The history of John Cena's T-shirts
Whoever coined the phrase “clothes make the man” probably didn’t associate a T-shirt and jean shorts with success. But that didn’t stop John Cena from building an empire while wearing an outfit that wouldn’t fly on most casual Fridays. Who needs a power tie when you’ve got a purple shirt?
The Cenation leader’s ever-changing tees tell the story of his decade with WWE as he matured from a cocky hip hip-hop head in throwback jerseys to an established, respected locker room leader who proudly donned pink to support breast cancer awareness. Here, WWE Classics chronicles the evolution of John Cena from brash b-boy to confident Cenation leader — one shirt at a time. ( PHOTOS)
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Give Vanilla Ice credit. Had John Cena not spit a line to Stephanie McMahon while dressed up like the MC behind “Ice Ice Baby” on a 2002 Halloween edition of SmackDown, then the 10-time WWE Champion’s important jump from promising, young competitor to braggadocios breakout Superstar may never have happened. ( WATCH) Instead, Cena’s inspired bit of dress up put substance on his already marketable good looks and Superman frame and gave WWE fans something about him to remember.
In the years that followed, Cena went full tilt with his hip-hop alter ego, adding backward slung hats and throwback jerseys to his outfits while rhyming insults at his rivals like an underground MC. ( WATCH) Late in 2003, Cena debuted his first T-shirt — a white and blue ringer tee depicting a pair of cartoon hands sporting “Word Life” knuckle rings like the man himself. A few months later, he rocked a new emblem, taking the sports-entertainment empire’s classic block logo and lopping off the last two letters. The symbol was Cena’s answer to rap’s adoration for old-school culture, but more than that, it was him saying, “Here’s history, watch me change it.”
The debut of what has been dubbed John Cena’s “8-Bit” shirt came at an unexpected time. The first night he wore the tee honoring the charmingly archaic graphics of 1980s gaming systems was 2008’s No Way Out. At that event, Cena faced Randy Orton, perhaps his greatest ring rival and the man who had nearly ended his career that same year after delivering an RKO that tore the Cenation leader’s pectoral muscle. Most Superstars would have spent a year on the couch from an injury like that, but Cena made a startling return in 2008’s Royal Rumble Match, flooring a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd before winning the over-the-top-rope brawl. ( WATCH)
Still, retribution was on Cena’s mind. The Viper had almost taken the former WWE Champion’s livelihood and the West Newbury, Mass., native would have to put Orton down to stop him from doing it again. Strange then that Cena went into such a heated contest wearing a T-shirt that was more Super Mario than Superman. ( WATCH FULL MATCH)
At that point in his career, the Superstar’s tees were marked by their strong military ties. They were dark, straightforward shirts with camouflage lettering and hardened slogans like “live fast, fight hard” that spoke to the severity with which he took his new spot as WWE’s commander-in-chief. At some point during his injury, Cena had seemingly rediscovered the locker room jocularity that first endeared him to the WWE Universe. The meeting of Cena’s early swagger and “The Marine” discipline of his first years in the main event became apparent in his “8-Bit” shirt. With that, the modern-day John Cena was born.
John Cena’s nods to sports-entertainment history continued at the 2008 Survivor Series when he arrived in a T-shirt inspired by Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. A Midwestern institution from the 1960s up through the late ’80s, the promotion helped launch the careers of WWE Hall of Famers like Hulk Hogan and “Mean” Gene Okerlund and rivaled WWE for sports-entertainment supremacy long before WCW was an organization. ( MORE ABOUT AWA)
The AWA died out in the early ’90s and, besides the occasional episode on ESPN Classic, had rarely been a part of the sports-entertainment landscape since. It was unsurprising then that many WWE fans failed to realize that Cena was tipping his hat to the defunct promotion’s logo with his 2008 tee. A red, white and blue shield emblazoned with five white stars and two nondescript grapplers slugging it out, the AWA’s emblem was updated by swapping out the grapplers for a cartoon of the Cenation leader applying a wrenching STF to a hapless foe and replacing the letters AWA with HLR — short for “hustler loyalty and respect.”
Although it’s unlikely that Cena grew up in West Newbury, Mass. watching Minnesota mainstays like Jerry Blackwell and Baron von Raschke trading hammerlocks on AWA television, the Cenation leader’s appreciation for wrestling’s history only grew as he grew as a WWE Superstar. On the night he won his first World Heavyweight Title, a tribute to the men who blazed a trail seemed appropriate.
"Never Give Up"
John Cena was well into his tenure as WWE’s leading man by November 2009, but he truly announced his shift from lovable thug to inspirational icon when he sported his orange “Never Give Up” tee for the first time at that year’s Survivor Series.
Then the defending WWE Champion, Cena was headed into a Triple Threat Match against both Triple H and Shawn Michaels when he ditched his black and green “Attitude Adjustment” attire for a tee that directly addressed the loyal fans he dubbed his Cenation. Featuring an illustration of the West Newbury, Mass., native deadlifting an ungodly amount of weight, the shirt was emblazoned across the chest with the words “Never Give Up.” For the Superstar who had doggedly worked and battled back from serious injuries to reach the apex of WWE, the message served as a testament to his spirit.
That night at Survivor Series, he successfully defended his WWE Title against both members of D-Generation X through his tireless perseverance. ( WATCH) Through the next year, Cena carried his “Never Give Up” message with him, wearing it proudly on his next two shirts.
John Cena may have been inspired by the leadership and success of Magic Johnson when he proudly rocked purple and yellow in the home of the Los Angeles Lakers at SummerSlam 2010. Or, if you believe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he was channeling Barney the Friendly Dinosaur.
Either way, the Cenation leader appeared confident and primed for battle when he stepped out with Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, R-Truth, John Morrison and a returning Daniel Bryan to defend WWE against Wade Barrett and his wicked Nexus in a do-or-die elimination bout. ( WATCH FULL MATCH) The troop of former WWE NXT Rookies had terrorized Cena since their first night in WWE when they tore the Cenation leader — and the entire Raw set — to shreds. After the group cost Cena his WWE Title at Fatal 4-Way and attacked his friend Bret Hart, it was imperative he take them out in this vital match.
What do you wear going into one of the biggest bouts of your career? Purple, apparently. That’s not to say the Grimace’s signature shade was uncommon in WWE. The Undertaker himself had donned purple gloves and “Macho Man” Randy Savage was never shy about draping himself in the royal color, but something about seeing Cena dressed like the grape from the Fruit of the Loom commercials threw everyone off. And maybe that was the point. Eight years in, Cena was set on doing what he wanted to do. As for everyone else? You could get with it or get out the way.
If any shirt inspired Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to forever link John Cena with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, it was this red tee the Cenation leader first wore at WrestleMania XXVII.
Following up his orange and purple tees, Cena ran into battle against The Miz on The Grandest Stage of Them All draped in this fire engine red shirt. The spray of color came as a bit of a surprise to those who closely associated the Superstar with dark colors and camouflages and led The Great One to poke fun at the man he would face at the following year’s WrestleMania. Comparisons to multicolored cereals were meant to harm Cena, but he would turn The Rock’s jabs into opportunity when his smiling mug was plastered on a box of Fruity Pebbles. ( WATCH)
Still, although there was no mention of it on the shirt, the red tee was announced as part of Cena’s “Persevere” line. That word would become important as the Cenation leader set off to face the most tasking year of his career.
"Rise Above Hate"
For a decade, John Cena has achieved great success in WWE by living the three virtues he preaches — hustle, loyalty and respect. As he built on his record-breaking career, however, he became one of the most polarizing figures in WWE history. By late 2011, the WWE Universe highlighted this fact in arenas across the world with battling chants of “Let’s go Cena!” and “Cena Sucks!” At Vengeance that year, the Cenation leader debuted a new T-shirt that expressed his feelings on the divide among the WWE Universe.
Highlighting his American pride in red, white and blue lettering, Cena’s new shirt featured the phrase “Rise Above Hate,” and was intended to serve as a creed for anyone who felt bullied. The Cenation leader encouraged his fans to live by those words before he faced the burning hatred of Kane.
In the months before his epic battle with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena was targeted by The Big Red Monster whose sole mission was to make Cena “embrace the hate.” Kane taunted the 10-time WWE Champion, going as far as attacking the Cenation leader’s friend, Zack Ryder. ( WATCH) No matter how depraved Kane could be, though, Cena lived by the motto on his shirt and rose above hate. True to himself as always, Cena finally overcame The Big Red Monster in an Ambulance Match at Elimination Chamber 2012.
"Salute the Cenation"
After a year of anticipation and trash-talking, John Cena and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson finally squared off at WrestleMania XXVIII. Both Superstars were determined to leave Miami’s Sun Life Stadium with their hand raised in victory and the claim to be the greatest Superstar of all time. Following a musical performance by Machine Gun Kelly, the Cenation leader made his way to the ring wearing a new, green T-shirt.
The shirt maintained his inspirational creed — “Rise Above Hate” — with “U Can’t See Me” emblazoned on the back. In the heart of The Great One’s hometown of Miami, the dueling chants of “Let’s Go Cena” and “Cena Sucks” were in full effect. However, Cena embraced the fans as he stood toe-to-toe with The People’s Champ.
Ultimately, Cena was unsuccessful in his bid against The Great One. Following the defeat and a subsequent attack by Brock Lesnar, ( WATCH) the 10-time WWE Champion hit a bit of a slump. But he stood tall, rising above the challenges and defeating The Anomaly at Extreme Rules. With that, the green shirt became a symbol of Cena’s spirit and his “Never Give Up” attitude. The bright color stood out and offered itself as a flag of sorts for WWE fans all over the world who stare down adversity no matter how great.
"Rise Above Cancer"
In fall 2012, John Cena initiated a bold WWE tag team with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. In an effort to raise awareness for October as breast cancer awareness month, the Cenation leader debuted a bright pink T-shirt at Night of Champions. Although the layout and design was similar to his green “Rise Above Hate” shirt, the words “Rise Above Cancer” were now featured in the center.
Not only was Cena’s gesture inspirational, but it was also a huge charitable initiative with proceeds from the shirt being donated to the Komen foundation. The Cenation leader started a trend in WWE throughout October in support of breast cancer awareness. WWE adopted pink ring ropes and included pink ribbons on the announce tables and other ringside areas.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most inspiring shirts ever produced in WWE, millions of WWE fans joined the 10-time WWE Champion in raising awareness about the deadly disease. At the end of October, Cena was proudly able to present Susan G. Komen for the Cure with a check for $1 million, which had been raised with the WWE Universe’s support. ( WATCH)
"10 Years Strong"
A lot had happened in the 10 years since a young John Cena stepped up to Kurt Angle in his WWE debut on the June 27, 2002, edition of SmackDown. The confident kid from West Newbury, Mass., had won 10 WWE Championships, two World Heavyweight Titles, main evented multiple WrestleManias, defeated Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton and countless others, starred in movies, granted more than 300 requests for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, recorded a rap album, got slimed on Nickelodeon and wrestled Kevin Federline. And the Cenation leader was still going strong.
At the 2012 Survivor Series, John Cena appeared in his 26th official WWE T-shirt and recognized his unfathomable decade in sports-entertainment. Emblazoned with an intense illustration of the Cenation leader and the slogan “10 Years Strong,” the shirt spoke to the former WWE Champion’s longevity in the ring while making it clear there was no end in sight for the tireless competitor.
All told, 2012 had been a tough year for Cena. He had suffered major public losses to the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and CM Punk and failed to capture the WWE Title he’d long been synonymous with. But Cena was undeterred. There would be other nights and other matches and John Cena would never give up. This shirt made that clear.