M&F: You’re going to be 37 in April. If you look at the guys who stay in pro wrestling past 40 they don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to their bodies breaking down. You’ve experienced a lot of this yourself already. How do you feel coming off of the triceps tear last year?

John Cena: Actually, really good. I think being injured before, believe it or not, actually kind of helped me. Once you go through the physical therapy process and once you go through the rehab process, you know that if you stay dedicated and you stay consistent you’ll get healthier. A lot of guys you hear about take a lot of time to come back from rehab and just really don’t stay consistent with their physical therapy because quite frankly it’s repetitive and it’s boring, but it’s the stuff that you need to do.

During your feud with The Rock over the last two years, I really love that a lot of the promos you guys were cutting, you came out and acknowledged the elephant in the room, the divide within the WWE universe, which you summarized as “Let’s Go Cena,” “Cena Sucks.” How many of the older fans you see on the street who come up to you and are honest about how they feel about you and how they dislike you, and do you understand where they’re coming from at all?

It’s weird, you talk about the honesty of our fan base, I meet so many people in what I do and they all certainly have an opinion on what we do. That’s what makes them a part of our WWE universe. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve met that say, “You know what, I hate John Cena the character, but quite frankly, you’re a pretty decent human being.” Which I don’t get because I’m about the closest to a character and a real person you can get. My persona on television is, aside from the fact that I don’t really walk around in jean shorts and Ts and wristbands all the time, is pretty damn close to me.

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Do you ever feel like reminding some of these guys without that ultimate good guy, without someone like a Hulk Hogan, that they themselves probably wouldn’t have even become fans in the first place?

No, no, I think that’s what’s great about our audience. We had a wonderful event last night in Pittsburgh at Consol Energy and the crowd actually took it upon themselves to where they wanted to be the stars of the show. It made for an interesting element and that’s what makes WWE so interesting. Its unpredictability, its “live as it happens” atmosphere and I think that you get more than anything in any other sport, in any other area of entertainment. In a sport, if you have a home team, you root for the home team. In WWE there is no home team, you pick your favorites, you cheer for them, and really the crowd can turn on a dime and react a certain way on any given night. Last night was a perfect example at the Royal Rumble. It made it great. We had 16,000 WWE fans chanting whatever they want, creating an atmosphere that they loved and it ended up being a great event.

So what you do with that, you’ve obviously got so much positive energy being thrown at you, especially from the younger fans, and then you’ve got all this negative coming at you. Do you look at it as: Either way it’s heat? Either way the people feel really strongly one way or another? Because you’d be in trouble if they didn’t care at all.

I’ve been here for 12 years now and the one thing I’ve noticed, that I noticed very early on, is that you just can’t please everybody. You go out there and if you keep changing your ideals, then you essentially stand for nothing, so you might as well pick something to stand for and be remembered good, bad, or indifferent for standing for that. That’s pretty much at a very, very early age, the kind of approach I took to all this.

That Push You Need in the Gym

Back when you were calling yourself The Prototype … Do you ever look at all this merchandise, it’s all over the world, and say “Boy that would look kind of funny if it had The Prototype on it instead of my name?”

No, I’m actually thankful that I got to use my name, even with positives and negatives, at least I’m remembered for me. I couldn’t think of a better way, I think, hell, if you believe in something enough, a piece of merchandise is what it is. As long as you believe in it, it looks good. I’ve kind of carved out a little corner for myself as being authentic. Like I said, John Cena the man of WWE is very close to John Cena the man in real life. I’m glad it’s my real name because it’s close to me.

If I was to have some sort of nickname or moniker…you know a lot of guys have that I think as their one way on the field, as I often relate to sports, and another way off the field. I’m so damn close that it’s like … take Dwayne for example. There’s The Rock and then there’s Dwayne Johnson. There’s a distinct difference. I’m not like that; I’m me, what you see is what you get, so I’m actually glad to use my name. Hell, when I was training in armories and whatever, I had to take a name, they could have called me whatever they wanted to.

Are you and The Rock close now?

Absolutely.

Closer because of that feud?

Definitely. I think we both always had an unspoken respect for each other. But it’s amazing what you can pull off and be so successful. Essentially, in some respect, he became a business partner. But when you have a successful business venture, a lot of times it becomes personal. Especially in ours where it’s a business based on performance. I learned a lot about him, he certainly learned a lot about me and I think we both are unexpectedly pleased with what we found out about each other.

