The Kayfabe Breakup of John Cena and Nikki Bella

How far would you go for fame and fortune?

Would you wrestle an alligator for six hours straight? How about six baby alligators, but only for an hour? Would you give up that ancient treasure map that’s been hidden in your attic for all these years or, better yet, follow that map to the jungles of Guatemala and face the curse of the Mayan Gods? How about legitimately call off your wedding with a soul mate, so that it can be used as a plot twist in your scripted reality show?

It could be that you’d do none of those things. It could be that you’d do all of them.

Does anybody know where I can buy baby alligators?

Okay. Same questions. Only this time you already have both fame and fortune. In fact, you’re well regarded in your industry as one of the greatest of all time. You carried an international brand on your shoulders for the better part of a decade and now you star in Oscar-nominated movies.

Still want to fight those alligators? Still feel the need to risk a fate worse than death in the form of wrath from ancient gods? Still want to end things with your adoring significant other?

Welcome to the crazy, meta-reality and scripted lives of John Cena and Nikki Bella. Two professional wrestlers and reality TV stars. Last month the couple ended a six year relationship, a month before their wedding.

Except *psst* get this. *Leans in close and whispers* They didn’t.

John Cena (41) and Nikki Bella (34)

Every single entertainment news outlet reported on this split as though it was legitimate, and most still are. Hell, BBC News even had a small piece on the break up.

So in professional wrestling there’s this term, ‘Kayfabe’. It’s essentially an old carny codeword for anything that belongs to the storyline of the performance. For example, if a wrestler is dropped on his back and he writhes around in theatrical pain, then he is ‘kayfabe’ hurt. If a wrestler is dropped on his neck and needs to have legitimate surgery, then he is hurt in reality.

I put it to you that John Cena and Nikki Bella never broke up, and that they only kayfabe called of their wedding. I believe that both parties are, in fact, in on the storyline. Along with, presumably, their families and loved ones. It’s also my belief that they did this entirely to increase viewing figures for their upcoming third season of Total Bellas, as well as to secure a renewal by E! for a fourth season.

So let’s rewind a little and chronicle some of the events in this bizarre blurring of fiction and reality.

On April 2nd 2017, Cena proposed to Bella at Wrsetlemania in the middle of a WWE ring. Now, 99% of what WWE presents to the cameras is entirely fictionalised. Fans, including myself, thought that this was just one of those rare cases where reality is stronger than fiction. I mean, if you and your girlfriend are both professional wrestlers, then what better place is there to get engaged?

The engagement itself served as the second season finale of Total Bellas, with the hook of a future wedding for the third season.

However, on April 15th of this year, Bella and Cena issued a joint statement:

“While this decision was a difficult one, we continue to have a great deal of love and respect for one another,” the couple said in a statement tweeted out by Bella. “We ask that you respect our privacy during this time in our lives.”

That’s when the internet blew up and entertainment news outlets everywhere began reporting on the split.

A couple of weeks went by, with several outlets reporting that Bella had gone to live with her twin sister, Brie, in Arizona. A few sketchy “news” sources reported that Cena had been spotted in Arizona with Nikki Bella. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but then the TV appearances started…

You really don’t have to watch these two, awful upper-middle-class women interrogate a celebrity on a breakfast show. It’s just to illustrate the point that this actually happened.

Cena makes a planned and scheduled media appearance, despite the fact that he’s not really on the press tour for any movies right now. He’s there to exclusively talk about his relationship with Nikki Bella. As well as the upcoming season of Total Bellas


He plays the victim, but he also apologises for anything that he might’ve said. He doesn’t go into too many details, leaving plenty of intrigue and mystery to be revealed in the reality show. He talks about the complications of planning a wedding, as well as doing that in front of the cameras.

Then, a few days later, Bella makes a scheduled appearance on another equally awful morning gossip programme. This time on E! itself, the same network that wants high viewing figures for their reality show.

She also takes partial blame, but interestingly (and even more-so than Cena) she links everything back to Total Bellas, and how that’s the show where everyone can find the answers to the questions they have.

Both parties make reference to the fact that they can see each other getting back together very soon, and that they’re currently working on that. Flash-forward to a few days ago, and they were spotted grabbing a coffee together.

The season finale of Total Bellas is expected to chronicle the cancelled wedding ceremony and subsequent split. With, presumably, a fourth season to be commissioned in order to document all of the fallout and eventual reconciliation.

I think that these two are master manipulators who’ve been presenting a version of themselves to the cameras for most of their professional lives. You can draw your own conclusions, but I think that the pair sat down together and made a joint decision to hoax their split, in order to increase their personal stock as a collective brand.

This raises even more questions about the nature of reality in our entertainment. Scripted reality shows have been popular since the turn of the millennium, they’re nothing new to our TV screens. Only, most intelligent viewers and reporters understand that what they’re consuming is entirely a work of fiction.

By announcing their split on social media and allowing the media to speculate, Cena and Bella convinced reputable sources that their breakup was as legit as Brad Pitt!
(And Angelina Jolie, but it doesn’t rhyme in an awful way if I include her name)

Through my research on this trashy subject, I found that Kim Kardashian pulled off a similar “reality marriage” back in 2011. Only the speculation there was that the relationship was never real to begin with.

The situation between Cena and Bella is unique and bizarre. In the sense that we know their six year relationship was/is real. We know an engagement was made, we were all witnesses to that. Only everything since then seems to have been entirely kayfabe. A kayfabe storyline that only the performers are in on. With the aim for the audience to lap up every fictional moment of in order to entertain.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have been worked by two professionals.


I’m going to pose some final thoughts in the form of several questions:

Why does an already successful couple need to put themselves through the emotional turmoil of faking a breakup? 

If it’s not a work, are they two individuals who live so much in the public eye that they’ve become the versions of themselves that they originally fabricated? And if so, what does that feel like?

Is it unethical to do what I presume they have done? If two pro-wrestlers can fool reputable media sources, is that all any person in power is doing?

What is “real”, anyway? Does it matter? Am I real? …Are you?

Today is May 21st 2018 and I can’t decide if this topic is celebrity trash or an insight into a new form of real-life storytelling. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comment section below.

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