Thank you all for joining me here at Sports Obsessive. My name is James and today I will be looking back over the wrestling career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Recapping pivotal moments that allowed The Rock to become a cornerstone of professional wrestling.
Who Do You See?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (you all knew the pun was coming) you have heard of Dwayne Johnson. Of course, DJ is more known nowadays as the Hollywood movie star who has starred in countless blockbusters such as Walking Tall, Welcome to the Jungle, San Andreas and Rampage. Dwayne Johnson has also participated in voice-work for Disney in Moana, which included the hit “You’re Welcome” which has very recently reached 4x Platinum status.
Now, if you’re like me, you may see DJ on television or your Twitter feed, but instead of recognizing Dwayne Johnson as the actor. What you see is DJ’s wrestling persona, non-other than The Most Electrifying Man In Sports-Entertainment, The People’s Champ – The Rock.
Today, I’m going to be looking back over The Rock’s greatest moments inside of the wrestling ring and delving into why he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Before we dive into the exciting stuff, we need to know a little bit about Dwayne Johnson’s upbringing, way before he became The Rock.
The Early Days
Dwayne Johnson played college football for the University of Miami before he even considered donning the iconic Brahma Bull trunks with the World Wrestling Federation. His original plan was to pursue an NFL career as a football player. He won a national championship with the University of Miami, way back in 1991. Unfortunately for DJ, he entered the NFL’s draft in 1995 but was not drafted at that time. Later, DJ went on to sign with the Canadian Football League to play with the Calgary Stampeders. Once again, the stars had not aligned for a young Dwayne Johnson as he was cut from the team in his first season. The chase toward wrestling super-stardom began soon after.
Dwayne Johnson was the son of Ata and Rocky Johnson. Rocky Johnson was a Canadian-born wrestler who began his professional wrestling career in 1964. Rocky Johnson was a prominent figure in the National Wrestling Alliance in the ’70s who had both a singles and tag team run. My grandfather told me about Rocky Johnson when I was a kid. I only recognized the name as I had a bunch of older wrestling magazines. I knew that he was The Rock’s dad.
From what I was told when I was a kid, Rocky Johnson was an incredible tag team wrestler, which I went on to see for myself when I began to research matches from Rocky Johnson’s career. Rocky Johnson moved onward from the National Wrestling Alliance to the World Wrestling Federation in 1982, a company that his flesh and blood would go on to dominate in years to come.
Dwayne Johnson went on to debut for the World Wrestling Federation in 1996. He initially wrestled under the moniker of Rocky Maivia, which was a combination of his father’s and father’s wrestling names. Rocky Maivia was a clean-cut, hardworking, young, baby-face wrestler. This pretty much meant that he was a “good guy” and a fan favorite. That he was the very first third-generation wrestler was pushed heavily on TV.
From here, Rocky Maivia went from debuting on Monday Night Raw in 1996 to his first televised in-ring match with the WWF at Survivor Series 1996. He participated in an eight-man elimination match and was came out victorious as the sole survivor. In February 1997, Maivia won his first Championship with the promotion, the prestigious Intercontinental Championship. This he went on to defend successfully at WWF: In Your House 13: Final Four and at WrestleMania 13. It was at this point that the fresh-faced Maivia began to lose the support of the fans. The infamous chant at the time was ‘Die Rocky Die’.
Despite the hostility from the fans, you’ve got to admit, Rocky Maivia was off to a great start.
The Nation of Domination
No matter where you stand with your opinions of The Nation of Domination, we still speak about them to this day – which has to mean that they did something right. The faction was formed by Faarooq, who would go on to become an iconic star in his own right during the Attitude Era. Maivia joined The Nation in 1997 with Faarooq, Savio Vega, and D’lo Brown. Maivia’s reason for this was that he had had enough of the fans and began lashing back out at them.
Joining the villainous faction seemed to be the best thing to do, at least in Maivia’s eyes. This was during the period where Mavia refused to acknowledge the name ‘Rocky Maivia’ and became referring to himself in the third person as The Rock. Alongside The Nation, Rock went on to feud with many top stars during this time, such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Ken Shamrock.
At WrestleMania 14 in 1998, Rock defeated Shamrock to retain the Intercontinental Championship. The very next night on Monday Night Raw, Rock revealed a new iteration of the Intercontinental Championship to the entire world. The Rock’s ego was getting bigger and bigger during this time. So much so, that he overthrew Faarooq as the leader of The Nation. This resulted in a one-on-one between the two mega-stars, with Rock coming out on top at WWF’s Over The Edge: In Your House Pay-Per-View in May 1998. After this blow-out wrestling match, The Rock was officially born.
Becoming the World Wrestling Federation Champion
In late 1998, The Rock had once again earned the admiration of the fans towards the final days of the Nation of Domination. This outpouring of love from the fans spilled over into an era that would define who The Rock was. The Rock was on fire. Everything he touched turned to gold. The owner of the World Wrestling Federation, Vince McMahon saw it coming, long before anybody else did.
