John Cena's struggle: Why WWE's biggest star can't take time off
When John Cena stood in the ring one night after losing the WWE Championship at SummerSlam, his torn triceps injury was expected to keep him away from the ring for at least four months and, perhaps, as many as six. But when the record 11-time WWE Champion steps back into the squared circle, he will do so far ahead of schedule, returning at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Oct. 27, after only two and a half months on the shelf.
The polarizing veteran hardly ever takes time away from the spotlight, but when he does, Cena seems to return sooner and sooner than expected. In an exclusive conversation, WWE.com asked the Massachusetts native why he pushes himself, what he’s feeling when he watches Raw from the couch and how he takes his mind off performing in front of millions of people in each week.
WWE.COM: This is much sooner than many WWE fans were expecting to see you back. The timetable indicated you’d be away from the ring for four to six months. It’s been two. Is it hard for you to stay away?
JOHN CENA: Of course, I think if any active Superstar tells you differently, they should rethink their profession. For most people, being injured and having surgery is a very difficult experience. They may spend a little bit of time loafing around or feeling sorry for themselves. I get to work right away. I just, literally, follow the rules. I go to physical therapy like I should. It becomes my job. When my job isn’t performing in a WWE ring, my job is to get back performing in that ring. When I’m hurt, all I have to do all day is get strong and get better. I’m a very dedicated physical therapy patient and that helps a lot.
WWE.COM: Is there something special about your body that you’re able to recover from your injuries so quickly? You always seem to return much sooner than expected.
CENA: Please don’t spread the rumor that I’m some kind of real-life X-Man or something like that. The reason that surgeons give those timetables is because they obviously want to err on the side of caution. They don’t want the operation going badly. They basically take all the operations they’ve done and come up with a medium timeframe to recover. That’s why it was four to six months.
WWE.COM: Are you at all surprised that you’re coming back so quickly?
CENA: No, I’m happy with the way everything has gone. I didn’t feel too bad when the injury happened. It started to really be a pain in my neck about two weeks before SummerSlam. I had to tell the greatest surgeon in the world that I have a physical therapy team that I’m extremely familiar with. In doing therapy, it’s good to know that the therapist will push you. A lot of times, people are reserved or maybe scared of testing what your body is capable of. I’m not. I have complete faith in my surgeon. When it was time to test range of motion a little bit or test strength a little bit, a lot of people — if it’s their first surgery — they want to wait a few weeks before they do that. I kind of want to say, “Hey I got a new arm. Let’s see how it works.”
WWE.COM: Are you in the gym lifting weights already or you’re not quite up to that yet?
CENA: I started weight training 16 days after surgery, because I had to wait for the stitches. The biggest concern with this whole thing was the risk of infection. After I got the stitches out at about 14 days, it took two days for the wound to heal up, and that’s when I could actually start breaking a sweat. So, those first two weeks were tough.
WWE.COM: What are you doing in those two weeks? Give me a picture of John Cena at home on the mend.
CENA: A lot of ice, a lot of electronic stimulation, a lot of strengthening everything around the elbow, shoulder rehab, grip strength. Physical therapy twice a day, six days a week.
WWE.COM: When you have some free time, what kind of stuff do you do to keep your mind off of things?
CENA: I’m either studying Chinese or spending much-needed personal time with a beautiful woman.
WWE.COM: How’s your Chinese?
CENA: It’s getting better every day.
WWE.COM: Are we talking Mandarin or Cantonese?
WWE.COM: When we last saw you, you lost the WWE Title to Daniel Bryan. How do you feel about coming back and going for the World Heavyweight Title instead? What do you feel the distinction is between those two titles?
CENA: I see them all as opportunities. For me, I’m hugely thankful for being able to get this opportunity. Daniel certainly did deserve to be called the WWE Champion and because of the circumstances and sorry state of affairs that’s happened to him, you can’t help but feel sympathy for the guy. But I just want to be back and I want to be back in any capacity that I can. For me to get any match is fine. For me to be thrown right into the mix and be named No. 1 Contender for the World Heavyweight Championship is a blessing.
WWE.COM: Do you anticipate having that rematch with Bryan down the road?
CENA: Eventually, yeah. I don’t think Daniel Bryan is gonna hang up those boots anytime soon, certainly not. So I don’t see why it wouldn’t.
WWE.COM: Do you think you’re missing out on a big moment by returning sooner than expected and not in your hometown of Boston at Survivor Series?
CENA: The big moments for me are moments when I can actually contribute. For me to want to hold off, especially if I’m ready to compete and be part of the active WWE roster, I think that’s just selfish. I don’t want to do that. I want to be back in the ring and in front of the WWE Universe, because I miss them and I hope they miss me.
WWE.COM: When you’re not on the road and not on television every week, are you sitting down and watching Raw every week?
CENA: Every week.
WWE.COM: When you do that, are you picturing how it would be if you were there or how the show might be different?
CENA: Not at all. Having done this a few times, it’s actually a nice little refresher to be able to watch. You gotta remember, I was a member of the WWE Universe before I was a WWE Superstar. It’s really nice to know, “Hey, I’m not going to be back until that date. There’s nothing I can do.” Right now, if I were to be frustrated or upset, it’s a waste of my own time, because I can’t physically contribute anything. So, I just watch and enjoy with an unbiased eye, be entertained, be not entertained, but just enjoy the show.
WWE.COM: What’s that like for a 10-year-plus veteran and enormous star to distance yourself and watch Raw as a fan?
CENA: It’s something I do anyway. It’s just in a greater capacity when you can no longer physically contribute. At all Live Events, I’m watching somewhere, whether peeking behind a curtain or peering at a TV backstage. I watch just as much WWE as almost anyone, but I love to. It’s something I enjoy doing. I don’t force myself to watch. I get excited for Mondays. I get excited to see the show.
WWE.COM: You haven’t had many injuries and when you are gone, you’re gone for very short periods. But do you feel, over time, these injuries force you to change how you perform in the ring?
CENA: If you broke down my technique, it wouldn’t really take a rocket scientist to do so. I don’t know how you could take something so basic and do less [laughs].
WWE.COM: What’s your frame of mind coming back to face Alberto Del Rio at Hell in a Cell in Miami?
CENA: I’m just so excited to be coming back. You have no idea. Being injured is tough. I know this is a business where you only have a certain window to perform in, and being here for 11 years now, that window closes every day, so I want to spend every day that I can in the ring. I’m driving back from the Performance Center right now, having gotten in one of the seven practice rings that are over there, just giving myself a last little test. Everything feels good. I know Alberto Del Rio is at the top of his game, but man, he’s gonna be hard-pressed to have a decent night in Miami. I want to make Miami special.