|April 23, 1977|
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Born John Felix Anthony Cena, Jr., in West Newbury, MA on April 23, 1977, he grew up in a household steeped in wrestling tradition. His father, John Cena, Sr., was an announcer for the New England-based Chaotic Wrestling League, as well an unofficial commissioner for East Coast Championship Wrestling. A fan of hip-hop at a very early age, the teenaged Cena deflected taunts from the less musically adventurous neighborhood kids by developing a keen interest in physical fitness. Cena even pursued physical fitness as a field of academic study - eventually earning a degree in exercise physiology - while at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he also served as captain of the school football team and achieved All-American status. Upon graduating from Springfield in 1999, Cena relocated to California, where he intended to embark on a career as a professional bodybuilder. Instead, a chance conversation with a wrestler at his local gym convinced Cena to switch interests and become involved in the pro wrestling industry.
Physically imposing and exceptionally athletic, Cena was quickly signed with the California-based Ultimate Pro Wrestling school in 2000, where he developed an early robotic persona known as "The Prototype." His success there earned him a developmental contract with Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment - the largest wrestling promotional company in the United States, if not the world - and Cena became part of its farm league, Ohio Valley Wrestling. During his tenure there, he appeared on a controversial reality competition series produced by the WWE titled "Manhunt" (UPN, 2001), which was revealed to be largely staged for the camera. The WWE and Cena quietly distanced themselves from the program once the allegations became public. Cena made his WWE debut in 2002 in an impressive bout against popular grappler Kurt Angle. He competed ceaselessly throughout 2004, slowly developing his persona by switching from "face" (good guy) to "heel" (bad guy) and back again. He also caught audiences' attention with freestyle rapping in the ring and unveiled his signature hold, the "F-U" (a modified fireman's carry that tosses the opponent over the wrestler's shoulders and onto the mat on his back).
In 2004, Cena's popularity with fans brought him to the annual Royal Rumble (a multiple opponent elimination match) and later to the WWE's crown jewel event, Wrestlemania. He would claim, lose, and then win back the title in a series of high-profile bouts throughout 2004-05. In 2005, he graduated from the WWE's Friday night programming "SmackDown!" (UPN/The CW/MyNetwork, 1999- ) to the more popular "RAW" (USA Network/TNN/Spike, 1993- ). Once there, he was drafted into a campaign against fan favorite Chris Jericho, which turned the audience's favor against him. Cena would eventually defeat Jericho and return to a long-standing feud with Kurt Angle, whom he defeated in November 2005 after revealing a new signature move, the "STFU" (a combination of his F-U and the STF or Step-Over Toehold Facelock). At the end of the year, Cena had successfully defeated all comers to retain the WWE championship belt. Also that year, Cena released his debut CD, You Can't See Me , which featured his cousin Marc Predka, who performed under the moniker of "Tha Trademarc." The album debuted in the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 3 on the rap charts.
Back in the ring, Cena continued to play the antihero card throughout early 2006; he lost and regained his title several times to numerous foes before reclaiming it for the remainder of the year in a vicious "Tables, Ladders and Chairs" match (which involved the use of all three objects in a brutal bout) against Edge in the latter's hometown of Toronto, Canada. Cena was also involved in a somewhat laughable promotional tangle with Britney Spears' then husband, Kevin Federline during the 2006 Cyber Sunday Pay-Per-View event, which somehow culminated with Cena losing the coveted World Heavyweight Championship belt. Following the career trajectory of fellow wrestlers like Duane "The Rock" Johnson, Cena made his feature film debut as the star of "The Marine" (2006), produced under the WWE Studios banner. The actioner, which saw Cena as a formidable veteran on a mission to rescue his wife from a group of vicious criminals, performed moderately well at the box office. A frequent guest on numerous radio and television talk shows, the always game Cena also found himself the victim of one of host Ashton Kutcher's pranks in an episode of "Punk'd" (MTV, 2003-2012) and appeared in a string of commercials for the Subway sandwich chain in 2006.
At the height of his fame as a wrestler, Cena suffered a badly torn pectoral muscle during a RAW match in October 2007. Although he finished his duties at the event, the injury later required surgery and extensive rehabilitation, resulting in Cena being stripped of his title - one of the longest title retentions in the history of the WWE. Having sufficiently recovered enough to return to work on screen, he later starred as a hard-charging cop involved in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a vindictive criminal in the action-thriller "12 Rounds" (2009). Like Cena's previous cinematic offering, the box-office dud was a production of McMahon's WWE Studios. In a departure from his usual violent action fare, Cena co-starred with actress Patricia Clarkson in the WWE Films drama "Legendary" (2010) as the wayward older brother of an aspiring high school wrestler (Devon Graye) looking to reunite his fractured family. Cena continued to beef up his acting credentials with several TV guest spots, including a 2010 episode of the comedic mystery series "Psych" (USA Network, 2006- ), as the brother of detective Juliet O'Hara (Maggie Lawson), a soldier accused of murder. Showing a knack for comedy, he also played the imaginary father of the hapless Fred (Lucas Cruikshank) in "Fred: The Movie" (Nickelodeon, 2010), a kiddie comedy based on the YouTube video phenomenon created by its cartoonish teen star. Cena returned with cameos in the sequels "Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred" (Nickelodeon, 2011) and "Camp Fred" (Nickelodeon, 2012). Obviously motivated by his humiliating title loss, over the intervening years Cena mounted a comeback in the ring. In 2012, Cena won his third Superstar of the Year "Slammy" Award and was the last man standing at WWE's "Money in the Bank" event. Early the following year, Cena emerged triumphant in the brutal melee of the 2013 Royal Rumble Match.
By Bryce P. Coleman