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10 years The Champ: John Cena reflects on his decade at WWE

Say what you want, but for the past 10 years, WWE and John Cena have been synonymous. One cannot be so readily identified without the other. Cena is considered one of the most recognizable Superstars in WWE history – an incredible feat when one considers the pantheon of sports-entertainment immortals that have preceded him, or the fact that he is such a polarizing figure among the passionate members of the WWE Universe. To them, Cena is either WWE’s greatest hero, or its most reviled Superstar. There is no middle ground, nor is there ever likely to be.

Cena’s ring debut – a match against Kurt Angle on the June 27, 2002, edition of SmackDown – didn’t end in victory on the canvas. Many cite Cena’s arrival that night, though, as the dawn of a new era in WWE. Fast-forward 10 years, and you’ll see a 12-time World Champion who’s a first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer … and he’s still in the prime of an already stellar WWE career. ( CENA'S WWE DEBUT: A LOOK BACK)

Perhaps the question that needs to be asked isn’t what the WWE Universe has seen in John Cena throughout the past decade, but what the Cenation leader has assessed about himself in that time. Thankfully, Cena was kind enough to discuss the subject with WWE.com, in which he speaks candidly about his first days with WWE; the steps he took to develop into the once (and future?) Champ; making his mark as a worldwide role model and a champion for Make-A-Wish; and the kind of person he is today ...

WWE.com: So, it has been 10 years since your WWE debut on SmackDown, when you faced Kurt Angle. What are some of the things you look back on from that night, stepping through the curtain for the first time and having that match?

JOHN CENA: Literally, I just needed to get through the curtain. I was in shambles that whole day. First, I was told I was going to have a match at 4:00 that afternoon. Then, I was told that I needed to get my hair cut, and I was sent offsite to get that done. I made it back just in time, and everyone was flipping their lid. Randy Orton had tied my boots to a locker in the Allstate Arena [laughs], and basically, I had a giant smile on my face when I got to go through the curtain … because I knew I could no longer be messed with [laughs]. ( WATCH: CENA'S ENTIRE DEBUT MATCH)

WWE.com: We know you prefer looking to the future than talking about the past, but what are some of the moments that most spring to mind when you look back on 10 years as a WWE Superstar?

CENA: To be honest … being able to say that I make a living doing this has been the greatest experience in these 10 years. It’s pretty spectacular.

WWE.com: When you stepped through the curtain for the first time, did you imagine that you’d someday reach the level that you’re at now?

CENA: Not a chance. I was just happy to get that one match. I’ve always tried to live by the adage of “Just get one more [match]. Go out there and do the best you can every night, and hopefully they’ll want to see you again the next day.” ( VIDEO PLAYLIST: CENA'S BIGGEST BRAWLS)

WWE.com: Your look and gear were a bit different when you debuted. Did you imagine that jean shorts would be forever associated with John Cena?

CENA: I just a saw a photo of myself from July 4, 2002, in this month’s WWE Magazine, and it's extremely different. I had more of a traditional type of look. Then, when I started adopting a non-traditional personality, the look kind of went with it. It’s how I became known; rather than try to change it … it just fell into place. ( "THE LEGEND OF JOHN CENA" IN JULY'S "WWE MAGAZINE")

WWE.com: Please tell us how things began to click for you as you adopted your “Dr. of Thuganomics” persona.

CENA: Back in the “ruthless aggression” days, I wasn’t any different from anyone else. We had a lot of athletes who were aggressive. [Becoming the “Dr. of Thuganomics”] was a chance at an identity, so I took it.

It was so bizarre. The Vanilla Ice [look], the blue sheepskin costume, all the throwback jerseys, the steel chains … I wore some outlandish stuff because I came from an era where everybody seemed to dress the same and act the same. I took this as a chance to be different. ( MORE CLASSIC "THUGANOMICS" PHOTOS)

WWE.com: Part of being different is that you are who you are. People boo, people cheer. Either way, it doesn’t seem to affect you. Did you imagine when you started your career that children would look up to you as they do now, as a role model?

CENA: No, and that’s the thing I’m most flattered by. If you look at who I was four, six years ago, I was pretty racy. I was the king of "pipe bombs" before "pipe bombs" were invented. I consciously knew our product, I consciously saw our audience, and I made a decision that I'd live my life by a certain set of ideals, that I was just going forward in this direction. Whoever was with me was with me, and we’d go from there. It ended up being a good deal.

I’m very flattered when I meet parents – whether it’s Make-A-Wish or parents with their kids on the street – and they’re like, “Hey, thanks for letting us watch WWE. You’re a very good role model. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

WWE.com: Speaking of Make-A-Wish, in your 10th year as a WWE Superstar, you celebrated another milestone: your 300th wish. What sort of role has being a Make-A-Wish ambassador had on your development as a Superstar?

CENA: I guess that one’s devotion to charity – no matter what it is – opens your eyes to a lot of stuff. Make-A-Wish, specifically; no matter how tough I think my day is, I am blessed to be where I’m at. That’s what I’m reminded about most when I help out Make-A-Wish. Those kids are the toughest kids I have ever met. They fight every single day, and they do it with a smile on their face. And they’re so happy to come and enjoy what I get to do every day. It helps a lot to put things into perspective, and it helps a lot to give you a legitimate take on reality. ( CENA'S 300TH WISH: STORY, PHOTOS & VIDEO)

WWE.com: In 10 years, you’ve amassed 10 WWE Championships (12 World Championships total). What springs to mind when you think about that first championship win against JBL at WrestleMania 21? What do you remember most about that night?

CENA: There was a giant sense of excitement the very first time I won – and a sense of relief. I truly thought that would be it … but it’s weird, because this thing just never ends. As a kid, you want to be WWE Champion. Then, you’re WWE Champion. And then, it’s not enough. You want to keep it. So OK, let’s win it again. That’s what I love about this: As long as you’re physically capable, there’s always a goal you can strive for.

I know the number 16 [Ric Flair’s total of World Championship reigns] is put on a pedestal, and I’m quite a ways away from that. But that would be something to shoot for. And when or if 16 happens, or number 17 happens, then 20 becomes the number to shoot for. That’s what I love about doing this. ( PHOTOS: CENA'S 10 WWE CHAMPIONSHIP WINS)

WWE.com: Would you say that, 10 years later, you’re still just getting started? What do you think about the next 10 years?

CENA: I’d say that I’m here [laughs]. I truly know myself, and I try so hard to understand every aspect of WWE every day. There isn't a day that goes by in WWE that I am not learning something new about this company. So after 10 years, as far as me learning, I’m just getting started. There’s always something to learn.

WWE.com: Is there anything you regret not having done in your 10 years here at WWE?

CENA: No. I’m truly happy. I couldn’t be more happy. I’m truly living a real-life dream, and I would change nothing. There’s no decision, whether professional or personal, that I would ever take back.

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