John Felix Anthony Cena Jr. was born on April 23, 1977, in West Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of Carol (née Lupien) and John Felix Anthony Cena. He is of Italian descent through his father, and English and French-Canadian descent through his mother. His maternal grandfather was baseball player Tony Lupien, whose family was French-Canadian. He has an older brother, Stephen, and three younger brothers, Dan, Matt, and Sean. Raised Catholic, he attended Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, before transferring to Cushing Academy, a private prep boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. He then attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. In college, he was a NCAA Division III All-American center on the college football team and wore the number 54, which is still used on some of his WWE merchandise. Cena graduated from Springfield College in 1998 with a degree in exercise physiology and body movement, after which he pursued a career in bodybuilding and worked as a limousine driver.
John Felix Anthony Cena Jr. (/ˈsiːnə/; born April 23, 1977) is an American professional wrestler, actor, rapper, and television presenter. He is currently signed to WWE and is the current host of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? on Nickelodeon.
Born and raised in West Newbury, Massachusetts, Cena moved to California in 1998 to pursue a career as a bodybuilder. He transitioned into professional wrestling in 1999 when he debuted for Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW) and signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in 2000, where he was initially assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). He gained fame in WWE after adopting the persona of a trash-talking rapper, and won his first singles title, the United States Championship, in 2004. The next year, he won the WWE Championship for the first time. Following that win, his character transitioned into a clean-cut "Superman-like" hero, and subsequently led the company as its franchise player and public face for the next decade.
Cena started training to become a professional wrestler in 1999 at Ultimate Pro Wrestling's (UPW) California-based Ultimate University operated by Rick Bassman. Once he was placed into an in-ring role, Cena began using a semi-robotic character known as The Prototype. Some of this period of his career was documented in the Discovery Channel program Inside Pro Wrestling School. He held the UPW Heavyweight Championship for 27 days in April 2000. Cena wrestled for the UPW until March 2001.
On October 10, 2000, while billed as The Prototype, Cena made his unofficial debut for the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on a SmackDown taping in a dark match against Mikey Richardson, which he lost. He received another tryout on January 9, 2001, at a SmackDown taping in Oakland, California, this time defeating Aaron Aguilera. Cena wrestled again in a dark match at a SmackDown taping on March 13.
Before his WWE debut, Cena made an appearance on the webcast Go Sick as Bruebaker, an angry, cursing wrestler in 2001.
In 2001, Cena signed a developmental contract with the WWF and was assigned to its developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). During his time there, Cena wrestled under the ring name The Prototype and held the OVW Heavyweight Championship for three months and the OVW Southern Tag Team Championship (with Rico Constantino) for two months. Throughout 2001, Cena would receive four tryouts for the WWF main roster, as he wrestled multiple enhancement talent wrestlers on both WWF house shows and in dark matches before WWF television events. Through the early months of 2002, Cena constantly found himself competing on house shows for the WWF, where he wrestled against the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Tommy Dreamer.
In 2001, between his training in Ultimate Pro Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling, Cena was involved in the UPN produced reality show Manhunt, in which he portrayed Big Tim Kingman, leader of the group of bounty hunters who chased down the contestants who acted as fugitives. The show, however, was mired in controversy when it was alleged that the portions of the show were rigged to eliminate certain players, scenes were re-shot or staged to enhance drama and contestants read from scripts.
Cena has portrayed a heroic character throughout his WWE career, with the exception of a villainous run in 2002–2003. Cena's signature ring gear includes jean shorts, sneakers, wristbands, and armbands. Cena also wears a variety of T-shirts and baseball caps, which commonly include one of his catchphrases such as "never give up", "you can't see me", "hustle, loyalty, respect" and "respect. Earn it".
After his main roster call up in June 2002, Cena would continue to appear on OVW programming until September 25 taping of OVW, where he lost to Kenny Brolin in a Loser Leaves OVW match. Cena would appear in a one-off appearance for the developmental farm in November under the ring name Mr. P in a six-man tag team match, where he teamed with future WWE Hall of Famer Big Boss Man and Charlie Haas in a winning effort against Lance Cade, Trevor Murdoch and Sean O'Haire.
On June 24 episode of Raw, Mr. McMahon ordered the entire roster to the ring and declared that he needed them to all find some ruthless aggression from within themselves and that he was looking for one of them to stand out from the rest of the pack. Cena made his WWE television debut on June 27, 2002, episode of SmackDown by answering an open challenge by Kurt Angle. After declaring that he possessed "ruthless aggression", Cena lost by a pinning combination. After the match, Cena was congratulated by Billy Kidman, Faarooq, Rikishi, and The Undertaker. Following the near-win, Cena became a fan favorite and started feuding with Chris Jericho, defeating Jericho at Vengeance. Then, Cena feuded with Los Guerreros (Chavo and Eddie Guerrero) and Cena picked up a victory over Chavo Guerrero on September 3, 2002, taping of Velocity. On September 12 episode of SmackDown, Cena teamed with Edge in a losing effort against Los Guerreros, thus ending the feud in the process. Cena went on to defeat the likes of Albert and D-Von Dudley as he was restricted to appearances on Velocity for the rest of September.
In October 2002, Cena and Billy Kidman took part in a tag team tournament to crown the first WWE Tag Team Champions of the SmackDown brand, losing in the first round. The next week on SmackDown, Cena turned on and attacked Kidman, blaming him for their loss, becoming a villain for the first and only time in his career. On October 17 episode of SmackDown, Cena defeated Kidman in a singles contest, but was defeated by Kidman in a rematch on October 24 episode of SmackDown.
Eventually, Cena was joined by an enforcer, Bull Buchanan, who was rechristened B-2 (also written B² and pronounced "B-Squared"). B-2 helped Cena kick off 2003 in victorious fashion with a win over Rikishi on January 2 episode of SmackDown and a win over Chavo Guerrero on January 9 episode of SmackDown. Both Cena and B-2 participated in the 2003 Royal Rumble match, but were unsuccessful. Cena and B-2 failed to capture the WWE Tag Team Championship from Los Guerreros, resulting in Cena replacing B-2 with Red Dogg until he was sent to the Raw brand in February 2003.
Before his professional wrestling career, Cena appeared in an advertisement for Gold's Gym. As a wrestler, he has endorsed the energy drink YJ Stinger, appearing in commercials beginning in October 2003, and Subway, for whom he filmed advertisements with their spokesperson Jared Fogle in November 2006 that began airing the next January. For a time in 2007, he also endorsed two "signature collections" of energy drinks and energy bars sold by American Body Builders. In 2008, Cena filmed a commercial as part of Gillette's "Young Guns" NASCAR campaign.
Outside of wrestling, Cena has had leading roles in films such as The Marine (2006), 12 Rounds (2009), Trainwreck (2015), Ferdinand (2017), Bumblebee (2018), and F9: The Fast Saga (2020). In 2005, he released the rap album You Can't See Me, which went platinum. He is also known for his involvement in numerous charitable causes, namely the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where he has granted the most wishes in company history at over 600.
Cena was drafted to the Raw brand on June 6, 2005, taking his title with him and became the first wrestler selected in the annual draft lottery. Cena immediately entered a feud with Eric Bischoff, after refusing to participate in the "war" against the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) roster at One Night Stand. At Vengeance, Cena made his first successful title defense since coming to Raw, defeating Christian and Chris Jericho in a triple threat match. With Bischoff vowing to make Cena's stint on Raw difficult, he hand picked Jericho to take Cena's championship from him. During their feud, even though Cena was portrayed as the "face" (hero) and Jericho as the "heel" (villain), a vocal section of live crowds, nonetheless, were cheering Jericho during their matches. Crowds started to heavily boo Cena during his next feud with Kurt Angle, who took over as Bischoff's hand-picked number-one contender after Cena defeated Jericho in a You're Fired match on August 22 Raw. Cena held on to the WWE Championship through his feud with Angle, losing to him by disqualification at Unforgiven, pinning Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match involving Angle at Taboo Tuesday, and pinning Angle at Survivor Series. The feud with Angle also saw Cena add a secondary, submission based, finishing maneuver – the STF (a stepover toehold sleeper, though named for a stepover toehold facelock) – when he was put into a triple threat submissions only match on November 28 episode of Raw.
