John Cena Shoots on Branching out of WWE, Roman Reigns, Vince McMahon and More
The 16-time world champion is set to star in F9 this June followed by The Suicide Squad in August. He'll also be prominently featured in a spinoff series based on his character in the latter film called Peacemaker on HBO Max.
Most importantly, he's currently co-hosting the reboot of Wipeout Thursday nights on TBS alongside comedian Nicole Byer. The duo provide commentary for spectacular spills on one of the most extreme obstacle courses ever constructed, similar to the original version of the show that ran from 2008 to 2014.
With Cena's hosting and acting gigs becoming more frequent in recent years, his WWE appearances have been much more sparse. He was last seen by the WWE Universe losing to Bray Wyatt in a Firefly FunHouse match at WrestleMania 36 in April 2020, and there's no timetable on when he'll return.
His time on top in WWE was longer than anyone else who preceded him, having competed in countless main events for over a decade. He's done virtually everything there is to within the wrestling realm but keeps coming back because of his passion for the product.
Despite The Doctor of Thuganomics missing WrestleMania this year for the first time since joining the main roster in 2002, he'll always have a home at WWE and is guaranteed to reemerge eventually. In the meantime, fans can enjoy all of his other projects and continue to bear witness to his rise as an actor, pop culture icon and mainstream celebrity.
Cena took the time to speak with Bleacher Report about the success of Wipeout on TBS, his positive outlook on life and social media, watching WrestleMania as a fan, the current WWE landscape and much more. Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide and read on for the highlights.
Return of 'Wipeout' and Putting a New Spin on the Show
Wipeout originally ran from 2008 to 2014 on ABC and was an instant hit among viewers. Along with Nicole Byer, Cena is one of the new hosts for the reboot on TBS and has proved to be an excellent fit for the show so far.
Its April 1 premiere on TBS made it the new top unscripted series in all of cable, pulling in just over a million viewers. Cena hasn't squandered the opportunity to enjoy its continued success as he strives to be better every day about allowing joy into his life.
"Nicole and I had a lot of fun making the show, and we were very much involved and into it," he said. "To know a lot of people are entertained by it, it gives you the sense of satisfaction like going out to a WWE ring and having a good match. Whether it's on television or non-televised or a large amount like at WrestleMania, just to know that the audience that watched were entertained, that's a good plus."
This rebooted version of Wipeout is similar to the original as far as the concept and obstacle course are concerned, but Cena and Byer taking the reigns as co-hosts (in addition to Camille Kostek serving as the sideline reporter) gives the show a fresh coat of paint.
Staying true to what initially endeared viewers to the show a decade ago was important to Cena during filming, but putting their own spin on it was also of top priority.
"We wanted to keep the spirit of the show lighthearted," he said. "I think the people at TBS realized Nicole and I were also passionate about being in front of the contestants. I wish we had a little bit more of that. I think that's really special. Nicole and I both really enjoyed hosting, and the fact that the show hasn't lost its ability to laugh at itself is what makes it special.
"I like that they've made the course different and kept the roots of it," he added, "but the thing I like most about it is its ability to laugh at itself, which is what makes it OK for you as a viewer to laugh along with us."
Which WWE Stars Would Fare Well on Wipeout?
In the three weeks that Wipeout has been back on the air, only the most elite athletes have managed to finish the arduous obstacle course and walk away with the $25,000 cash prize. Of course, those who aren't as well-suited for the show still manage to make the air as their shortcomings make for entertaining television.
Cena himself has yet to attempt the course and doesn't plan on doing so. When asked about what WWE Superstars would do well in Wipeout, he didn't hesitate to name some of the company's biggest adrenaline junkies.
“I think Ricochet would do really well," he said. "I think AJ Styles would do well, [and] the entire cast of 205 Live. Any of the high-fliers. The course is made to test your agility, gymnastic ability. I would give it to that group or anybody who falls close to that group. With contestants like myself, the more heavyweight guys, who are—as Michael Cole would say—a bit more unorthodox, we'd have more of a challenge.”
Despite all of the success Cena has experienced, both in and out of WWE, he's been no stranger to failure. Most notably, he was almost released by the company within months of debuting on the main roster in 2002 but quickly turned his luck around to become one of its biggest stars of all time.