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He was making fun of the colors of the wristbands and the hats … He throws the Fruity Pebbles thing at you and the next thing you know you’ve got a commercial for Fruity Pebbles. Do you think that surprised him? Your ability to take whatever he’s thrown at you and turn it into a positive?

I think that’s one of the things he kind of was taken aback by. His personality was very brash, you know, taking an opponent and just dissecting him verbally, but we live in a different time. We’re in a giant anti-bullying campaign. It’s a different era. It takes a certain type of person to be able to brush that off and make something out of it. When he saw that kind of stuff, not only the Fruity Pebbles thing, but just the way I would handle it. Usually when agitated, you counter that with aggression. I laughed it off and countered it with stuff of my own. I think he was taken aback by that. It was pretty cool.

When you were playing football at Springfield College, was the WWE a big thing amongst you and your friends? Did the guys get together and watch a lot?

Yeah, we had numerous TVs and that was in the height of the Monday night wars so I remember switching back and forth in between programs. It was a different time.

Do you ever see it going back that way? There’s certainly a huge section of fans on the Internet who would love to see it go back to more of the Attitude Era way of things.

No, I don’t. Not in the near future as the company gets more successful. You’ve got to remember when you think back to the Attitude Era, which, believe it or not, with the new WWE Network, you’ll be able to watch everything from the Attitude Era, so if that’s what you want, that’s what you get. I think they just had more identifiable superstars.

Me looking at it in a big picture scenario—that’s all we need. We’re really doing a good job to put those guys front and center. I think the great thing about the Attitude Era was not necessarily dropping an F-bomb, but just the passion that the guys had, the number of top quality talent that the company had, the fact that we had competition. A lot of elements play into that and of course you always remember the fish that got away story. You talk about “back in my day, this was like this, and back in my day this was like this.” From a company standpoint, we’re more successful than we’ve ever been. There would be no reason to change the business model.

Are you disappointed that The Marine didn’t serve as a springboard into more?

No. Movies are tough. It takes a different kind of cat to do movies. I like the photo shoot because it’s so quick. I like that stuff. Get in, get out, don’t get hurt. Movies require an unbelievable amount of patience.

Fourteen hour days, all the time.

Fourteen hour days isn’t a problem. Fourteen hour days of sitting in a trailer and then they’ll say, “We need you … Oh, wait, no we don’t. It’s going to be 20 more minutes, we’ve got to do the lighting.” Can we just shoot? I’m here, we’ve got a camera, we’re good. I’d rather do Saturday Night Live or something like that.

I’m looking back at an old Men’s Fitness interview from 2005 where the interviewer asked you how much you could bench and you said 315 and added, “That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? Doesn’t it look like I should be able to do more?” In a recent video, though, you’re benching 481. How did you improve it so much?

I’m certainly concentrating on the Olympic lifts more than I did in 2004/5 but I guess the term that you guys could use, and you probably throw it all throughout your magazine is functional strength. I’m trying to be more functionally strong. Although it’s an exercise that not many CrossFitters would use, in our profession, the bench press or any sort of push movement is something that’s used a lot, so it’s a functional movement and one that I train. Because I’m focusing on that and trying to make it the best I can, at the ripe old age of 36 going on 37, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been.

John Cena Squats 595 Pounds

Let’s run all the numbers. What’s your best ever squat?

600

Bench?

481

Deadlift?

664

Clean and jerk?

Best recorded clean and jerk is 286. Best recorded clean is 358. Best recorded overhead press is 344. Snatch is 304.

Where is your life without fitness?

Non-existent. I can confidently say that … it’s been a part of my life for 25 years now. No matter how busy my life is, no matter how many things I get involved with, I always find time for lifts. That’s the number one priority in my life. I can’t do without it. 

Ten years from now, where are you going to be?

Hopefully some senior [powerlifting] meet where I can put up a decent total. Hopefully in some capacity involved with WWE. I’d still like to be training heavy and hard and still involved with this company.

For a guy who wants to look like you, is there one particular mode of training you would steer that person toward or do you think that guys need to expose themselves to all these different modalities—bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, powerlifting—as you’ve done?

I think the one undying principle that has kept me the way I am over the years is consistency. To those out there who are starting from their first step and wanting to achieve a certain physique or a certain level of strength, they’re going to be able to try a lot of different things to get there. As long as they consistently apply themselves, and I think that’s in any discipline if they want greater endurance, greater strength, lower body fat, lower body weight, higher muscle mass, whatever their goal is. We can talk shop and analytics and strength and conditioning all day or whatever, but I think the primary directive is consistency.