John Cena’s already touched on his reputation for burying talent once on the Fast X press trail, and it came up again when he stopped by to talk to Sam Roberts on the NotSam Wrestling podcast.
One reason this is coming up repeatedly in Cena’s recent interviews is because of his recent WrestleMania program with Austin Theory. As you may recall, after months of hints and teases, the long rumored program between the 16 time WWE World champ and a young wrestler who has clearly modeled a lot of his presentation on Cena finally kicked off with a promo segment on the April 6 Raw from Boston.
It was several minutes of the future Hall of Famer telling the current United States champion that he comes across as fake and no one is buying his act. It was pretty brutal, something that wasn’t helped by the fact Cena didn’t work another episode of WWE television before he & Theory shared a ring at SoFi Stadium.
It’s also something Cena says Theory had a hand in crafting, as he told Roberts the same thing he told Busted Open about his creative process:
“Austin is great and easy to work with. And we wrote that together. He was in every step of the process. There comes a point where sometimes people need creative solitudes so they’re like, ‘I’m going to go away and write my thing, come back, run it by you, and see if it’s okay.’ Then, there are some guys who are like, ‘See you out there.’
“I can dress for weddings or funerals, just tell me what color suit to wear. I respect everyone’s process. I do know, that from all my experience, if you do not have something to care about, you do not have something. My job is to make them care. This is not a process I just do with Austin Theory.”
Cena says he learned that lesson via his own struggles:
“If you track back, and I’ve missed a bunch of times, too. I’ve tried to care. I’ve been too quirky at times. I tried to be funny and failed, but I’m trying. I’m always trying to make you care. That’s been the way since I was doing raps. People would want to hear the lines and then people wouldn’t want to hear the lines. It was like, yeah, you can do your rap thing. I’m just gonna kick the crap out of you in the ring. Fine. That doesn’t matter. What matters is me making them connect and believe because if they believe then maybe they laugh, then they feel sad for me when he kicks the crap out of me.”
Theory, and the lesson the Face that Used to Run the Place was trying to impart on him, came up again when Roberts bought up Cena calling The Rock out for writing promo notes on his wrist in the build-up to their WrestleMania 28 clash.
Cena says he apologized to both Dwayne Johnson and Johnson’s mother for not running that by Rocky before using it against him in the ring, and said both couldn’t have been more gracious. It also reinforced for him that...
“That’s what I love about WWE. Fans can see through the BS if you don’t believe in your character. It’s what I said to Austin Theory. ‘You are young, you are athletic, you will work for this company, you will do interviews. I don’t believe what you do when you’re out there. I don’t.’ I said it to him personally before I said it to him publicly.
“I’m serious. In a room, with Austin Theory, I said, ‘The reason I came back to Boston is because you can’t do this yourself yet. You cannot carry a WrestleMania promo yourself yet. If you fail, we waste the equity that I’m willing to give. In that match, if I get hurt, I hold up production, which puts 300 people out of work. Let’s do this right. Let’s get some equity here.’
“Then you start thinking about the angles, what’s the most important thing, what’s our story? ‘I don’t believe what you do,’ that’s what I’m going with.”
He also used Roman Reigns as an example. Like some vocal portions of the audience, Cena didn’t believe Reigns until he returned in 2020 with his Tribal Chief character.
“This is why I was really trying to hammer this home with Theory. It took Roman 10 years — eight years, eight years at the top, pushed for eight years for the light bulb to go off like, ‘I’m doing it my way. I will work with who they say, I will hit my times, but I’m going to be who I really am’...
“So when I talk to somebody like Theory, who has stars in his eyes and at 25 thinks he’s got a long road in front of him. You really need to start now, failing. Don’t just perform, fail, like a lot and then one day you’ll get it. You need to have like 85 suffering succotash moments.”
Will his brief angle with Cena be one of those “suffering succotash” moments that helps Theory develop into an all-time great? Should Cena have realized the younger wrestler might be hesitant to shoot down a legend’s ideas, or should someone higher up at WWE have stepped in to shoot it down for him?
Tell us what you think, Cagesiders. And check out Sam’s entire conversation with John Cena here.