Love him or hate him, John Cena is one of the biggest figures in professional wrestling today, if not the absolute biggest. Among the 24 championships he's won, Cena has thus far had 15 reigns as a world champion, five reigns as United States Champion, and four reigns as world tag team champion. Additionally, he is a 2012 Money in the Bank ladder match winner, a two-time Royal Rumble winner, and a three-time Superstar of the Year Slammy Award winner. Cena also has the fourth-highest number of combined days as WWE World Heavyweight Champion, trailing only Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, and Hulk Hogan. He has also headlined WrestleMania on five different occasions over the course of his 17-year career.
But life wasn’t always rosy for The Champ. From a difficult birth and getting bullied as a kid, to unemployment and temporary homelessness, Cena has worked extremely hard his whole life to achieve the fame and success he now owns as both a wrestler and actor, as well as the physique that lands him among the most in-shape wrestlers in the biz.
With all its ups and downs, one thing is certain about the life of John Cena: it’s been one weird and interesting ride. Here are 15 of the most fascinating aspects, all of which happened prior to Cena’s official televised WWE debut.
15 Complicated Delivery
14 A Bit of Fame
John Cena started watching wrestling, like many fans, at a very early age. His dad would have it on, and little Johnny would watch and admire his favorite wrestlers: Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik, and Rowdy Roddy Piper. “I grew up a fan of Hulk Hogan and I think I bring some of his best values to the ring,” Cena once said. “The values of a superhero: Always do your best, never give up. I think kids want to believe in that, and they should believe in that.” As for a favorite childhood wrestling moment, that would be when Hogan won the title for the first time in 1984.
12 The Anti-Bully
11 All-American Boy
It’s generally no surprise to learn a wrestler was formerly a football player, since this is a path numerous folks have followed before. The list includes guys like Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Superstar Billy Graham, Monty Brown, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Roman Reigns, Lex Luger, Vader, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and The Rock, to name a few. John Cena (who we already mentioned was a bodybuilder), to his credit, was not only a center at Springfield College, but an NCAA Division III All-American center. However, he eventually realized that football wasn’t a good fit for him.
10 The Exercise Physiologist
9 Working for a Living
Prior to getting his big break in wrestling, John Cena, like numerous wrestlers before him, had to get a normal job to support himself. Or two normal jobs at once, to be exact. (For instance, were you aware that Paul Levesque, a.k.a. Triple H, worked at Wendy’s in his early years?) After realizing that the West Coast offered more opportunities for bodybuilders than the in the east, where he was from, Cena packed up all of his belongings and moved to Venice Beach, California with only $500 in his pocket. Work was hard to come by at first, and John was forced to live out of his car for a short period of time.
8 Go For the Gold
7 All That Glitters
Although it wasn’t especially glamorous, Gold’s did afford John Cena a small opportunity to get in the spotlight. He was selected to star in a commercial for the gym, and it was actually pretty entertaining. The 30-second spot (which thankfully still lives on YouTube) featured a super-swole Cena repeatedly flexing in the gym’s mirrors, oiling himself up, and admiring his own physique while also working out his ego. He rattled off humorous lines like, “Is there snow on the top of that mountain?” while dusting off his bicep, before eventually emerging from a room marked “Posing Room.” When he walked out, he immediately saw two ladies running on treadmills and nodded at them, before slipping on the floor and completely wiping out. The women shook their heads in response and called him a poser.
6 Ready to Rumble
5 The Prototype
Even though John Cena has almost always wrestled under his real name with the WWE (unless you count his “Doctor of Thuganomics” moniker), he went by the name “The Prototype” prior to his signing with the promotion, back when he was still with Ultimate Pro Wrestling. The character was described as being “50% man, 50% machine, and 100% mayhem” and the cyborg gimmick included the use of the short, bleach-blonde, flat-top haircut Cena rocked back in the day. Interestingly, in addition to the TV commerical and big screen extra roles Cena already had under his belt (his metaphorical belt, not his numerous future wrestling title belts), the camera and spotlight managed to find him yet again while with UPW.
4 You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid
Following John Cena’s 1999 debut with Ultimate Pro Wrestling, it didn’t take long for him to find success. He held the UPW Heavyweight Championship for 27 days in April of 2000, which caught the attention of legendary WWE commentator (and talent scout) Jim Ross, who personally visited California to watch Cena in action. Ross signed Cena to a WWE contract and assigned him to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he was praised by manager Kenny Bolin for his physique, talent, and work ethic. Cena made his professional debut (as The Prototype) in a SmackDown dark match on October 10, 2000 against Mikey Richardson, which the latter won. He also appeared in SmackDown dark matches on January 9 and March 13, 2001, followed by additional tryouts in various dark and house matches.
3 All Hail the King
2 The Boss’s Disgusting Remark
1 The Replacement
The haircut story might seem a little hasty on the part of Vince McMahon, but it’s important to remember that the boss had no way of knowing he was meeting a future star at the time. While in baseball, football, basketball, and hockey the coaches are always aware of the biggest up-and-coming prospects in the game, wrestling isn’t quite as clear-cut, since their eventual success is determined mostly by how they’re received by the fans. In fact, Vince was probably more concerned that night with the fact that one of his big-name wrestlers dropped out at the last minute. Cena was selected to make his aforementioned television debut on SmackDown that night (June 27, 2002) in Chicago because Kurt Angle made an open challenge, and The Undertaker, who was supposed to accept it, had suddenly fallen ill with the flu. Cena was selected instead and gave Angle a hard fight, which eventually led to the latter’s victory via a pinning combination.
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