Go up to any random person on the street and ask them to name a current WWE wrestler. Who will they say?
Chances are, they’ll respond with “John Cena.” (Then slowly back away from this crazy person randomly asking them about WWE wrestling no doubt).
Yes, after a decade of constantly being pushed as the center-piece of the company, Cena is indisputably the top full-time name in the business.
(Hollywood star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a bigger mainstream presence, of course, but can’t be considered full-time.)
Cena has appeared on various popular television shows like Psych. He’s got several movie roles under his belt. He’s the face of Fruity Pebbles. He even released a rap album (which actually wasn’t too bad by wrestler-turned-musician standards) back in 2004.
His hugely admirable work with children’s charity Make-A-Wish over the past decade has also garnered him a great deal of attention and acclaim.
For people in the mainstream, John Cena is pro wrestling in the 2000s.
But what is his future?
Well, as noted, the star does have extensive acting experience, but a possible transition to Hollywood when he retires may be out of the question.
Oh, he would get regular work no doubt—like Steve Austin does—but could he ever emulate the success in movies Rock has had? Eh, probably not.
You see, despite Cena's superb promo ability, he’s not much of an actor, nor does his charisma pass over to the silver screen.
He also has a patchy track record at drawing. 2006’s The Marine made a fortune and was the most successful WWE Studios film ever until The Call was released last week—likely due to the novelty value—but every other movie he’s been in has lost a fair amount of cash. (Numbers from Wrestlechat.net)
OK, maybe these weren’t the best films or the best material (how many times are we going to see Cena rescue his kidnapped girlfriend?), but the message is clear: While they may be eager to watch him on Raw or SmackDown, the fans aren’t terribly keen to see him in films.
So, what is the former WWE champion’s future in the mainstream?
Will he end up like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair in his post-WWE life, doing the rounds in the reality TV business and doing regular commercial work for companies? Will he attempt an acting career, like Austin or Kevin Nash? Or will he leave the business and live a quiet retirement, a la Bill Goldberg?
Well, first of all, let’s hope Cena is too smart and sensible to allow his life to turn into the tabloid free-for-all that has blighted Hogan and Flair’s later years (those two certainly aren’t growing old gracefully).
Could Cena succeed at something outside of WWE?
It’s also possible that, unlike Hogan, Austin, Goldberg, etc. Cena won’t even try to have a career outside of wrestling, ever.
Barring a huge bust-up with Vince McMahon, there’s no reason he shouldn’t always be associated with America’s No.1 wrestling company in some manner or other. Similar to Mick Foley, he could take on an ambassador-like role.
Come on, after so long safely entrenched in a billion-dollar corporation like WWE, could he ever really strike out on his own and pursue an independent career? Probably not.
WWE has made Cena famous, but it has also restricted him in many ways. When something has been your life for well over a decade, it’s hard to walk away entirely.
It’s difficult to say what Cena’s future in pop culture is. But, rest assured, it probably won’t be one without Vince McMahon and the WWE marketing machine behind him. He's too much of a company man for anything else.