Cena's original gimmick portrayed that of a white rapper who wore jerseys, backwards hats, and a chain with a padlock around his neck, was known as the "Doctor of Thuganomics". First as "The Prototype", and later under his real name, Cena sometimes used underhanded tactics to score victories, such as using his chain as a weapon behind the referee's back. Cena often rapped before his matches, insulting his opponents, events that happened in the media, and even the crowd. Cena also regularly performed "rap battles", where he and his opponent took turns rapping on each other. Cena has reverted to this persona twice: during his feud with The Rock in 2012, and again at WrestleMania 35 in 2019 during a confrontation with Elias. In 2006, shortly after his first debut film, The Marine, his wrestling character was shifted from a rapper to that of a young military upstart, wearing dog tags and cargo shorts to the ring and also performing a salute to the crowd. Cena stated in a 2011 interview with WWE.com that "every night when I do that salute, it's also a sign of respect to the men and women that don the uniform of the Armed Forces." During WWE's change from TV-14 to TV-PG in mid 2008, the name of his finishing move, the FU, was changed to the Attitude Adjustment and his finishing submission move the STFU was renamed to the STF in order to fit with WWE's new policies. During his career, he is known for ending his matches with a sequence of moves, dubbed "The Five Moves of Doom". The moves typically go in the order as follows: flying shoulder block, sit-out hip toss, side-release spinout powerbomb, Five Knuckle Shuffle and Attitude Adjustment. During the summer of 2018, Cena hyped a sixth move. On September 1, Cena executed the move, known as the "Lightning Fist", a high-impact left handed jab to the opponent.
During his WWE career, Cena has appeared on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! three times. Cena has also appeared on morning radio shows; including the CBS and XM versions of Opie and Anthony as part of their "walkover" on October 10, 2006. Other appearances have included NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Fuse's Celebrity Playlist, Fox Sports Net's The Best Damn Sports Show Period, FOX's MADtv, G4's Training Camp (with Shelton Benjamin), and two appearances on MTV's Punk'd (August 2006 and May 2007), as the victim of a practical joke. He also served as a co-presenter, with Hulk Hogan, at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, as a guest judge during the third week of the 2006 season of Nashville Star, and appeared at the 2007 Nickelodeon UK Kids Choice Awards.
WWE Studios, a division of WWE which produces and finances motion pictures, produced Cena's first movie – The Marine, which was distributed theatrically by 20th Century Fox America beginning on October 13, 2006. In its first week, the film made approximately US$7 million at the United States box office. After ten weeks in theaters, the film grossed $18.7 million. Once the film was released on DVD, it fared better, making $30 million in rentals in the first twelve weeks.
In 2007, Cena was interviewed for the CNN Special Investigations Unit documentary, Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling, which focused on steroid and drug use in professional wrestling. When asked if he had taken steroids he was heard to reply, "I can't tell you that I haven't, but you will never prove that I have". The day after the documentary aired, WWE accused CNN of taking Cena's comments out of context to present a biased point of view, backing up their claim by posting an unedited video of Cena answering the same question – filmed by WWE cameras from another angle – in which he is heard beginning the same statement with "absolutely not". A text interview on the website with Cena later had him saying the news outlet should apologize for misrepresenting him, which CNN refused, saying they felt the true answer to the question began with the phrase "my answer to that question". However, they did edit the documentary on subsequent airings to include the "absolutely not".
In January 2007, Cena, Batista, and Ashley Massaro appeared representing WWE on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, giving the children of the family whose house was being renovated WWE merchandise and eight tickets to WrestleMania 23. Two months later, he and Bobby Lashley appeared on the NBC game show Deal or No Deal as "moral support" to longtime WWE fan and front row staple, Rick "Sign Guy" Achberger. Edge and Randy Orton also appeared, but as antagonists. On April 9, 2008, Cena, along with fellow wrestlers Triple H and Chris Jericho, appeared on the Idol Gives Back fund-raising special. In March 2009, Cena made an appearance on Saturday Night Live during the show's cold opening sequence. On March 7, 2009, he was a guest on NPR's quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in a Not My Job sequence titled "Sure, pro wrestling is a good gig, but when you win, do they throw teddy bears into the ring?".
Cena was featured on the ABC reality series Fast Cars and Superstars: The Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race, which aired in June 2007, making it to the final round before being eliminated on June 24, placing third in the competition overall.
