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By Chris Gardner
Two of the most famous names ever associated with the professional wrestling biz will take center stage at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on April 1 for what's being billed as the biggest showdown in WWE history. (Sorry, Hulk Hogan)
One word best describes the pay-per-view event, which pits Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson against John Cena: epic. But the backstory requires a few more.
When The Rock -- arguably one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time -- exited the WWE stage in 2004 in favor of what would become a successful and enviable film career, he left a major opening for a new WWE superstar. Cena had the magic, muscles and magnetic charm necessary to fill those shoes. He rose through the ranks and has been the sport's biggest name ever since. Wonderwall caught up with Cena to talk about The Rock's return, what he hates most about him and why he'll never leave the WWE.
Wonderwall: We are just a few days away from the big event, and there's been so much hype and buildup for weeks and months. How are you feeling right now about the match? What goes through your mind when you're home at night?
John Cena: I'm confident. This is a match that I personally have wanted for five years now. I'm glad it's happening. Everyone is truly interested. They are choosing sides, either Team Rock or Team Cena, and it's great for the event and it's great for our families. It's going to be chaos at Sun Life Stadium. It's shaping up to be something I never could have dreamed of five years ago. It's a very special WrestleMania, bigger than any WrestleMania before it. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
WW: And I hear you're not getting much sleep.
JC: The past three days, it's been probably two to three hours per night.
WW: How are you able to function?
JC: I love what I do for a living, man. This is like the Super Bowl. Athletes get excited for the Super Bowl or the World Series. It's the same for me. I'm just excited to be a part of all this.
WW: During these past few months, there have been so many heated exchanges and threats from both sides. What do you think it will be like to finally get in the ring and battle it out?
JC: It's almost like fighting for a cause. When you really believe in something and you fight for it and you fight for it and you're honest with your words and you have a point to make, and then when that point finally gets taken seriously and you get what you're after, it's extremely satisfying. I'm in a great place and I'm so ready for April 1. That's maybe what the people on The Rock's side don't truly understand; this means everything to me. I'm the one that asked for it and got it. I've been completely honest with Dwayne on camera, off camera. He knows exactly how I feel about him. I'm ready to make some history on April 1.
WW: How do you feel about him off camera.
JC: I'm not going to take away from the success that he's had, but we don't see eye to eye on a lot on things.
WW: What is the one thing that bothers you the most about The Rock?
JC: His interjection of passion. ... I was there when he left. I was there when the cover of Men's Journal said, "The Rock is dead." I was there when he totally wouldn't engage in talking about the WWE. And he uses the excuse that "I had to do that to reinvent myself." I don't want to reinvent myself. I am pounding my chest and saying out loud, I love the WWE. And if people aren't going to like me because I'm a professional wrestler, then I don't want to be involved with those people anyway. My main argument through this whole thing is that he has incredible timing on when he shows up and when he doesn't. Meanwhile, I'm here through the good times and the bad times.
WW: Is there anything about The Rock that you admire?
JC: How can you not admire what he's done? It's six in one hand and half a dozen in the other. I admonish him for what he's done but I admire him for what he's done. He is one of the greatest performers in WWE history. He's a self-made success. He started with five bucks in his pocket and now, his movies have grossed a billion dollars at the box office. He is one of the most decorated superstars in the WWE. He is the single biggest success that's ever spawned from the WWE. When he goes back to write the CliffsNotes on how he did it, I don't agree with some of the decisions he's made in retelling his story. It's very difficult to tell a guy who has been that successful, "Hey, man, you're doing it wrong." He's not doing anything wrong. He's untouchable right now.
WW: The Rock has tossed some pretty intense insults at you recently. Do any of his harsh words hit close to home?
JC: Strong doesn't stop in the weight room. A person's strength internally is their biggest asset. That's why I came up with this whole Rise Above Hate campaign. You shouldn't judge anybody because they look different or listen to a different type of music or behave a certain way. How does that make you better or worse than anyone else? My biggest gripe about The Rock, which is a legitimate beef, is how he conducts his business. In the rebuttal, he's been saying that I don't have a penis, his penis is larger than mine, that I dress funny and that the music I listen to sucks. There's no merit behind those insults. They are extremely funny insults, but I don't take any of it personally.
WW: You always say that you're with the WWE until the end. What is it about the sport that keeps you there with such pride?
JC: The easiest answer to that is show up and watch on April 1. When I was a kid I ran around with paper championship belts -- I always wanted to be a professional wrestler. I never wanted to be a movie star. And that's why I'll be here until I can't be here anymore.
WW: You have made some films. Will you do more?
JC: I pride myself on the fact that every time I've done a movie -- and I've done a half dozen of them -- that I've honored my commitments to the WWE, and I've never missed a date. I've been able to successfully do both. So if I made the decision to do so again, I would make sure that my WWE commitments came first and the movie was able to work around it. But I wouldn't want to choose one or the other, and if I have to, I'll choose WWE.
WW: You are this notorious tough guy, but you also show a softer side through philanthropy, most notably your work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. What are your most memorable moments working with sick children?
JC: I work with them every day, but recently I was at Madison Square Garden and I met a young boy named Kyle who has a terminal form of cancer. He was brought to my attention by a group of 9/11 first responders, so I was offered the chance to grant a wish for a young man -- someone who really wants to have a great time at a WWE event -- and I was able to make his day special, and, in turn, be involved with meeting a group of heroes. I like to think what I do is important, but you certainly can never forget what the brave men and women did on that day.
WW: What does it mean to you that you'll be the first celebrity to grant 300 wishes?
JC: I'm just getting started.
WW: Back to wrestling. What are your pre-match and post-match rituals?
JC: I'm very relaxed. I really just try to be around the audience as much as I can. I try to be as close to the stage curtain as much as I can to hear and feel the audience. And post-match ritual? It's simple. If it's a regular day at the office, I'll maybe have a cold beer after the match. If it's a celebratory occasion, I will pour a shot of Jack Daniel's to a fallen comrade of mine who I lost a couple years ago. His name is Uncle Jack, and he still lives on through me. I always reward myself with at least one beverage after every event.
WW: You have four brothers and a wife. Will they be backstage supporting you on April 1?
JC: My family is great. They are all fans. They don't feel as if they need to be in my cubicle, or in my office hocking me for information or getting the scoop on what's going on. They love to sit out there during the events and enjoy it like everyone else. And after, they love to talk to their bro or their husband or their son. It's not a thing where they have to be plugged into the matrix of the WWE. And after an event, we go out and have a meal like everyone else, or do whatever we do.
WW: So, what's really going to happen on April 1.
JC: I've been in this game 10 years straight -- on the road 310 days a year for 10 years straight. I firmly believe that I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm in my prime when it comes to the WWE. I can react to an audience and leave Dwayne Johnson at a loss for words and leave Dwayne Johnson's confidence shattered. I am more than ready for this. I don't want to say I'm on cruise control, because I am training like a madman. But for all of Dwayne's decorations, he's been on a seven-year layoff. He hasn't been in a match in seven years. I know he's in physical peak condition and he's training like an animal, but it's like being a pro baseball player and hitting a baseball. You actually have to get in the game. You have to put up some wins and take some losses to be ready for these situations. ... I'm there every night. I have matches every night. That's why he's going to fall short.
WW: After it's all said and done, will you be excited to not say his name again or look at his face for a while?
JC: I say this is once in a lifetime, because Dwayne Johnson is the hidden element. I don't know what the future of his schedule holds. If he wants to come back and get his butt whipped by me night after night after night and I have to say his name every night, I will be thoroughly happy doing it.
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