The Rock was placed into a program to determine the next World Wrestling Federation Champion. The status of the Championship was vacant. This led to a finals match with Mankind (Mick Foley) at the 12th Annual Survivor Series in November 1998. The Rock defeated Mankind to become the World Wrestling Federation Champion for the first time in his career. While holding the promotion’s most prestigious Championship, The Rock aligned himself with the much-despised McMahon’s in the heel faction, The Corporation.
The Dark Side
Rock had once again crossed over to the dark side – the rush, guts, and glory of being the World Champion went to The Rock’s head. Rock feuded with Mankind back and forth for several months. They were in various matches including an “I Quit” match and their infamous “Halftime Heat” battle. In which The Rock and Mankind wrestled in an empty arena and brawled everywhere.
Now, I know that an empty area match doesn’t sound like much these days with the pandemic that we are currently learning to live with. But back then, an empty arena match was something new. It was considered to be a treat. The saga between Rock and Mankind culminated on an episode of Raw Is War where Rock defeated Mankind with the help of a debuting Big Show. In the process, successfully won his third World Wrestling Federation Championship.
The Feuds and The Popularity Come
In 1999, The Rock’s popularity continue to soar to greater heights. Despite being a heel, the fans couldn’t help but cheer for him. In March 1999 at WrestleMania 15, The Rock lost his WWF Championship to a man who is considered as his greatest rival, Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock faced off against Austin in a rematch for the gold just one month later at Backlash but was unsuccessful in his attempts to recapture the Championship.
Although he lost, this was and still is possibly my favorite era of The Rock’s WWF tenure. During this time, Rock went on to feud with wrestling royalty such as Triple H, The Undertaker and even turned face once again as he stood up to Shane McMahon and The Corporate Ministry. Within the midst of these feuds, The Rock found himself in a WWF Championship match once again. This time in a war against Triple H at Over The Edge which Rock won and had cemented himself as a top-tier performer.
The Rock & Sock Connection
Has there been a better wrestling duo than The Rock and Mankind aka The Rock & Sock Connection? Maybe. Maybe not. The thing with The Rock/Mankind that made them great was not only their obvious talent but their comedic aspect too. Mankind was the lovable odd-ball that would shove his smelly gym-sock down your throat as quick as he looked at you, but he was a nice guy! Mankind loved The Rock. It was easy to see that he enjoyed sharing the ring with the multi-time Champion. On the other hand, you had a brash, over-confident character who referred to himself in the third person. Yet was extremely charismatic and admired by millions (and millions) of fans.
Along with Mankind, The Rock soon rose to the top of WWF’s Tag Team division as The Rock & Sock became the WWF Tag Team Champions after defeating the team of The Undertaker and Big Show. Their popularity as a team just soared from this point and their comedic genius had a huge part to play in that success. They had one of the highest-rated segments in WWF history when “This Is Your Life” played out on Monday Night Raw. The Rock & Sock Connection was truly incredible and defined this era of professional wrestling, at least in my opinion.
Although Rock and Mankind were a great team, they were even better foes. You can read Conor O’Donnell’s recap of their iconic feud here.
The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment
So far, what we’ve learned is that Dwayne Johnson had come from humble beginnings. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a professional wrestler then entered the WWF by paying homage to both his father and grandfather. The Rock then turned his back on the fans to join the iconic Nation of Domination. After this, he went on to taste both singles and tag team success by winning multiple Championships in both divisions.
The Rock had made it as a star and was somehow also on the peripheries of something greater. In 2000, that “something greater” meant that The Rock would go on to become a record-breaker. At Backlash 2000, The Rock defeated Triple H to begin his fourth WWF Championship reign. After this victory, Rock feuded with Shane McMahon for a moment before losing the Championship to Triple H at Judgment Day in an Iron Man match.
Triple H and Steve Austin
If you remember the match, you’ll know that Rock pretty much had the match won. Until The Undertaker interfered and attacked Triple H. It gave Triple H the crucial advantage that he needed just seconds before the final bell. As time went on, Rock regained championship match status once again. He had memorable matches with the likes of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Kane, and The Undertaker. By the time that No Way Out 2001 came around, The Rock had cemented his legacy as a six-time World Wrestling Federation Champion thus more than proving that no other wrestler could lace his boots.
Stone Cold Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble match in 2001. This meant that he had his eyes locked on the prestigious WWF Championship that was held by none other than The Rock. They found themselves in a Championship match at WrestleMania 17. Austin came out victorious after aligning himself with the devil himself, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. The following night on Monday Night Raw, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin had a grueling rematch for the gold. Triple H came into play in this match. Triple H ambushed The Rock. He showed that he had also aligned with the Vince McMahon / Steve Austin combination.
Soon after all of this went down, The Rock was suspended indefinitely by WWF Chairman, Vince McMahon after a heated argument. This storyline suspension was Mr. McMahon’s way of writing The Rock off WWF TV while “The Peoples Champ” was in Hollywood filming The Scorpion King.
