Who’s the hardest-working man in sports entertainment?

Few would argue that 12-time world heavyweight wrestling champion John Cena more than fits the bill.

Talk to anyone in WWE and they’ll tell you that Cena is the most tireless, loyal and dedicated wrestler on the roster.

With a mission statement of hustle, loyalty and respect, he’s got a blue-collar work ethic that WWE owner Vince McMahon loves.

The Massachusetts native is a generous, down-to-earth individual who rose to the pinnacle of WWE in just a pair of jean shorts and a T-shirt. He is a tremendous company spokesman who is giving of his time and talents.

Simply put, John Cena is the face of World Wrestling Entertainment.

But like any workhorse, there comes a time when one needs a break, a respite from the daily wear and tear on the mind and body.

That time is now for the 35-year-old Cena.

Twelve days ago WWE’s go-to guy underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. He is expected to be sidelined for an estimated four to six weeks.

That timeline puts Cena in a precarious position for his scheduled world title match with C.M. Punk in the main event of WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Oct. 28.

But, as Cena demonstrated at last week’s Raw, with his surgically repaired elbow in a sling, he’s not going to let an injury derail those plans.

Perhaps he should reconsider. Maybe it’s time for WWE to groom its next top star.

It was revealed last week that Cena had been competing with the bad elbow for at least several weeks prior to the arthroscopic surgery.

Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews noted that Cena’s elbow was in much worse condition than previously thought and was amazed that he had been able to work in the condition the elbow was in.

That, however, has been Cena’s modus operandi since joining the company a decade ago.

He returned to the ring months earlier than expected after rehabbing from a torn pectoral muscle in 2007 and a herniated disc in his neck in 2008.

Cena is the company’s top merchandising machine and arguably its biggest draw, and his absence for any length of time affects ratings.

But as the company’s major commodity, Cena needs to be protected, and the risks of rushing him back from injury are too great to ignore.

A bit of confusion surfaced shortly after his most recent surgery when the WWE website reported that Cena could be ready to return in just a couple of weeks. Cena, however, discounted the report, citing “misinformation” on his recovery time.

The WWE site later backtracked, explaining that the information published about Cena’s recovery was given to them prior to surgery.

“In speaking to Dr. Andrews after the procedure, in light of the amount of work that needed to be done and the number of bone chips removed, the prognosis for recovery is closer to six to eight weeks,” the site clarified.

But it really doesn’t matter if it’s two weeks, four weeks, six weeks or eight weeks.

At some point, and some point soon, Cena needs a break. If not merely to mend nagging injuries and ailments, he needs the time off to recharge his batteries, mentally and emotionally.

Company ambassador

This year has been especially taxing for the wrestling superstar.

His heavy road schedule has been grueling, and his PR work for the company has been non-stop.

Cena completed a demanding year-long promotion of his dream match with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson this past April at Wrestlemania 28 in Miami Beach. Weeks later he locked horns with Brock Lesnar in a vicious, MMA-type bout that took its toll on Cena physically.

In May he filed divorce papers to end his three-year marriage to his high school sweetheart. A settlement was reached “amicably” in July following months of rumors and allegations.

Cena blamed the divorce on a home remodeling project, claiming it caused unbearable strife between him and his wife, while she challenged the couple’s prenuptial agreement and alleged infidelity on his part.

All the while Cena never wavered in his charitable commitments behind the scenes.

A Make-A-Wish Ambassador and one of the most frequently requested celebrity wish granters, Cena set a record this summer by granting his 300th wish to a child with a life-threatening medical condition. He’s granted more wishes than anyone in the world.

To put his 300 granted wishes in perspective, Michael Jordan has granted around 200 and Kobe Bryant is in the 100-wish range.

He also has been the driving force behind WWE’s partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

At a recent show Cena debuted his new Komen–inspired gear to help spread the message that WWE is committed to helping fight breast cancer.

“This all came together through John Cena,” said Komen representative Ronni Cohen-Boyar. “We’re wrestling with breast cancer, but John wanted to give back to his fans and he came to Komen. This is a great opportunity for us to reach out to people and help them take action.”

Cena is genuine and doesn’t do it for the recognition. He says he’ll still be granting wishes for organizations like Make-A-Wish long after his ring days are over.

“I know this is the entertainment business and there will come a time when I’m not requested, but I’ll still be donating my time and money, I love what they do.”

Passing the torch

While it’s true that performers like Cena don’t come around too often, professional wrestling is a machine that never stops.

There will come a time, and it may not be far off, when Vince McMahon needs to seriously think about building WWE’s next John Cena.

Many fans have argued that Cena’s sometimes pandering, overly sappy, goody-goody gimmick has grown stale. While he has remained popular among the majority of children and female fans, the young male demographic — the company’s biggest constituency — has turned to cooler, edgier acts like C.M. Punk, an anti-Cena cult favorite who rails against company authority and represents the voice of the disenfranchised.

Cena, however, has embraced the mixed reaction of the fans. Any discussion of turning him full-fledged heel has been quickly muted by those who fear that a Cena turn could be damaging to the long-term financial future of the company.

In 2010, the John Cena “retail brand” was worth $106 million, according to an ESPN report. WWE reported $477.7 million in total revenue that year, with Cena directly contributing to 22 percent of the revenue. He remains the company’s merchandise golden goose.

Hulk Hogan recognized Cena’s value to the company years earlier. ”John Cena is somebody who can help keep the art form alive and can carry the football for 15-20 years,” said the wrestling icon.

Cena, whose marketability has extended beyond wrestling, has not only become the backbone and poster boy for WWE. He has become the modern-day Hulk Hogan.

Some, though, have questioned whether Cena’s popularity has waned after being on top for so long — longer than predecessors such as The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Many contend that Cena is a main reason WWE has become too predictable.

Despite the naysayers, the company’s most recognizable performer has stayed true to his character and persona. And while no one will ever confuse his underrated wrestling skills with those of Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels, his quality of matches has remained consistently high.

Cena has done everything his boss has asked and more. Complaints have been rare, and his claim that WWE is his life has separated him from other stars who have used the business as a stepping stone.

But it’s fact of nature that he won’t be able to carry the company forever.

Injuries and burnout will take their toll. They always do.

A well-deserved vacation for the hardest-working man in sports entertainment could be just what the doctor ordered.

- WWE Hall of Famer Edge (Adam Copeland) is scheduled to undergo additional neck surgery in November.

The procedure will require four months of recovery time.

Edge retired in April 2011 due to a serious neck condition. Doctors could not medically clear him to compete without him risking neck-down paralysis.

- The WWE diva roster is getting thinner by the week.

Former women’s champ Beth Phoenix recently announced that she will be leaving the company at the end of October. Ex-divas champ Kelly Kelly and developmental talent Raquel Diaz (Shaul Guerrero) were released this past week. Diaz is the daughter of Vickie Guerrero and the late Eddie Guerrero.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook.