Something to Wrestling With on The Rise Of John Cena
Air date: 6/23/17
Recap by: PWPodcasts Specialist Jeff Rush
8. Vince’s first impression of John Cena
7. Heyman feels a rapping gimmick will kill Cena
6. Vince is taken by Cena’s physique
5. Paul Bearer cares about the bottom line
4. Vince does the Five Knuckle Shuffle
3. The B-Squared name tickles Vince just right
2. Ron Simmons doesn’t like being shot at
1. Jim Cornette raps Thuganomics
Noteworthy Items (full timestamps at the end)
– Bruce accused Cena of using steroids and blew him off the first time they met.
– Cena remained in character as “The Prototype” while meeting Bruce for the first time.
– JR was so confident after signing Cena, he told Vince he’d be headlining WrestleMania in five years time.
– Amongst WWE’s loaded 2002 class (Cena, Orton, Batista, Lesnar, etc), Rico Constantino was considered the sure-fire star at the time.
– Bruce came up with Cena’s rap gimmick after hearing him freestyle while travelling.
– Cena cut a rap promo backstage on Vince, who was convinced someone had written it ahead of time.
– Paul Heyman thought the rapper gimmick was going to kill Cena’s career.
– Bruce was the person who voiced Funaki’s famous “INDEED” line.
– LL Cool J was originally scheduled to battle rap with Cena at WrestleMania XIX.
What happened when John Cena became a WWE Superstar?
Bruce feels that Cena belongs right up there with Hogan, Austin and the Rock. Conrad agrees.
We start out briefly covering Cena’s childhood and upbringing. He and his family were all big wrestling fans. They ordered cable TV just to watch wrestling.
Cena was bullied as a kid, asked his dad for a weight set, began lifting weights and never looked back. Eventually he got into bodybuilding and it became an obsession.
Prior to his first bodybuilding tournament, Cena’s trainer, Dave Nock, forced him to go to the center of town and pose in his bikini bottom. This was done to get John to come out of his shell, as he was an introvert back in the day.
Something that would become a bit of a recurring problem during Cena’s early years was people assuming he was on steroids, due to his unreal physique. According to Dave Nock, he finished in second place in his first bodybuilding competition because the judges assumed he was juiced up.
Cena was doing the bodybuilding circuit in Venice Beach, CA when he was approached by the Bell Brothers, Mike and Smelly, and invited to give wrestling a shot.
In 1999, Rick Bassman is running UPW in Southern California. Bassman is the guy who put together Sting and the Ultimate Warrior in Power Team USA. He’s also credited with discovering The Miz, Chris Masters, John Heidenreich, Nathan Jones, and a host of others. Cena was in the early stages of his “Prototype” gimmick at this time and was working for Bassman. His gimmick was that he was half man, half machine. Bassman introduced Cena to Bruce at a nightclub and Cena remained in character when greeting Bruce.
“Hello. I am Prototype.” Cena said robotically.
Bruce gave him a quick once over, noting his ridiculous build, and said his first ever words to the man who would go on to become one of the most successful wrestlers in the history of WWE.
“If you want to make it in the business, get off the gas, kid.” Prichard then kept walking.
Bruce was oblivious to the fact that Cena had competed in all natural competitions and worked hard to build his massive physique without chemical enhancement. He would hold those words against Bruce for the next eight years.
The guys spend a few more minutes discussing Rick Bassman and his contributions to the business. They mention that Cena and Samoa Joe worked with each other in UPW in 2000.
Bruce grew to know Cena on car rides when Bruce was scouting talent. He says Cena had great passion for the business. Although he hated the Prototype gimmick, he loved John.
Cena held the UPW Championship for nearly a month before dropping the title and moving on to OVW.
Conrad busts Bruce’s chops over not signing Cena when he first had the opportunity after first being introduced in 1999. Jim Ross would instead do so on a visit to UPW in 2000.
Bruce says Cena called him after receiving his contract and told him his dad was proud when he got a football scholarship but that he cried when he received his WWF contract. Bruce says that owned him.
Bruce says Cena passed all his drug tests upon signing the contract and was at the Staples Center in LA when he first happened upon Vince McMahon. A horrified Vince approached Bruce and said “Get that walking, talking steroid billboard out of our backstage!” Everyone thought John was juiced up, even Vince.
