On New Years Day in 2007, John Cena faced possibly his strangest opponent of all time: Kevin Federline. With the help of Umaga, Federline defeated Cena in their one-on-one match which was an idea to garner some mainstream publicity due to the fact that Federline was married to Britney Spears at the time.
On a recent episode of the Grillin' JR podcast, Jim Ross talked about Cena's match with Federline and why he hated everything about it since his hometown Oklahoma Sooners played Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl that day.
"I didn't like it, selfishly," Ross said. "I never asked in 26 years for a day off in WWE but one time. Normally I would've been on the sidelines cheering my Sooners on and supporting my buddy Bob Stoops. I asked for that time off and Vince gave me an emphatic no, you can't be off. Why? 'We're doing counter programming JR don't you understand? We're counter programming the football game. There's going to be more sizzle and Hollywood.'
"It pissed me off, as usual and I didn't react well to it. We really had to stretch our creativity on making the match halfway decent. John Cena goes on live, no pretape, no editing, no s--t, with this guy who had no athletic skills, no pro wrestling training and doing it in a main event role on live television. Team player: John Cena.
"If I was held back to do a big match, like Cena vs. somebody strong I would've looked at it differently but it was a gimmick and Vince really believed we'd get a number. At the end of the day I probably did okay because I didn't have to suffer through that loss standing on the sidelines, but the Federline deal was well thought out and well planned. No different than Gronk being at WrestleMania. Has Gronk been a big part of the programming since WrestleMania? He ain't never going to be an everyday wrestler, is he going to commit like he did football? Unlikely. We never heard from Federline again."
"Two guys that we had hopes for and they were proving us right," Ross said. "For me, during my tenure there as head talent relations, it was kind of cool seeing two guys I coveted and signed. Bruce [Prichard] was there helping and it was also a team effort. It made me proud. We hoped they would be Austin and Rock for sure no doubt about that but its just hard to replace those two dudes. Neither guy was locker room issues, neither guy had problem keeping their commitments, they were both very professional they were company men. There was no negatives or downsides to those dudes in that regard. They were the guys and I was proud as hell of them."
At WrestleMania 26, 5 years after they both won their first World Championships, John Cena and Batista, the two new faces of the Ruthless Aggression era faced off. Ross talked how Cena constantly flip flopped titles leading into the match and how this may have led to the backlash on Cena from the fans.
"I thought the frequent title changes with Cena's reign or anybody else's is counter productive," Ross said. "It's not a great way of booking, not the greatest storytelling when you switch the titles back and forth like a hot potato. I don't like it, I don't think fans like it and I just don't like it for some reason. It's almost like we expose our own business. I didn't like that trend. I don't know how many favors we did John, the fact that he was so over, nothing negative is going to stick to him like a loss or losing the title, that works for a while. But why was he getting booed?
"He's getting all these chances to keep regaining titles and I think the people gave a little backlash for that. I don't know that we helped John with all these title changes. There's other ways to do it, goes back to where some talents say 'If I don't go over, I can't get over.' That's true oftentimes but I've also seen and called matches where guys got over in a losing effort."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.