John Cena on Why He Regrets His Feud With The Rock and When He Plans to Retire From the W.W.E.

Wrestling superstar turned actor also talks getting naked in “Trainwreck” and swimming upstream to appear in “Barbie”

February 21, 2024

The Peacemaker really lived up to his name on Wednesday as wrestling legend turned Hollywood star John Cena joined the Stern Show for the first time in nearly 20 years. It was a no holds barred interview for the 46-year-old superstar, who joined Howard in SiriusXM’s Miami studios to talk about everything from his rocky road to W.W.E. stardom to his big screen versatility as both a comedic actor, starring role in next month’s “Ricky Stanicky,” and a skull-smashing action hero in projects like “Fast X” and “The Peacemaker.” When it came to his infamous feud with that other iconic wrestler turned actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, however, Cena was more interested than mending fences than throwing elbows

As wrestling fans no doubt recall, it was Cena who first brought the heat against Johnson in 2011 when he publicly accused the “Race to Witch Mountain” star of racing off to Hollywood and leaving the W.W.E. behind.

“It became a real feud between you and The Rock?” Howard asked him.

“Oh my god, yeah,” John responded. “To me, it was [like], ‘I’m going to jab this guy because I have nothing to lose. I have all the leverage … My angle came from the fact that he was openly saying, ‘I love the W.W.E.’ And I was like, ‘Man, if you love it, why aren’t you here?’ What a stupid thing [of me] to say,” he continued, adding, “I’m so sorry because he had a lot to lose.”

Now a movie star in his own right, Cena understands how hard it can be to balance multiple careers. “I can sit across from you now and say I love the W.W.E., but ‘Smackdown’ is in two days and I’m not going to be there,” he told Howard, adding, “And now I have to eat a bunch of shit and say, ‘Fuck, I was wrong, I’m sorry.’”

Cena and The Rock grew further and further apart ahead of Wrestlemania in 2012, but in the end it was the work they did preparing to fight each other that saved their relationship. “He is so professional and so meticulous … and so we incorporated every one of his great ideas into the match. Even the very end, where I get too cocky and ended up losing,” Cena recounted, saying that after losing cleanly to The Rock in the ring he apologized both to The Rock and his family.

Now, all these years later, the two men are good friends. “I text him all the time. He will send me voice messages and he will send me texts,” John said. “He truly is in a universe of his own … and now, having to try to tread in some of his wake, I see exactly how difficult some of that is—and I’m not even one hundredth of his level.”

You Can’t See Him (After He Retires in a Few Years)

Cena has taunted W.W.E. opponents for decades with his iconic line “you can’t see me,” but until now he’d always been speaking figuratively. On Wednesday, however, the (almost) 47-year-old superstar revealed he soon plans to step away from the ring for good.

“I think I can make it to 50, but I don’t think I can make it past 50,” John said. “I think that at 50 — if we don’t plan [another event] — I just have to tweet: ‘I’m out. Hashtag: see ya.’”

“Everyone wants to write their last chapter, but that’s beyond my control,” he continued.

“That’s weird, right?” Howard asked.

“That’s okay. That’s how it happens,” Cena replied. “Man, I’ve had two decades with them.”

Co-host Robin Quivers was surprised by his response. “You could do this for another 10 years. I don’t think this is the end,” she told Cena. “You look great.”

John laughed. “It’s just how you feel afterward that’s tough,” he said.

Playing a Mermaid in ‘Barbie’

Cena made more than just a splash at the box office last year, co-starring alongside Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in the ultra-successful “Fast X” and enjoying an extended cameo as Mermaid Ken opposite Dua Lipa in the critically acclaimed adaptation of “Barbie,” which is up for Best Picture at next month’s Oscars. The two movies were shot near each other, which is how Cena landed the cameo.

“I read the script … I tried my hardest to be in the movie … and [‘Barbie’ star] Margot [Robbie] said, ‘We will make you a mermaid. You’ll be in it for half a day,’” Cena recalled before revealing his agency actually advised him against taking the role. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ but I think the perspective from an agency standpoint was ‘this is beneath you.’”

While Cena understood his agency’s line of thinking, he didn’t agree. “Their guidance [was] … trickle-down economics from this might take you out of these lead lap spots, and I get all that, but I’ve always operated under the philosophy that good work gets you another chance,” he concluded.

Nearly Naked With Amy Schumer in ‘Trainwreck’

John’s wrestling attire doesn’t generally leave much to the imagination, but he took things a step further with the 2015 comedy “Trainwreck,” which saw his character get bare-naked in a hilariously awkward sex scene with Amy Schumer.

“Do you have to walk out on the set fully nude?” Howard wondered.

