John Cena Reveals He Almost Turned Heel During His Feud With The Rock

(Photo Credit: WWE)

John Cena recently appeared as a guest on INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet for an in-depth interview covering all things pro wrestling. During the discussion, Cena commented on who is the GOAT in wrestling:

“I would say people who elevate the business to new heights from a performance standpoint. I mean, this is just my perspective, and again, we’re talking about objectivity. So it’s only my opinion. There’s no truth to what I’m saying. Hulk Hogan would have to be in there, Steve Austin, Dwayne Johnson, and Roman Reigns.”

When he felt he was the guy in WWE:

“Never. Never, and I think that’s a perspective that has gotten muddled, again, just my opinion. You just used to want the championship. Now, as the area has become gray, people want to be, the term like locker room leader is thrown around, and the guy is thrown around like, the championship should be on an identifiable instrument of that and I think it helps the believability of the championship, either one, or any championship. The importance of that is, you channel whatever you want to say on inside industry terms through the props that we give you. Again, that’s just my perspective ”

Which of his 16 championship wins would be his favorite one:

“My next one. That would be cool. I’ve often said that the time is coming for me to hang it up and I’m not lying when I say that, but it’s not tomorrow. It’s probably soon, but it’s not tomorrow, so you never know.”

The differences he sees in himself from 2002 and 2024:

“I think the things that they share in common are gratitude, grit, perseverance, and humility. I think the difference is the younger version lacks self-worth and the younger version lacks wisdom. So John Cena in 2002 gets to go out and fight Kurt Angle under the impression of two words, Ruthless Aggression. It was a failure because I was neither ruthless nor aggressive, and I wasn’t able to see the opportunity. My blinders were, you’re getting a chance to go out there, do everything you can and show them you can wrestle. No, I was given a golden ticket and a gimmick. Ruthless Aggression, and sure, I wasn’t ready. The match was at the last second because Undertaker was sick. So the gear doesn’t match, but neither did the attitude at all. Like sportsmanship and grateful, especially after I slapped the guy, I should have been doing more in the match to gouge out an eyeball, or rip at his tights, or be the exact opposite of ruthless aggression. Be a pacifist, whatever it is, but I didn’t dive into the opportunity I was given. I just went out there to do stunts. Even the handshake thing with The Undertaker, somebody who’s ruthlessly aggressive would have slapped him like he slapped Kurt Angle and now you’re like, ‘Who the f*** is this guy’, but I didn’t understand because I had blinders on about what the business is about. Now, I love to go to NXT because everybody has a different personality. I was like, ‘What would I do? Have you ever thought about this idea’, but people are thinking the same way I was, that I just want to go out and do these moves. Man, you need that, but you got to also get them to believe.”

If he now thinks of himself as an actor who makes movies instead of a wrestler who makes movies:

“I don’t think I’ll ever not be a member of the WWE family first. So, to answer that question in my perspective, the switch has never happened. You know me. I always speak fondly of WWE in my time and experience there. I can’t tell you how much the audience has made me the man I am today. Having to deal with all the polarizing audiences, we’ve seen a lot of performers not be able to do that and to have to do that for so long, it teaches you about you and you really go through a journey of self-worth. So I don’t think I’ll ever not be WWE family first.”

If he was close to turning heel:

“It was Cena Rock 1. I got word that they were going to do it. I went out and recorded a new song. I went out and got all new gear. I wasn’t prepared for Ruthless Aggression. That was the last time I wasn’t prepared. I mean, I heard rumblings of, we’re going to do it, and in 48 hours, I had a new track, a new studio mix theme song, and a final mix. I had seven new singlets, low-cut singlets with boxing-type robes. I already had the boots in storage, so I dusted them off. I was ready to go and already thinking about what I could do with the story. Okay, what is a heel? A heel is not just new gear. The objectivity, or the message behind the singlet and the boxing robes and the boots is the exact opposite of what you saw with the street gear, the jeans shorts, the t-shirt, the ball cap, the sneakers. Go the opposite route and now lean into the opposite of everything you stand for. So I would begin to not work as hard. I would show up less. I would be untrustworthy and unloyal. I would lack respect in what I did. I would give up a lot. All those things you can take and make interesting stories and this is the stuff that’s running through my head, not what moves can I do. It’s like, how can I take the intellectual property that people are familiar with and twist it so it’s like, this guy’s f*cking insane. It’s everything I’ve come to love and now I genuinely hate it and being a real bad guy, and I think that was the conversation that was eventually had where it’s like, okay, it’s a bad idea. I’m like, Hey, I know this is going to sting, but I’m not going to sell another T-shirt. I’m going to take all merchandise off the market. I’m not going to put out anything new. I’m not going to do any more appearances. I’m not going to do any Make-A-Wish. I’m not going to do anything like that. I’m going to be a bad guy to make your good guy so your good guy does all that. That’s when I was like, we’re kind of in too deep. So it worked out the way it worked out, but bro, I was ready.”

You can check out the complete interview below:

(h/t to for the transcription)