John Cena was the face of WWE for close to 15 years, starting at WrestleMania 21 with his first WWE Championship title victory over JBL.
Cena has held 25 championships during his time with WWE including 16 World Championships, 2 Royal Rumble wins and winning Money in the Bank. Over the years, many have argued Cena being one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time, including Jim Ross during the latest edition of Grillin’ JR, which was focused on Cena. Ross noted that Cena definitely belongs on WWE’s Mt. Rushmore.
“Oh hell yes, absolutely,” Ross said. “From the get-go, I never worked with a more dedicated guy than John Cena. The greatest work ethic of any guy I’ve ever known in the wrestling business for sure simply meaning he didn’t turn anything down but the covers. He did appearances, his Make-A-Wish total is astronomical, but John Cena was a very special guy. If John Cena is not on the Mt. Rushmore of WWE stars, then there doesn’t need to be a Mt. Rushmore. Knock it down, and build an apartment building or something because you don’t need the mountain. He’s on that mountain and he’s very firmly in place.”
Before joining the WWE on a full time basis, Cena signed a development contract and was known as The Prototype in WWE’s developmental territory in the early 2000s, OVW. Ross talked about meeting Cena for the first time and what he thought of him when he first hired him.
“I told Vince ‘I agreed to terms with a WrestleMania main-eventer in 5 years’, he looked at me like I was delirious,” Ross said. “I just felt in my heart that I had met a very special athlete. He could sit and talk, especially the WWF brand of wrestling, chapter and verse as good as anybody. I knew he wasn’t a bulls–tter, I knew that he wasn’t giving me all this date he memorized before we talked because we got into conversations, angles and storylines. Very bright guy and very focused on what he wanted to do. It’s almost as if he had this feeling that ‘I could be really great in this business if I could just get a jersey, because I know I can play’.
“I thought I met somebody very special, told Vince that much and he wasn’t as sold on it as I was but he didn’t know John Cena. He couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup, but he got to know him pretty well over the next 3 years.”
OVW was run by Jim Cornette from 1999 to 2005 during the time Cena was there as The Prototype. Ross discussed Cornettes’ opinion of Cena and how fondly he thought of him as a talent during his time in OVW.
“He liked John,” Ross said. “John was a promoter’s dream, he was very intelligent, but he couldn’t help but be a great team player, that’s how he was raised, that was his environment and his mindset. Cornette may have had issues with other guys and deservedly so for them because they were late, nonchalant and would play the role of what a pro wrestler would be. He was just a great student, Cornette liked him and how could you not, what was wrong with the guy? He was a dream signee that we were damn sure lucky to find and sign.”
During an episode of the Ruthless Aggression documentary on the WWE Network which focused on Cena, he admitted that there was a time when WWE considered cutting him. He noted that he was going to be receiving his release at Christmas. Ross however said that the office always had a belief in John and knew the skills he had, they just needed a fresh new gimmick for him.
“The office never lost confidence in John,” Ross said. “They were looking for better roles for him so he could star. They were looking for starring roles for John Cena, we had a very strong baby face side to the roster. Any territory that is dotted with their top stars as baby faces have the same obligation as a promotion is to develop a heel factory. A fresh contingent of opponents for your baby face opponents. I think that some people thought that the character, a white guy rapping, for some old school guys was not comfortable. As silly as it sounds, I think there was some apprehension there.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.