Thus, he's had his fair share of "wipeouts" over the course of his career, with his love affair with weight training being chief among them.
"That started when I was 12, I'll be 44 this month, so that's 32 years of failure, every day," he laughed. "You walk in there with high spirits, and I've never been involved with something where you get so excited about failure. You push your body until it fails, and you bask in the beautiful exhaustion.
"As far as failing on a regular basis, my love affair with weight training started to familiarize me with failure and the concept that true failure comes with true success."
His Approach to Social Media
If you're on Twitter, Cena is an absolute must-follow, and there's a chance he's following you, too. With almost 13 million followers on Twitter alone, he's following roughly 245,000 of those accounts back.
It's a relatively recent phenomenon, and he's never explained his actions until now. Simply put, he jumps at any chance he gets to give his followers a sense of satisfaction from knowing that he knows they exist.
"We always talk about followers, how many people are following me," he said. "I just think it's important, and I obviously can't speak to everyone because there's not enough minutes in the day, to let someone know you're there with something as simple as hitting a 'follow' button.
"I can do a few minutes at a time if I'm traveling in a car or have a few moments to myself or just cracking a message for the day. I can follow a group of people who my message resonated with or they've been following me for a while or they see my positivity and motivation.
"I'm very grateful for everyone who looks at those messages because it's why, among other things, those two new books are out because it's almost like a greatest hits or culmination of Twitter journaling," he continued. "I think following and listening to folks and just recognizing their existence is as important, if not more important, than people following you."
Cena's approach to social media on the whole is inspiring, to say the least. He offers words of wisdom on his Twitter timeline almost every day, whereas on Instagram, he routinely posts pictures for his own amusement.
He likes coming up with new ways to keep his followers thinking, engaged and motivated.
"I enjoy what I do with social media because it keeps me creative," Cena said. "I also use it like a daily journal. It's very much on my mind that I should be accountable for what I say. A lot of the existence on social media is brash, abrasive, argumentative, and I think it's that way to give the lack of accountability and say whatever we want and not be held accountable for it. To me, it reinforces my self-worth. If I reach anyone, that's great, but I do it for me.
"I didn't get a reputation in WWE for being the most gifted technician," he added. "That's far outside of my grasp, but certainly whether people enjoyed what I did or not, I think they would say that I walked the talk and love the company I work for. I say 'I love' not 'loved,' and 'work' not 'worked,' because I have been, am and always will be a WWE Superstar.
"I don't think there's anyone who can debate my passion or values for the product, the company or how I live my life. This is just an extra degree of accountability that [social media] gives me."
Missing WrestleMania 37
For almost two decades, Cena has been synonymous with WrestleMania.
He made his in-ring debut at The Showcase of the Immortals at WrestleMania 20 in 2004, beating Big Show for the United States Championship. In the years that followed, he successfully won and defended multiple world titles and put down the likes of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Batista and The Rock.
Cena started to take a backseat at the event in 2014 when he had a midcard match against Bray Wyatt. His role at the event has been curtailed more and more each year since then, and he wasn't even a part of this year's event due to his filming schedule for Peacemaker in Vancouver.
"We all have a window," he said. "And I love listening to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin talk about his window. My goal when I stepped foot in WWE was to leave it better than I found it, and it's really great to be able to see an event.
"I almost had the best transition you can possibly have. My last two WrestleManias were very interesting: an almost cinematic-type match and before that I was a fan. I got to sit in the crowd and see WrestleMania. I got to see the product. I got to see a stadium full of fans and it was beautiful. I felt at home."
He was excited to be able to watch The Show of Shows as a fan again this year, but he has no regrets at not being at Raymond James Stadium and feels blessed to be in the position he finds himself in at the moment.
"I want to be where I am and doing what I am, that's why I made that choice," Cena said. "I think it's really special, and we all think they're never going to go on without us. That's not true. It's more reassuring to me to not only see that WWE has a life after me, which is inevitable for sure, but that the life is thriving.
"There's so many great storylines, so many great matches. It's called WrestleMania, not CenaMania, you know? I've been a part [of it], and that part is over."
His Relationship with Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon telling the WWE roster on June 24, 2002 edition of Raw that he wanted to see some "ruthless aggression" was what led to Cena debuting days later on SmackDown and using that exact phrase before facing Kurt Angle. The rest is history.
