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Passersby catch John Cena filming Nickelodeon spot at Al Lopez Park in West Tampa

Mady Guzman (front) and Farrash Zayas snap a selfie with John Cena while he takes a break from filming a spot for Nickelodeon at West Tampa?€™s Al Lopez Park on Wednesday, January 25, 2017.
Published Jan. 27, 2017

"You can't see me," John Cena is known to yell as he waves his hand in front of his face before dropping a fist on a fallen opponent's head.

On Wednesday around 11 a.m., a production team hoped that the 6-foot-1, 250-pound World Wrestling Entertainment grappler's catchphrase proved true as he filmed a spot for Nickelodeon at West Tampa's Al Lopez Park.

"Just a mayo commercial. Nothing big," a crewman said when asked what was being made. Production was concerned that if Cena's location spread on social media, fans from throughout the city would converge on set for a peek.

But comically, as he fibbed, another crew member simultaneously walked behind him with a cue card that said, "Hello, my name is John Cena and I'm your host for the 2017 Nickelodeon's 2017 Kids' Choice Awards."

Moments later, Tampa resident Cena — wearing a grey V-neck workout shirt that looked stretched to the limits around his massive biceps — arrived on set.

The Kids' Choice Awards honors the biggest television, movie and music acts, as voted by Nickelodeon viewers. It will air on March 11 on Nickelodeon.

As desired, everything was shot in relative secrecy despite being in a public place. The only fans were those who happened to be at the park.

Still, it was difficult to see what was actually going on in front of the camera.

Crew members and makeshift walls of white screens to diffuse the intense sunlight blocked observing Cena from up close. The viewing area from the other side of set was nearly 50 years away.

The Times was mistaken for crew and was able to get near the set for a few minutes before being shooed away.

During that scene, Cena single-handedly defeated six kids in a game of tug of war while sipping from a child's toy tea cup in what appeared to be part of an opening segment for the show.

Sitting nearby were buckets of Nickelodeon's iconic green slime that has been dumped on the heads of unsuspecting victims for decades. Crew said they would not be used until late that afternoon.

Mady Guzman and Farrah Zayas, both 22, were on a jog and unknowingly ran past security and through the set. When they spotted Cena, they gasped and asked for a selfie, though neither is a WWE fan.

"He's John Cena," Guzman said. "Everyone knows him."

This marks at least the second time Cena has starred in a production here.

Last year, Cena filmed a spot on diversity for the Ad Council in Ybor City.

That crew, and this one, were staffed with locals, according to Tyler Martinolich, vice president of operations for the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

"I have no doubt Cena has a large say in where projects film," Martinolich said. "Being able to work a few minutes from your home is a luxury in the film business. He is responsible for job creation as a direct result."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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