The Rock's path to wrestling stardom may be typical of today's grappling society, but it sure doesn't compare to times past when
it would take years for a new wrestling character to catch on, let alone take over the industry!
The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, came onto the World Wrestling Federation mat scene in November of 1996. In 4 short years, Johnson
has climbed and reached the top of the mountain, but all was not glorious during his track to the top. The Rock wasn't always the
good guy who could do no wrong in the WWF. As a matter of fact he wasn't even called The Rock.
But once Johnson got to the top, he knew how to stay there, as he "knew his role" in the industry.
"I think when you look at the character of The Rock, his first and foremost purpose is to entertain the fans like nobody else can,"
he said. But whilehe may know this today, he had to find out the hard way that the fans aren't always on your side.
Johnson was born into a wrestling family as the son of former NWA Florida and WWF Intercontinental Champion Rocky Johnson and the
grandson of the legendary High Chief Peter Miavia. Even with wrestling in his blood, it was not Dwayne's first career choice.
The young Johnson grew up liking cotact sports and excelled in one prticular: football. The gifted athlete was even voted a USA Today
All-American football player during his high school years, which led him to a college scholarship to the University of Miami, where
he played 4 years. Although he had a solid college football career, even helping to win the National Championship in 1991 with the
'Canes, his campaign was marred with several injuries that held him back from playing up to his potential and being drafted by an NFL
When he went unselected in the 1995 NFL draft, he was still determined to make it to the pros so he decided to give the Canadian Football
League a try, in hopes of one day being able to make his way to the NFL. He signed on with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, but again
he would find the pro football closed due to league rules restricting the number of non-Canadians who could appear on the active roster.
Johnson was placed on the team's taxi squad--he was allowed to practice with the team but not play in games. As the season wore on, he
began to feel that his sport wasn't for him and decided to give his dad a call. He now wanted to get into the family business---wrestling!
Although his dad was unhappy at first about his son's decision to enter the lonely and brutal world of professional wrestling, he saw the
fire and determination in Dewayne's eyes and decided that he himself would be the best person to get his son ready for ring action.
Eventually the younger Johnson received a tryout in front of World Wrestling Federation official Pat Patterson, and a few tryout matches
he was signed to a developmental contract with the WWF. He was sent down to Jerry Lawler's Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association
and grappled under the name Flex Kavana. In no time, the future star was impressing the powers that be at the WWF so much that they recalled
him and entered him in the Survivor Series in Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 16, 1996. Wrestling under the name "Rocky
Miavia," a combination of his dad's and grandad's names, the rookie won th prestigious tournament in his official debut.
This didn't go over well with either the veteran talent or the wrestling fans. they all wanted to know how this unknown could come along and
steal the spotlight? What was irritating them more was that he was a nice guy who smiled all the time, so how could they get mad at him?
Well, the fans showed in no time how easy it was for them! They grew sick and tired of Miavia's smiling, wholesome ways and began greeting him
with "Rocky Sucks!" cheers whenever he entered the arena. Some fans were even more harsh and chanted "Die Rochy, Die!"
The fans were starting to resent Miavia. Here was a character who, yes, had family members who had once been in the business, but the fans didn't
know his character from Adam and felt as though he was beeing shoved down their throats. They retaliated by showing Miavia right down the WWF
official's throats. They wanted to pick their so-called heroes. They didn't want to be told when to cheer and who to cheer for, especially for
a character that was an undeserving, inexperinced pretty boy who had just came onto the scene.
At first, Miavia didn't know how to handle such cruedness, and when he went down with a knee injury he began to question his career change. He
began to wonder if he had made the right choice. But he would find out soon enough that it wasn't the career choice that was wrong, it was his
in-ring persona that so irritated the crowds and fans.
The WWF officials were also baffled by the fans'behavior; after alol, Miavia was a good guy who was supposed to be on their side, so why weren't
they on his? They would later learn that wrestling in this day and age is controlled by the fans, and the badder the battler, the better! And as
soon as Rocky realized this, he took the ball and ran with it!
His first change came when he joined forces with the Nation of Domination, one of theWWF's biggest and baddest heel groups at that time. His next
mission was to get back at the fans and scold them for not supporting him. Even though this was making the boos louder, it was making his reaction
greater, which is what pro wrestling is really all about--stirring up heat with the crowd and other talent! The boos now felt great, as heels, unlike
heroes, are supposed to be booed!
His efforts were so successful that he found himself right smack in the middle of a feud with the WWF's most popular babyface at the time, "Stone Cold"
Steve Austin. He would challenge Austin to an Intercontinental title match, saying, "If you do accept my challenge, then your bottom line will say 'Stone
Cold' has been. Compliments of The Rock."
With that saying and that confrontation, Miavia emerged as The Rock, a self-confident, arrogant wrestler, who though he was God's gift to wrestling and
who was also constantly referring to himself in the third person.
His change to the badder was not only better, it also catapulted him into an area where he was quickly becoming one of wrestling's most recognizable
personalities. But Miavia said his dad was not too happy with his son's choice of turning heel.
"All his life he's been a 'good guy' so he really wasn't too happy with that," The Rock said. "But then as the tides turned and i became more successful
in the role as the man people love to hate, he applauded the decision."
At the time as the federation bad boy, The Rock so liked his role that he aspired to be the WWF's top heel. "I see myself being the top villain in the
World Wrestling Federation," he said in an interview with Slam Wrestling.
His heel antics were not the only thing that was catching on with the fans. They also were now taking hold of his catchphrases and were echoing them when
he entered the arena. The Rock had really gotten over in a big way in no time flat!
Claiming to be "The People's Champion" and "the most electrifying man in sports-entertainment," he would capture the WWF Heavyweight championship after
winning the 1998 Survivor Series on November 15, 1998, against Mankind. This win would not only be the first of many world titles for The Rock, it would
also start a feud between hiom and Mankind, since " The People's Champ" was being helped by the federation's boss, Vince McMahon, in his title win. The
Rock had now turned corporate, and when the fans began to boo, he responded by telling them that they could "kiss his candy ass" for being against him in
the past. He had now taught the fans a lesson and was well on his way to teaching the ret of the WWF a lesson in laying the smack down. No jabroni was safe
In kicking jabronis ass, the Rock has not only risen to the top of the popularity list in wrestling, he has also found an audience outside the squared circle. He
has made TV appearances on shows such as Star Trek Voyager, The View, Martha Stewart Living, and has also hosted Saturday Night Live, becoming only the second
wrestler ever to be asked to do so. His image and eyebrow has also graced the covers of several mainstream magazines such as TV Guide and Newsweek.
"It does get overwhelming and I'm very humbled," The Rock said. "Who would have thought I'd be on the cover of Newsweek and TV Guide, hosting Saturday Night
Live? It's harder to gain (mainstream success) because of the industry we're in. I think we've gotten over the stereotypical hump of 'is it real or is it not real?'
It's sportsentertainment. It's physical theatricality at its best."
Speaking of the best, the Rock is currently the best face in the business. He gets the loudest pop and has the biggest following in the wrestling industry, and
it's going to be interesting to see how it all pans out in the WWF now that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is back in the ring. Could this mean another return to the dark
side for "The People's Champ?" only time will tell. The one definite is that the WWF surely smells what The Rock has cookin': the 5-time world champ can lay the
smack down with any candy ass in the business!
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