This weekend, The Cenation Leader, The Face That Runs the Place, The Champ, John Cena, turns 40. For more than a decade, he’s been the biggest name in pro wrestling, but he hasn’t always been the John Cena. There was a time when Cena was just another muscular dude, fumbling his way through the business on luck and determination. Was John Cena destined for greatness? Maybe, but nobody’s life is a straight line.
Here are a few things you might not know about the years before The Champ truly arrived…
John Cena’s battles began during his birth.
John Felix Anthony Cena brappadooed his way into the world on April 23, 1977, although the birth wasn’t without complications. According to comments made by John Cena Sr., little Johnny was born with the umbilical cord wrapped three times around his neck, which was obviously an extremely scary situation. Miraculously, Cena survived his difficult birth unscathed, not suffering any long-term effects. John Cena, overcoming the odds since birth.
12-year-old Cena asked for a weightlifting bench for Christmas.
John was the second-oldest of five kids (all boys) and pro wrestling was the Cena family’s main source of televised entertainment. The Cena boys would set up makeshift rings in the basement out of mattresses, and battle for hand-drawn cardboard belts. John was, of course, the mastermind and perennial champ of the Cena Basement Wrestling Federation.
John also got into body building early on. Like, really early on. Cena was being picked on at school, so when he was 12, he asked Santa for a weightlifting bench. He got it. By the time Cena graduated high school, he was massive and competing in bodybuilding contests. If you’ve ever wanted to know what’s under those jorts, there are more pictures of thong-clad bodybuilder John Cena out there than you might think. Just sayin’.
He attended a fancy private boarding school.
Most fans are well aware that John Cena didn’t actually come from the mean streets. I mean, given the average household income of West Newbury, Massachusetts, Cena might have fit in with the Mean Street Posse, but that’s about it. Just how cushy was John Cena’s upbringing? During his high school years, he went to a private boarding school literally called Cushing Academy. Was Silver Spoon Preparatory all booked up?
Cushing Academy describes itself as a “coeducational boarding school dedicated to educating the mind, shaping the character, and nurturing the character of young men and women.” Sounds pretty rough! Currently tuition for a year is $55,000, but I’m sure it was much cheaper back in Cena’s day. Probably had to pay in HARD KNOCKS. Yeah, that’s it.
Cena was a college football All-American, but quit because he was too small.
After High School, Cena went to Springfield College, where he played Division III football, and no-doubt hassled plenty of nerds. Cena was actually selected as an All-American, but ultimately decided not to push his football career further. Why? Because, in Cena’s words, he was “way too small.” Don’t let Vince McMahon hear that.
He got his start playing a knockoff of The Terminator.
After graduating from college, Cena moved to California and toyed with the idea of becoming a professional bodybuilder. While out west, Cena was introduced to the pro wrestling business by Mike Bell, who today is best-known as the ill-fated “star” of the steroid documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster.
Cena began training with and wrestling for Ultimate Pro Wrestling out of Los Angeles. It was there where he created his first gimmick, The Prototype, who was, in Cena’s words “50% man, 50% machine, and 100% mayhem.” Later, when Cena jumped to WWF development territory OVW, the character got toned down a bit, becoming the prototypical man/wrestler, but originally the dude was supposed to be a straight-up robot. Honestly, Cena being mechanical would explain a lot.
His debut match against Kurt Angle was a last-second replacement.
On June 27, 2002, a brash newcomer named John Cena showed up unannounced on Smackdown, answering an open challenge made by Kurt Angle. Cena wouldn’t win the match, but it was nevertheless an unforgettable, career-defining moment. A moment that wasn’t supposed to happen.