John Cena's Real-Life Story Is Better Than Any Movie
John Cena has come a long way. Over the last 20 years, the Massachusetts native and former college football player has become one of the biggest stars in the world — first as a professional wrestler, then as a film and television star on the biggest scale.
But Cena's career has never seen the heights it has now. He's starring in two of the biggest movies in 2021, "F9," the ninth film in "The Fast and Furious" film franchise, and the DC blockbuster "The Suicide Squad," where he plays comic book anti-hero Peacemaker.
This is how Cena became the star he is today. And he's not your average big shot. In fact, his real-life story is better than any movie.
Let's Start With 'The Suicide Squad'
The origin story of "The Suicide Squad" is one of the more interesting Hollywood tales of the last decade. The original movie in the franchise, "Suicide Squad," was released in 2016 starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie and met with box-office success. But it also got a critical throttling.
So DC swapped out directors, picking up "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn after he was briefly fired by Marvel, to direct a sort-of sequel to the 2016 film. Many of the main characters return to the cast in this one, along with the addition of stars like John Cena, Idris Elba and Pete Davidson.
Who Is Peacemaker?
Cena's character is one of the more recognizable members of "The Suicide Squad." They are essentially a group of superheroes/criminals/villains, who only get rolled out for the most insane tasks impossible, thus the name.
Peacemaker — original name Christopher Smith — made his first appearance in DC Comics in 1967, but Cena's portrayal is the first time he's ever been in a live-action film.
What's his schtick? He's so committed to peace that he's willing to kill anyone who gets in the way of it.
The Summer of Cena
This isn't the first blockbuster film to feature John Cena in 2021. Not that he planned it that way.
"F9" was originally scheduled to be released in 2020 but was delayed for a year because of the pandemic. In that film, Cena plays Jakob Toretto, the brother of Vin Diesel's character, Dominic Toretto, and the two sorta bump heads after Dom blames his younger bro for a car crash that killed their father, then banishes Jakob from town after losing a race to Dom.
Massachusetts Born and Bred
Cena was born in West Newbury, Massachusetts, on April 23, 1977. He shares a birthday with the other famous member of his family — grandfather Tony Lupien, a former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, who played six seasons in the majors.
Lupien was well-known far beyond the end of his playing career as the head coach of the baseball team at Dartmouth College for 21 seasons. He even led the team to the College World Series in 1970.
Football Dreams Come True
Cena was a star offensive lineman at Cushing Academy before going on to play college football at NCAA Division III Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He earned All-American honors playing center, and his college jersey, No. 54, is still featured on some WWE promotional materials.
Not Quite NFL Material
At just 6-foot-1 and between 230 and 240 pounds, Cena was hardly NFL material for the center position.
So shortly after graduation in 1999, he headed west, moving to California to pursue a career as a professional bodybuilder.
From Humble Beginnings to a Big Break
Cena's bodybuilding career didn't last too long, but it did bring him to Gold's Gym in Venice Beach, where he trained, cleaned toilets and even got featured in a commercial.
Like many stars, before they become stars, Cena was humbled by Hollywood and looking to break into the entertainment industry.
Cena made ends meet as a limo driver while plotting his next step, where he eventually made inroads in the world of professional wrestling.
Cena Becomes 'The Prototype'
Cena's first big break came when he was given a spot at Ultimate Pro Wrestling's Ultimate University in 1999. This was where he was cast in his first wrestling persona as "The Prototype." Part of it was documented on The Discovery Channel reality series "Inside Pro Wrestling School" in 2000.
Cena became the UPW champion in April 2000 and was with the company until the beginning of 2001.
Something to Prove in the WWF
Cena continued wrestling as The Prototype when he made his move to the World Wrestling Federation (soon to be WWE) in 2001 and proved his worth to the company by wrestling in a series of "dark matches" before "Smackdown!" events.
A "dark match" in the wrestling world means a match done just for the fans to warm them up before the actual taping of a show. They usually feature young and unproven talent to see how they perform to fans and how fans react to them.
From the start, Cena showed he had what it took to be a fan favorite.
Making His Bones in Ohio Valley Wrestling
WWE boss Vince McMahon saw enough in Cena to sign him to a developmental contract in 2001, and ordered his young charge to Ohio Valley Wrestling, the minor leagues for the WWE.
Cena quickly became a champion in the OVW — both in the heavyweight division and as a tag team — and continued to wrestle in "dark matches' for the WWE whenever they needed him.
