Veteran WWE Superstar John Cena recently spoke with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated to promote the return of “Dallas and Robo” to SyFy this weekend.
Cena has been away from WWE TV since losing the “Firefly Fun House” match to “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 36, and it was noted that there are currently no plans for him to return. Cena recalled the match with The Fiend and how he briefly embraced his dark side in the cinematic-style match.
“I’ve had many experiences and many stories in WWE over my tenure there, and a lot of it has been embracing conflict and embracing the tale of good versus evil,” Cena said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this. For the viewing audience, it was the first time they’d seen a cinematic depiction of this, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a conflicted John Cena character.
“As with all the opportunities I get in WWE, I never try to be complacent and I always like to push the envelope. This was an instance where we could do just that, and I think we put forth a product that certainly got people’s attention and got people talking.”
Regarding the current WWE product, Cena said he’s still adjusting to shows without a crowd, like the viewers at home are. Cena pointed to how the most important WWE Superstar is the audience.
“I’ve always said that the most important superstar is the audience,” Cena said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a better indication of that than right now. The program is different.”
Cena believes that WWE will survive the COVID-19 era, and they will thrive. He talked more about WWE running crowd-less shows right now and called it a weird time.
“I firmly believe that not only will it survive, it will thrive, but it has to, as an entirety, embrace this process,” Cena said. “I believe they’re beginning to do that. The longer they go without an audience, they need to transform as an entirety what sports entertainment is. I think they’re in this weird sort of middle ground, where they don’t know when crowds will be let back in. If you truly commit to a paradigm shift, that may scare away the normalcy the viewers are used to seeing. So you kind of have to operate like there is an audience, but there isn’t an audience.
“It’s a very weird time. I don’t think they’ve committed to transition yet, and that’s absolutely justifiable because, eventually, people will be let back into turnstiles. It’s very complicated. There isn’t a clear-cut answer to be like, ‘Just do this and it will be better.'”
Cena praised Wyatt and Seth Rollins as two Superstars who are standing out in the pandemic era.
“Bray is obviously doing a great job,” he said. “And Seth Rollins has done an unbelievable job of adapting to a crowdless environment.”
When asked if he could offer advice for WWE talents working at the Performance Center and how they should take hold of these interesting times to improve themselves, Cena put emphasis on the importance of focusing on the nuance of each individual story. He said the key is to knowing your audience. He also pointed to how talents have to use their imaginations.
“The key is knowing your audience,” Cena said. “I worked a lot with the live audience, many times against the wishes of what a lot of people told me. I believe if the live audience is having a good time at a live event, then you as a viewer at home are having a good time. There were numerous times when, against many people’s wishes, I would involve a live audience and make sure they knew, 1.) I was listening, even if it wasn’t flattering to me, 2.) I understood, and 3.) I tried to incorporate. Now with an element that does not have a live audience, as a performer, you have to focus on what’s in front of you.
“It’s almost like movie-making. The biggest difficulty for me is not playing to the people in section 312. There are no people anymore. If there is ever a time to commit to story, this is it. A lot of times when there’s an audience, you really can lean on your ability to produce action. You cannot do that now. The viewer at home no longer gets caught up in the energy of the live crowd.”
He continued, “It’s literally asking someone to unlearn what they’ve learned, and that’s a bold risk. And a lot of people are not comfortable taking those risks. But I think the more people embrace story, even when there is none?and that doesn’t mean, ‘Well, the creative team didn’t provide a story, that means there is no story.’ No, I’m living proof that is not the case. You just have to use your imagination. In this realm, imagination is king. Action will not drive the product forward. It has to be imaginative, and it has to be well-presented.”