September 14, 2012
John Cena goes home to Boston this Sunday when he attempts to end his championship drought and defeat WWE Champion CM Punk at Night of Champions. Just because he is slated to compete in the familiar setting of TD Garden, however, don’t expect the tried-and-true “home court advantage” to apply to the Cenation leader.
For as beloved as Cena, a native of Beantown suburb West Newbury, Mass., is in many parts of New England, and for as much as Cena considers himself a Bostonian, his record at home is checkered with more than a couple significant losses.
His second U.S. Title reign ended there, and a high-profile challenge for the WWE Championship was turned back there. What’s more, the notoriously vocal Boston members of the WWE Universe (like their fellow Northeasterners in the Philadelphia-to-Beantown stretch on I-95) have not exactly embraced their local-boy-made-good. In more than one outing, “Cena sucks” chants have rained down on Cena, presumably by fans who grew up a stone’s throw away from his doorstep.
Not that any of this seems to worry the characteristically dauntless Cena days ahead of his next championship opportunity.
“I love going to Boston,” the polarizing Superstar told WWE.com in an exclusive interview. “I adapt well to any environment. I’ve been cheered there, and I’ve been booed there, but that’s the Boston fans.”
On the night after SummerSlam, Cena pegged a match between himself and Punk at Night of Champions as a proving ground for The Second City Saint. Noting that Sunday’s event would be held in his “house,” Cena told Punk on Aug. 20 that a successful title defense against Cena in Boston would be “the moment that will define [Punk’s] existence.”
For once, though, the Cenation leader had it all wrong. If Cena, on his old stomping ground, overcomes the most dominant WWE Champion in recent years, that may well be the moment that defines Cena’s career — not Punk’s.
Don’t let Cena’s cavalier attitude fool you; he’s well aware of his own up-and-down history in Boston. At Royal Rumble 2003, which was held at TD Garden (then known as the Fleet Center), Cena made his maiden voyage into the intimidating Royal Rumble Match. Lastly nearly 20 minutes, Cena left the bout in defeat. Then again, the Cena of 2003 was a brash up-and-comer who was not necessarily expected to go the distance.
By the time the Royal Rumble event returned to Boston eight years later, Cena had matured into one of WWE’s most successful competitors. Yet, with an obstinate Nexus stable dead-set on eliminating him and Rumble non-participant The Miz butting in, Cena again exited the Rumble match, in his hometown, as a loser.
In October 2004, Cena’s second U.S. Title reign was merely 4 days old when he faced a debuting Carlito on SmackDown at the Fleet Center. Thanks to Carlito’s underhanded tactics (he used the then-“Doctor of Thuganomics’” own chain to knock out Cena), Cena lost his championship gold that night. A cold homecoming, indeed.
Less than two years later, Cena was again competing on home turf, this time against WWE Champion Edge in the main event of SummerSlam 2006. The Cenation leader appeared to have The Rated-R Superstar exactly where he wanted him; the match was not only held in Boston, but it also carried the stipulation that Edge would lose the title if he got disqualified. However, after The Ultimate Opportunist discreetly blasted Cena with a pair of brass knuckles behind the referee’s back, Cena drove to Bridgeport, Conn., the site of the next night’s Raw, empty-handed.
It would be misleading to suggest Cena has suffered nothing but gloom and doom in the town he’s adopted as his own. Days after toppling Big Show at WrestleMania XX to win his first title in WWE, the U.S. Championship, Cena made his first title defense in Boston, defeating the “Man Beast” Rhyno in an impromptu match that aired on a March 2004 edition of SmackDown. As WWE Champion in August 2007, Cena won a match against five-time WCW Champion Booker T via disqualification. (The crowd that night could generously be described as “divided.”)
To date, Cena’s coup de grace wrestling in Boston may have come at Survivor Series 2008, when he scored his first World Heavyweight Championship with a decisive victory over Chris Jericho.
Boston holds other precious memories for Cena. Mick Foley famously hosted a “This is your life” segment for Cena in November 2011, an homage to a similar celebration Foley held for The Rock in 1999. Featuring Cena’s father, the segment was “by far the worst piece of television WWE has orchestrated — or at least top three,” Cena playfully told WWE.com.
More personal yet, it was in Boston last November that Cena first learned that his younger brother had been diagnosed with brain cancer. When WWE returned to Boston this past March on the road to WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena was informed that his brother was “winning the war,” he said.
“Both events in TD Garden, both days on the days we were to perform in Boston, is when I got the news,” Cena explained. “It’s weird, because those don’t have to do with athletic achievement, but they’re definitely the two most memorable nights I’ve had in the Garden.”
This Sunday, however, Cena will have his opportunity to bolster his in-ring resume in Boston when he guns for an unprecedented 11th WWE Title. Cena and Punk have already traded blows under the auspice of a WWE Title Match in Punk’s homeland; last year’s historic showdown at Money in the Bank, won by Punk, was held in Chicago’s Allstate Arena. Two weeks ago, Punk again bested Cena in the Second City, costing him a Falls Count Anywhere Match against Alberto Del Rio on Raw.
According to Cena, parallels can be drawn between the two cities.
“There are a few cities that are true landmarks on the WWE map: New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal,” listed Cena, before adding, “Boston’s one.”
These cities, WWE bedrocks all, share one commonality, he said.
“The thing you find out in all of those cities, whether you’re from there or not, is passion,” Cena observed. “It is what it is, and Boston’s one of those interesting crowds that provides a ton of energy. I love it. I love it.”
Cena has no qualms showing his love for Boston, but come Sunday, will the WWE Universe return the favor? “Go big or go home” is a popular ultimatum in the sports world. At Night of Champions, John Cena will try to do both.