May 30, 2005
Q&A with John CenaSmackdown's champ leads WWE into Grand Prairie for first time
By SCOTT SEYMOUR - Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune
This weekend, the sports entertainment spectacle that
is World Wrestling Entertainment brings its show to
Grande Prairie, Alberta for the first time ever.
On Sunday, Smackdown, one of two WWE 'leagues' (RAW
is the other) will invade the Crystal Centre and John
Cena will lead the charge.
As the reigning WWE Smackdown champion, Cena represents
the youthful future of pro wrasslin's biggest empire.
In less than three years with the company, he's won
two belts, including the current title that he pried
away from John "Bradshaw" Layfield last month
at the WWE's signature show, Wrestlemania 21.
Away from the ring, he recently finished filming The
Marine, a movie due out this fall starring Robert Patrick
and a few weeks ago, Cena released You Can't See Me,
a CD of rap songs he wrote himself.
The album debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard Album Chart,
selling 43,000 units in its first week, and also hit
the top-five on the R&B chart.
The first single released from the CD, Bad, Bad, Man,
features a video that's a campy spinoff of the 1980s
action show, The A-Team. In it, Cena plays the cigar-chomping
Hannibal Smith, looking very much the part played by
the late George Peppard all those years back.
Earlier this week, Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune sports editor
Scott Seymour chatted with Cena about his careers inside
and outside the squared circle.
JC: (Laughs) Take your pick. Depends on what day of the week.
SS: I'm not sure if you know this or not but you look an awful lot like him when you have a cigar in your mouth. I'm serious. It's scary.
JC: The whole video went together really good because Trademarc (Cena's cousin Marc Predka) pulled off a pretty good (Howling Mad) Murdoch and I know (New York rapper) Freddie Foxxx pulled off a great Mr. T.
SS: How old are you? You can't be old enough to remember much of that show when it was originally on.
JC: I'm 28 so, no, I don't remember when it was on in the 1980s but I did grow up with the syndicated shows of The A-Team.
SS: Let's look back a little bit on your career. Next month will be three years since your first-ever WWE match, in Chicago against Kurt Angle. Think back to that night.
Would you have ever believed that night that you would be where you are now?
JC: Absolutely not. To be honest with you, I didn't think I would ever make it to that night. That's why you see me doing things the way that I do. I don't really plan so much for tomorrow or anything like that. I live every moment to the fullest and I never, ever thought I would make it here.
SS: I'm not sure if you even agree with this, but does it feel strange to be essentially one of the flagships of the company now?
JC: Oh, I don't even consider that. I don't even even take that into my mind. I go through all of my days just like I was when I was in Kentucky or southern California trying to work independents (wrestling's minor leagues). It's just that I'm in a different place right now and everything is going great but my attitude doesn't change.
SS: This next question is multiple-choice. Of the four following things you've done, which has been the biggest thrill for you - winning the championship and wrestling at Wrestlemania; doing the album and shooting the videos; doing the movie with Robert Patrick or throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park in Boston?
JC: The title and Wrestlemania, definitely. That is everybody's dream. Through all the other stuff - the music, the movies, even throwing out the first pitch - my life is between the ropes. That's where I truly love to be and that's where all of that comes together. This past WWE showed with all of those Wrestlemania trailers (the event was in Hollywood in April, so the WWE promoted it by re-enacting scenes from famous movies with wrestlers as actors) and with my album, we've also showed that we can do music, but through all of it, there's been no crossovers, no nothing. We're truly still wrestling every day. That's definitely the most important thing that ever happened to me.
SS: OK, but aren't you from New England? Aren't you a big Red Sox fan?
JC: Yes I am, I'm from West Newbury (Mass.). And if you had asked me if the Red Sox winning the World Series was a bigger thrill, well... Titles come and go but Red Sox World Series wins, that's once every 86 years. That was a big moment for me.
SS: Has there been any aspect of being a champion that has surprised you so far or that you haven't expected? In or out of the ring?
JC: The extra amount of work. The WWE champion is the front-runner of promotion, publicity, and customer-relations of Smackdown. You have to be everywhere and nowhere. It's not like you have to, you want to, because you are the champion. So, not only do you have to wrestle in unbelievably high-calibre matches, like the steel cage match (versus Angle Sunday in Grande Prairie), but I'm all over Toronto media (Thursday) and Friday and the machine just keeps on going. You really are put in the forefront in all of the monster promotion that is WWE.
SS: What's the toughest thing about being a pro wrestler? Is it strictly the physical grind, the travel...or the annoying media interviews?
JC: (Laughs) The interviews are great. The travel, though,
is the thing that gets you.
Travelling takes up so much of your time and it's not
like a professional sports team where you have a few
days in a city to relax, get yourself adjusted or go
out and take batting practice and catch a few balls
or whatever. We're in a city for hours at a time and
then we leave and go on to the next one.
