Transcript of my interview with John Cena, Sr. about the first WrestleMania and Bruno Sammartino

I recently posted a podcast with John Cena, Sr. — the father of WWE superstar John Cena, who headlines WrestleMania 29 against the Rock — who talked to me about the first WrestleMania in 1985, Bruno Sammartino going into the WWE Hall of Fame, and his memories of the wrestling cards at the old Boston Garden. For those of you who were unable to hear the podcast or didn’t have time, below is the complete transcript of the interview.

Scott Wallask: Hello, everyone. This is Scott Wallask from the Boston Garden Balcony blog, your number one source for 1980’s WWF wrestling and memories of the great wrestling cards at the old Boston Garden. Please visit us at Now, WrestleMania 29 is coming up soon, and we’re thrilled today to have John Cena, Sr. join us to talk a little bit about the big show and some wrestling history as well. As many of you know, John, Sr. is the father of current WWE superstar John Cena, who will main event with the Rock at WrestleMania this year. You may not know that John Cena, Sr. is also involved himself in wrestling here in the Boston area, where he goes by the ring name of Johnny Fabulous. John, it’s great to have you on today.

John Cena, Sr.: Thanks. It’s an honor to be here.

Wallask: First off, John, can you tell us briefly what you’re doing as Johnny Fabulous on the independent scene here in Massachusetts these days?

Cena, Sr.: Sure. Johnny Fabulous’ job is to agitate, is to get the bad guy to win, get the bad guy over. Johnny Fabulous is, as you know, the character is the richest man in the world. He’s got a place down there at Hyannis next to the Kennedys, who frequently borrow money from him. He’s got yachts, women, and he also manages champions. That’s Johnny Fabulous’ thing. He only wants the best, does the best, and feels very sorry for the working class.

Wallask: We’re coming up on WrestleMania 29. In many ways, we’ve come full circle, given that the first WrestleMania took place at Madison Square Garden in New York. Now the show is big enough to fill Met Life Stadium, just outside New York. The Hall of Fame ceremony will be at MSG the night before. Did you watch the first WrestleMania in 1985? What do you remember about that show, all these years later?

Cena, Sr.: Yes, I did watch that show. I guess the one thing that stands out in my mind, and I’m sure you go back a little bit so that you can envision what Vince McMahon envisioned. As you know, this was the first Rock ‘n’ Wrestling show ever put together. Vince McMahon, who in my opinion is nothing but a genius when it comes to professional wrestling, put everything on the line here. It was kind of a fun thing. It was kind of a show thing. It was a spectacular. You had Liberace, you had Muhammad Ali, you had Cyndi Lauper. Mr. T was there and Hulk Hogan of course.

What I remember most of all was seeing non-wrestlers involved in a wrestling show. That just kind of floored me. Cyndi Lauper with Wendi Richter. Muhammad Ali refereeing. You’ve got Mr. T teaming up with the one and only Hulk Hogan, going against you-know-who — I’m sure you can come up with that. We had Roddy Piper there, and who else did we have? “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. With Orndorff and Piper was the one and only father of one of the, I think, great superstars today, Randy Orton, whose father was there. When you look at this card, you look at it as the beginning. It was showmanship to the 10th degree.

Then, WrestleMania progresses. As it progresses, we have to find a way to make it bigger and better. The first WrestleMania I’ll never forget. March 31, 1985, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. I got to tell you something. It was nothing but stupendous. You kind of sat on the edge of your seat.

Wallask: Not a lot of people remember that Bruno Sammartino actually appeared in the first two WrestleManias.

Cena, Sr.: He did.

Wallask: Now in 2013, he’s finally going to be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, in the very building he helped make famous to wrestling fans, which is Madison Square Garden. What does Bruno’s induction mean for long time fans?

Cena, Sr.: People have to understand, the first WrestleMania Bruno Sammartino was in, he was there with his son David. If you remember that match, he was against Brutus Beefcake, with Luscious Johnny Valiant. That match went obviously to a no-contest. Then, he just kind of went on. I always remember going to the Boston Garden, seeing the great — I mean, this guy is my idol. He, to me, is what professional wrestling is all about. There’s no doubt that Bruno Sammartino is the best in the business. He put his heart and soul into professional wrestling.

