compete at WrestleMania 35. Per the latest rumors, Lars Sullivan is still slated to compete against Cena at the “grandest stage of them all.”
In Cena’s place, Braun Strowman finished second in the men’s Royal Rumble match to Seth Rollins, while Becky Lynch won the women’s Royal Rumble event.