John Cena: Never Give Up

Credit: WWE

Sometimes we have something in front of us that we just fail to appreciate in the moment, no matter how good it is to us. It is only with a look backward on the road life takes us that we truly appreciate it. But then, at that moment, it just isn’t for us.

For many, including myself at one point, that was John Cena. And boy, was it easy to see why for a portion of his career. 

The booing, the “Let’s Go Cena/Cena Sucks!” chants, outright disrespect, but again, at this time, it just wasn’t for us. He wasn’t for us, not yet.

We wrestling fans can be a fickle kind, to paraphrase Daniel Bryan. Our hearts and minds guide us as we react in the moment – such is the nature of the wrestling business. After all, those heartstopping moments when the music hits, when a pin is counted, or we await the payoff to a submission hold.

Our craving for variety and unforgettable stories, our lust for workrate and consistency often leaves us blinded to the things we miss out on. We want tortured souls that we see ourselves in. Insecure characters you wish would succeed – the Jay Whites, the Adam Pages, the Kenny Omegas. We want the darkness of hell before the light of heaven.

As I grew older and appreciative of who came before, I was still fond of John Cena. I grew up with him, but I didn’t understand the growing, mounting hatred for the purveyor of Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect. I was told he was overpushed, holding everyone back, and was stale. That he should go away for a bit or turn heel. I recollect hearing fans state around the late 2000s and early 2010s that he was the reason they started watching other wrestling programs, like Ring of Honor or Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. 

Stand in the field with the flock long enough, and you’ll crow their song too.

Cena would increase his stock and legacy with championship after championship, being that musclebound Superman above those we felt deserved it just as much, if not more. He was the Make-A-Wish guy, a hero that poses with the children and being a genuinely kind guy. 

Who the hell does he think he is? Does he think he’s better than us? Look at that asshole, he must be putting on a front.

Except, he had been leading by the type of life he had been trying to, that of the eternal babyface.

John Cena stood across the ring from Rob Van Dam at WWE’s version of ECW at One Night Stand in 2006, in a chorus of boos, laced with venomous profanities and hostile insults. His signature T-shirt toss would be thrown like a football back to the ring, no matter how many times he’d throw it back to the passionate ECW faithful. He knew what he was doing in this title match. 

We’d see that Cena again too, at Money in the Bank in 2011. An intense crowd of Chicagoans who loved his opponent, CM Punk, gave the same disdain for John Cena, because this was Punk’s moment to shine. Punk had captured the zeitgeist like Cena had before. CM Punk was someone new and fresh and held your attention like no other. 

What’s interesting to me is that John Cena was the heel in these matches, without being the heel. An apt comparison would be the many battles that Batman would face against Superman. Superman, doing what he thought was the right thing by working with a sense of duty for a higher power, while Batman fought for an ideal. That was what made for compelling in-ring storytelling on these occasions.

The narrative about Cena would not die off, especially as he became the face of the PG Era in WWE. The face who ran the place, and the top guy. Looking at what he had been handed, it seemed unfair to the rest of the roster, but Cena was able to carry what was given and give it out of his soul tenfold, like his two WrestleMania matches with The Rock, his Royal Rumble wins, you name it.

Pay attention long enough, you see some changes come from the former Doctor of Thuganomics. His rivalry with Brock Lesnar upon the Beast’s return showed there were cracks in the plot armor of WWE’s ace – remarkably the bout between the two at Summerslam 2014.

Amid one child’s incredibly loud and persistently chanted cries of “Let’s Go Cena!” the rest of the crowd would be stunned as they were treated to something different: an almost twenty-minute squash match, laden with suplexes and viciousness. Cena did not just lose, he didn’t survive. Much like a well-done filet mignon, John Cena was cooked.

I could name more examples, like his feuds with Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles, but that would bloat this to high infinity. Besides, you get the picture. Cena had switched things up to where he was making newer stars for a newer future. 

Sure, his character would do things apropo the likes of a heel, but in the end, John Cena still remained true to himself. Inside and outside of the squared circle.

The charity work John Cena had put in has helped countless people who needed something brighter to live for, or to believe in. The children that never got to see tomorrow, got to see the hero that kept those brave little souls strong so that they would carry big, strong hearts instead of tiny broken ones. The children who would grow up and aspire to great things. The children who would be at ringside, cheering for him, crying for him. 

This one man was a hope for young souls who needed a role model, a person they knew they could be if they just tried.

Of course, we’ve all heard the recent story of the mother who took her non-verbal teenage son with Down Syndrome and fled the nightmare of a Russian-invaded Ukraine to the arms of safety in Amsterdam. With promises of seeing John Cena, the adolescent fan anticipated the hero that would await him on the other side, away from the home he knew and did not want to leave. 

Of course John Cena had to go see him. Of course he did. How could he not? He made the dreams come true for a family who looked the devil right in the eye and valiantly fled for their lives to something better.

The leader of the Cenation is no doubt not a perfect person, for none of us are. He likely has skeletons in his closet that reinforces just how human he is But he knows who he is, and he is consistent in that. He’s someone who wakes up every morning, no matter how hard it may be, and he stays true to himself while being the person we want to be, who we want to see. 

A fact in life I’ve come to learn and live by is that you absolutely do change the lives of others and you do leave an impact on them. You’re the person that keeps them going, even when you wish you could do more. In fact, you help even when you don’t realize it and you’re someone’s favorite person and favorite smile without putting effort in anything other than being yourself.

That’s the crux, the meaning of John Cena. He was someone we didn’t appreciate, no matter how much he gave us in the midst of bad booking and unsure times in a company that held a monopoly over an entire industry. He gave it his best and gave us his all. He never gave up.

If you are reading this, and you feel lost, there’s always a better person around the corner, and you will fit those shoes. You’re going to be alright and you’re going to continue mattering. Just do one thing…

Never give up.