John Cena made his long-awaited return to WWE television on Sunday (July 18) night.
The 16-time World Champion made a surprise appearance at the end of the Money in the Bank pay-per-view following WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns' victory over WWE Hall of Famer Edge in the show's main event.
Cena, who has typically gotten a mixed reaction from WWE crowds during the past decade, returned to thunderous cheers when his music hit the speakers at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, as the live broadcast went off-air.
WWE shared footage of Cena addressing the Fort Worth crowd and acknowledging its uncharacteristic excitement after its broadcast concluded.
"It's so weird because I'm used to you guys telling me how much I suck, man this feels pretty good," Cena said, smiling as the crowd responded with more cheers. "I see this dude's sign over here, it says, 'If Cena shows up, we cheer,' is this like Bizarro World? What's going on?"
Cena was expected to return in the coming days to build up an angle with Reigns for a main event match at SummerSlam next month, according to multiple reports.
"Tonight I just wanted to come out here and let Roman Reigns know that I was back and I certainly wanted to come out here to let all of you that I'm back," Cena told the crowd. "And I promise you this is not a one night only, but what's special to me is that this is the first night. As always, I want to thank all the WWE superstars for putting their lives and their bodies on the line to entertain all of you, but most importantly, I missed you guys.
"I really...I really really missed you guys, so as much as I'm thankful and grateful for them, man, I love you guys and I really really missed you and thank you so much for being here tonight and making this moment special to me and special to everybody in here."
Cena also announced he would be kicking off Monday's episode of RAW to tell his "motivation" for returning in a video shared on WWE's official Twitter account.
Last week, Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Dave Meltzer reported WWE had "locked in" a Universal Championship match between Cena and Reigns for the SummerSlam pay-per-view event next month.
Cena, who's made a transition to acting in recent years, reportedly finished filming the upcoming HBO Max series The Peacemaker, but is signed on for Argylle, which is set to begin filming in Europe in August, though its exact start date and/or Cena's filming schedule has not yet been made public.
During an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on June 23 to promote the film F9, Cena acknowledged his inevitable return to wrestling, but claimed "I just don't know when."
Cena also addressed a post on his (notoriously vague) Instagram account of the WWE logo shared in May.
"I was feeling rather nostalgic about the WWE and I just wanted to post the logo," Cena told Fallon. "Some people took it as I was returning immediately, which that's not the case, but I haven't had my last match and I can't wait to have my next one."
Prior to Money in the Bank, Cena shared a post on his Instagram in which an account balance read "0.00," leading to even more speculation of his return.
Last month, Spectrum Sports' Jon Alba confirmed previous reports that Cena is expected to be WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns' opponent in the main event of the SummerSlam pay-per-view event on August 21.
WrestleVotes initially reported WWE was working toward a Cena-Reigns match headlining the event if possible.
Alba reports Cena's acting schedule will be cleared in the beginning of July, which will coincide with WWE's return to a live event touring schedule, as well as a potential buildup to the SummerSlam match.
Cena missed this year's WrestleMania event, in April due to prior obligations and international travel restrictions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic while filming Peacemaker in Vancouver. The 16-time World Champion had never previously missed WWE's biggest annual event since his debut in 2003.
Cena, who was professional wrestling's top superstar throughout his career, was credited for always making a demanding WWE schedule prior to transitioning into an acting career. Since then, he's taken a part-time role with the company, still managing to make sporadic appearances, but hasn't appeared on WWE television since WrestleMania 36 in 2020.
Reigns has served as WWE's franchise player in Cena's absence. The former Georgia Tech football standout has closed out WrestleMania during five of the last seven years, which included retaining the Universal title by defeating Edge and Daniel Bryan in April.
Reigns also acknowledged rumors of possibly working with both Cena and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, while providing a warning to the two box office stars during an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation last week.
“I get this a lot with Dwayne, and then John Cena as well...If I were these guys, I don’t know if I’d want to come back and deal with me," Reigns said. "I’m a problem right now for everybody. So, if I were them, I would stay on set. I’d keep pumping out these streaming service movies. Don’t come to my ring, is what I would do.”
The Rock made his last WWE appearance during SmackDown's 20th anniversary episode and wrestled his last match at WrestleMania 32 (2016), appearing in an impromptu match against then-Wyatt Family member Erick Rowan, which escalated into a brawl that saw Cena run out to assist his fellow wrestler-turned-actor.
The two former World Champions headlined WrestleMania 28 (2012) and WrestleMania 29 (2013) against each other and split victories, with Cena taking the latter match.
Johnson also made his WWE return after a several-year absence in the lead-up to WrestleMania 27 (2011) and served as the event's host, which saw him cost Cena the victory in his main event WWE Championship match against The Miz.