During a match with Mr. Kennedy on the October 1, 2007, episode of Raw, Cena suffered a legitimate torn pectoral muscle while executing a hip toss. Though finishing the match and taking part in the scripted attack by Orton after the match, surgery the following day found that his pectoralis major muscle was torn completely from the bone, estimating at the time to require seven months to a year of rehabilitation. As a result, Cena was stripped of the title by Mr. McMahon on the next night's episode of ECW, ending what was the longest WWE Championship reign in over 19 years. Cena's surgery was performed by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Two weeks later in a video update on WWE.com, Dr. Andrews and Cena's physical trainer both said that he was several weeks ahead of where he was expected to be in his rehabilitation at that time. Despite his injury, Cena attended the annual WWE's Tribute to the Troops show filmed at Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq on December 7, and aired on December 24.
His second film, also produced by WWE Studios, was 12 Rounds. Filming began on February 25, 2008, in New Orleans; the film was released on March 27, 2009.
Cena hosted the Australian Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards with Natalie Bassingthwaighte on October 11, 2008, in Melbourne. Cena guest starred as Ewan O'Hara, brother of Juliet O'Hara, in an episode of the fourth season of the comedy drama Psych. He also guest starred as himself in the seventh episode of Disney Channel's Hannah Montana Forever.
Cena has granted over 500 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the most in Make-A-Wish history. In 2009, Cena received the Chris Greicius Celebrity Award.
In 2009, Cena expanded his relationship with Gillette by introducing a new online campaign called "Be A Superstar" featuring himself alongside fellow WWE wrestlers Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes. The campaign features motivational videos. After Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson called Cena "Fruity Pebbles" during their feud (in reference to Cena's colorful merchandise) Cena appeared on the box of Fruity Pebbles cereal in 2013.
While promoting his 2009 film 12 Rounds, Cena announced his engagement to Elizabeth Huberdeau. They were married on July 11, 2009. On May 1, 2012, Cena filed for divorce, which was finalized on July 18. Later that year, he began dating fellow wrestler Nikki Bella. They became engaged when Cena proposed to her at WrestleMania 33 on April 2, 2017, but ended their relationship in April 2018. They were scheduled to marry on May 5, 2018.
Cena co-starred in his third film produced by WWE Studios, titled Legendary, which was played in selected theaters starting on September 10, 2010, for a limited time, then it was released on DVD on September 28, 2010. That same year, Cena starred in the children's film Fred: The Movie, a film based on Lucas Cruikshank's YouTube videos of the same name, where he plays Fred's imaginary father. The movie was first aired on Nickelodeon in September 2010.
On December 27 episode of Raw, The Nexus, minus Barrett, announced they were under new management and offered to bury the hatchet with Cena, to which he refused. The Nexus attacked Cena, leaving a Nexus armband in the ring during the process. As the group retreated, CM Punk, who had attacked Cena with a steel chair twice the week before, came to the ring to apparently attack Cena, but instead put on the armband left behind to symbolically announce his allegiance with The Nexus, becoming leader the following week by manipulating Barrett's banishment from the group. On January 17, 2011 episode of Raw, Cena returned and faced Punk in a match, which ended in a no contest after Cena was attacked by the debuting Mason Ryan, who later joined The Nexus. Cena competed in the 2011 Royal Rumble match at the pay-per-view, which saw Cena eliminate most of the Nexus members, ending his feud with the stable.
