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He raps, he slams and he's gunning for glory in Hollywood, but don't ever suggest John Cena's not taking WWE for real. Wrestling's in his blood and he's prepared to spill it to live it.
John Cena is the man. He's a seven-time WWE champion, a best-selling rapper and an aspiring actor too. And when it comes to the fans, he's the stone cold favourite. His motto might be 'You can't see me' but of course millions have. Yet the 32-year-old from Massachusetts planned to be a bodybuilder before fate turned him towards the WWE in 2002. He reveals what it takes to become the biggest name in wrestling.
So John, watching wrestling on TV is one of your earliest memories
My father is an extremely big fan of wrestling, always has been. I grew up watching it. My hero as a child was Hulk Hogan. It was the fact that I could see what I thought were real-life superheroes. There was something mystical about it.
When did you realise that you could make it as a wrestler?I didn't even realise that there was a way to train for it. I'd graduated from college and I was working pretty much in a dead-end job. A friend asked me if I wanted to go train to be a professional wrestler. I told him, 'absolutely.'
Did you have any sort of background in other sports? I'd played American Football for eight years. I was an All-American team captain at Springfield College. I was a bit undersized, believe it or not. I played at a smallish school, so I knew that when I was done in college, I was done.
Presumably there aren't WWE scouts roaming the country looking for talent...No, it's a little bit clearer nowadays because television has made it more commonplace, there are wrestling schools and you can go on the net and do a Google search. Back then I didn't know of those outlets. This was 1995, '96, '97, and it never occurred to me.
What your first day at wrestling school like? I had no idea what to expect, but as soon as I saw a ring I knew. As soon as I got into that ring, I wasn't going to leave it. You spend the early part of your training learning the fundamentals of human movement, what special skills you may have. I had just come from organised athletics so it gave me the fix of, 'this is like being on a sports team'. People come from all walks of life to wrestling school. There are people who are very successful who have no kind of athletic background. It's a very interesting mix of sports and entertainment. You can have the indescribable hit.
Do they work on your personality as well? Personality is the tougher one to develop. They teach you the basic survival skills. Some guys it can take a couple of weeks, some guys it takes years. I kinda took to it right away. My degree is in exercise science, and a lot of the principles in the ring were the same body mechanics that I used to play football.
Were you already a big, physical guy when you went in there?I don't think I've ever been out of shape. I've been the same body weight since I was 19-years-old, 240 to 250lbs. I started weight training when I was 12. I was a competitive bodybuilder from 1995 to 1999. I even worked at Gold's Gym in Venice Beach for a year.
How quickly did you progress once you were out of wrestling school?
I had my first televised bout in 2002. It took three years to get to World Wrestling Entertainment Central. I'm actually one of the people who was fast-tracked. In some cases it takes twice as long. Some guys never make it. They teach you the basic body mechanics and then you have - I would say - performances on a smallish scale, that are not sanctioned by the WWE. You go around and perform in front of small crowds. It's kind of like major sport.
The stand-out players go to the bigger teams. I never got ahead of myself. My goal was to be a success here. I don't think that's getting out in front of yourself. There's a difference between confidence and cockiness. I'm very much a humble guy. I let my performance do the talking. I'm an old-fashioned, punch-the-clock, go to work type of guy. I'm not cutting edge. You get guys who clock in, do their job and go home, and others who want all the attention on them.
You began your career with two different personas, the Prototype and Mr P. The Prototype was a brash statement on my physical appearance, physically dominating. It's the first thing people see, so I thought, 'why don't I showcase that?' Then I fell into a kind of hip-hop persona. I thought, 'this will catch people by surprise'. May as well try that. That one became a lot more successful. I kind of ended up being myself. I'm thankful that people are happy with me being me because some guys turn the volume up and make a lot of noise.
How much did rapping change your life? That was the facet that opened the door for me. The rap idea came along totally by accident. Somebody at WWE heard me rapping and said, 'hey, why don't we get this on television?' That's what got me on the map. It was the right time, just as hip-hop was at its peak.
You've said that at the time, your wrestling lagged behind your mic work. Did you develop a new style? No. It is what you make it. I've had so many matches with so many people, and each one has their own style. Match after match, I worked on my craft and I hit a point where I said, 'I want to stop speaking and start wrestling.' It's very much like boxing - styles make fights.
Now you're world famous. How does that affect your life away from the ring? It just cuts down on my personal time. I'm limited in the places I can go, but at the same time it's a very good problem. There's nothing more flattering than having people recognise you. We work so very hard in and out of the ring, it reassures you. It's what I got into the gig for.
You fight at least 250 times a year. How much does it hurt? I guess it depends on how good you do. On average, I would actually compare it to an American football game. It's very intense. The action is in spurts. We fight every night. We fight Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. So, it's like playing five American football games in five straight days. I've been doing it for eight years and I feel as strong as the day I started.
The WWE has introduced a 'wellness programme' that includes drug testing. What kind of impact has that had? It's nothing but a positive. I'll be quite honest with you, it's a company move that didn't need to be made. This is the entertainment industry, we're not organised athletics. But the WWE made a positive effort to look after its athletes and I'm very, very happy. It was the right move.
WWE boss Vince McMahon comes across as larger-than-life on screen. What has he been like to deal with in person? He's a businessman. It's just like you dealing with your boss, except your boss would be the hardest working individual you'd ever met. That's what he is. He's the guy who still works from dusk till dawn, at his age.
Of all the events that Vince created, WrestleMania is the biggest. What is it like from the perspective of a wrestler? It's like the Super Bowl or the World Cup - not everyone gets to perform there. There's only a certain amount that get in the bracket and there's only one slot at the top. Fans who are watching it for the first time will be blown away by every aspect of what we do.
You've been doing some acting too. Yeah, I have a movie due out in September. We just wrapped it. It's a motivation.