WWE wrestlers visit Portsmouth Naval Medical Center [The Virginian-Pilot]By Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-PilotMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 08--PORTSMOUTH -- John Cena walked into a room full of wounded sailors and Marines, introduced himself, then burst out laughing.
"You're very brave," the hulking professional wrestler said, gesturing toward a 23-year-old Marine corporal.
Cena wasn't talking about the young man's back-to-back combat deployments to Afghanistan or his yearlong recovery after surviving a roadside explosion in Helmand Province.
He was talking about the belly-shirt and short-shorts.
"Do you like it?" Cpl. Josh Williams asked.
When Williams learned that Cena and other World Wrestling Entertainment stars would be visiting patients at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, his friends dared him to dress up like a wrestler.
For him, that meant donning a tacky Joe Dirt mullet and a bright yellow mask. He strapped a plastic WWE championship belt around his bare waist and wore a cut-up, green undershirt with matching skivvies, rolled up high to expose pasty white thighs.
When Williams posed next to Cena for a photo, the average-looking Marine from Baltimore begged the wrestler and film star not to flex, afraid his own muscles would look puny in comparison.
"Hey, hey, are you smiling?" Williams asked Cena as camera shutters clicked. "Let's do some serious."
The two stood side-by-side, fists raised and faces scowling.
Later on the tour of the hospital, Williams approached Cena -- by far WWE's most recognizable star -- as he was signing autographs.
"Hey, how much can you bench press?" Williams asked.
"Five pounds less than you," Cena responded.
The Marine deadpanned: "Wow, you only bench two-twenty? That's kinda weak."
Also popular among the young servicemen was Eve Torres, a model and current WWE Divas Champion. Marines lined up to have photos taken with the busty wrestler.
Cpls. Cody Pettitt and Seth Stanford stood on either side of Torres with their arms across her back. They smiled wide. The Marines survived separate improvised bomb blasts in Afghanistan.
"It's uplifting to have these guys come by and take the time to meet us," Pettitt said. "It makes you feel appreciated."
The visit was part of a series of military-themed events throughout Hampton Roads this week as part of WWE's "Tribute to the Troops," culminating Sunday with a performance at Scope that will be taped for broadcast Dec. 19 on USA Network and Dec. 22 on NBC.
Cena didn't ask the sailors or Marines he met at the hospital to talk about their injuries or to share what they experienced in Afghanistan.
"That's not what this is about," he explained in an interview afterward. "The intent of my visit is to make their Friday or Saturday a little bit easier, and let them know we have a show for them on Sunday."
If he had asked, he would have learned that Williams -- the spunky Marine in tight green underwear and combat boots -- had spent the past year recovering at the hospital. The explosion that rocked his Humvee left him with a broken back.
To cope with pain, he found reasons to laugh.
"I have kind of an outgoing personality," Williams said. "It's hard to bring me down."
It shows. In a room full of famous wrestlers, Williams was the center of attention.
Mike Hixenbaugh, 757-446-2949, email@example.com
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