John Cena is the nicest person on the planet, and that’s really important
Pro wrestlers have a habit of disappointing you
On one hand, they are essentially the closest we have to real life super heroes - larger than life characters that perform impossible feats. Yet in actuality they are fallible, mortal human beings, who destroy their bodies for entertainment, and die young. They get arrested for domestic violence or caught using the N-word, or are charged over the death of their lover.
Thank god then, for John Cena.
If, for some reason you don't follow the wonderful world of sports entertainment, John Cena is basically wrestling’s biggest superstar since Hulk Hogan. From winning his first WWE title in 2004, he’s been a permanent fixture at the top of the card ever since. He’s been so big for so long, that the fans eventually turned on him for being too dominant – and then a few years later there was a backlash to the backlash, and he’s now heralded as an elder statesman of the business. He’s treated like Manchester United or the New York Yankees - love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion.
But this isn’t about the character John Cena plays on television. John Cena has manged to break out of the WWE niche in a very particular way that I’d argue no wrestler has before. Initially, it seemed to stem from a prank call on Virginia radio station WNVZ, where the host of the Z Morning Zoo show constantly kept interrupting a listener’s wrestling-hating wife with Cena’s entrance music. The recording went viral, and spawned a series of Vines and YouTube videos of John Cena interrupting everything from Spongebob to Star Wars.
This soon cycled into Cena becoming a full-on human meme. You can’t tweet a post a photo of him without a thousand replies claiming that there’s no one in the image, in reference to his “You can’t see me!” catchphrase. Photoshops and jokes about Cena now flood the internet.
And the reason why it all works is just because the real life John Cena is such a loveable dork. He loves anime. He embraces the memes. Hell, he even acts them out IRL. He speaks Mandarin. He presents the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards and doesn’t mind getting slimed. He dresses up as his fiancé, former WWE women’s champ Nikki Bella.
— John Cena (@JohnCena) September 12, 2017
This is important, because on first glance, you’d think he would be a massive jock. The sort guy who would stuff nerds in lockers, thinks political correctness has gone too far, and asks when International Men’s Day is. As the recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 doc showed, most of the great wrestlers tended to be dicks. It’s part of their mystique, living hard, drinking hard, and leaving a trail of women in their wake.
John Cena is the antithesis of this. He’s the destroyer of the myth of toxic masculinity we need. Instead of being a bad father like Ric Flair, he’s breaking the record for visiting the most terminally-ill kids on behalf of the Make-A-Wish foundation. Watch this promo WWE released on July 4, two years ago, where Cena says true American patriotism is fighting racism and embracing LGBT rights. Can you image any other All-American icon doing that?
I can also confirm that John Cena is also the nicest person in real life. I recently got to interview him on the press tour for his (genuinely funny, and surprisingly progressive) new comedy Blockers. Two nights before, he’d wrestled for the WWE title in Ohio. The next night he was in Detroit for Monday Night Raw. And then, apparently he’d just landed in London that morning, sans manager or any entourage, popped on a suit and was ready for a 9.30am start. His work rate is insane.
I’ve spoken to plenty of jetlagged Hollywood stars who’ve just got off a plane, and it’s hard to blame them for being bored by the whole movie press machine. But Cena was energetic and funny, and every other journalist I spoke to on the day confirmed he was the same. I was told to mostly stick to the film for my limited slot, but just as we finished I mentioned I was a giant wrestling fan. At which, he personally demanded the camera crew start rolling again, and we filmed an extra five minutes for me to nerd out about WWE with him. I somehow managed to hold in squee-ing like a schoolgirl.
Cena is 40 years old now, and while his wrestling career is starting to slow down, he says he never wants to leave WWE. His film career is also taking off – after a string of relatively unsuccessful mid-budget action movies in the late 2000, he’s found his niche in Apatow-style comedies. Films like Trainwreck, Sisters and now Blockers have turned out to be a much better fit for his goofy IRL self. It’s taken a bit of time for real John Cena to become a truly mainstream celebrity. But thank god it has happened.