John Cena is willing to concede the yard to Roman Reigns. For now.
“Roman is in the trenches every night and he’s performing at an elite level with a champion caliber attitude,” said Cena. “His performance and the response that he gets from certain audiences is indicative of an elite-level performer. He’s doing what I did in 2006, 2007, and 2008. He has all the justification in the world in saying it’s his yard.”
Cena’s competitive drive still burns, proving that you can’t teach new tricks to the 16-time WWE champion from West Newbury, Massachusetts.
“I’ve made a career of shutting the mouths of people who’ve made that claim that WWE was their yard,” said Cena, who just celebrated his 40th birthday with a 602-pound deadlift. “I very, very much look forward to the day we put that to the test.”
The inevitable clash between Cena and Reigns will not occur any time soon, as Cena has been off WWE programming since WrestleMania 33 in April. His new movie, The Wall, premieres in theaters across the world today.
“If you’re a WWE fan, you’ll be able to see me in a very different light,” noted Cena. “I didn’t say ‘John Cena fan’, I said WWE fan. A lot of WWE fans want to see me in a different light. Whether you’re a fan of me or not on WWE television, this is a chance to see me in a different light.”
Cena stars in the film alongside Aaron Taylor-Johnson and plays the role of Sgt. Matthews. He shows his acting versatility in The Wall, which is, unquestionably, his finest acting performance to date.
“This story really spoke to me,” explained Cena. “I asked the people who handle my business to contact the people from the movie. I wanted to be involved in this movie in any way, shape, or form. They came back to me with Sgt. Matthews, and it took me two seconds to say I would love to do it.”
Cena has capitalized on his fame to work relentlessly in support of the United States troops, often with very little credit-by design-attached to his work. Cena captured the role of Sgt. Matthews with such humility, tapping into his inner-psyche on the everyday life of a soldier.
“I’ve been very loud and proud about my patriotism, and, certainly, my support for the service men and women in this country for quite some time,” said Cena. “In doing that, I’ve been able to meet a lot of them, and more than just a handshake and move on. I’ve had very many instances where we talked about daily life, and this film takes you inside the mindset of a uniformed soldier in an area of conflict.
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“I pulled from a lot of those stories that I was given over the years, and I also pulled from a lot of the experience from a good friend of mine, Nick “The Reaper” Irving, who was one of our cadre during American Grit season one. I wanted to get into his mental process and get into his mind, and that’s where you take experiences and make them your own. I’m very grateful for him to candidly share his life with me.”
Cena’s evolution as an actor has coincided with his willingness to push the wrestling business forward. Although there are many false narratives that constantly hover over Cena–that, for example, he only looks out for himself in wrestling, or the idea that his character is stale–he is fully content to handle business the way he sees fit and conduct his business his own way. That is why Cena wears sneakers to the ring instead of traditional wrestling boots. The decision may sound trivial, yet it illustrates his firm grasp on the wrestling business and the magnitude of his own brand.
“I’m a very weird thinker when it comes to WWE,” Cena noted. “If you look at every major sport, their uniforms continue to evolve and change. I think patent leather boots are archaic. We have wonderful technology as far as footwear. I certainly am glad to come out in shoes because I can now wear a more functional cross-training shoe in the ring, whether it’s a low top or high top or three-quarter.”
Cena agreed that boots are a traditional part of the wrestling uniform, but he also added that baseball uniforms used to be made out of wool.
“The football helmet used to look different, too,” added Cena. “Change is always met with adversity. When some people read this, they’ll want me strung from the tallest tree, but that would only make the thousandth time they’d want that. I believe our uniforms, in some cases, are archaic. That deters some people from showing their personality because they get latched onto this ideology.
“If you go back and trace the history of professional wrestling, the reason that people wore the high boots, the flashy tights, and the robes was to define personality. The high boots are just an extension of a wrestling shoe. I would like to see more diversity in terms of uniforms as a whole.”
Shinsuke Nakamura, who will eventually work with Cena on SmackDown Live, is a dynamic example of someone whose connection to the crowd benefits from his unique attire.
“Nakamura’s costuming and appearance directly relate to his personality,” confirmed Cena. “Picture him in classic wrestling attire and you wouldn’t have the same personality. There are, however, folks that it works for, and I think it works brilliantly for Randy Orton. On the aspect of Roman Reigns, he belongs in the gear that he’s in. I don’t know him in anything else. I’m in jorts and a ball cap, and that defines me.”
Cena explained that those who feel attached to the traditional wrestling attire are missing a critical component of the interaction with the worldwide audience.
