On March 31, 1985, Hulk Hogan teamed with Mr. T to battle “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff at Madison Square Garden, electrifying the sold out arena in the main event of World Wrestling Entertainment’s inaugural WrestleMania.
On that same day, John Cena was just an impressionable seven-year-old in West Newberry, MA. In the years that followed he lived out Hogan’s “three demandments of Hulkamania;” Cena trained, said his prayers, and took his vitamins. He grew up to become one of the most successful, globally-recognized entertaining athletes of a generation, one who dedicated himself to a strict, tireless exercise regimen that would lift his career to great heights. “Physique in this business essentially is everything,” Cena said. “Image is everything. You have to look like you can beat someone up.”
Cena, who lives by his own credo of “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect,” is quite the hulk himself, standing 6’1” while weighing 251 pounds. Truly, this guy looks anything but weak. A chiseled torso atop massive legs, Cena’s muscular frame has graced the cover of magazine Muscle & Fitness several times, including their April 2014 issue. Just recently Cena launched “10 Weeks Body Change,” an online weight loss and fitness program.
“As long as you make the right decisions, you can be healthy,” Cena said, noting he made weight training and cardiovascular activity a part of his lifestyle. “It’s not just something I have to do to be in shape for my job in sports entertainment,” he said. “I’ve been actively lifting weights since I was 13. I was involved in competitive bodybuilding for about six years in the American Conference of Natural Body Building.”
All Cena’s effort, hard work, and physical training could not prepare his shoulders and back for the load his future as the face of WWE would call him to carry.
Debuting as an ambitious up-start in June 2002, Cena would go on to headline more pay per view events and tours than any other full-time active Superstar in the company. He would also be crowned a world champion on 14 different occasions—a 3-time World Heavyweight Champion, a record 11-time WWE Champion. Cena deals with responsibilities much heavier than the opponents he slams or the gold, jeweled championship belts he’s accustomed to carrying everywhere. The weight of Cena’s status can be immensely heavy at times.
“I really hustled and dedicated myself to this business, to the WWE,” Cena said, mentioning the amount of criticism and scrutiny professional wrestling has endured. “Too often when WWE was mentioned in mainstream media it was negative press. We’ve done a lot of good, positive things. I’m trying to help open WWE’s doors.”
Those hinges are being swung in the right directions. Cena has been instrumental in WWE’s support of the US armed forces, becoming the face of their annual Tribute to the Troops event. Cena also stood front and center for WWE’s support of Make-A-Wish Foundation, Susan G Komen for the Cure, and WWE’s own anti-bullying coalition, Be A S.T.A.R. (Show Tolerance And Respect). Cena said he wants to “change the stigma sports entertainment has. We created Pay Per View. We’ve been worldwide since WrestleMania 1! WWE has been televising matches for decades. This is a company that’s gone from nothing to a billion dollar industry without the help of anyone else! We’re on the road year around, performing in a different city each night. We go all over the country, all over the world. Professional wrestling entertains like nothing else.”
Regardless of their efforts, Cena understands criticism of his profession is not likely to stop. He said despite their pedigree, sports entertainers and professional wrestlers are not considered by everyone to be “real athletes.” Cena said those on the outside looking in should take a closer, more educated look. “We are full contact with no pads 365 days a year, 52 weeks a year, and go out and risk our lives every time we do it.”
“That’s why we have to be trained,” he continues. “This is a professional level; we are trained well in our craft but there is still intense physical punishment.” Outcomes are plotted. Legitimate injuries are never scripted. Cena has torn pectoral and triceps muscles completely from the bone, and also severely injured his knee, neck, groin and elbow.
WWE’s audience likes to punish Cena, too. Cheered by millions of adoring followers around the globe, he’s pelted with an almost equal number of jeers. Spectators shout obscenities his way during live events, attack him on social networking outlets, and, Cena said, they not only criticize his in-ring move-set and attire, but there are websites dedicated to publicizing how much he’s hated. With a laugh, Cena said he proudly carries the weight of being a top WWE Superstar, no matter how heavy it gets.
“I love what I do!” Cena exclaimed, sincerely. “I’m working just as hard, if not harder than the next guy to put butts in the seats – night in and night out. If you don’t like what I’m doing then don’t watch. But don’t disrespect me for what I’m doing.”
—Mr. Joe Walker
Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer for Concrete Magazine Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.