Jim Ross was big on Cena from the time he signed him. Conrad recalls that JR told Vince at the time that he had just signed his WrestleMania main event in five years. Let the record show that JR was unknowingly referring to Dave Batista, who he’d also signed in 2000. At WrestleMania 21, five years later, Batista would defeat Triple H for the World Championship. Though he would defeat JBL for the WWE Title in the main Smackdown match up, Cena would not truly headline a WrestleMania until the following year when he would successfully defend that WWE Title against Triple H in the final match of WrestleMania 22. So there.
OVW, at the time Cena arrived was used as a training ground for WWE. They would train by day and run shows at night. Bruce equates it to how NXT is used now.
Rico Constantino, Batista, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and even David Flair were also in OVW at the time. Amongst them all, Rico was most thought to be a future star. Crazy to think now Bruce notes that Rico’s age was not working in his favor even though he came across as a superstar.
Conrad says around this time, Cena was beginning to stand out with his silly, humorous promos. Bruce says it was clear that his personality was larger than life. Though Bruce hated the Prototype gimmick, he says it made more sense in OVW.
In an early foreshadowing of his freestyle ability, Conrad mentions how Cena would cut promos where he would stop in the middle and rewind, saying the entire thing backwards.
In regards to Cena catching the eye of the brass, Bruce says its all about timing. Vince thought Cena was clumsy and performing a hokey gimmick. But little by little, his personality and drive would also come through at the right times.
On October 10, 2000, Cena debuted in a dark match, losing to Mikey Richardson. It would be the first of many that would take place for much of the next two years. In October of the following year, Cena and Randy Orton would wrestle a dark match against the Minnesota Stretching Crew, Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin. Craziness.
Between Cena, Lesnar, Orton, and Batista, Bruce says at the time he thought Randy Orton would be the biggest star. Now, he says it’s clearly Cena.
By June of 2002, Cena is getting ready to make the jump to the main roster. He’s regularly performing on Jakked, Velocity and Heat. Bruce points out that this was the time they were bringing Shelton Benjamin up as well.
On June 27th, 2002, Cena debuted on TV against Kurt Angle. This was a part of the ongoing Ruthless Aggression storyline/era. Bruce says the promo Vince cut was how he felt in real life. JBL is mentioned as one of the guys they were trying to get to step up at that point. Cena, of course, says he possesses “ruthless aggression” right before slapping Angle and launching his run.
The guys talk about how the Undertaker shook Cena’s hand on-camera backstage after his victory. It was unusual since Taker was a heel at the time and was also the champion. Paul Heyman pitched the idea as a way to sprinkle Taker-dust on Cena. Everyone loved it.
Tons of credit is also given to Angle for how generous he was in their match and how he didn’t simple “guzzle” Cena up.
Conrad brings up Cena’s wardrobe – tights and boots in colors that matched the local sports teams of wherever they were. Bruce says Cena once showed him his closet at home filled with these. The idea to wear them was his and they went with it.
An angle was shot where Cena slapped Jericho in a backstage segment. This was supposedly going to be Vince getting slapped originally, but it never saw the light of day.
Cena was mixing it up with top stars at this point. Bruce says everyone supported this push, but that there wasn’t much of a plan beyond getting him on TV. They were just desperate for something new.
Cena made his PPV debut, defeating Chris Jericho in about six and a half minutes at Vengeance ’02. Conrad asks if there was push back from Jericho, Bruce says Jericho was happy to help develop a new star. He also notes that nine times out of ten, when you hear stories about people petitioning certain wrestlers not doing jobs, etc, it’s usually Vince protecting wrestlers.
Around this time in the timeline, we start getting into reports about WWE killing Cena’s push. This takes place with 50/50 booking and Cena just doing jobs to lesser performers.
Conrad notes by August 2002 it seems like WWE is regretting bringing Cena up to the main roster. Bruce blames it more on commotion amongst the writing staff, a general lack of vision for Cena’s character, and Vince’s indecisiveness.
Cena continued to stay in the mix at this point, working with Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Shortly thereafter though, he was firmly in the midcard, working tag matches with Rikishi. Conrad notes this is likely the period in the early part of his career where Cena has said he was close to being fired. Bruce soberly admits at this point that he is to blame for Cena’s predicament. He says he did not do enough to develop Cena, that he just rushed him out there for the sake of doing something fresh.
Cena is then wrestling Chavo Guerrero on Velocity and his role is being scaled down.
Conrad asks if Cena should have debuted as a heel, and Bruce says no, Vince hated that idea.
By September 2002, Cena’s former OVW running mate, Brock Lesnar, is already WWE Champion. Cena is doing a job to him in a non-title match.
The Velocity appearances and general malaise continue until finally, in mid-October 2002, Cena begins to show some heel tendencies in his persona. Later that month, he makes it official and attacks Billy Kidman.
