Whatever you think about John Cena, there’s no denying this: The guy knows entertainment.
He is the ultimate “heel”-turned-“face,” America’s prime distributor of Attitude Adjustments, and one of the only men in the entire world who can turn bedazzled jorts into a style essential. He has 24 World Wrestling Entertainment championships to his name, a half-decent rap album, and starring roles in half a dozen movies over the past 10 years.
But while the muscle-bound Massachusetts native is comfortable on the canvas and in front of the camera, he’s still finding plenty of new challenges to keep him sweating. (Literally, in some cases.)
On the eve of his star turn as the host of ESPN’s heralded sports award show, the ESPYs, Cena dished on his new hosting gig, the unexpected challenges of being a WWE star, and his possible (albeit highly improbable) foray into bear wrestling.
Men’s Fitness: You said on Good Morning America that you’ve already sweated through two suits over your opening monologue at the ESPYs. What’s got you nervous?
I guess different environment. It’s a weird situation: I use sport to entertain, but the athletes receiving these awards represent pure sport. It’s just a little bit of perception. But I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot. I just want everybody to have a good time and a good show. And I think that’s what we’ve got.
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Obviously, you’re used to big productions. Is there anything about the ESPYs that’s surprised you or really impressed you overall?
No, and from that standpoint, I think it’s exactly what I expected. It’s an extremely well thought-out, unbelievably well produced program. Everybody who is involved is completely dedicated to making the show the best that it possibly can be. I realized very early on in the early creative process that I was in extremely good hands and that it’s truly mine to mess up.
Have you had the chance to interact with any of the athletes who you’ll be working with? Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, for instance, who will receive the Pat Tillman Award?
I saw her from a distance at the Invictus games this year as I was volunteering to coach wheelchair rugby, but that’s about as good as I got. I am as dedicated as I can be to the ESPYs, but I am working another job as we speak. So, I am still kind of going back and forth to split my time accordingly.
So what’s next for you?
I WILL WRESTLE A BEAR. I’m only kidding.
We’d pay to see that.
It’s still floating around the idea room. [laughs]
You have the Teen Choice Awards, which might be even scarier than bear wrestling, on July 31. Anything beyond that you can share?
I’m actually just trying to make it to that and beyond. There are a few things in speculation that haven’t solidified themselves yet. I really genuinely miss performing on a regular basis for WWE. So, if all that speculative opportunity falls through, I get to go “back home” full time. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Congratulations on 14 years in the business, by the way.
Thank you very much. It’s been a crazy ride.
You’re obviously a pretty practiced showman. As you start up these new endeavors, are there any new challenges that have caught you off guard? Anything where you’ve said, ‘Wow, I really have to practice for this’?
Believe me, I understand hard work. I have a perspective: Nothing is truly achieved without putting in the effort.
The biggest thing for me is often times when people get opportunities outside of the WWE they take out a handkerchief and wave good-bye, and that’s that. I’m trying to do everything at once, so the most challenging thing is simply logistics—wanting to be at all these important events and be able to do all of the ancillary opportunities. While I’m doing this, I need to reinforce to not only my company but also the people buying tickets to these events, that I am here and I am here to stay. I’m not using WWE in any way as a springboard.
So as you see it, you’re a WWE guy who is doing some other stuff in support of WWE?
Opportunities like the ESPYs, and anything else that I’ve been fortunate enough to do, all go back to my mission statement: “Change perception of what people think about WWE superstars and sports entertainers in general.”
What kind of perception do you think that is? How are you changing it?
Anybody who knows what we do certainly enjoys what we do. They are insanely interested in what we do. But the audience who doesn’t know us doesn’t understand what we do, what we are, how much effort goes into what we do. They may think we do one or two shows per week, or one or two shows a month. We do 300 shows a year. We are media relations people first. We do all of our own promotion. We thoroughly interact with our fan base.
So yes, everyone who enjoys WWE knows that it’s entertainment. But some of the performers are so dedicated to their craft that it can truly get lost. I think we have a lot of talented folks at WWE and, quite frankly, I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do.
What aspects of the job are especially demanding? What often goes unnoticed?
First and foremost, production. Production is a thankless job. We can never give enough credit to the people who make sure that when the red light turns on, everything looks and feels fantastic. That’s a thankless job.
The toughest thing to become acclimated to is logistics—knowing that you have to be in one place one night and then pick up camp and immediately move to another place. It involves a lot of global travel as well.
The other thing is privacy. If you want to become a part of a successful entity like this, your job is to entertain people no matter what. And you have to find environments that are private if you truly want to be left alone. I’m sure everybody gets to a point in their existence where they feel as if they are entitled to their privacy. A few years back, I hit that stride myself. Then, I got a greater perspective that as soon as I step out of my home, because I do what I do, it comes with a certain sense of presence. I think that’s sometimes a bit of a tough learning curve for somebody to realize.
But even after all that, it’s a dream gig. It really is. It’s what allows me to stand here and talk to you on the phone after sleeping half an hour. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Might we suggest bear wrestling? It’s very energizing.
I WILL WRESTLE A BEAR. That is not confirmed.
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