John Cena, who has been wrestling since the turn of the century, is among the most recognizable faces in sports entertainment and one of only a handful to truly transcend WWE. From movies and television to endorsements and charity, he seems to be everywhere. Wrestling fans are obviously familiar with his exploits in the ring, but what about his life before the spotlight, or outside of it?
Here are 16 things you probably didn’t know about ‘The Champ’ of WWE:
1. John Cena’s full name is John Felix Anthony Cena. He grew up in West Newbury, Massachusetts, as one of five boys in the Cena family. He and his brothers would wrestle in their backyard, impersonating their favorite pro wrestlers and performing their favorite moves.
2. In a 2013 interview, Cena explained that at the young age of 12, he asked for a weightlifting bench for Christmas. He wanted to get stronger in order to defend himself from bullies at school. And bulk up he did.
4. Cena attended Cushing Academy, a private prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, where he was a standout football player. Graduating in 1995, the future wrestling star was voted ‘Loudest’ and ‘Best Body’ in his senior yearbook.
5. Cena was a star football player at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was an All-American Division III center and wore the number 54, which is often spotted on his current WWE merchandise. He eventually gave up football, realizing he was actually too small to make it a career. He did, however, major in exercise physiology and graduate in 1998.
6. After graduating from college in 1998 with a degree in exercise physiology, Cena moved to Venice Beach, California and pursued a bodybuilding career. He also drove a limousine and worked in a Gold’s Gym to keep himself afloat. The latter job got him into a commercial and led him into the world of pro wrestling, when a friend from work persuaded him to enroll in wrestling school.
7. Cena began his wrestling career with Ultimate Pro Wrestling, an independent wrestling promotion in California that lasted from 1999 until 2007. Cena’s first alter-ego was introduced as The Prototype… “half-man, half-machine, a hundred percent mayhem.” He won the UPW heavyweight title in April of 2000, holding it for about a month.
8. Cena got his start with WWE later that year, signing a contract with its developmental company, Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). After winning the OVW heavyweight title in 2002, he finally made his official WWE TV debut on the SmackDown circuit that June. (He had previously appeared in dark matches for WWE.)
9. Cena’s 2002 WWE debut match against Kurt Angle occurred because Angle’s original opponent, The Undertaker, came down with the flu right before the match. The match had been set up as an open challenge, so rookie Cena was called in as a replacement. Even though he lost the match, it set up his career for future successes.
10. Cena had a top-20 rap album on the American Billboard music charts in 2005. You Can’t See Me debuted at number 15 on the charts, and in its first week sold over 143,000 copies sold. The album features Cena’s theme song, “The Time is Now.” Cena’s first cousin and rapper, Tha Trademarc, helped to record and produce the album.
11. Cena is the only celebrity to have granted 500+ wishes for terminally ill children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2015, he hit this milestone by granting the wish of Rocco Lanzer, an 8-year-old boy battling leukemia.
12. Cena has the most WrestleMania title wins in WWE history. He has retained the title four times, with his fourth win coming against against The Rock at WrestleMania 29. That win was also his 14th world title win overall.
13. At April’s WrestleMania 33, Cena proposed to his longtime girlfriend and tag team partner for the night, fellow wrestler Nikki Bella. He was previously married to his high school sweetheart from 2009 to 2012, but that marriage reportedly fell apart, in part, because of strife from a home-remodeling project.
14. Cena has also been featured on the silver screen numerous times. He has starred in four full-length movies, including The Marine, 12 Rounds, Legendary, and Fred: The Movie. He also appeared as Amy Schumer’s boyfriend in her hit comedy, Trainwreck.
15. Cena started learning Mandarin Chinese in order to more easily promote WWE in Asia. He is now almost fluent in the language and spoke it very comfortably at a recent press conference. In fact, he delivered a speech in June 2016 that was over three minutes long, completely in Chinese — and he did it without any script or cue cards.
16. One of Cena’s favorite hobbies is collecting muscle cars. He owns over 20 different cars, but says that his favorite is the 1971 AMC Hornet SC/360, which is what he’s usually seen driving around his hometown of Tampa, Florida.
Sydney Cantor is a Content Intern at CBS Local.