“When you walk out there, if you don’t get to speak, all you have to stand on is your appearance,” said Cena. “If you look like everyone else and you don’t stand out in the way you perform, then you’ll be perceived as everyone else and you won’t stand out and you won’t attract attention. It’s a way for somebody to create their personality when a lot of guys get stuck in a rut and go for plain gear.”
A perfectionist at heart, Cena was asked to assess his performance at WrestleMania 33, which included a mixed tag match with Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryse, as well as a post-match proposal to Bella.
“I thought WrestleMania 33, as a whole, was wonderful,” said Cena. “I think back to the buildup to WrestleMania, and I’ll talk ‘Inside Baseball’ for a second, there was a time when many folks thought they’d see John Cena versus The Undertaker, and there were many folks who seemed abruptly disappointed when they instead learned the possibility of a mixed tag match. Then you fast-forward six weeks later, and a lot of people were interested in a mixed tag match that was viewed, upon first advertisement, as a disappointment. That was a tremendous testament to Nicole, Maryse, and Miz for their ability to tell a wonderful story and keep people interested.”
The build to the mixed tag match was especially personal and purposely involved a rare amount of physicality.
“It was entertaining with a lot of grey area, often times touching on real life,” said Cena. “I thought all the segments on TV were extremely interesting, and I can tell you, first-hand, that everyone worked tremendously hard on making it something digestible for the audience.”
Selfishly, Cena admitted, the post-match engagement is a moment he will forever cherish, and he thanked those in attendance at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando for their respectful response to the proposal.
“I was able to make it the greatest moment of my life, which just so happened to be at a WrestleMania, in front of what I consider my family at what I consider my home,” said Cena. “I really want to thank the audience that attended WrestleMania for understanding what that moment meant to me. If you watch the match back, they certainly did enjoy Mike and they certainly didn’t enjoy me. That was par for the course and I figured it would be that way, but I think everyone understood the gravity of the situation. I can’t tell you how much their show of respect meant to me.
“It’s a moment I forever will have, and it could have been filled with ‘No!’ chants or ‘Cena sucks’ chants, and I was fully ready for that, which is why I was so nervous. I am so very appreciative to everybody for allowing Nicole and I to have such a wonderful moment.”
Cena noted that proposing anywhere but WrestleMania would have been disingenuous.
“Hell, I’ve given my last fifteen years to the audience, and they feel they know me and I feel as though I know them,” said Cena. “I’d thought for so long about doing it, and I wanted to do it there. I never thought I would be able to be in the same ring as Nicole or be her partner in the WWE realm. It was just fantastic. The whole experience was a great example in great storytelling, hard work, and honesty, and it was buttoned with a wonderful moment that will certainly be the best moment of my life.”
As for the inevitable clash with Reigns, all Cena could offer was praise for the much-maligned superstar.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Roman,” said Cena. “He handles his business with the utmost professionalism. He’s doing it on his own watch. He’s not one of the those guys that comes over to me and asks me, ‘What happens next?’ He’s doing it his way, and I think that’s the best way to do it. He’s not trying to be the next John Cena, but he is being the only Roman Reigns-and that’s why it’s met with so much adversity.
“I can tell you from first-hand because I know. I wasn’t trying to be Stone Cold or The Rock, I was John Cena. That was met with adversity from people looking for the next Stone Cold or the next Rock. That’s what creates the dichotomy, the polarizing environment. I think Roman is doing a fantastic job, and he has an entire roster stacked with unbelievably gifted performers.
“It’s a good time to be a member of the WWE Universe. You’re seeing multiple brands operating at very high capacity, and I just can’t wait to get back. I’m doing what I’m doing now, but I really can’t wait to get back in the ring. As soon as they cut me loose from this movie in Atlanta, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The Rock is in a remake of Baywatch, and Cena was asked which movie or television show would be his top choice for a remake.
“Baywatch looks awesome, so I can’t say remakes are impossible, but that’s a tough question,” said Cena. “So many people have asked me what my next movie will be, and I always say, ‘I’ll know it when I read it.’ I can’t set my mind on remaking Caddyshack or Predator, that’s not the way I do business. I just like reading good stories and being able to contribute. That’s the same method of success that I use in WWE. I don’t bark at the top of my lungs to work with someone, I go where I’m supposed to go and try to make the most of it.”
Hollywood producers have already taken note of Cena’s acting performance in The Wall, which expands opportunities for future roles. For now, however, he is focused solely on the success of his current film.
“The backbone of The Wall is psychological warfare,” said Cena. “This movie takes you on a ride where you believe you know what’s up but you really don’t, and that process repeats over and over again. You are brought on such a psychological journey that I firmly believe that, when the movie ends, you will strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Whether it’s a friend or a stranger, you will be talking to that person next to you.”