Bruce then illustrates through a Vince impression, the hot and cold booking that was happening at the time and ultimately dooming John Cena:
“I love it. God that heel turn was great. He’ll never make it.”
Bruce then discusses the often told story of Stephanie McMahon discovering John Cena rapping on a bus during a WWE tour:
“First of all, it wasn’t Stephanie, it was me. We would travel on buses and on private charter planes and Cena would be in the back of the plane. It was like a scene from a movie where the cheerleaders gather around and start singing and s**t like that. Cena would sit on the back of the plane and rap. And he would cut down everybody around him on the plane. I remember sitting there listening to this going ‘oh my god’ and everybody’s popping. The entire plane is popping at some of the s**t he does. It was entertaining as hell. Guys would throw things at him during the tour, say ‘hey John, how about his guy over here’ and John would just go into a completely impromptu rap. We were (in the UK), the Smackdown writing team, to have to come up with the Halloween show I believe was in Cincinnati. We had nothing for John. We had a big Halloween party where they were going to be dressed. And I said ‘well, for Cena, he’s gotta be Vanilla Ice. Let him rap.’ Heyman looked at me like I had steaming turds hanging out of my mouth. His words: ‘If you saddle this young man with a rap gimmick, we might as well put a bow on his career and bury him now. It will never get over and he will die.’ I said ‘we have nothing else.’
“So we come back and we wrote it into the script. Vince loves the theme shows, we were going to do this Halloween thing. I was dead set on making Cena a rapper. So Cena and I are walking down the hallway and we open another door to go into another hallway and there’s Vince McMahon. I said to John ‘Cut a rap on Vince.’ And Cena, without hesitation, just blistered Vince McMahon with a rap. Talked about his hair, talked about his suits, his announcing. I mean just blistered him. Vince laughed his ass off. ‘God**mn, that’s great. Who wrote that?’ John, real shy, says ‘well, I just came up with it. I don’t write them, I just spit ‘em.’ Vince says ‘Nah, who wrote that? That’s good s**t.’ He would just come up with s**t off the top of his head. So we did the Vanilla Ice s**t and it kinda grew from there, but John did his own raps, but it was that moment in the hallway that Vince heard him and went ‘holy s**t, this guy’s talented.’
“And god, Paul Heyman hated it. Heyman HATED it. Everyone did. They thought ‘you’re going to kill him with the rapper gimmick. There’s no white rappers.’ I said ‘that’s why he’ll be a heel, it’ll be great! Just let him bust on everybody.’ So that’s how the rap gimmick was born.”
The guys discuss how most folks in the office didn’t really understand the gimmick, but that the people who knew him said that’s really him. He also switched from wearing tights with colors representing the local teams to wearing Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys representing rival team players.
Conrad says Cena was offered the option of presenting Eminem or Vanilla Ice on the famous Smackdown Halloween episode where Cena debuted his rapping character on-screen. Bruce denies this and says it was always Vanilla Ice and that he knows this because he pitched the gimmick and Vanilla Ice is the only rapper he knew.
Even though Cena was turned heel on a European tour, the rap gimmick didn’t really come into play until the flight back. The guys discuss how perfect it was that things unfolded this way.
Shortly into the run of his newfound persona, Cena does a rap battle program with Rikishi on Smackdown. Bruce says Cena helped the writers come up with Rikishi’s rap, and even though Rikishi fancied himself a bit of a rapper himself, Cena destroyed him. This was truly Cena’s niche.
A bit later, Cena is teamed with Bull Buchanan. WWE wanted to do something with Bull, as he was an OVW standout, and they thought a bodyguard type gimmick would be perfect.
Cena spent the winter going over guys like Rikishi and Chuck Palumbo on Smackdown before getting paired up with Eddie Guerrero.
At this time, Cena turned on Buchanan and was then teamed up with Rodney Mack, aka Redd Dogg. This didn’t last long.
Cena came in at number 18 in the 2003 Royal Rumble. Brock would win the match. Cena would not have any eliminations.
On February 8, 2003, Cena had a match with Bryan Danielson on Velocity. How cool is that?
Cena began using the Death Valley Driver at this point. Bruce thinks it was Dean Malenko who came up with the idea. This move would become known as the FU.
In April 2003, Cena would ascend through a Number One Contenders tournament to earn a shot at Brock Lesnar at Backlash. Bruce says the rap gimmick was getting over and the long-term plan was to put Cena in a program with the Undertaker.