It’s about time that Bruno Sammartino and WWE, and I got to say this the only way I know how to say it, have finally come to terms. I’m so happy to see that in professional wrestling, as Bruno likes to call it, where people wrestled finally. The Italian Superman from Abruzzo, Italy, is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I hope that they’ll let him do some work on the side because there’s a lot of people that I don’t think will remember Bruno Sammartino. No. Unless you’re of the era that I’m of, where we had Gorilla Monsoon and Bruno Sammartino, the Ivan Koloffs, the Nikolai Volkoffs, The Wolf Man, Chief Jay Strongbow. A lot of people go, “Oh, yeah, hmm.” That was the era. That was the beginning of professional wrestling. People like Cowboy Bob Orton, Bruno Sammartino. These guys, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, they set it up for these young men and women today.

Wallask: I know you mentioned Mr. T a little bit earlier. Although he was not really the level of Bruno, Mr. T still played a pretty significant role in WWE history during the first two WrestleManias, when he opposed Piper. He brought lot of mainstream publicity to the WWE at the time. What do you think? Should Mr. T also be in the WWE Hall of Fame?

 Should Mr T. also be in the WWE Hall of Fame?”

Cena, Sr.: That’s a tough question. The second WrestleMania as we all know, that was 1986. April 7th, I believe, was the date. It was a boxing match, I believe. It was Mr. T, was it against Rodfy Piper with Joe Frazier? I think that was it. Piper had Cowboy Bob Orton. To take a non-wrestler and put him or her into the wrestling Hall of Fame — I guess I’m going to get killed for this — I think discredits professional wrestling. I think that you can take non-wrestlers who have contributed significantly to professional wrestling and induct them on a secondary level into a secondary Hall of Fame, if you will. Primary Hall of Fame: The greatest wrestlers the world has ever known, Andre the Giant, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. I can go on and on and on. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. You can go on and on with this list. Steve Austin.

Then, you have those that made it possible — Captain Lou Albano, Classy Freddie Blassie — involved in professional wrestling, managers. Then, you have the third tier. Those are people that came in like the Cyndi Laupers, like the Mr. Ts. Yeah, they helped. They’re a spin-off. I think there should be a level where they’re inducted into some Hall of Fame for their particular contribution to the sport. To put them at the same level as a professional wrestler into that Hall of Fame, I’m not so sure as I agree with that.

Wallask: Let’s switch gears here. We talked about the old Boston Garden. Are there any WWF matches that you or your family saw at the Garden that stand out for you these days, either from the ‘80s or even earlier?

Cena, Sr.: There are a couple of matches there. I think I spoke to you earlier about one where Sammartino and Gorilla Monsoon were battling. The ring actually collapsed. The professionals that they are, they kept battling right under the canvas. I don’t know whether it was a work or not, but I’ve got to tell you something: It certainly shocked a lot of people. The thing that I remember about the Boston Garden was it was the place to go. As they say in our business, wrestling business, it was the old school of entertainment. It was the place where the ice was down, the floor was over the ice, the ring was laid. You knew it was there because you were cold in your seat. I’ll tell you, some great matches. I’ll tell you, the best matches I can remember there were matches between Bruno Sammartino and Ivan Koloff, the “Russian Bear.” When those two men collided, the Garden went nuts.

People often ask why they put a net over the ring during professional wrestling shows at the Boston Garden.”

If you remember, there was an overhang in that Garden. People often ask why they put a net over the ring during professional wrestling shows at the Boston Garden. That’s pretty simple. I’m sitting there one day with some friends, and all of a sudden, I see whiskey bottles and beer bottles come sailing by us. The fans were actually throwing glass bottles into the ring. It’s funny, but stupid, because people were probably getting hit with these flying objects. That was with Don Leo Jonathan and Big John Studd, I believe the match was. They really were just tossing these bottles. The next match they had, they had the net over the ring.

