Wrestler John Cena makes wishes come true

John Cena and his fiancee, Nikki Bella, at the premiere of Blockers, in which Cena plays an overbearing father.
John Cena and his fiancee, Nikki Bella, at the premiere of Blockers, in which Cena plays an overbearing father.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • John Cena is a professional wrestler, but outside the ring, he also has to wrestle non-stop with the demands on his time.

Take this recent example.

Two hours before the WWE Live Road To WrestleMania took over Madison Square Garden last month, Cena, 40, its star wrestler, burst into a backstage room.

Stopping only for a quick handshake, he sat before a stack of self-portraits and began feverishly scribbling his autograph.

Dressed in a neon-green T-shirt, matching wristbands, denim shorts and black knee pads, Cena looked like an action-figure version of himself, as he pumped himself up for a long night of engagements, both in and out of the ring.

There was a meet-and-greet for Make-A-Wish, wrestling executives to confer with, a promotional video to shoot and a mixed tag-team match before 13,000 fans with his fiancee, Nikki Bella.

Cena's schedule had been nonstop in recent days. After a 30-hour stay in London to promote Blockers, a raunchy comedy about parents hell-bent on saving their teenage daughters' virginities (he plays one of the overbearing fathers), he was in New York to reclaim his wrestling throne.

After finishing the autographs, he popped out of his seat and made his way deeper backstage.

Amanager appeared to escort him to the Make-A-Wish meeting on the other side of the arena.

Cena's own journey was not so neatly choreographed. Raised in the suburb of West Newbury, Massachusetts, he began weightlifting at 12.

After graduating from Springfield College, he moved to Los Angeles, toyed with becoming a professional bodybuilder, but switched his focus to wrestling after striking up a friendship with wrestler Mike Bell, who died in 2008.

Cena briefly wrestled for Ultimate Pro Wrestling, an independent outfit based in California, before signing with WWE in 2001.

He made his television debut a year later when Mr Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE, agreed to let him replace a wrestler who had come down with flu.

He lost the fight, but won over fans when he began trash-talking opponents using freestyle rap.

As his fame grew, Cena evolved his character and, to appeal to younger fans, became a brute with a bleeding heart. He was now one of the good guys.

The family-friendly wrestler was soon in demand outside the ring.

In 2010, he guest-starred as himself on Miley Cyrus' Nickelodeon show, Hannah Montana. In 2015, he began making guest-host appearances on Today.

But it is the comedy roles, most notably as Amy Schumer's sexually confused boyfriend in the 2015 comedy Trainwreck, and the cameos in Sisters and Daddy's Home, that proved his acting credentials.

In late 2016, he hosted Saturday Night Live, the first professional wrestler to do so since Dwayne Johnson.

Back at the Garden, Cena finally made it to the Make-A-Wish meeting, which took place in a classroom outfitted with rows of chairs and a WWE backdrop.

He greeted Garrett Richardson, a 15-year-old in a wheelchair.

Garrett and his family had flown in from Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet Cena and see the match.

Cena has granted more than 500 Make-A-Wish requests over the years, so when Garrett was left speechless by the larger-than-life celebrity in the room, Cena knew just how to respond.

"Ah, I see your strategy," Cena said with a wink.

"You're saving all your energy for tonight's show. If you get too excited now, you'll have no voice by the third match."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'Wrestler John Cena makes wishes come true'. Print Edition | Subscribe