Corey Graves spoke to John Cena on After The Bell just before Cena’s appearance on the Boston episode of Smackdown.
WWE has posted a clip on social media showing the end of the podcast, but Cena went into a lot of detail about his ability to “play jazz” in the ring. It has been pointed out multiple times on social media that Cena has frequently called spots in the ring out loud, but he talked about the process behind that and why he prefers that reputation over facing a silent crowd.
“When you talk with anybody that’s worked with me, it’s like, alright we’ve got 26 minutes, and the kid is gonna go over, ‘OK thanks’,” Cena said. “Hey John what do you want to do? We’ll just figure it out, and so many people that perform with me for the first time take that as apathy that I don’t care, but then when I’m out there, I’m notoriously the loudest talker in the business. I’m calling matches for you at the table in the ring. That’s only because I’m super hyper present because I’m there to entertain everybody who paid money, and if I prepare an elaborate execution with you in the back and we come out to crickets, we gotta be able to switch.
“So I gotta know myself and I have to know the skills of the performer I’m working with. I think the absolute, finite definition of a sports entertainer is the ability to ‘play jazz.’ Go out and absolutely improvise and ride the wave of the crowd that is in front of you. They will tell you what they want, and you just have to give it to them in a timely fashion. You can’t miss those moments. You have to be razor sharp which is why I’d rather be heard saying, ‘hit me —–‘, than saying nothing and have crickets.”
Graves asked when Cena learned how to do this. Cena credited the stars of the Attitude Era who helped him understand ring psychology and how to react to a crowd. He talked about how Eddie Guerrero gave him advice after a match that helped him really understand how to wrestle.
“I learned it from the Attitude Era veterans who were kind enough to work with me from Booker T, Rikishi, Eddie, John [JBL], Kurt [Angle], Hunter, Shawn [Michaels] [and] Ric [Flair],” Cena said. “You listen to these names, and it’s guys who have really made it in the business. All of them used to work like that, and I think they used to kind of do as a rib on the new guys.
“I remember the first time Eddie was like it’s me and you tonight. I’ll see you out there. It was an outdoor tennis court in South Africa, and we went 25 minutes. And it was awesome. He was kind enough, after the match [I went], ‘Why did you tell me to do that?’ And that’s when his face lights up like, ‘OK, now I can tell you some of the secrets. This is what you do. This is what you don’t do. This is why I did this. Did you hear when they were like this, and I said this then I said shut up, don’t do anything. That’s because we missed it. It was too late.’
“So that’s how I learned to wrestle. I learned technically to wrestle in OVW from Danny, Nick, Rob and those guys. [Jim] Cornette helped me study the skeleton of the business. I learned how to play jazz from the wrestling version of Miles Davis.”
Cena has talked about before the crossroads he is at in his career. However, he offered a piece of advice of younger wrestlers while also acknowledging the changing landscape of wrestling today.
“Here’s a message to all the talent out there, be brave enough to fail,” Cena advised. “Go out there with an open mind and open ears and entertain your audience. I think that’s one way to bring that sort of performance back. Here’s the drawback, it’s not going to be as surgical. It’s not going to be as precise. It’s not going to be as intricate, and the audience has shown that they enjoy that stuff. So once again, I’m speaking as a dinosaur, but I do have that perception of the current landscape.
“Social media keeps us at a low attention span. We want the best. We want it now. We don’t want anything to be off one step like we want it to look perfect, so I understand that the demand for the product is out there, but if you have the other skill in your back pocket, it wouldn’t hurt. Roman [Reigns] is completely capable of doing something like that. Seth Rollins, I believe, is capable of doing something like that, and I’ve wrestled with a lot of the guys today by that method, so I know that they can do it.”
Cena revealed that his favorite match of all time Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X-8. He talked about how the audience was pivotal to that match as the audience went crazy as Hogan and Rock just stared at each other. He also talked about the importance of the audience using examples from other sports and life.
“My thing is this, My favorite matches of all time is Hogan vs. Rock,” Cena revealed. “They’re just looking at each other, but it’s awesome. Your hearts pumping. You’re shaking the other guy next to you. ‘You don’t understand how awesome this is,’ and the other guy next to you is going, ‘no I don’t because it’s just two dudes looking at each other, and two dudes looking around.’ But what makes it magic is the noise and the audience. The audience makes the excitement.
“For any sporting event, if I’m clicking through and I see a football game and it’s just a football game but they cut to the crowd and it’s bananas, what happened? Think of when you’re just strolling down the street. If there’s a crowd of people, maybe just 30 people and they’re all making noise, you don’t just walk by and not address it. You look to see what’s going on. I can’t believe what’s going on there.
“So if the audience is going nuts, whatever you’re doing in the ring, if you’re just looking at each other, it’s being a good wrestler. It’s being a good sports entertainer because you told them a story that they’re interested in, and they’re giving you so much of their emotions that they’re crazy. They feel, and when they feel, every small thing you do, every nuance is powerful.”
Cena talked about knowing the kinds of sounds from an audience. He said that you need to empower an audience because they are the biggest star of the product.
“I know anticipatory silence. I know apathetic silence. I know the sound of people walking on the concourse to get a hot dog. I know sounds that I’m not good. I know sounds I’m good. I know sounds I messed up. I know sounds that they like the effort,” Cena listed off. “We all know these sounds, yet some performers work for the sound rather than being there listening to the sound and adapting to the environment. And I think when you empower the audience, our biggest star of the actual product, they’ll put you on the wave and you just kind of reign them in to the confines of the story. You can’t go out there and just turn yourself heel or change a finish or any of that stuff. You still have to keep the guidelines of what you’ve been given.”
“Beach ball mania” caused an uproar especially after Cesaro went into the audience and destroyed the beach ball. Cena talked about how he loves that kinds of moments because they allow for an opportunity to interact with the audience.
“I’ve had fights happen in the audience where we stopped and looked at the fight then wove it into the storyline. I’ve had some dude marry a girl in the audience, and we stopped. It was on TV in either Birmingham or London. We stopped. I addressed the marriage turned around and got clocked, and the heel took the heat for clocking me,” Cena said. “OK, everybody, they’re not looking at us. Don’t do anything. Look at what’s going on.
“The beach ball deal. Love when stuff like that happens, and I know it’s not good for television, but I think it is because you involve the audience. So like Cesaro, go get the damn ball. I can’t get it. It’s in the fifth row. I don’t care. Go get it. You look at the massive energy going around like what are they entertained by. They’re entertained by a ball and not by me. They’re all entertained by the ball. We got to do something, or they’re all doing the wave. Hey guys, I know this sounds stupid. I’m gonna do the wave. I’m gonna orchestrate the wave. If they boo me, hit me. If they cheer me, hit me. Either way it’s gonna be good but just acknowledge the fact that they’re giving you something.”
Cena said that many wrestlers nowadays see those distractions and are not used to reacting to that. He again talks about his love for the audience and their reactions and how they have the ability to shape a story.
“And I think a lot of the guys and gals get nervous thinking what I’m doing isn’t good enough. I’m just gonna do it faster, and what a way for them to be like forget it,” Cena said. “I just gave you my energy, and you just threw it away.
“That’s what I love about the audience. They let you know. They let you know if they’re bored. They let you know if you’re doing great. They let you know if you’re bad or if you’re good. It’s the best. It’s the best. All you gotta do is just be there and listen.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.