From late 2011 until WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena wore a black "Rise Above Hate" T-shirt promoting WWE's "Be a Star" anti-bullying campaign. In September and October 2012, Cena wore pink and black with the phrase "Rise Above Cancer" in partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Cena then began a feud with Kane, who cited his disgust for Cena's "Rise Above Hate" slogan and claimed that Cena would need to embrace the hate in order to defeat The Rock at WrestleMania. Cena fought Kane to a draw at the Royal Rumble, and then defeated him in an Ambulance match at Elimination Chamber. At WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena faced The Rock in the main event match which had been building for a year and was billed as "once in a lifetime". The match ended when Cena attempted the People's Elbow on The Rock, and Rock countered with a Rock Bottom for the pinfall. The following night on Raw, Cena accepted his loss and invited The Rock to the ring so that he could congratulate him. However, Cena's call was answered instead by the returning Brock Lesnar, who then attacked Cena with an F-5. This resulted in Cena feuding with the Raw general manager John Laurinaitis, who revealed that he signed Lesnar to bring "legitimacy" to WWE and for Lesnar to become its "new face". At Extreme Rules, Cena defeated Lesnar in an Extreme Rules match. His feud with Laurinaitis escalated after Big Show cost Cena a match against him at Over the Limit, but Laurinaitis was fired at No Way Out after Cena defeated Big Show in a match with both of their jobs on the line. Cena won the Money in the Bank ladder match at the eponymous pay-per-view, earning a contract for a shot at the WWE Championship anytime within a year. At Raw 1000, Cena cashed in his contract on CM Punk, and won the match by disqualification after Big Show interfered, becoming the first person to cash in a Money in the Bank contract and not win a title. Cena's feud with Punk continued into SummerSlam, where Punk defeated Cena and Big Show to retain the title, and at Night of Champions, where they fought to a draw. After being sidelined with a legitimate arm injury, Cena returned at Survivor Series to be pinned by Punk in a match which also featured Ryback. Cena then feuded with Dolph Ziggler over an alleged relationship with AJ Lee and at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, lost to him in a ladder match for his Money in the Bank contract, after AJ turned on Cena. The following night on Raw, Cena teamed with Vickie Guerrero to face Ziggler and AJ in a mixed tag team match which ended in a disqualification after Cena was attacked by the debuting Big E Langston. Cena then defeated Ziggler on January 7, 2013 episode of Raw in a singles match, and again in a steel cage match the following week, despite interference from AJ and Langston in both matches to end the feud.
On January 27, 2013, Cena won his second Royal Rumble match, and later announced that he'd pursue the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. Cena, along with Ryback and Sheamus, began feuding with The Shield, which culminated in a six-man tag team match at Elimination Chamber, where The Shield were victorious. On February 25 episode of Raw, Cena defeated CM Punk to reaffirm his status as number one contender for the Rock's WWE Championship. He then returned to his rivalry with The Rock, with Cena blaming his personal and professional troubles on his loss to The Rock the previous year, going so far as admitting his own vanity had cost him the match. At WrestleMania 29, Cena defeated Rock in their rematch to win his eleventh WWE Championship and shook hands with Rock as sign of respect. Cena then began a rivalry with Ryback, during which Cena suffered a legitimate achilles tendon injury, while also battling The Shield and facing them in losing efforts. Cena retained his championship against Ryback in a Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules as the match ended in a no contest aftet both men were down for a 10 count. Cena then defeated Ryback in a Three Stages of Hell match at Payback. He defeated Mark Henry via submission at Money in the Bank. At SummerSlam, Cena lost the WWE Championship to Daniel Bryan, with Triple H as the special guest referee ending his reign at 133 days. The following night on Raw, Cena announced that he would undergo surgery for a triceps tear and would be out for four to six months.
In October 2014, Cena was featured on two songs with rapper Wiz Khalifa for his two singles "All Day" and "Breaks" for the soundtrack to the WWE 2K15 video game.
In 2015, Cena made appearances in the comedy films Trainwreck, Sisters and a cameo in Daddy's Home. He was the pace car driver for the 58th annual Daytona 500. In 2017, Cena lent his voice for the animated films, Surf's Up 2: WaveMania and Ferdinand. He also appeared Daddy's Home 2, reprising his role in a larger capacity than the 2015 film. In 2018, Cena starred in the comedy Blockers, and had a leading role in the Transformers spin-off prequel, Bumblebee. In 2020, he voiced Yoshi, a polar bear, in Dolittle.
— Pro Wrestling Dot Net analyst Will Pruett in July 2015
On August 17, 2015, Cena guest co-hosted Today on NBC. He co-hosted the show again on December 28 and 29, 2015. Cena appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers on August 21, 2015. Cena co-hosted Today again on March 28–30 and May 9, 10, 13 and 30, 2016.
Cena has a history of returning from actual (and kayfabe) injuries much sooner than expected. In 2016, ESPN reporter David Shoemaker said, "Never underestimate Cena's recuperative abilities. He's somewhere on the recovery scale between German platelet-rich plasma therapy and Deadpool." Big Show stated he felt most stable being lifted by Cena, despite Cena being over 200 lbs lighter and almost a foot shorter, a testament to Cena's functional strength.
