For many WWE Superstars, the road to WrestleMania starts in January. But for John Cena, it started long ago as a kid, facing bullying before a newfound confidence helped him became the embodiment of the ‘Hustle, Loyalty and Respect’ figure we know today.
While Cena prepares for Sunday’s WrestleMania tag team match alongside girlfriend Nikki Bella against WWE power couple, The Miz and Maryse, “The Face That Runs the Place” is also serving as the global ambassador to Crocs ‘Come As You Are’ campaign. According to Crocs, it’s to celebrate individuality and inspire everyone to be comfortable in their own shoes and is set to launch the day after WrestleMania.
“I’ve spent the better half of my working existence staying true to my individuality no matter the circumstance. Not succumbing to peer pressure or to change because the change would erase my identity,” Cena said. “This is really the brand messaging that Crocs has. The new (Crocs) “Come As You Are” campaign is trying to take that and not make it a secret anymore and to let people know that it’s okay to be you and you should be proud to be you.”
Cena is known for his taste of luxury and fashion. He ditched wrestling boots in favor of sneakers inside the ring. When pressed on whether he would wrestle in Crocs, the superstar issued some praise.
“Crocs has 88 different styles of shoes for men. They have every style of shoe you could imagine. I could wear Crocs to the ring and you wouldn’t even know it,” Cena said. “They became so iconic and known for the classic Crocs Clog but they make so many other shoes that I certainly would not hold it past me to wrestle in Crocs. You may get to see Crocs at WrestleMania, who knows.”
Cena, who has granted over 500 Make-A-Wish requests in his time, has served as an inspiration to millions of fans of all ages with his “overcoming the odds” character both in and out of the ring. For Cena, it’s a character that became an extension of him after overcoming bullying.
It’s hard to imagine a man who has starred in movies, headlined WrestleMania several times and is also built like a superhero ever getting bullied. But according to the WWE star, he dealt with that before discovering physical fitness.
“I just didn’t act or look like anyone else socially. I was picked on to try and conform and act like everybody else and it would have been easy to do that but I don’t know why I became stubborn to it but I did,” Cena said. “It was almost like ‘I’m going to be even wilder and crazier.’ I found physical fitness as an outlet. It became a gift of mine. I ended up being strong and fast and that led me into football, which I played for eight years and then stayed physically fit through the whole thing and that led me to the WWE in a round about way so through it all, I really never changed but it’s because of those bullies as a teenager that drew me to physical fitness in the first place.”
As much as Cena is loved in the WWE Universe, he has his fair share of critics who let him know it every time he comes out to the ring and every single time, Cena exudes confidence and embraces the reception. It’s the type of thing that can make other stars wilt under the pressure but not Cena.
“I’ve kind of been like the guy who initially dealt with it. I use Roman Reigns as a great example, he’s going to have to deal with this sort of environment but I love it because I’ve used it as a way to send a great message,” Cena said. “I don’t go out with a big base drum and beat on it and say, ‘Never Give Up’ over and over again. It’s just how I am as a human being and you try to lead by example. Don’t be afraid to be who you are.
“How I dress, how I look, how I act in the ring, the fact that not everyone likes me, I still deal with cheers, with the boos and I don’t change my backbone. The colors of the uniform may change but the ethos never changes. That’s the major pillar in the ‘Come As You Are’ campaign. “
Before fans resonated with Cena’s “Never give up” mentality, he was known as the entertaining rapper who rocked a chain around his neck and a backwards cap while slaying his opponents with his rhymes and leaving fans howling. It was quite a transition from what we know as his modern day role.
It was Cena’s affinity for the armed forces that really helped things transition organically. He loved the honor code country statements and wanted to put his own thing on his merchandise. He blended in his love of hip-hop come up with the ‘Hustle’ part and saw respect as used in a lot of environments but certainly had urban ties to it and loyalty was something he was always drawn to.
“They became the three words that defined me because of the way I carry myself. A lot of the critics kind of knock me for not having evolved but I just think they don’t look at it through a long enough lens,” Cena said. “The evolution of what’s gone on has been truly an inch-by-inch thing. Where I am now is not because of marketing or oversaturation of messaging, it’s because of performance. The ‘Never Give Up’ thing impacts people’s lives. I’m heavily leaning on that messaging but it’s only because that’s how I perform. Now I got to walk the walk if I want to talk the talk.”
What many fans want to know is how much longer will Cena be in the WWE? With so much outside success and more and more movie roles, an impressive SNL performance, his show “American Grit” being a success, many would believe that he might go the route of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Hollywood or simply ride off into the sunset.
After tying Ric Flair’s 16 world championships in January, achieving every honor to WWE has and having more memorable matches than any sports entertainer could ever dream of, it would not be uncommon to question how Cena stays motivated throughout it all but he does. He relies on his passion and the need to keep improving and expanding the brand.
“I feel the WWE is truly the best brand in entertainment and not only that; I have a close love for the relationship. I truly enjoy how it’s run. I love the work ethic that drives everyone from the people in corporate to the people who set up the lights,” Cena said. “It’s a hard working environment. I thrive in that and I enjoy it. There will never be an end. We can always go bigger and always go better as a brand. The sky is the limit. I’ve been in it a long time but I’m not done yet, man.
Cena isn’t concerned about the squared circle as much as he is about serving others and continuing his philanthropic efforts. It was evident during his rise in WWE and it’s still evident as he sits at the mountaintop and it’s why he was a perfect fit for Crocs brand ambassador. He’ll go down as one of the greats if not the greatest WWE Superstar ever. But how does he see his own legacy at this stage of his career?
“That’s going to be up to those who write that stuff. It’s going to be up to folks like you, man. Every day I just try to do the best I can,” Cena said. “I try to have the best understanding of how lucky I am and try to use all of my platforms to try and do the best I can and try to help as many people as I can.”
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline, a hockey fanatic, a pro wrestling connoisseur and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of Crocs and WWE