When you've been on top of the mountain for as long as John Cena, criticism about holding talent back will always come your way.
During a chat with Jimmy Traina on the SI Media Podcast, Cena was asked about his reputation for holding back talent, although no specific examples were brought up. Cena began by stating that if you take him out of the equation, new talent is forced to step up.
"My last major event was against The Rock in New York. Since then, I've been used a vehicle to enhance new talent. Which is great, but that's been on for three or four years now. Even then, I still have the reputation as being the one holds back new talent," said Cena. "If I'm consistently there...and it's very difficult to adapt new talent to the program because maybe subliminally, they rely on me for certain reasons. Taking myself out of that equation, puts them in a position to where they have to develop new talent. I've tried my best to enhance and develop new talent. Even when I'm in the running for the US title...I love what I do and try to make it the best I possibly can. With the US Open, that became a wonderful piece of television. Or 'Hey, we want you to go to WrestleMania as a fan.' That's one of the storylines that I'm most proud of because it sent a message -- not my final message -- where you shouldn't consider yourself too big for any role. I wanted to get that message across to young performers."
Cena continued by comparing the 2018 WWE roster to the 2002 WWE roster. Back then, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan were on their way out of the business as full-time top stars. Meanwhile, the new crop from OVW was beginning to rise.
"I don't care about the reputation I have. What I care about is the performance I give. The easiest way to silence that problem is to take me out of the equation. All the people that have chastised me for staying around too long, are now chastising me for not being around," said Cena. "I'm very happy now because it's like it was in 2002 when Randy (Orton), Dave (Batista), Brock (Lesnar), Shelton (Benjamin), and myself came up. And everyone left, we changed the name of the company, the XFL had failed. Everyone left and it was just these new guys. It was sink or swim. It was a long, long swim but now the fruits of our labor are starting to show. I hope the superstars understand perspective. He continued, "I stay full-time and continue these middle of the road storylines, which I've been in and am proud to be in, but don't necessarily move me forward or they have the general conception of not moving the talent that I'm trying to develop forward. That's the most painful thing."
Traina and Cena moved off the topic for a period of time, but it came back up when Cena was asked about how he's viewed in public. When answering the question, Cena once again brought up his reputation for holding talent back.
"I think I'm tremendously misunderstood. Because people are so used to what they see on television. (People) think that I am what I seem on television. The perception of that is up to the viewer. The perception that I hold talent back. I never once have done that," stated Cena. "I just go out and do my thing. But people can have disdain for that or disdain that I'm not performing as a bad guy or that I don't do great maneuvers. They're all entitled to their opinion."
Cena went on to discuss how he reached for the brass ring and noting how it's the job of the talent today to do the same thing.
"I got my debut because The Undertaker got sick. That's how I got the Ruthless Aggression thing. Then, when I was about to be fired, somebody heard me rapping on the back of the bus and said, 'Hey, do you want to rap?' That was embarrassing," he said. "But I was like, 'Hell yeah I want to do it.' Not only did I do it, I went for it. I want to dress and look outlandish. We were in an era of genuine real performance. Everyone wore boots, tights, and performed the same. I wasn't as skilled as those guys, but I love to entertain. I knew that if I looked different, everyone would go, 'That's the rap guy.' And they did. If you show up and do good work...you talk to other people and they say, 'Oh this person held me down.' I can't give you a list of people who like me or not like me. I care about the noise that I hear when I'm in the ring. All the politic BS is just that. The model of WWE is the American Dream. You go out and you perform. If people make noise, you did good."
Again, no specific examples of Cena holding back talent were given. Over the years, he's been criticized for holding back the likes of Wade Barrett/Nexus, Alex Riley, Ryback, Damien Sandow, and more. Cena's reputation for "burying talent" was turned into a storyline during his 2017 feud with Roman Reigns. In fact, Reigns brought up Riley during the feud, stating that Riley was out of the company because he tried to copy Cena's look.