John Cena loves Chicago — even if the feeling isn’t exactly mutual.
The eight-time WWE Champion and two-time World Heavyweight Champion made his debut at the Allstate Arena in 2002 and headlined Wrestlemania in the same venue four years later. In his opinion, Chicago has one of the three best wrestling crowds in the country along with New York and Philadelphia.
But the Chicago area is also where Cena — the face of WWE and this generation’s Hulk Hogan — was cursed out by the crowd in 2006 as he inducted former Bears star and Wrestlemania 2 participant William “Refrigerator” Perry into the WWE Hall of Fame at the Rosemont Theatre.
“Chicago fans greeted me with a ‘(Expletive) you, Cena’ chant,” Cena said recently over the phone from Sydney, Australia, where WWE was touring at the time. “Chicago fans cheer and boo who they want. They’re great fans whether they like me or not. They show you how they feel. I don’t like crowds that sit on their hands.”
The anti-Cena sentiment seems to have grown since then — think of Cena as the New York Yankees in jean shorts — and it could reach a boiling point at the Money In the Bank pay per view Sunday at Allstate Arena (Ironically, the same Cena-Yanks comparison was made on "RAW" just hours after I filed this article). Cena will defend his WWE Championship against Lockport native and Bucktown resident CM Punk. Cena has long claimed that the boos don’t bother him and said he actually is hoping for a hostile, anti-Cena environment.
“It would make for an interesting moment,” Cena said. “Those are the instances you most remember. CM Punk is truly very proud of his city, and I think the city embraces him for it. He wears the Chicago flag on his trunks. Whether it will be more anti-Cena or more pro-CM Punk, I think it will really be great.”
Adding drama to the match is the revelation that Punk is leaving WWE after the match, whether he wins or not. Punk’s exit has been rumored on the Internet for months due to his expiring contract and was turned into a storyline recently when he voiced his behind-the-scenes frustration with WWE on USA Network’s “Monday Night Raw.”
During the rant, Punk slammed WWE CEO Vince McMahon for surrounding himself with “yes men” and said the company has underachieved from a business standpoint. Punk also accused Cena and The Rock — scheduled to face each other at Wrestlemania 28 next April — of kissing up to McMahon.
“I’ve been called much worse,” Cena said. “If that’s the best he could do, I’m fine with that.”
As for Punk’s complaint that the Rock doesn’t deserve to headline Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest show of the year — seeing how he left WWE for a Hollywood career as Dwayne Johnson — Cena said he understands where Punk is coming from. “Here’s a guy (Punk) who literally is a pure-bred wrestler, who loves the business and loves being able to go out and compete,” Cena said. “I can understand his frustration. But you can’t ignore the attraction of The Rock being involved.”
Cena himself has been heavily critical of The Rock for leaving wrestling — why hasn’t he been as critical of Punk’s upcoming departure?
“I know he’s not going to leave wrestling,” Cena said. “He’s leaving WWE. There’s a difference. CM Punk doesn’t feel he’s been treated properly in WWE. We’ve had this problem before. MVP was another one who felt he wasn’t treated well and has gone on to have a prolific career in Japan. Same with A-Train.
"I have more respect for a guy who leaves the company to better himself in another territory. But all roads lead back to Rome. If you’re successful, you’ll find your way back.”