The Backlash match wasn’t the best. Bruce says it happened too soon. There was no plan to continue with that program and the whole thing was a bit of a letdown.
Cena would end up in a random six-man tag at the next PPV.
Talk then turns to Funaki. Bruce tells us about the “single greatest eye drops” that Funaki gets him from Japan. They feel like ice cubes and a massage happening to your eyes and are great. I’d probably typically leave this part out of the recap, except this leads us to one of the most newsworthy moments of the entire show:
“Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners who may have not put it together about you and Funaki?”
Yep, that was Bruce. Awesome.
On the one year anniversary of Cena’s debut, he replayed his own debut angle, this time with him in the Kurt Angle role and… Orlando Jordan in the Cena spot. To think Orlando Jordan could’ve rained on Christian’s parade by debuting on Raw in 2005 and gone an hour with Shawn Michaels on Raw in 2007. Orlando Jordan could’ve made a surprise return as the final entrant in the 2008 Royal Rumble at Madison Square Garden. Orlando Jordan could’ve become a reluctant member of Nexus. Orlando Jordan could’ve put over C.M. Punk for the WWE Championship at Money In The Bank 2011 in a match that would shock the world. Orlando Jordan could’ve headlined back-to-back WrestleMania’s against the Rock. Orlando Jordan could’ve put up an Open Challenge for the US Title that would see him carry out epic matches with Kevin Owens. Orlando Jordan could’ve ultimately stared down an imposing tank fast approaching the ring, being led by the dastardly Rusev at WrestleMania 31. Orlando Jordan could’ve had his nose broken by Seth Rollins and been double crossed by Jon Stewart. Orlando Jordan could’ve married Nikki Bella and hosted American Grit.
But no. Orlando Jordan lost.
Conrad mentions the incredible year that Cena had from his debut to this point.
Discussion begins regarding Cena’s feud with the Undertaker. This included vignettes where Cena would urinate on Taker’s bike. Bruce tells a side story about how the Connecticut cemetery they’d been using since the ’80s to film such things later made headlines when it was revealed they were stacking bodies. TIL stacking bodies is a thing that sketchy cemeteries may do and possibly get in trouble for.
Cena would spend the fall of ’03 feuding with Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle. Eventually, Cena and Kurt would do a memorable battle rap segment on Smackdown.
After not too long, Cena began getting over with his entertaining raps. This would lead to Cena teaming with A-Train for a bit and then the two breaking up, thusly making Cena a face.
Bruce says Vince was won over by Cena’s displays of power, whether it be barefoot squats at the gym or slamming guys like Rikishi and Big Show in the ring.
Cena and Big Show would begin a program in December ’03. This included battle rap segments and Show dressing up like hip hop Cena. The guys then discuss a controversial line Show used on Cena referencing rape accusations of Kobe Bryant and how that would not fly today.
Talk turns to Tribute To The Troops. Bruce says JBL was the first guy to help put such a show together. We get a great story here about Ron Simmons reluctantly making a trip to Iraq for the show. The wrestlers were brought into a zone where there was a lot of fighting. They were in a helicopter and were told to keep their heads down and stay low as they were exiting, that the soldiers would be shooting and would protect them.
Simmons then said “I’d have sent any one of these mother**kers an autograph picture, I’d be fine with that. I’d personalize that s**t and everything. But damn, the f**k I gotta be shot at going and signing autographed pictures?”
“Well, nobody comes out here and sees these guys out on the battlefield like this,” someone replied.
“Yeah, because nobody wants to get shot at, mother**ker!”
Bruce says some of the guys didn’t want to go over there and others did and that Cena absolutely loved to do it.
Cena was “benched” by Smackdown GM Paul Heyman in an angle in February ’04. Bruce says this was actually done to pacify UPN, who had grown uncomfortable with the language used in Cena’s promos.
At No Way Out 2004, Kurt Angle would defeat Big Show and Cena in a triple threat no. 1 contender match for WrestleMania. Conrad asks if any consideration was given to putting Cena over in this match. Bruce says they still wanted to see him earn such a spot at this point.
Cena did a radio interview where he claimed to be contemplating using the Iron Claw as a throwback finisher to go with his throwback jerseys. Bruce says Vince thinks the Iron Claw is one of the hokiest finishes in wrestling and that Cena was just messing around, as that would never get approved.
