|April 23, 1977|
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Born John Felix Anthony Cena, Jr., in West Newbury, MA on April 23, 1977, Cena grew up in a household steeped in wrestling. His father, John Cena, Sr., was an announcer for the New England-based Chaotic Wrestling League, as well an unofficial commissioner for East Coast Championship Wrestling. A fan of hip-hop at a very early age, he deflected the taunts of neighborhood kids by developing an interest in physical fitness. Cena pursued fitness as a major - eventually graduating with a degree in Exercise Physiology - while at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he also served as captain of the school football team and achieved All-American status. After graduation, he relocated to California to become a professional bodybuilder. But a chance conversation with a wrestler at a gym convinced him to switch interests and become involved in the pro wrestling industry.
Cena was signed with the California-based Ultimate Pro Wrestling school in 2000, where he developed an early persona known as "The Prototype." His success there earned him a developmental concert with Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment - the largest wrestling promotional company in the United States, if not the world - and became part of its farm league, Ohio Valley Wrestling. During his tenure there, he appeared on a controversial reality series produced by the WWE titled "Manhunt" (UPN, 2001), which was revealed to be largely staged for the camera. The WWE and Cena quietly distanced themselves from the program after the news was released.
Cena made his WWE debut in 2002 in an impressive bout against popular grappler Kurt Angle. He competed ceaselessly throughout 2004, slowly developing his persona by switching from "face" (good guy) to "heel" (bad guy) and back again. He also caught audiences' attention with freestyle rapping in the ring and unveiling his signature hold, the "F-U" (a modified fireman's carry that tosses the opponent over the wrestler's shoulders and onto the mat on his back).
In 2004, Cena's popularity with fans brought him to the annual Royal Rumble (a multiple opponent elimination match) and later to the WWE's crown jewel event, Wrestlemania. He would claim, lose, and then win back the title in a series of high-profile bouts throughout 2004-05. In 2005, he graduated from the WWE's Friday night programming "SmackDown!" (UPN, 1999- ) to the more popular "RAW" (USA/TNN/Spike, 1993 -) on Monday evenings. Once there, he was drafted into a campaign against fan favorite Chris Jericho, which turned the audience's favor against him. Cena would eventually defeat Jericho and return to a long-standing feud with Kurt Angle, whom he defeated in November '05 after revealing a new signature move, the "STFU" (a combination of his F-U and the STF or Step-Over Toehold Facelock). At the end of the year, Cena had successfully defeated all comers to retain the WWE championship belt.
Cena continued to play the anti-hero card throughout early 2006; he lost and regained his title several times to numerous foes before reclaiming it for the remainder of the year in a vicious "Tables, Ladders and Chairs" match (which involves the use of all three objects in a bout) against Edge in the latter's hometown of Toronto. Cena was also involved in a somewhat laughable promotional tangle with Britney Spears' then husband, Kevin Federline during the 2006 Cyber Sunday pay-per-view event, which actually resulted in his losing the coveted World Heavyweight Championship belt.
In 2005, Cena put his money where his mouth was in regard to his affection for hip-hop and released a debut CD, You Can't See Me (also the name of his signature taunt) which also featured his cousin Marc Predka, who performed under the moniker of "The Trademarc." The album debuted in the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #3 on the rap charts. In 2006, he starred in his first motion picture, "The Marine," which was produced under the WWE Films banner. The actioner, which saw Cena as a former soldier battling criminals who have kidnapped his wife, performed moderately well at the box office. Cena, who has guested on numerous radio and television talk shows, also found himself a victim of Ashton Kutcher's pranks on an episode of "Punk'd" (MTV, 2003- ), and appeared in a string of commercials for the Subway sandwich chain in 2006.