“He’s an entertainer, he’s an athlete. He’s tailor made, born to be WWE Champion”. – Vince McMahon on John Cena (John Cena My Life (2007)
John Cena, Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and respect. A WWE champion, actor, rapper, and now even a Television host. John Cena is a megastar who is anywhere and everywhere, most recently seen hosting Saturday Night Live, an honour he now shares with other A-list Hollywood celebrities, including WWE icon Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. John Cena is without a doubt the WWE’S top performer, his trademark catchphrases like ‘Never Give Up’, his bright coloured t-shirts and his superhero-like presentation have garnered him millions of fans around the world (kids making up a large portion of that fan base). Add in, his incredible physique, goofy sense of humour and charming personality, it is not surprising that Cena also has a strong female audience, as well. WWE likes to call their performers, WWE ‘superstars’ but in reality, WWE has only one ‘superstar’ and that is none other than, John Cena.
John Cena is a ‘superstar’ because he moves the proverbial ‘needle’, he draws audiences in, he makes people come to WWE shows, he generates a reaction whether it be good or bad and he also brings in outsiders (e.g. Hollywood) to the WWE. According to Fansided.com, the WWE live events where Cena performs earn $60,000 more in ticket sales compared to live events he does not wrestle at. John Cena not only draws audiences to the buildings but also has them buy his merchandise. Thesportster.com (2016) reported that in 2014 “Cena managed to outsell the entire combined roster alone in units sold and revenue generated. That was more than 42 different male Superstars and factions and 8 Divas… combined!” Also, John Cena has the honour of holding the record for the biggest pay-per-view buy in WWE history, as Wrestlemania 28 (2012) recorded 1,217,000 buys (according to therichest.com(2014). At Wrestlemania 28, John Cena faced The Rock; these two along with Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin are the true ‘superstars’ in WWE history. To remain on top of WWE for a number of years is an incredible accomplishment, to be on top for a decade plus is simply phenomenal and that honour belongs to Cena, and Cena alone.
“Stars not only bring exposure to a product but in the process of meaning-transfer they provide a shortcut for the complex work of creating a “personality” (Hollywood Stardom (2013), PG. 60). John Cena’s association with other brands or in some cases charities is another reason Cena is the star he is. Susan G. Komen an organization which deals with battling breast cancer was given tremendous exposure when John Cena became the star promoting the organization. In 2012, John Cena wore a t-shirt with his catchphrase ‘Never Give Up’ on the back and the phrase ‘Rise Above Cancer’ on the front. This t-shirt merged Cena’s noble catchphrases with the incredibly noble work the Susan G. Komen organization does and also a portion of the t-shirt sales went to the Susan G. Komen organization. Cena brought this charity to WWE and now every year we see the WWE supporting Susan G. Komen on WWE television and also as a result of Cena’s actions, WWE receives a great deal of positive media attention which has not always been the case for WWE.
Versatility is very important for a ‘superstar’ to maintain his ‘superstar’ status, just look at the film career of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. One month we see Dwayne as the butt-kicking, Hobbs from the Fast and Furious franchise and the next month we see him donning a tutu for Disney’s Tooth Fairy (2010). Before the superhero John Cena that we see today with the bright coloured t-shirts and the incredible ability to overcome everything and anything, we saw the ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’. John’s rise to the top of WWE was due to his ability to step out from the crowd and display his incredible rapping skills which we had not seen before or since. John’s ability to be edgy and in your face with his rapping character and then transform into a hugely successful, kid-friendly hero has been pivotal to his ‘superstar’ status. As well as, his versatility on WWE television, Cena has transferred that to his acting career. Initially starring in action movies like The Marine (2006) and 12 Rounds (2009), Cena has moved to fully fledged comedy roles like his much-appreciated performance in the hit film Trainwreck (2015). Cena’s ability to show more range as an actor has allowed him more opportunities to further his star power, like his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live where he hosted the long time comedy show.
The reason some fans refuse to believe just how big of a star John Cena is stems from arguments that have been made against Cena for the past decade. Cena’s ability as an in-ring performer has always been questioned by fans believing Cena does not have the necessary skills to be a top star or it is simply because Cena was placed as the top star ahead of the likes of other beloved figures like Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and CM Punk. However, the strongest argument that can be made as to why fans refuse to believe the ‘superstar’ status of John Cena is because he is compared to his predecessors, Stone Cold and The Rock. Stone Cold and The Rock were the two biggest stars in WWE history, as well as two of the greatest in-ring performers and microphone men in the history of professional wrestling. John Cena had to take over from where Stone Cold and The Rock left off and to ask John Cena to be either of those two is like asking Jared Leto to be ‘The Joker’ that Heath Ledger portrayed in The Dark Knight (2008).
Repetition is a key part of building a brand, and despite the fans complaining about Cena’s constant victories over the past decade plus, there was and is a reason he is WWE’S franchise player. The likes of Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, though far superior in-ring performers are not near the level of John Cena when it comes to pay-per-view buys, merchandise sales and mainstream attention. John Cena may not be as big of a superstar as Stone Cold was but his non-wrestling projects have been far more successful than the legendary ‘rattlesnake’. A prime example is John Cena’s rap album, which came in at 15 on the renowned Billboard 200 list (according to Thesportster.com (2016). Add in the fact, John Cena has granted over 500 individual wishes for the children of ‘Make-a-wish Foundation’, which is more than any other person in the foundation’s history. John Cena’s star power cannot be disputed.
John Cena still stands atop the WWE; he is as he likes to say “the face that runs the place”. Today, John Cena is a WWE ‘superstar’ and a WWE with John Cena is better than a WWE without John Cena. However, the day will come when Cena is no longer a WWE ‘superstar’ but with his Television show American Grit beginning its second season and his new starring role in the upcoming movie The Wall (2017), directed by Doug Liman who is responsible for films like the Bourne Identity (2002), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). It is clear; that with or without the WWE, John Cena will continue to be a ‘superstar’ for years to come.