With 250 live shows a year and travel on each end of that, even if you're doing any promotional stuff, you're on the road close to 300 days a year.
SS: So 250-plus shows a year for you is a safe estimate?
JC: Oh, of course. I don't miss anything. I've missed one show since I've been in the WWE and that was for a root canal. I had an infected tooth and they wouldn't let me fly out after the root canal. I missed a Saturday show but I made it back on the road for Monday.
SS: When you were a kid, who were your favourite wrestlers?
JC: Growing up, I followed pretty much everybody that everybody else did. My absolute favourite, though, was Hulk Hogan. I was a huge Hogan fan. Just because of where I was at in the country, in the northeast, I grew up with WWF, but I also watched a little AWA and a little NWA, so I love Dusty Rhodes, Sting, Macho Man (Randy Savage), Ricky Steamboat, the Road Warriors - those guys were all great. I always liked the big guys, too, like Butch Reed, Hercules, Billy Jack Haynes - the guys who were larger than life. They had super-hero status. Back then, even the guys who were a little bit stale in personality had some of the greatest managers of all time who acted as the mouthpiece for them. It was a trade-off.
SS: I understand that music has always been a big part of your life even before you were wrestling.
JC: Yeah, definitely. Everybody has their hobbies. But liking music and recording an album is sort of like fooling around with cars and then becoming a race car mechanic. The two things are very different. Everybody can turn wrenches, but when you have to do it to be real specific, you've go to make sure that you really put your best foot forward because you're going to be judged on your work. So that was the difference. I've messed around with rap my whole life, but then getting into the studio and actually making music - that's a whole different animal.
SS: Whose idea was it to do the album? Yours or the WWE's?
JC: It was actually all my idea and by the time (the WWE) found out about it, we had enough songs for our album done. There was no input from them. Absolutely none. I played the album for Vince (McMahon, the WWE's boss) and he said 'You know what? I don't want you releasing this thing independently. We're going to release it. I just would like you to work on it more.' For him to say that really lit a fire under my ass to really go back and make sure that we were giving him our best stuff and we were.
SS: Well, at the risk of putting down a former product from your company, your album is leaps and bounds better than the very first wrestling album back in the 1980s. I don't know if you ever bought it, but I did.
JC: Oh, Piledriver. Hell, yeah! I actually still think
I have it on vinyl.
Obviously, my album is different - it's a legitimate
music project. But we're kinda swimming upstream a
little bit. Every project that WWE has come out with
musically has been in association with the wrestling
and this is something completely different. The only
song that's on there that is in association with wrestling
is my theme song (You Can't See Me). It's another step
in the right direction - a step showing that WWE sports
entertainers truly have more than one facet. It's not
just a personality you see on TV.
Doing the movie is going to be another big thing that opens a lot of eyes to the fact that our roster has a lot of talent.
SS: How long did it take to film The Marine?
JC: It was three-and-a-half months in Australia and
that made for a very long commute for Smackdown. But
I came back and made every one of them. The movie was
one of those things that was very demanding and it
was a very different pace than WWE. WWE is a very high-paced,
live-action thing. The silver screen is much more meticulous
- they want you to do everything over again, so the
angles are right and everything else is right. It was
a different animal, but I enjoyed it and I hope that
I can do more of it.
Even though I was going back and forth from Australia, the set was relaxing. It wasn't like trying to get to a show and getting your ass kicked. It was totally different. But they also have different demands of you.
SS: You're obviously known for all of the sports team jerseys you wear to matches so I have to ask you if you have any hockey jerseys.
JC: Right now, I only have one with me and it's for Smackdown in Edmonton (next week) and I've got to leave it as a surprise. I had about four or five Edmonton jerseys I could have chosen from and I think I got a good one.
SS: Who do you think will be the next generation of stars in the WWE business?
JC: I'll give you a list of guys to watch: Shelton Benjamin (the current RAW Intercontinental champion). Orlando Jordan (Smackdown United States champion). (Former tag team champions) Doug and Danny Basham. Paul London (Smackdown cruiserweight champion). Lance Cade. MNM (Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro, the Smackdown tag team champions). Randy Orton, of course, but he's already big. Batista is the same thing, he's a champ. That's a pretty good foundation. Honestly, I know I'm missing a bunch because right now talent is a surplus. It's only going to be a situation of who is going to get the ball first.
SS: Last question. What kind of show can we expect here Sunday?
JC: I will put it to you this way: We have never been to Grande Prairie. The people in Grande Prairie are not only going to be so psyched-up, we are going to be able to feel that and know it. This show is doing extremely well. The crowd is going to be off the hook. If, for some reason, this show goes south until I get out there, I promise you that when we finally pack the ring up and the trucks roll out of town, everybody will get their money's worth and be thoroughly entertained. That's what we do. We've got the best show on the planet and that's what Grande Prairie is going to see.