John Cena: WWE’s Renaissance Man

John Cena

Per Bernal

Although he taunts opponents with his signature catchphrase, “You can’t see me,” the truth about John Cena is that you can catch a glimpse of the WWE Superstar just about anywhere these days. Cena has been a staple on WWE Network and one of its top draws for the past 15 years—and for good reason. With his quick wit, golden tongue on the mic, and jaw-dropping displays of strength—hoisting a 450-pound man onto his back and slamming him into the mat is just another day at the office—Cena has morphed into a living legend in the ring as well as the guy fans love—and love to hate.

SEE ALSO: John Cena’s Upper-Body Workout Routine

At 39, Cena has expressed no signs of hanging up his boots and shorts. He has, however, been showcasing his talents outside WWE. Last year he hosted the ESPYs, Saturday Night Live, and the Fox competition series American Grit, which has been given the green light for another season. These projects were built upon memorable cameos in the 2015 comedies Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer, and Sisters, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And you’ll see even more of Cena on the silver screen, as he’s about to board the publicity train to promote The Wall, a psychological thriller from Amazon Studios in which he plays a U.S. soldier caught in a standoff with a sniper in Iraq (release date to be determined). And WrestleMania 33 invades Orlando, FL, on April 2.

SEE ALSO: John Cena’s Full-Body Workout Routine

M&F caught up with Cena while he hit the weights in his hometown of Tampa to talk training, hydration, and snipers.

M&F: Before becoming a WWE Superstar you worked at Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA. What did you do?

JOHN CENA: Everything. I was most well-known for being the guy getting folks water, pre-workout drinks, supplements, Gold’s Gym shirts. I was kind of the mayor of Gold’s Gym. [Gold’s] Venice was like a Grand Central Station for bodybuilding at the time. Then Gold’s went public and the business model changed, and so did the dynamic of Gold’s Venice. It’s still a really, really unique place to go, and every time we’re out West, I always stroll back in there.

John Cena Stretching

​Per Bernal

You were a competitive bodybuilder back then. Did you ever want to make that a career?

Just like playing Division III football you kind of know you’re never going to be in the NFL. Being a 6′ natural bodybuilder at a competition [weight] of 218 to 220 pounds, I knew that I wasn’t going to be a professional [bodybuilder]. It was just something to keep me in shape. I’ve always really needed a purpose to stay in shape, whether it was playing football or trying to work toward a competition or, then, when WWE came along.

You’ve been the “Face That Runs the Place” at WWE for 15 years. Is there any Superstar you’ve never had the chance to work with that you wish you had or could?

Past Superstar—Andre [the Giant], because Andre was the measuring stick for so long. Not only in the ring but also backstage. There’s something about earning the respect of your peers that I think is just an intrinsic, valuable thing for me in this industry. If I’m on the callout list, I’ll call out [Stone Cold] Steve Austin. Every time he shows up I try to say, “Hey, man, I know you got one more left.”

Who is the future face of WWE?

That is a good and interesting question. I believe the industry has changed [again]. I saw it change in the early ’90s when WWE switched to the Attitude Era. I saw it change in the early 2000s when WWE switched to the Ruthless Aggression Era. I can see it has again changed now. I think you’ll see the brand shift from a one-person thing to a bunch of people, especially because we have so many brands now, with 205 Live, NXT, and SmackDown.

Will this new shift be what WWE fans are looking for?

You’ll never be able to give them one individual who they like, because quite frankly, once someone gets notoriety, that demographic doesn’t like it. Anyone who tries to become popular will not be popular. It’s a weird contradiction in terms because the audience won’t allow it.

John Cena Plyometric Pushup

​Per Bernal

How has your training changed since you were first on the cover of M&F in 2004?

In 2004, [my training] was more focused on aesthetics. I was young and bulletproof. I could just go into the gym and work out really intense and repeat and repeat and repeat. I didn’t have to care about precautions, pre-workout, post-workout mobility, or recovery. I could eat anything I wanted to—it was damn near 15 years ago, man! That’s a long time ago. Nowadays, it takes longer to get me going. I started switching to more sports-performance and strength-related stuff in 2006–2007. It’s much more [focused] on strength and performance rather than aesthetics.

Are there exercises you’ve done away with because they either don’t provide enough benefits or aren’t worth the injury risk?

I guess all isolation movements, like biceps curls, and all the small [muscles] that people really like to focus on—except for purposes of physical therapy. I work on mass-movement concepts now.

Tapout has embraced the transition of athletic wear from guy training in whatever isn’t dirty to comfy, stylish workout gear. When did you notice the change?

When I was in my infancy in training I always was notorious for doing a lot of lower-body work, and I used to be really picky about the shorts and the warmup pants that I would wear because they had to fit and allow me to move through my full range of motion. Manufacturers didn’t really hook on to that. It was so difficult to find workout apparel that was functional but [also] made me feel good about putting it on, until just recently. That’s weird to say about clothes, but I feel the same when I put on a suit. There’s nothing worse than spending a day in an ill-fitting suit, and there’s nothing worse than trying to work out in clothes that don’t perform well. So I’m really fortunate to align with Tapout—a company that actually makes stuff that fits and performs well.

John Cena Pullup

Per Bernal

WrestleMania 33 is April 2 in Orlando, FL. What will be your life like leading up to the “Grandest Stage of Them All”?

It gets busy. It’s the biggest event WWE has, so along with that comes publicity. You have to hit the promotional trail and let everybody know that the world’s biggest sports-entertainment event is coming to Orlando and tell everybody to either watch it live or tune into WWE Network. I think WrestleMania speaks for itself. It is truly a cultural phenomenon, and it’s bigger and better every year. This year in Orlando is going to be spectacular.

Between promoting WWE, Tapout, and The Wall, how do you keep your diet and goals on track?

I invest in myself. The busier you get, the more you have to do that. There are a lot of folks out there who fancy themselves budding entrepreneurs. Just remember, there are only 24 hours in the day, and those hours get used up fast. You have to invest in your product, and if you are a brand who is a human being, you have to invest in yourself.

Any specific diet advice you can offer?

Don’t make bad choices. We all know what is good for you and what is bad for you. Make sure to drink enough water, [and] that’s absolutely it. Period. I don’t care what diet you’re on, whether you’re in ketosis or you’re trying to do a split-carb protein whatever—if you don’t have the time to think about all that stuff because it’s extremely time-consuming, make good choices, and drink enough water.

John Cena, The Wall

David James/Courtesy of Amazon Studios & Roadside Attractions

What was it like working with director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson?

Doug Liman is a very talented director but certainly demands the most out of his employees. I love that, because my boss, Vince McMahon, is the same way. It was a pleasure to work with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, too. He is a star; he made me better, and it was a really cool thing to do.

The Wall looks to be a departure from your previous action-heavy starring roles in The Marine (2006), 12 Rounds (2009), and The Reunion (2012). What are the major differences?

The other stuff is effects-based action—guy loses girl, guy chases girl, stuff blows up. That’s easy. [The Wall] really goes into the mind of a sniper. There’s not a lot of action— it’s two guys, in a movie for 90 minutes, and you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s a really, really intrinsic thriller of the psychology, and counter-psychology, of sniping. You sit and you watch and you wait. The psychological component of being a sniper is about which targets to hit, the order of operations, and the psychology between the sniper and his father. I read the script in 15 minutes, and I don’t blast-read anything. I said, “If there’s any way that I can be a part of this at all, please let me know.” The guys at Amazon Studios were really happy to have me onboard. I’m so glad. I think people will look at this and just be moved.