The Many Faces of JOHN CENA

He’s tough, ten­der, hum­ble & kind

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Amy Spencer • Cover & open­ing images by Me­lanie Dunea

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.

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