Looking For Some 'Ruthless Agression'
Seemingly unhappy with the lack of up-and-coming stars in his ranks, Vince McMahon called all the wrestlers on the WWE roster to the ring during a televised "Raw" episode in June 2002, lamenting the company's need for one person to stand out with "ruthless aggression."
Cena answered the call less than one week later, answering a challenge from Kurt Angle on an episode of "Smackdown" that resulted in a near-pin for Cena and earned accolades from the veterans on the roster.
How Rapping Saved Cena's Career
Cena's little boost from almost beating Angle wasn't enough to make him a mainstay with WWE fans or endear him to his bosses, but Cena finally broke through during a Halloween episode in 2002, when he dressed up as Vanilla Ice and drove the crowd crazy with an original rap.
WWE honcho Stephanie McMahon saw how the crowd responded to Cena's rapping and changed his name to "The Doctor of Thuganomics" and incorporated rapping into his act.
Cena said the move saved his career, since his character The Prototype was about to get the boot entirely.
The WWE Gets a New Star
Cena's career only continued to rise after the rebranding as "The Doctor of Thuganomics," although he also began to enter competitions under his God-given name.
Cena's performances at several WWE events culminated in a show-stopping performance at Wrestlemania XX in 2004, where he earned his first WWE singles title.
Cena's popularity grew so much in this stretch that the WWE even worked in a scripted "break" to film his movie debut in the WWE-produced film "The Marine" in 2005.
Taking a Break for a Platinum Album
WWE's starmaking machine was in full effect in 2005. John Cena didn't just become a huge wrestling star. He also became a movie star and a platinum-selling rapper.
Yep, that's right, Cena made an album that sold 1 million copies. "You Can't See Me" debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 200 charts in May 2005. The title of the album was based on his catchphrase in the ring, which was accompanied by his signature gesture of waving his hand in front of his face, meaning he was too quick for opponents to see his actions.
The album, also was known as "Basic Thuganomics" during recording, went on to sell 1.3 million copies and was certified platinum in 2010.
The early 2000s were a crazy time.
Breaking Into Hollywood as 'The Marine'
We have to give it up for the WWE for its ability to recognize stars early in their career and see their crossover potential.
Just like they did with "The Rock," the WWE went all-in with trying to turn John Cena into an action movie star. His first foray was in the low-budget action film "The Marine" released in 2006.
While the movie got pretty negative reviews, it turned a slight profit at the box office, then made much more than that in rentals — enough so that it spawned five sequels and became a cult hit.
The First of Many WWE Championships
Cena finally won the first of a record 13 WWE championships in 2005, defeating JBL to win the belt, which he promptly turned into a "spinner" belt similar to the spinning rims on some cars.
This kicked off the longest stretch of any WWE champion in history — a dizzying two years of feuds and disputes and victories that only ended after Cena completely tore his pectoral muscle in 2007.
Wrestling Stars or Future Superheroes ... or Both?
Some of Cena's most memorable matches — other than one we're about to talk about — were against future fellow superhero/movie star Batista, aka Dave Bautista, one of the stars of "Guardians of the Galaxy" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ironically, Cena's big superhero break would come on "The Suicide Squad" after Bautista's director on "Guardians," James Gunn, was fired by Marvel and hired by DC.
The Match of the Century
There's only one WWE star who can say they've outshined Cena over the last 20 years, and that's Dwayne Johnson aka "The Rock."
So when the two superstars/champions squared off at WrestleMania XXVIII in 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, it was one of the most highly anticipated pro wrestling events in history.
Cena lost when The Rock pulled a "Rock Bottom" for the pinfall — it's as ridiculous as it sounds.
Cena's Two-Decade Streak at WrestleMania Ends
While WWE soldiered on during the pandemic, it did see one notable streak come to an end in 2020, when Cena wasn't able to attend WrestleMania.
For the 13-time WWE champion, it marked the end of an almost 20-year streak of participating in WrestleMania for Cena that began in 2002.
'The Attitude Adjustment' Gets an Adjustment
Cena's signature move is known as "The Attitude Adjustment," but it hasn't always gone by that name. The move was originally called the "FU."
As WWE became more popular, it was cleaned up to become the "STFU." Then, it was cleaned up some more to become the "STF."
Then, it finally became "The Attitude Adjustment" after it really, really got cleaned up for the general public.
An Unbelievable Threshold for Pain
Few professional wrestlers in history have displayed a higher threshold for pain than John Cena, which traces back to his days as an All-American offensive lineman at Springfield College.
