The WWE is one of the biggest companies in the world today. That is a fairly accurate statement but an even more accurate statement to make would be that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. The two certainly go hand in hand as one would not be possible without the other.
Dwayne’s journey wasn’t always easy. As the grandson of “High Chief” Peter Maivia and son of Rocky Johnson, Dwayne was almost destined for greatness or failure based on his lineage alone. Despite being born in Hayward, California, Dwayne moved around a lot growing up eventually ending up in Honolulu where he went to grade school and high school where he began to play football. He would then go to Miami University to play for the Hurricanes but an injury sidelined him and would cause him to choose another path.
In 1995, Dwayne began to train for a professional wrestling career going down the same path his father and grandfather went. Thanks to WWE veteran Pat Patterson, he got a wrestling tryout with the World Wrestling Federation in 1996. His first three matches were under his real name against The Brooklyn Brawler, Chris Candido, and Owen Hart.
At Survivor Series 1996, Dwayne made his official WWF debut as Rocky Maivia and he was portrayed as a blue chipper clean-cut good guy and was pushed heavily despite having no experience. The crowd did not appreciate this and booed him out of the building every single night.
Rocky won his first title on February 13th, 1997 by defeating Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) for the Intercontinental Championship. The fans became really angry as the months went by with chants of “Rocky Sucks” and “Die, Rocky Die!”
Rocky would lose the Intercontinental Title on the April 28th, 1997 episode of Monday Night Raw to Owen Hart. He would get hurt in a match against Mankind and miss time. Finally, a few months later, Rocky did what the fans wanted him to do; he turned heel.
Rocky Maivia became a bad guy as he joined Farooq, D-Lo Brown, and Kama Mustafa in the Nation of Domination. Not only that, he changed his name to The Rock and began to refer to himself in the third person. This was the beginning of something truly special.
After another Intercontinental title reign, this time beating Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock would feud with Triple H and D-Generation X in the Summer of 1998. This feud included everything from DX mocking the Nation with skits through multiple segments and matches and it was the first of what was to be a legendary feud between the Rock and Triple H that lasted for years.
The Rock and Triple H had a showdown at Fully Loaded 1998 in which the Rock snuck out a win. They would have a ladder match at Summerslam 1998 in which Trips would find a way to win thus ending the Rock’s last Intercontinental title reign. By then, the Rock was already on to bigger things.
By changing his name and his persona, The Rock had developed a following. Instead of chanting “Die Rocky, die” the fans were loudly chanting “Rocky, Rocky”. The fans were in the palm of his hands and the WWE saw a star in the making. So naturally, The Rock turned into a fan favorite by the fall of 1998. He and Mankind would face off in the finals of the 1998 Survivor Series Tournament that would crown a new WWF Champion.
The title at the time was vacant and The Rock and Mankind were the last members in the showdown. Vince and Shane McMahon were at ringside and supposedly were on Mankind’s side for the match. However, towards the end of the match, The Rock had Mankind locked in a sharpshooter and Mr. McMahon called for the bell giving the Rock the win (a nod to the Montreal Screwjob a year before). The Rock had won his first heavyweight title and also became a villain once again becoming a corporate champion.
The Rock would feud with Mankind for the next few months, even trading title wins, before finally officially dropping the belt to Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 15. It was by this time The Rock’s popularity was so high there was almost no choice; they had to turn him back into a babyface. He was getting cheered even as a heel.
By the Spring of 1999, The Rock was a full-fledged fan favorite and not only generating great cheers, he was generating great ratings. His segment with Mankind “This Is Your Life” is still the highest rated segment in all of WWE history. The Rock would be forced to take over as the number one guy when Stone Cold Steve Austin would be forced out with an injury in November 1999 and he took it and ran with it, carrying the company on his back for the next year.
The Rock would resume his feud with Triple H and also use his newly found status as the top star to build future stars such as Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle.
By 2001, The Rock’s star had grown extremely large. He was essentially the top guy in the company along with Stone Cold Steve Austin. The main difference was that he was getting the offers for stardom. After his first TV role in the show “That 70’s Show” in 1999, Rocky broke through with a film role as he landed the role as The Scorpion King in the movie The Mummy Returns and would also appear in the spinoff movie, the Scorpion King and the rest is history.
Just a year ago, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was named the highest grossing movie star in the world. His last official match as a full-time WWE superstar was in a WWE World Heavyweight Title match against Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2002. He has had a few matches on and off since then and even had a seven-year break from 2004-2011 before returning to WWE for a series of matches with John Cena and CM Punk as well as participating in a mini-feud with the Miz.
When looking at stars like today, it’s easy to see the influence that The Rock has. Wrestlers like Miz, John Cena and former WWE star CM Punk all have taken something from guys like The Rock like microphone work and wrestling skill. It’s no coincidence that The Rock worked with all three of the wrestlers I mentioned.
The Rock’s legacy is unquestioned in WWE lore as he is surely in the Mount Rushmore of WWE along with other legends like Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin. It can be argued that he helped save the WWE in the rating war when they were struggling to stay afloat against WCW.
These days, it’s easy to catch The Rock in the latest action movie. But he does and always will remember the WWE as his first home and The Rock will always come back to the WWE.