This week, the The Iris had the pleasure of spending a night listening to the brilliantly told stories of WWE superstar, rising actor and rapper, John Cena. From his humble start in life, to the determination of his youth and eventually, his success within the professional wrestling world, Cena recounted tales about his struggle towards success, the opportunities he was given, and the ways he forged his own path. Throughout the evening, we learned a lot about Cena, his childhood, and his greatest influences. Here’s the most interesting things we discovered.
From the opening moments of the show, it was clear that Cena was destined to be in the spotlight. His comedic timing was impeccable, and his stories, riveting. The banter between Cena and host Karl Stefanovic provided solid laughs throughout the show, with the rapport they’d built in a short span of time made clear. It was his quick wit and rapping skills that got him his first big break in the WWE, and throughout the evening, it was clear to see why. Cena is a master of over the top impressions, riffing off the questions of others and performed impressive improv the whole night. It felt completely at odds with his all-American, hard-hitting patriot act within the WWE, and it was, quite simply, a revelation.
9. Bullying motivated him to work out
You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but as a child, John Cena was often bullied and ridiculed for being small and dressing ridiculously. As a child, Cena fell in love with rap and hip hop music, and as such, sought to emulate his idols. This soon led to trouble with bullies, and it wasn’t long before Cena realised he’d have to learn how to fight. At the age of 13, he convinced his father to buy him his first weight set, and in his own words, he “hasn’t stopped training since.” When it came time to confront his bullies, Cena lived up to his ‘Rise Above Hate’ slogan, and turned the other cheek, forgiving his bullies and choosing to move on with his life.
8. His father told him he wouldn’t last two weeks outside of hometown West Newbury
Growing up in West Newbury, Massachusetts, Cena described it as a dead end town, one in which very few people leave. After gaining a degree in exercise physiology, he sought to put it to good use, aiming at first to become a bodybuilder. His father initially told him that he wouldn’t last two weeks out of West Newbury, and Cena states that the reason he succeeded was, in part, out of spite, and to prove his father wrong. This determination led to mounds of debt for Cena, and he described a long monetary struggle, one that he worked through despite his doubts. Eventually, while exercising with a friend, he was convinced to learn how to wrestle, and this started him on his future path.
Cena described his passion for wrestling as a child, inspired by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. But he also described how, after Hogan moved from WWE to rival pro wrestling company, WCW, he began to lose his passion for wrestling. During the mid-90s, WWE, then known as WWF, was experiencing a lack of creativity, and was losing many of its major stars to its competitor WCW. Eventually, the tension between the two companies kick-started a new creative period known as the Monday Night Wars, where both companies sought to outdo each other in ratings. This led to the introduction and flourishing of many new, iconic characters in both WWF and WCW such as Stone Cold Steven Austin, The Rock, Triple H and Goldberg. It was these characters that inspired Cena to become interested in wrestling again.
6. He was signed to a WWE developmental contract at the height of the Monday Night Wars
Due to the fiercely competitive nature of both WWF and WCW during the Monday Night Wars, Cena claims that anybody with even a little bit of wrestling talent was soon hired by one company or the other. As Cena had been training in the art of wrestling for several months, he was soon offered a contract for $250 a week. In his development class were fellow future stars Dave Bautista (then known as Batista, better known know as Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise), WWE champion and former UFC champion Brock Lesnar and third generation superstar Randy Orton.
5. He’s the first ‘reverse 2nd generation’ wrestler
While Cena’s dad doubted his son’s ability to survive outside of his small town beginnings, the moment he heard his son wanted to be a wrestler, he was ecstatic. Cena described how his father loved wrestling above all else, and supported his son’s decision enthusiastically. It was this enthusiasm that led to Cena’s status as a self-professed ‘reverse 2nd generation’ wrestler. Within the industry, several wrestlers come from a long lineage of wrestling families, such as Randy Orton, whose father and grandfather were both wrestlers. After seeing Cena’s own success, in 2004, his father stepped into the ring himself, initially billing himself as ‘John Cena’, his birth name. Eventually, Cena’s father took on the moniker of ‘Johnny Fabulous’, gaining quite a reputation on the independent scene, and marking, as Cena claims, the first time a father has followed his son into wrestling.
Cena was granted his first opportunity to wrestle on SmackDown! after industry legend Undertaker was unable to wrestle his match against Kurt Angle. Cena debuted as a plain, muscle bound guy in lycra pants, and after his first match, failed to make much of an impression. The problem was, as Cena described, that he was just like the rest of the guys. There was nothing special about him, and no reason for audiences to ‘get’ him. He struggled to get more television time, despite being given the rub by Undertaker after his match. His character, as it was, was bland, and he was told that at the end of his contract, he would be fired. That is, until he was given his first big break almost by chance.
3. He got his first big break when Stephanie McMahon heard him rapping
Traditionally in wrestling, the ‘good guys’ will ride on one bus, and the ‘bad guys’ will ride on another. Cena told a tale about playing RollerCoaster Tycoon on the ‘good guy’ bus (shout out to the greatest game of all time), when he heard the guys in the back attempting to freestyle rap about each other. Seeing his opportunity, and knowing he had nothing to lose, Cena got up and ‘ripped’ all the guys in the back. His impressive disses were soon heard by Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE owner Vince McMahon, who didn’t believe he could perform off the cuff. She instructed him to cut a rhyme on the food she was holding, and the flight they were about to go on, and when he did, she booked him to rap live on an upcoming Halloween episode of SmackDown!, where he dressed as Vanilla Ice.
At WrestleMania 33 in April of this year, John Cena proposed to long-time girlfriend, Nikki Bella, after a mixed tag match with superstars The Miz and Maryse. Despite his storied career and many great matches, it’s this match that Cena hails as his favourite in-ring moment of all time. Listening to the cheers of the crowd, and looking back at the clear emotion of the day, it’s easy to see why Cena is so proud of the moment. Upon discussing it, he also lamented how long it took for him to propose. Long time viewers of the female superstar-led Total Divas reality show will know just how long its been, as the potential engagement of Nikki Bella has been a long running story across several seasons of the show.
At the opening of the evening, Cena confirmed that he aimed to return to Australia in September for the Raw roster’s arena tour. While currently Cena is a part of the SmackDown Live roster, of late he’s been advertised as a ‘free agent’, able to switch between brands as he chooses. He looks to exercise this agency this coming September, with a much anticipated return to Australia’s ring. On his last visit, he faced off against AJ Styles in a brilliant match-up that saw him defeat his opponent in a thrilling battle. Fans will be glad to hear of his plans to return, with a range of great opponents waiting for him.
John Cena plans to return to Australia with the WWE this September throughout their arena tour. Also, continuing his foray into the world of Hollywood, his latest film, The Wall, is released in Australian cinemas August 3rd.
Thank you to Fast Track Events for providing complimentary tickets to the event!
Photo Credits: WWE (All but headline photo) / NBC (Headline Photo)