Cena started learning Mandarin Chinese in 2016 to help WWE expand its reach, and he spoke in Mandarin at a press conference in China. He also revealed in April 2018 that he had learned to play the piano.
Cena defeated Rollins to win the title for the fifth time at Night of Champions, a record in the WWE ownership era of the title. Cena then retained his title against Rollins the following night on Raw and then in a steel cage match at WWE Live from Madison Square Garden, while also restarting his open challenges and successfully defend the title against New Day members Xavier Woods and Big E and Dolph Ziggler. At Hell in a Cell, Cena lost the title to the returning Alberto Del Rio in an open challenge. After a hiatus, Cena returned on December 28 episode of Raw, defeating Del Rio by disqualification in a rematch for the title. On January 7, 2016 episode of SmackDown taped on January 5, Cena aided Kalisto at ringside to victory against Del Rio. That same day, he underwent surgery on a shoulder injury, which would keep him out of action for an undisclosed amount of time.
Cena hosts American Grit on Fox, which is a reality television series with 10 episodes. 16 men and women were split into four teams, where challenges were given. A US$1 million prize was given to the winning team. American Grit premiered on Fox on April 14, 2016. Cena has been retweeting motivational tweets from his followers on Twitter who used the hashtag #ShowYourGrit, in a way that the fan did something motivational to his/her friends in a real-life scenario. The finale of Season 1 aired on June 9, 2016. Cena hosted the ESPN ESPY Awards on July 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. On December 10, 2016, Cena was the guest host of Saturday Night Live (SNL) on NBC.
On October 13, 2016, Cena made his debut as the voice of Ernie the Elephant in a new commercial campaign launched by Wonderful Pistachios. He was named to Adweek's "Creative 100" and received praise for the performance.
In November 2016, Cena appeared in a public service announcement, "We Are America", sponsored by the Ad Council as part of its "Love Has No Labels" campaign.
On January 24, 2017, Nickelodeon announced that Cena would host the 2017 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards ceremony on March 11. On January 11, 2018, it was announced that he would be hosting the awards ceremony again on March 24, 2018, becoming the third host behind Whitney Houston, and Rosie O'Donnell to host the ceremony back to back years. Two days later, the game show Keep It Spotless premiered with him as an executive producer. In addition, he was cast on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the voice of the villain Baron Draxum. The series premiered in July 2018. On February 14, 2019, it was announced that Cena would host a revival of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader on the network, which premiered June 10, 2019.
On January 29, 2017, Cena defeated Styles at Royal Rumble to tie Ric Flair for the most world title reigns at 16. However, Cena would lose the championship two weeks later in an Elimination Chamber match at the namesake pay-per-view to Bray Wyatt. Two nights later on SmackDown Live, Cena lost a triple threat match against Wyatt for the championship in a match also featuring Styles. Cena then began a feud with The Miz, with Miz accusing Cena of being a hypocrite due to his movie commitments, while Cena accused Miz of stealing other wrestlers' moves and personalities. Miz's wife Maryse then slapped Cena before Cena and his girlfriend Nikki Bella sent Miz and Maryse retreating. SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan then set up a mixed tag team match between the two pairs for WrestleMania 33, which Cena and Bella won. Cena proposed marriage to Bella after the match and she accepted. After WrestleMania, Cena then went on another hiatus.
In July 2017, WWE dubbed Cena a "free agent" during the Superstar Shake-up, meaning he would work for both the Raw and SmackDown brands. Following his return, Cena feuded and defeated Rusev in a flag match at Battleground, Baron Corbin at SummerSlam, and was defeated by Roman Reigns at No Mercy. During his feud with Reigns, the two cut various worked shoot promos on each other, going back and forth about what they perceive the other to be and why the crowds react the way they do. Despite sparking rumors of his retirement after the match by endorsing Reigns, taking a bow, thanking the crowd, and waving goodbye to them before leaving, Cena returned to SmackDown the next month after Commissioner Shane McMahon named him the final member of Team SmackDown for the men's 5-on-5 elimination match against Team Raw at Survivor Series; at the event, Cena was eliminated by Kurt Angle and Team SmackDown was later defeated.
