In the WWE, a world full of colorful characters like a seven-foot-tall giant, a little person, a king, a former UFC heavyweight champion, a Harvard law graduate, a dead man, and arguably the greatest action movie star of our time, only one man is considered the franchise player: John Cena. As a 10-time WWE champion and two-time World Heavyweight champion, he could easily rest on his reputation. But that’s not John Cena. Instead, Cena takes on the most demanding schedule possible, in and outside of the ring. He made time for us—and this, his most in-depth interview ever published—on his only day off, and met us at his secluded Florida gym. Did we sit down and talk? Not really. We talked before, during, and after his toughest workout to date, during which he set a jaw-dropping personal and in-gym record for the snatch lift (see Cena’s workout on page 62 of the April issue for more about this 297-pound feat). Amidst the bright camera lights, flying white chalk dust, and mammoth iron weights being thrown sky-high, we captured his workout and intensity, and even got Cena to reflect on his life, his career, and his future.
MF: “Hustle, loyalty, and respect.” Is that a catchphrase or your way of life?
JC: Definitely a way of life. I would have been so much more creative with something cooler, like...I can’t even come up with it now. [Laughs] No, much more of a moral code than a cool catchphrase, which is why I really don’t say it that much on TV.
Define it for us.
Work your ass off. Be loyal to those who are loyal to you. And respect everyone, even your enemies and competition.
You got your first weightlifting bench as a Christmas present. How old were you?
Twelve years old.
Why did you ask for it?
Because I was getting beat up and picked on in school. So instead of learning karate, I figured I’d just get bigger.
What eventually led you to get serious about bodybuilding?
Just the gains that I’d made lifting weights. By the time I was 15 and I stepped in the high school gym, I was just stronger than everybody. Keep in mind, I wasn’t in, like, the big city. I was in West Newbury [MA], and to be the strongest person in West Newbury, that’s a very, very average accolade. [Laughs]
You studied exercise physiology at Springfield College. Do you think that gave you any advantages in the gym?
Yes, just to know the basics. A bachelor’s covers only the basics, but if you have a general knowledge about how the body works, you can tell when your body’s worn and when it’s not, what you can take, what the human body is capable of.
Did you ever consider college football as a viable career option?
No, I was way too small.
When did you start watching wrestling?
As a young kid. Most parents were like Little League coaches and all that. My dad was a wrestling fan. Instead of going out and playing home run derby with my old man, we just watched wrestling together.