Conrad then brings up Cena making an appearance at WrestleMania XIX in Seattle in 2003. I love that he knows so many details about this appearance as I attended that event and always remembered this part. Since it was during the pre-show, it’s not on the Network as far as I know and I always assumed it had been lost to time. Anyway, the gist of it is that Cena is in full heel rapper mode at this point. He’s dressed head to toe in a white jumpsuit and heeling on the crowd. He mentions how he’s not on the show, but that next year (2004) he’ll be headlining. As we discussed earlier, it didn’t quite work out that way, though he did open WrestleMania XX in a featured match. Good stuff.
Bruce mentions that the original plan was to have Cena mix it up with an actual rapper during the show. Both LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg were discussed for the segment, but nothing worked out. Bruce says LL actually wanted to wrestle. Conrad says he likely pulled out because such an appearance with a rapping wrestler would’ve damaged his reputation.
Cena defeated Big Show at WrestleMania XX for the US Title, impressively finishing him off with an FU. The crowd was very into Cena. Conrad considers this to be Cena’s coronation as a singles star. Bruce feels Cena elevated the US Title.
The spinning title belt was introduced shortly after this. Bruce thinks the belt was based on a turntable. Conrad assumes it was based on spinning tire rims. Bruce hated this design for a title but says they sold a ton of replicas.
Cena created the throwback WWF logo merchandise as a way to make some money off of his throwback gimmick.
Conrad then brings up the Five Knuckle Shuffle and how it’s a euphemism for masturbation. I’ve been hearing this term for over a dozen years and, even though my mind can be pretty juvenile at times, I’ve never even considered this. Mind blown. Giggity.
Cena’s You Can’t See Me move is one he used to deliver to one of his brothers and can even be found in some of the Cena family’s old home movies.
Bruce is asked to tell a Cena drinking story. Following a red carpet event for The Marine, everyone is hanging out at the bar. Bruce drinks Tito’s & soda, red wine, or beer. He never does shots. He was caught by Cena dumping a shot John had bought for him into a plant. As a result, he was forced to do a double shot followed by many more rounds of shots. Bruce says this is the only time in his entire career he ever overslept and missed a flight.
“John Cena can hang”, concludes Bruce.
We wrap things up with an EPIC impression. A full minute of Jim Cornette rapping Cena’s Basic Thuganomics, beginning to end. I assume Bruce was given a heads up that this request was coming, but I hope it just worked out this way.
So often, this show focuses on events from the mid-to-late ’90s, and justifiably so. It’s when many future stars were in their salad days and there is so much to be told. I always find it refreshing, then, to get a solid post-Attitude Era episode. Hearing so many stories about the behind-the-scenes happenings during a time when the biggest stars from the past 15 years were just entering the business was captivating. The only issue, as it often is with episodes that focus on a short segment of a wrestlers career, is that it becomes difficult to tell big picture stories. The plus side is that smaller, but significant, tales get placed under a microscope. Conrad’s usual extensive research painted a fascinating picture of Cena’s early years and Bruce’s recollections filled in so many interesting spots. Following last week’s Russo episode, I think we were all ready for a feel-good tale, and this episode delivered. In all, it was a pretty quick three hours and definitely worth a listen. Rating: 8/10
10:45: Show begins
11:50: The early years
24:25: Bruce meets Cena
27:40: The Bell Brothers
29:40: Rick Bassman
32:10: The Prototype/UPW
36:48: Discovering Cena
53:35: Dark matches
1:10:12: Preparing for the debut
1:12:10: Ruthless Aggression
1:13:50: Smackdown Debut
1:17:37: Early ring attire
1:18:34: Slapping Vince/Jericho
1:25:45: Early top tier push
1:27:51: PPV debut
1:32:13: Too much too soon
1:41:25: Lost in the shuffle
1:47:00: Heel turn
1:48:30: The rapper gimmick
2:00:30: Upward momentum
2:05:57: Number one contender tournament
2:07:30: Backlash ’03 vs. Lesnar
2:10:45: Funaki’s eye drops
2:12:50: Vengeance ’03 vs. Taker
2:14:55: Vs. Eddie in El Paso
2:16:30: Battle rap with Kurt Angle
2:20:00: Face turn
2:22:55: Winning over Vince
2:25:20: Controversial battle rap
2:27:05: Tribute To The Troops
2:30:15: Royal Rumble ’04
2:32:30: Making Cena earn it
2:34:12: The Basham Brothers
2:36:45: WrestleMania XIX appearance
2:39:05: WrestleMania XX
2:41:19: Spinning Title
2:43:18: The Chain Gang
2:44:55: Five Knuckle Shuffle
2:46:55: You Can’t See Me
2:49:35: Twitter questions
2:50:25: Doing shots with Cena