John Cena walked a fine line at the ESPY Awards Wednesday, making jokes about the sports world while also managing to get its biggest stars cracking up.
The host kicked off the festivities on a serious note by applauding Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James for their passionate speech on racism in America, during which they called for peace following the police shootings earlier this month.
“I want to start by commending our athletes for their brave message at the beginning of this program,” he said. “Jimmy V once said you have a great day if you can think, you can cry, and you can laugh. That’s what I love about this program, because tonight we are going to do all three.”
Cena soon delivered on the promise for laughter after acknowledging that it might seem weird for a WWE showman to host the prestigious event.
“Okay, I get it. I get some tension in the room. Let’s just address it. Why the hell did they get me to host this thing?” he asked as some audience members chuckled. “No, I’m serious. Biggest night in sports? They couldn’t go out and get Kevin Hart, Matt Damon, Kristaps Porzingis? He was my No. 1 by the way. Instead, they hand it to a guy who spends most of his life in jean shorts and is actually proud of it.”
But he justified the hosting pick by comparing modern-day sports to the WWE. For example, “Cleveland won something,” he said, referring to NBA champs the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s actually impossible. There’s no way that wasn’t scripted.”
As for the NFL’s most WWE-like character, look no further than Odell Beckham Jr., who Cena said is “one parrot away from being Koko B. Ware,” a retired wrestler known for his unique style and dyed hair.
Even James wasn’t safe, as Cena used dramatic images to suggest the Cavaliers star has transformed from a good guy into a bad guy and then back into a good guy again.
The kicker was when Cena compared NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to Vince McMahon, whom he jokingly described as a “maniacal billionaire, pulling the strings behind the scenes, who uses every trick in the book to manipulate things to his advantage any way he can.”
Watch all that and more in the clip of Cena’s monologue below, and then see how Leslie Jones helped Cena prepare for the big moment.