John Cena on Wrestling
The WWE star talks about his humble beginnings to headlining WrestleMania 25
MF: How did you get introduced to wrestling?
JC: I always wanted to do it, but I didn't know the outlet to do it. I remembered from documentaries like "Beyond the Mat" that there were minor leagues in wrestling, and if you wanted to do it, you just had to look around for a school. The joke of jokes is when I went to California, a good friend of mine goes, 'Hey, I'm training to be a wrestler. You can come down, I'll train you.' Twenty minutes away from my house in Massachusetts was the School of Killer Kowalsky, the famous wrestler who trained Triple H. It was so secretive; I never knew it was there. I had to go all the way out west to some Podunk school no one's ever heard of.
When were you signed to WWE?
They signed me a year later. That was a good time to be an up-and-coming wrestler because there were two brands. Vince [McMahon] had a brand, and Ted Turner had a brand. Because they were in such direct competition with one another, they were just signing everybody. And I was godawful rotten when I got signed.
Do you remember your first match?
I do. It was with Kurt Angle in Chicago and I was nervous as anything. I pretty much got my butt kicked, but I made it through.
Back in when you were on the April 2005 cover of MF, you said that if you weren't wrestling, you'd probably be mowing a lawn somewhere. Do you still stand by that statement?
Absolutely. I probably could have found a home in the military, because of my set of disciplines and ideals. I just don't know what I would have done. Even when I studied exercise physiology in college, I just wanted to learn how to work out better. I'm certainly glad I found a fit here at WWE. I think, hopefully, knock on wood, it'll be for quite some time. If not, I'll buy a big-ass lawnmower.
How long do you foresee yourself doing this?
As long as I can. This is the entertainment business; you stay in it as long as you're entertaining. I certainly don't want to overstay my welcome. I don't want to be one of those guys who certainly can't let go.
So the fire's still there?
Absolutely. You'll see. It's not just me. When you hear the opening roar of the crowd, you'll understand why. It's a good time out there.
What's your pre-match ritual?
I don't have any. None. I'm one of the guys who really likes to have fun. If you overthink this business a lot, as with many sports...Jerry Rice, great athlete, but he was so enveloped in the sport. I like to be real out there, spur of the moment. If something happens that's unexpected, who cares? As long as your heart's in the right place, people will latch on to that.
How much of "you" do we see in the ring?
That's 100%. You hear a lot of people in our business say, "Oh, the character you see on TV is me with the volume turned up." The character you see on TV is just me. That's how I am at home. That's how I am in the ring.
The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania coming up. What's it feel like to be part of history?
It just says a lot about the staying power of what we do. We're getting to numbers now that rival the Super Bowl. It's really a feather in our cap as to how big this business has grown. Everybody in the company is working hard. As a performer, you certainly want to grace that ring because you know how much it means to the fans.
I met a 6-year-old who's coming to his first wrestling match, and he's here to see you. It's cool to see a father and a son here together, like a passing of the torch.
It's weird because when wrestling was red-hot in the late '90s, it was really geared toward 21-30 year olds. A lot of shock value programming. Since then, those guys have since married and had kids and it's changed. I really take pride in the fact that you can bring your son or daughter to our events. There is contact, there is physicality, but there's certainly nothing in it where a parent says is too much. I take pride in the fact that a lot of little kids dig what I do.
Something that strikes me is that you haven't done anything to embarrass yourself or your sport.
I just don't think guys realize what position they're in. You become a hero to many, of all walks of life, and of all ages. You have to conduct yourself in a certain way. I take a lot of pride in setting a good message out, especially for the kids.
Is that a lot of pressure, being a 'role model'?
Not at all. I think it's cool. The most flattering thing is when a parent comes up to me and says, "You know what, I don't really watch this stuff, but my kid loves you. Thank you for being watchable for my kid."
Did you have any favorite wrestlers growing up?
My all-time favorite is Hogan. In 1985, if you were a wrestling fan, you were into Hogan, that's just the way it was.
Do you have a favorite WrestleMania moment?
Hogan-Andre, WresleMania III. As unstoppable as Hogan was, I didn't see him beating Andre the Giant, let alone picking him up. The stage was perfect, 93,000 at the Pontiac Silver Dome. No one remembers anything else about that match, but that moment is so frozen in time. It was a moment that defined Wrestle Mania. It was perfect.