John Cena Talks ESPYS, His 'Accidental' Career and When to Retire
John Cena leans over and caresses his grande Starbucks coffee with both hands like it's the WWE Heavyweight Championship belt. For a man who has won more than 20 titles in his 14 years in pro wrestling, this is saying a lot, but at this very moment, caffeine is worth its weight in gold.
On the day Cena is in New York PROMOTING the upcoming ESPY Awards, he's been up since 2 a.m., has flown cross country with a crazy plan to fly back that night to do his West Coast media day. After that, it's off to Tokyo for a match, then back to the States for "Monday Night Raw." Such is life for wrestling's biggest draw.
"For the last three weeks, I’ve done ... fly to China ... fly to France ... fly to Tokyo, and all things in between," he said. "It's just to the point where I have to now see things in front of me like I just ask for copies of our daily schedule because I have to compartmentalize like, ‘OK, make it to 5 p.m. We’re good. I’m gonna be alright.’"
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Cena's wearing a white-collared shirt, a gray, pinstripe suit and talks like the VP of marketing for a Fortune 500 company. This is a polarizing contrast for a man who has dominated a billion-dollar sport for more than a decade with a finishing move once called "The FU" and that doesn't stand for Florida University.
But maybe the contrast isn't so surprising.
The 39-year-old Massachusetts native is the latest in a line of wrestling stars that have bridged the gap between sport and entertainment. Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are just a few of his predecessors. But Cena is different, very different.
Why is he at the brink of exhaustion, spread so thin, when he clearly has the cache to fully transition into acting, brand promotion or even the WWE front office? The man's all about lifting his sport up and don't expect him to walk away from the ring anytime soon.
The coveted award show that honors the best and brightest in the sports world could be perceived as the culmination of a career that he has built to this point. Featured roles in films like "Trainwreck" and "Sisters," alongside the best in comedy like Tina Fey and Amy Schumer, coupled with a career in front of millions of adoring fans and a brand that is forged on the principals of "Hustle, Loyalty and Respect" are just a few of Cena's accomplishments.
So, hosting a national event should be the launching pad any entertainer craves to take it to the next level. Not for Cena, who carries the weight of an industry on his very broad shoulders. He also wears his heart on his enormous sleeves.
"I love what I do so much, and I’m not ignorant to how sports entertainment is perceived," he explained. "So, an opportunity like this from ESPN to kind of captain the ship on the biggest night of sports and entertainment ... it’s vehicles like that that can help change perception, and I don’t look at it like a career goal, I look at it as appreciation for not just myself, for everybody."
The "perception" that pro wrestling has, that Cena is very open to talking about has slowly changed over the years because of the tireless efforts of its key athletes.
Amy (AMY SCHUMER) is on a date with Steven (JOHN CENA) in "Trainwreck", the new comedy from director/producer Judd Apatow that is written by and stars Schumer as a woman who lives her life without apologies, even when maybe she should apologize.
"There’s a lot of situations because we do all of our own promotion, so you can catch certain superstars at media days, at local signings, even just in airports, on the street,IN HOTELS, at restaurants after the shows," he said. "So it is a real family connection. I think that’s what makes the WWE universe so passionate. They feel like when they get a guy or gal to cheer for, they truly feel like it’s their guy or their gal."
And that fan base, unlike any other sport, cuts across all demographics and age groups, something this giant, yet approachable superstar completely grasps.
"I’ve met fans that are 9 months old to 90 years old," he added. "It transcends language because you can essentially watch our show and not understand what people are saying but because we have the ability to use sport for entertainment. You can say, ‘Wow, that guy broke the rules. I don’t like that guy’ or ‘This guy fights this way. I like this guy.’"
And Cena takes care to dabble in side projects that he feels passionate about like hosting the ESPYs. Money and a fast buck do not factor into his decision making.
"Twelve years at the top ... I’m doing OK," he said. "The Miz [Michael Mizanin] returned [the other night] on 'Raw' and he pulled me aside and he was like ‘Hey man, congrats on the hosting gigs.’ ... 'I hear through the grape vine you were doing "Predator" with 50 Cent.' I’m like ‘No, man. ... I don’t like doing action,’ and he’s like ‘but that will be such a great opportunity.’"
Cena agrees, but he's also all in with the WWE and doing smaller roles in films like "Daddy's Home," where he's only in one scene, is where he thinks his talents are best suited. He's also quick to admit, "if I f--- that up I don’t deserve another chance."
"I run away from enough bullets in the ring, right now it’s not something I want to do away from it. Being able to control a live crowd at the ESPYs, that's fun. ... I just want them to be like, ‘Oh wow, that was a fun ride. The kid did alright,'" he added.
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