In December 2017, the Ford Motor Company filed a lawsuit against Cena for selling his 2017 Ford GT, therefore violating his purchase agreement. According to Ford, he signed a contract to keep the car for at least two years but breached the agreement by selling it to make a net profit shortly after receiving it.
From January until April 2018, Cena was involved in a storyline where he was trying to find his "path to WrestleMania". After he lost the Royal Rumble and the namesake Elimination Chamber match to determine the next number one contender for the Universal Championship at Elimination Chamber, as well as a six-pack challenge at Fastlane for the WWE Championship, Cena issued a challenge to The Undertaker for a match at WrestleMania 34. He reiterated his challenge over the next several weeks, only to receive no answer from Undertaker. At WrestleMania 34, after Cena drove off Elias in a confrontation, Undertaker made an impromptu return and accepted Cena's challenge, leading to a shocked Cena losing to Undertaker in just two minutes. Three weeks later, at the Greatest Royal Rumble, Cena defeated Triple H. After the match he thanked the crowd for sticking by him during a tough period, referencing his loss to Undertaker at WrestleMania and his recent breakup with Nikki Bella. He then went on hiatus to focus on his acting and television career. Cena made his return in October, competing in a tag team match with Bobby Lashley against Elias and Kevin Owens at Super Show-Down in Melbourne, Australia, which he and Lashley won. During the event, he revealed a controversial new hairstyle, which led to several reactions from fans on the internet. He later stated that he grew his hair out for a movie he was filming in Yinchuan, China. He was also scheduled for a match at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, but Cena refused to work the event following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In July 2018, Cena briefly moved to China, where he settled in Yinchuan. He went on to create a YouTube show on WWE's channel, highlighting his trips to local stores and markets. He explained that he would be living there for five months while working on a film with Jackie Chan. The shoot concluded in November 2018.
In 2019, Cena was cast in the F9: The Fast Saga. Cena also was cast for an undisclosed role in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, a role originally intended for Dave Bautista.
On November 29, it was announced Cena had been awarded the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award Winner by Sports Illustrated. Cena returned to WWE television on January 1, 2019 taping of SmackDown. Upon his return, he put out an open challenge to any 'Man' in the locker room with Becky Lynch answering the call. This led to Andrade Cien Almas and Zelina Vega interrupting the pair with a mixed tag team bout set up which Cena and Lynch would go on to win. After the match, Cena endorsed Lynch. On January 14 episode of Raw, Cena competed against Finn Bálor and Drew McIntyre in a triple threat match to determine the number one contender for the Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble, but failed to win as the match was won by Bálor. Cena was scheduled to compete in the Royal Rumble match at the event, but was taken out due to a kayfabe ankle injury apparently suffered during the aforementioned triple threat match.
Cena then appeared at WrestleMania 35, but in his Doctor of Thuganomics persona and interrupted Elias' concert. During the segment, he insulted Elias with a rap, joked about turning heel, and performed his finisher on Elias, but called it by its original name, the F-U. Cena returned on July 22, 2019, special edition of Raw titled as Raw Reunion where he had a rap battle with The Usos.
In early 2004, Cena participated in the Royal Rumble match at the Royal Rumble, making it to the final six before being eliminated by Big Show. Chris Benoit was the eventual winner of the match. The Royal Rumble elimination led to a feud with Big Show. At No Way Out, Cena faced Big Show and Kurt Angle in a triple threat match for a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania XX, which Cena lost by submission to Angle. Cena won his first singles championship in WWE, the United States Championship from Big Show at WrestleMania XX. He held the title for four months with successful defenses against the likes of Rene Dupree, Rob Van Dam and Booker T, until he was stripped of the title on July 8 episode of SmackDown by Angle after he accidentally knocked him over, thus attacking an official. Cena won the championship back defeating Booker T in a best of five series that culminated at No Mercy, only to drop it to the débuting Carlito Caribbean Cool the following week on SmackDown. After the loss to Carlito, the duo began a feud, which resulted in Cena allegedly being stabbed in the kidney while at a Boston-area nightclub by Carlito's bodyguard, Jesús, This worked injury was used to keep Cena out of action for a month while Cena was filming The Marine. Immediately on his return in November, Cena won the United States Championship back from Carlito. Cena later successfully defended the championship against Jesus at Armageddon in a street fight match.