“[There’s] a spandex sock that tapes … to your perineum,” he told Howard before explaining that Schumer and director Judd Apatow were considerate of his privacy and cleared the room so he would be comfortable filming mostly naked.

Ultimately, however, Cena didn’t mind the onlookers. “I don’t care,” Cena laughed of being naked. “I think the more comfortable you can be with it, the more you lose yourself in a scene.”

Cena didn’t have his mind set on becoming a movie star before appearing in “Trainwreck,” but he admitted both the physical wear and tear of wrestling and having to play the same character for years on end left him eager to find a secondary outlet for his creative energy. “I still love [wrestling] — that’s why I go back, but then somebody gives you an opportunity [like ‘Trainwreck’] and says, ‘Hey, do you want to play this weird, awkward, naked guy?’ ‘Fuck yeah, that sounds great, let’s do it.’”

From Being Bullied to Becoming a Beast

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but growing up in West Newbury, Mass., Cena was bullied. A lot. “I was getting beat up every day,” the star told Howard. “I didn’t always look like this. I was a small, scrawny kid.”

And that’s why, at 13, he began lifting weights. “I had my dad buy me a weight set to be at home and I just started on my weights at home every day without fail,” Cena recalled. “Because I was getting beat up, I didn’t exactly have a huge social circle, so I had a lot of time to myself.”

At some point during high school, the results of that hard work were evident. “Three-and-a-half years of working out in the prime of adolescence, and eating well, started to show its yield,” he said before adding that coaches took notice and wanted him to join the football team. “It kind of helped me get new pathways in life.”

Despite the new physique, John never did beat up his old bullies — and he never will. “That would be very costly today — that’s a poor management decision,” he said with a laugh.

The Lincoln Bouncer

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in movement studies and kinesiology, Cena moved to Venice, a neighborhood in Los Angeles he described as the “mecca of fitness.” While he hoped to apply his education to a job at a gym equipment company, he wound up working as a bouncer at a beach bar instead. “I was 250 pounds, I could move and handle myself, and I was Patrick Swayze in ‘Road House’ sober,” the wrestler recalled before admitting facing off against drunken beach goers wasn’t that challenging. “A lot of people that bring themselves to start violence in a bar are so drunk anyway … a drunken fight is not an octagon fight, so it’s a little easier to maneuver.”

Cena eventually started working at the world-famous Gold’s Gym. Since it was open 20 hours a day, he’d pick up as many shifts as possible and lived out of his car — something he much preferred over returning to Massachusetts. “I had a choice of go home to home or stay out in the sun working night shift hours,” he noted. “I had the days to myself, I have a part-time job at the gym, they let me train for free, and I have a locker room upstairs where I can shower — I’ll sleep in the back of this Lincoln for a little bit.”

John looks back fondly at those days. “I was genuinely happy … it was simpler times back then,” he said before adding, “If the shit hits the fan, I can always go back to cleaning toilets.”

Love & Football

In 2019, Cena went into a Vancouver restaurant to watch his beloved New England Patriots battle the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl and he left having met the love of his life. “I wasn’t looking but damn, man, it just found me,” John said of meeting his now-wife, Shay Shariatzadeh.

Originally set on cheering his team on from the comforts of his apartment, a friend convinced him to go out instead. It wasn’t long before Cena, who was in town at the time to shoot a movie, stopped focusing on the TV and shifted to a woman sitting with friends at the table across from him. “I didn’t even know [the game] was over,” he told Howard before admitting he was too scared to approach Shay at first. “I get up to leave and one of her friends comes over and was like, ‘Can I get a picture?’ And finally, I got the nuts to be like, ‘Only if I can get that girl’s number.’”

Her phone number in hand, the superstar didn’t even consider waiting the usual two days before making contact. “I left the restaurant and, on my walk home I was like, ‘Man, it was so nice to meet you, you’re beautiful – I’d like to get to know you more. If you have any free time coming up, I’ll make time for you.’”

Cena took a similar approach a year later when it was time to propose. In Panama filming “The Suicide Squad,” the actor was to meet Shay in San Diego on Valentine’s Day, where he was going to pop the question at an ocean-view restaurant. “I had this whole plan,” he recalled. “We’ve got the ocean, and the sunset, and [I] want to make sure there’s flowers there and [it’s] perfect.”

Instead, with the ring burning a hole in his pocket, John wound up proposing at home a day early. “We’re kind of just in the living room in the beginning of the day and goddamn did we have the most open and vulnerable conversation,” John remembered before noting that he asked to continue the chat over a cup of coffee outside. “I blew all the special plans and I just said, ‘Hey, there’s no better moment’ … it just happened right there. No special pomp and circumstance, just a ‘Hey, I would love to spend the rest of my life with you.’”

“Ricky Stanicky” arrives March 7 on Amazon Prime Video.

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