The Many Faces of JOHN CENA
He’s tough, tender, humble & kind
John Cena made quite an impression when he appeared astride a thundering motorcycle in the movie Daddy’s Home two years ago. “He’s got legs for arms,” said Will Ferrell’s character, marveling at the wrestler-turned-actor’s 6-foot-1, bulked-up, 250-pound frame.
But Cena, 40, who also stars in Daddy’s Home 2 (Nov. 10), wasn’t always the stuff of wonder. Long before he was a wrestling superstar, a movie hunk, the voice of a bull ( Ferdinand, Dec. 15) and the guy at the top of the wish list for kids who seriously need something to look forward to, he was just another scrappy little boy growing up with big dreams.
“I always had imaginative aspirations, from being a rock star to being a wrestling world champion to winning the World Series,” he says of his childhood in West Newbury, Mass., where he grew up as one of five sons born to Carol and John Cena (who worked at one time as a wrestling promoter).
Particularly captivated as a teen by hip-hop and rap culture, Cena remembers rhyming like his idols—and often dressing like them. Picture “MC Hammer and Kid ’n Play on a collision course,” he says. “Hair stuck straight up, dyed at the top . . . I had the rayon pants—mustard polka dot—and the airbrushed overalls.”
So what did other kids think of that? “I got my ass kicked every day!” he says with a laugh. But “it kinda made me who I am.” After one of those beat-downs, Cena begged his dad, “Hey, man, please buy me a set of weights.”
He’s been building his muscles as well as his career ever since.
NEVER GIVE UP
The second oldest of his siblings, Cena was the first of his brothers to work out and get into sports, and that drive carried him through Massachusetts’ Springfield College, where he earned a degree in kinesiology and exercise physiology. He enrolled in
wrestling school in California in 1999 and later in Kentucky, and he created a Terminator-esque character for himself called the Prototype. “It was a disaster.” He laughs. “Totally unsuccessful.”
For his 2002 debut on World Wrestling Entertainment’s Smack-Down!, he started from scratch as himself. “That was also a disaster,” he says. So he crafted an over-thetop, Vanilla Ice–like rap persona. That became his breakthrough. He was soon a fan favorite.
Now, 15 years into his WWE career, he’s won 25 wrestling championships and is a 16-time world champion—and along the way, he even released a platinumselling rap album, You Can’t See Me.
“How did I make it? Never gave up,” he says. That’s how he landed on the “Never Give Up” mantra that became his in-the-ring catchphrase.
In 2006, like wrestling’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson before him, he expanded his pro career into film and TV, beginning with the WWE-produced action feature The Marine and working his way into comedies. He appeared in Sisters with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and in Trainwreck with Amy Schumer. He hosted Saturday Night Live and the reality competition show American Grit.
“I love the challenge of telling a story,” he says. Which is why he was thrilled to take on an even bigger role in Daddy’s Home 2 alongside returning stars Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, plus Mel Gibson and John Lithgow.
Cena expands on his small role as Roger, the “cool dad” who threatens Ferrell’s and Wahlberg’s sense of paternal security. “This badass guy,” he says with a grin, “who’s just gonna throw a monkey wrench into the whole family.”
BULLISH ON CHARITY
Next month Cena will star as the animated lead in Ferdinand, a role he seems destined to play, as the bull in a tale based on a children’s book. “I have been living the story of Ferdinand my entire life,” he says, explaining how he relates to “the fighting bull . . . who’s just not a fighter.” While Cena can destroy it in the ring, his big, warm heart melts for charity.
He’s most devoted to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Cena has donated millions of his frequent flyer miles to the organization, which grants wishes to children diagnosed with lifethreatening medical conditions, and he has personally granted
some 575 wishes—the most ever in the foundation’s history. Many of the Make-A-Wish kids simply want to see their hero up close and in person, in action at a wrestling match, and meet him afterward.
“The excitement, it’s indescribable,” he says of fulfilling these Make-A-Wish dreams. “That I’m at the very end of the story, as the wish? That’s absurd to think about.”
When the WWE hosts char-
ity Tribute to the Troops events, Cena regularly travels to Iraq or Afghanistan to perform for the armed forces. “They are my heroes,” he says. He also jumps aboard when the WWE works with the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer, and this year, he began working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International to raise $500 million to fight polio.
Cena was particularly honored to be part of a recent Love Has No Labels public service campaign about how patriotism means inclusion of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, ages and abilities. “[America’s] banner says we’re a melting pot—but often people get agitated and think differently.” Cena’s message was so powerful, in fact, it won a Creative Arts Emmy. His ability to open minds and change lives is what brings him back to giving, again and again.
“We all have to earn a living, but if you can also affect people? That’s a good deal,” he says. “It gives me the feeling like, yeah, I’m in the right place and I’m doing the right thing with my life.”
‘SHE’S MY HOME’
One of the right places for Cena is his house in Tampa, Fla., where he lives with his fiancée, Nicole Garcia-Colace, 33, a fellow wrestler and season 25 Dancing With the Stars competitor known professionally as Nikki Bella. The pair met crossing paths at WWE events; he finally approached her and they began dating in 2012. Their romance is documented on the E! reality show Total Bellas, about Nikki and her twin sister, Brie. This April, Cena proposed to Garcia-Colace in the ring at WrestleMania. They’re still working out the wedding details, though Cena says, “I keep telling her, I’ll
do it tomorrow—I’m ready.”
Garcia-Colace brings out Cena’s soft side. “In the WWE, oftentimes you want people to think, like, ‘Oh, I’m a tough guy.’ ” But now, he says, he knows “a tough guy is somebody who can hold a woman’s hand.”
And he’s also been squeezing language and music lessons into his schedule. Through the WWE’s free second-language program, he’s been learning Mandarin Chinese. China “was the only place where WWE was not,” he says—but “we are now.”
Inspired by how far he came in learning
one new skill, he set his sights on another: learning to play piano. “I tell myself, ‘ You can surf the web for 15 minutes, or put the time towards a skill.’ What am I gonna learn in 15 minutes? Your first 15 minutes, maybe where the middle C note is. But after about 125 hours, you learn how to play the piano.” His favorite tune at the keys these days is a Maxence Cyrin cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.”
With all this wrestling, acting, giving, romance, language-learning and music, is there anything Cena’s not good at? He can’t cook or sing. But, he says, “I’m trying each day, just like everybody, to get a little better.”
And true to his mantra, he never gives up.
He plays a “cool dad” in Daddy’s Home2 alongside Mark Wahlberg (pictured) and Will Ferrell.
Cena loves granting wishes to Make-A-Wish kids.
“She’s my home,” Cena says of fiancée Nicole Garcia-Colace.