The 16-time world champion has made it quite clear over the years that he wasn't handpicked to be the face of the company from the get-go. Instead, he had to work his way up and even avoid getting cut at one point in order to make a believer out of the WWE chairman.
He's forever grateful to McMahon for all of the opportunities he's afforded him over the course of his career. It was Vince making him a household name that eventually led to Cena finding success in Hollywood and elsewhere outside of WWE—something that is quite rare for wrestlers.
"Vince McMahon to me is more than anyone could realize," Cena said. "He's a close friend, a mentor, a father figure. He means a tremendous amount to me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to conceptualize how much I love him and how much he means to me."
Another important aspect of their relationship is McMahon being happy for everything Cena has accomplished in the acting world and not having hard feelings over him being busy with other projects. He's aware that Cena growing his brand makes more people aware of his roots in WWE.
"It's also appreciative that someone like that understands what I'm doing and approaches my choices with empathy rather than apathy," he said. "The guy who runs the joint isn't saying, 'Screw it, get down here! It's on a weekend, I know you're not working!' He approaches those choices with empathy, saying, 'This is a great opportunity for you, John. You're always a part of this family, and if you do well, we all do well.' I reciprocate in saying that I want the WWE to thrive.
"That's why I've invested so much of my blood, sweat and tears. I don't want to see it fall off. I want to see it be everywhere. I want to see it be larger. I want to see it have more success. I want people to look back and not say, 'Oh, man, it was great when...' I want people to say, 'He kind of opened the door for what's going on now.'"
Why Roman Reigns Is at the Top of His Game Right Now
Cena has beaten practically every icon he's encountered in WWE, but a singles win over Roman Reigns has always alluded him.
The one and only match they had came at No Mercy in 2017, when Cena put over The Big Dog in spectacular fashion. Reigns seemed uncertain on the mic during their many promo battles in the weeks preceding the pay-per-view, but he has come a long way since then and is now in the midst of his best run yet as universal champion.
Cena has been paying close attention to The Tribal Chief's heel work on SmackDown and feels he's finally firing on all cylinders as a character.
"Roman is walking in his own steps, he follows in no one's footsteps," he said. "This happens every time a marquee attraction has moved on. I went through it, everybody said it with Steve [Austin] and The Rock and I understand that. But Roman is crafting his own path, and I think it's very important to say that he's doing a great job. I feel this is the best he's ever been and that comes with comfort. I don't know what got him over that hill, but he's over it and that's a very important one to jump over."
Cena compared it to his own initial rise, going from just another guy on the roster early in the Ruthless Aggression era to a main event player within a few years thanks to his rap gimmick at the time. Once he started embracing who he was, he started to see success, and Reigns has been no different.
"I just went out there comfortable with who I was and comfortable even if I failed," he said. "Taking brave choices and those brave choices haven't stopped and aren't stopping today as I continue to try to challenge myself. Roman has hit that point and that is, for audiences, a beautiful thing. Now he's going to challenge himself and entertain the audience in ways they didn't think he was capable of."
How the ThunderDome Era Has Been a Blessing in Disguise
Cena was present at one of WWE's final live shows in front of fans at the end of February 2020. That was when he was challenged to a match at WrestleMania 36 by "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt.
The Champ will tell you he's a man of the people and would struggle with hitting a stride under the current circumstances at the ThunderDome.
Roman Reigns isn't the only person who has caught Cena's eye during the pandemic era, though. He has been blown away by the work of several Superstars because of their ability to adapt and make the most of the empty-arena atmosphere.
"I'm very, very impressed with Roman among other people on the WWE roster with how great they've become," Cena said. "I honestly think it may be because there's no live audience. This would be the toughest obstacle for me to overcome, but I really think it's brought the best out in people because they've had to redefine themselves and they can't feed off the energy of the audience on their performance. It's just them out there.
"Sometimes performers can go out there and falsely hear the noise," he continued. "They hear a few people cheer and think it's fantastic. Now, they have to be in the product. They have to see their results and can't use that as a blindfold. It's actually brought the best out in people.
"I can't wait for people to return to arenas, but I think this spell has been good for a lot of the performers because they have to overcome that obstacle of finding out who they really are and that alone takes the performers to their success or failure."
Catch Cena on Wipeout as it airs every Thursday on TBS at 9/8c.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.