Former ESPN writer and current The Ringer podcaster David Shoemaker ("The Press Box") probably put it best in a 2016 article looking back on Wrestlemania 32.
"Never underestimate Cena's recuperative abilities," Shoemaker wrote. "He's somewhere on the recovery scale between German platelet-rich plasma therapy and Deadpool."
That means he's tougher than you.
'The Babe Ruth of the WWE'
One person who understands what Cena did for WWE and hasn't been afraid to show love for that influence is none other than the man who created the whole thing to begin with — Vince McMahon.
Before WrestleMania 35 in 2019, McMahon called Cena "The Babe Ruth of the WWE" and honored him on his birthday by playing a video of Babe Ruth as Cena made a retro appearance as the Doctor of Thuganomics.
It's silly, but it's also kind of sweet.
How Cena Became a Movie Star — Again
Just like his pro wrestling career, Cena's first attempt at being a movie star needed a reboot before it really took off.
Branded as an action star by WWE Films in movies "The Marine" and "12 Rounds" — neither of which turned out to be blockbusters — Cena's career in film seemed to take a downturn. But he flipped the switch with a brilliant career move five years after he had his last starring role.
What didn't we know about Cena? He's actually a pretty great comedian.
Supporting Roles Turn Into Gold
The way Cena made his way back into Hollywood blockbusters wasn't as an action star but as a supporting player in several hit comedies.
Cena did a blitz attack in 2015 with roles in three of the biggest comedy hits of the year — "Trainwreck" starring Amy Schumer, "Sisters" starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and "Daddy's Home" starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.
Each of the three films grossed over $100 million at the box office with "Daddy's Home" grossing over $240 million.
Second Act as a Movie Star
Cena's second act as a movie star has been nothing short of brilliant. After his run of supporting roles in 2015, he moved back into leading roles and reeled off a string of hits that probably don't get the credit they deserve.
Cena's also played against type in roles varied from comedy to action to even animated. The sequel to "Daddy's Home" grossed $180 million while his role as a bull in the animated "Ferdinand" grossed $296.1 million, and he's also had smaller hits like "Blockers" and "Playing With Fire" that both doubled their gross against the budget.
Nothing hit for Cena like the "Transformers" spin-off "Bumblebee" in 2018, which grossed a whopping $468 million at the box office against an estimated budget of just $125 million.
It's Not Just Movies. It's Also Television.
If you're wondering what kind of work ethic John Cena has, look no further than what he's done on television in the same time he's reinvented himself as a movie star.
In that same stretch, Cena has been the host to two television game shows that have proven to be huge hits and huge moneymakers — "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" and the 2020 reboot of "Wipeout" that was renewed for a second season.
Why Peacemaker Could Be His Signature Role
Cena's role as Peacemaker in "The Suicide Squad" could prove to be his signature role — and the early buzz has been nothing short of revelatory.
Here's how much the powers that be think of Cena's work in the role. Before the movie even came out, they greenlit a big-budget HBO Max series "Peacemaker" based on the character, executive produced by Cena and "The Suicide Squad" director James Gunn.
The show is set to premiere with eight episodes in January 2022.
Cena Also Loves to Give Back
Cena isn't all about himself. Never has been. When he lost his belt due to injury in 2007, he made his return at a USO event supporting the troops.
In the history of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he's granted almost 700 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses — the most in the history of the foundation.
His "Love Has No Labels" video was a smashing success and he donated $1 million to the "Black Lives Matter" in June 2020 with a message to his fans: "Be brave and open-minded."
Spotlight Turns on Cena's Personal Life
Like any famous celebrity athlete/actor/musician, Cena's personal life and relationships are in the spotlight.
His first marriage to Liz Huberdeau, reportedly his high school sweetheart, lasted three years and ended in divorce in 2012, when he began a high-profile relationship with former WWE Divas champion Nikki Bella that lasted until 2018.
Cena married for the second time in 2020 when he wed his girlfriend, Shay Shariatzadeh, who he met while working on a movie in Canada.
He's Worth How Much Money?
Cena had a reported net worth of $60 million in 2021, with that bottom line increased by an ever-expanding list of endorsements. He was reportedly paid between $1 million-$2 million for Super Bowl commercials in the last two years.
Cena's list of endorsement deals is long and notable — Subway, Gillette, Honda and Fruity Pebbles among them.
He may have got famous for people not seeing him, but expect to see a lot more of John Cena in the future.