When Headlocks Met Hollywood: Tinseltown's Longtime Affair With Wrestling

If Cena wins the WWE championship, his rise will have been relatively quick, as most of his colleagues in the past have spent several years paying dues in the industry before earning the responsibility of carrying an organization. He respects tradition but takes pride in being untraditional.

"I'm doing things a little differently. I have respect for tradition but I'm like the polar opposite of tradition," Cena said. "I've gotten to where I am in a non-traditional way. It's an achievement for hip-hop."

Cena sported the more traditional wrestling look when he first appeared on WWE television three years ago. WWE writers allowed him freedom to express himself and develop his current in-ring persona when they heard him rap backstage.

Cena bristles at the notion that his in-ring character is a gimmick. Growing up in West Newbury, Mass., he says he grew up listening to rap, wears hip-hop fashion outside the ring, and is a fan of sports history. The wrestling persona is just an extension of who he is and what he likes.

"When people ask, 'What do you think of your gimmick?' it drives me crazy," Cena said. "It's not a gimmick. What I wear in in ring, that's what I wear when I'm going to the arena."

Crossover Success Not an Easy Pin

"Wrestlemania 21" will pay homage to wrestling tradition and its Hollywood ties.

On the eve of the event, three of the four participants in the main event of the first Wrestlemania -- Hogan, Piper, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Jr. and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff -- will be inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame. Sylvester Stallone --who had a fight scene with Hogan in "Rocky III" -- will introduce him when he is honored.

Cena, who grew up idolizing Hogan, is looking forward to seeing his induction.

"That's something I'm looking forward to," Cena said. "It's long overdue. He was the personification of sports entertainment."

Though Hogan is arguably the world's most famous wrestler, he was not able to pin Hollywood to the mat. Movies in the early 1990s such as "Suburban Commando" and "Mr. Nanny" were critically scorned and commercial flops.

"The Rock" has been the only wrestler to parlay his in-ring success into a full-time Hollywood career. Since turning some heads for his small role in 2002's "The Mummy Returns," he has been in starring roles in movies such as "The Scorpion King," "The Rundown" and the remake of "Walking Tall."

Cena has enjoyed some crossover commercial success -- and there may be much more to come. He has made guest appearances on several hip-hop radio stations nationwide, appeared on the covers of bodybuilding and fitness magazines in his three-year rise in WWE. He has a rap CD, "You Can't See Me," coming out in May.

"Cena is the man who fans most want to see these days," said "Sir Adam" Adam Kleinberg, who along with Adam "The Phantom" Nudelman hosts "Get in the Ring," an Internet radio wrestling program, and has co-written the forthcoming book "Mysteries of Wrestling." "He's the man fans react the most. He has the mic skills that Vince McMahon likes."

Ready for Their Close-Up

Cena is also one of the cornerstones on which WWE hopes to build a success foray into film. WWE Films, the company's Los Angeles-based film and television division, was formed in 2002, and Cena stars in one of the first movies under its production, "The Marine," due to be released in the fall.

Some fans say Cena could surprise some skeptics.

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