How can I forget another great champion who wrestled at the Boston Garden and got all the Spanish people, Spanish fans to rally behind him? The great Pedro Morales. He really shook that place up, as well as Chief Jay Strongbow. There are a lot of fond memories.

I think they’ve changed the face of the Garden. They’ve taken away some of the memories of the Garden, but I don’t think they can ever take away the ghosts, if you want to put it that way, of the many outstanding matches — such as Ivan Koloff, Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales — facing some outstanding individuals at the Garden. It was too bad to see them take it apart. As with everything in the professional wrestling business, the sports entertainment business, and entertainment business, things change. Change is an ongoing thing. The Garden holds a lot of fond memories. We’ve changed. We’ve kind of grown. They’ve made it bigger. They’ve made the seating better. I guess there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Wallask: There were some bad seats at the old Garden.

Cena, Sr.: You could get the seat behind the pole.

Wallask: That’s right.

Cena, Sr.: I remember, my son, John, all these kids. People don’t believe it, but we bought the nickel seats, if that’s what you want to call them. I was up so high sometimes, I’d bring oxygen. That’s how bad the old Garden was. You hoped when you walked down, or you walked up, you wouldn’t tumble forward and go over the edge.

Wallask: Yeah, I remember that. The balconies were very steep, the way they constructed them.

Cena, Sr.: Wow. If you weren’t sober up there, you were definitely a goner, I’ll tell you. Those are the things that I remember. People standing in line, waiting. The Garden was always sold out when Bruno Sammartino came to town. Obviously after that, Hulk Hogan battling the Iron Sheik, and Bob Backlund. But nobody ever did to the Garden what Bruno Sammartino has done.

Wallask: Finally, last question here. Boston hosted WrestleMania back in 1998 at the TD Garden. That was the day when Stone Cold Steve Austin won the title from Shawn Michaels. Given how WrestleMania has grown, do you think Boston or the Boston area will ever get Mania again?

Cena, Sr.: Wow. My answer is yes. I think that the Garden is big enough. I could be shooting myself in the foot here, but I do believe at some point, you may see WrestleMania come back into the Boston Garden. Or, I see now where they like big numbers. The 96,000, the 79,000, and of course you know the Garden holds more than it did before. I don’t know. I’m going to say yes. I think it will be back. They’ve done some pay-per-views there. If not, would it ever be in the Boston area? If Vince McMahon — again, who I have to repeat is, in my mind, a mastermind when it comes to this business — is going to do MetLife Center in New Jersey, I don’t see why he couldn’t do Foxboro.

Wallask: Yeah, I guess he could. I think a lot of the risks, weather-wise, with New Jersey are pretty similar up here at that time of year. If you’re going to risk a storm in New York, I suppose you could risk it in Boston, too.

Cena, Sr.: Look, I have nothing against it. When you go to Florida for WrestleMania — next year it’s going to be in New Orleans, which is really nice — when you go to Florida, it rains. You dry out. In April, when you’re in New Jersey, if it rains — and I’m praying it won’t, it will be a nice day — but when it rains, you chill to the bone. I guess that’s when you stop the Coca-Cola and start using the Jack Daniels. I don’t know. He’s got a brain. He knows where he’s going. I’m sure this will be a tremendous success. If it’s not at the Boston Garden — because there’s another pay-per-view coming to Boston this year, I believe — I think you’ll see it in the Massachusetts area, definitely. I would say, if not the Garden, s stadium that can hold it. There’s only one in my mind that can hold it, and that’s Foxboro.

Wallask: John Cena, Sr., thank you so much for your time. We hope to catch you as Johnny Fabulous real soon around here.

Cena, Sr.: Anytime. Let me know. I’m sure the Fabulous One will send you a ticket, just to see you in person so he can tell you how poor you really are, how you can borrow some money at 9000%, and maybe, just maybe, if you’re nice, I’ll let you go on a date with one of the women. Thanks again. Great being with you.

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