The Return of The Brahma Bull
We all know about The Invasion storyline. This was when both ECW and WCW were bought out by the McMahon Family. It was also when The Rock would make his return to the WWF. The story here was that The Rock was a valuable asset. Both WCW and WWF wanted The Rock to represent their brands. Needless to say, Rock sided with McMahon and the WWF. He went on to challenge the WCW Champion, Booker T, for the gold at SummerSlam in August 2001.
The Rock went on to win the WCW Championship which he held proudly for a while before dropping the gold to Chris Jericho. Speaking of Jericho, he and Rock went on to win the WWF Tag Team Championship shortly after this. However, the reign was short-lived. Later in the year, The Rock led Team WWF to victory in that year’s Survivor Series event. The Rock ended up picking up the victory as the final member of his team by pinning his long-term rival, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Icon vs Icon
Let’s fast forward to the following year’s WrestleMania. It was WrestleMania 18. It was held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in front of 68,237 wrestling fans. The Rock was scheduled to go one-on-one with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. This match was dubbed “Icon vs Icon.” It certainly lived up to the name. Hogan had re-joined the WWF. He brought his NWO brethren, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to No Way Out earlier in the year. In storyline, The Rock was the “good guy.” Hogan was part of the New World Order who was set to take over the World Wrestling Federation. When this match took place, I was 12 years old. All I knew was that The Rock was my favorite wrestler and I wanted him to take out “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan.
Then, I was taken aback as Rock and Hogan stared each other down. They did not say a word to one another, but the atmosphere was next level. There was an equal divide within the audience. 50% were chanting “Rocky” and the other 50% were chanting “Hogan.” In my 12-year-old mind, I couldn’t believe that anybody would cheer the “bad guy” at the time. When the match did officially begin, it was incredible. There was a lot of back and forth between both superstars, but The Rock left WrestleMania 18 victorious. He had defended the honor of the World Wrestling Federation.
The Rock Prepares For His Departure From Wrestling
2002 was a great year for The Rock. He was drafted #1 for SmackDown in WWE’s first Draft Lottery. Then in July 2002 at Vengeance, Rock became a 7-time World Champion by defeating both Kurt Angle and The Undertaker in a triple threat for The Undisputed Championship.
Things started to go a little bit south for the Champion from this point. At the next month’s PPV, SummerSlam in 2002, Rock lost his Championship to the up and comer, Brock Lesnar. Not only did Rock lose the gold, but he also seemed to lose some of the fans’ support. If you go back and watch this show today, you may be surprised to see the fans booing the Undisputed Champion at the time. This may have been due to The Rock preparing to leave the company to pursue a career as an actor.
The Hollywood Heel
After a stint away from the company, Rock returned once again in January 2003. This was when we saw “The Hollywood Heel” iteration of The Rock and I hated it! The babyface Rock that I had respected growing up was gone. We had this brash character who was too good for wrestling and had no consideration for the fans. Gone were the days of the iconic catchphrases such as “Finally. The Rock has come back…” 13 year old me could not stand it. I wanted to see The Hurricane beat The Rock on multiple occasions throughout their incredibly entertaining feuds.
This was the period when we were gifted with many “Rock Concerts” where Rock would play that guitar and mock just about everybody that came to mind. One of the most memorable moments of 2003 was WrestleMania 19 where Rock faced off against Stone Cold Steve Austin one last time. The story here was that The Rock had never defeated Austin at WrestleMania and it got under his skin. The match itself was jam-packed with great moments. One being that both The Rock and Austin used each other’s finishers on one another. It took three of The Rock’s signature Rock Bottoms to finally defeat the Texas Rattlesnake in what ended up being Austin’s final wrestling match.
Sporadic Appearances and Retirement From Wrestling
From 2003 up until this very day, The Rock has many many sporadic appearances in the WWE. The Rock even had a year-long feud with John Cena. He went as far as having back-to-back WrestleMania matches with him. Rock appears when he can nowadays. His latest appearance was at SmackDown’s 20th-anniversary show on October 4th, 2019.
The Rock has since announced his official retirement from in-ring activity. He is known globally not only as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time but also as one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. The Rock has a massive catalog of great movies behind him. He has also appeared in Disney movies as a voice actor and has recently released his brand of tequila named Teremana.
Whether you see Dwayne Johnson in the ring, in the theater, or on his Instagram eating a stack of pancakes, you are sure to be entertained by the most electrifying man in all of entertainment.
It’s no secret that Dwayne Johnson has accomplished a lot in his life and I’m sure that he will continue to do so. What do you see when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson graces your screen? Do you know him from wrestling or his many movies?
Let us know your opinions on The Rock in our comments section below and on Twitter @SportsObsessive. Thank you once again for joining me and for supporting us all here at Sports Obsessive.
Until next time, folks.
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