This coming Saturday, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turns 43 years old, and in celebration of Old Man Johnson’s upcoming birthday, we’re taking a look back at another chunk of his electrifying life.
We recently got you up to speed on The Rock’s early years as a rough and tumble kid growing up in a cash-strapped wrestling family, and we’re now delving into his prime era. Well, “prime,” if you like pro wrestling more than car chase movies. From his debut in 1996, to his departure for Hollywood, The Rock’s time on top of the WWE/F was brief, but very bright. Here’s a few factoids from the era when you couldn’t help but smell what The Rock was cooking…
1. Dwayne Johnson was initially reluctant to call himself “The Rock”. Last we caught up with Dwayne Johnson, he was debuting in the WWF as the perpetually smiling third-generation blue chipper, Rocky Maivia. The crowd didn’t respond particularly well, buring Johnson in deafening “Rocky sucks” and “die, Rocky, die” chants. Thankfully, this was 1996, not 2006, so instead of sticking to their guns and continuing to force-feed fans Rocky Maivia, the WWF brain trust decided a change had to be made. When Johnson was briefly on the shelf for a minor knee injury, it was decided he would return as a member of the Nation of Domination under the under a somewhat tweaked name: The Rock.
One problem… there had already been a few Rocks in pro wrestling. The most famous was Don “The Rock” Muraco, who was a close friend with Dwayne Johnson’s dad, Rocky Johnson. Our of respect for Muraco, Johnson initially refused to call himself The Rock. It took a bit of cajoling (Johnson continued to go by Rocky Maivia for a while following his heel turn), but he eventually saw the light. Probably for the best, being that the one time Rock got to name himself, he crapped the bed with Flex Kavana.
“What about Pump Abobo? Mondo Liftman? Is anybody even listening to these great alternatives?”
2. He was mentored by Bret Hart when he first started in the WWF. The Rock’s version of the Sharpshooter is one of the most appalling holds in pro wrestling history. Many have speculated that Rocky defiling the move was an intentional WWE jab at Bret Hart, but it turns out that Rock’s Sharpshooter is a tribute to Bret Hart, who he considers one of his mentors. He’s just not very good at it.
According to The Rock, a lot of the other wrestlers were about as thrilled to have him around as the audience was when he first debuted. The Rock and Bret Hart are as different as two wrestling personalities can be, but Bret would often ride with alongside Rock on the buses and share helpful tips of the trade with the youngster. To this day, both guys continue to speak glowingly of one another. That said, Mr. Excellence of Execution isn’t about to let that Sharpshooter fly…
3. Meng was the best man at Rock’s wedding. By 1997, Rock’s career was starting to heat up, and away from the ring, his personal life was also falling into place. In May of 1997, Dwayne Johnson married his longtime girlfriend Dany Garcia, and Rock’s best man was MASTER OF THE TONGAN DEATH GRIP, MENG (he’s one of The Rock’s many “uncles”).
Everybody in wrestling has a Meng story, most of which involve terrifying violence and/or bitten-off noses. The Rock’s was just a bit more romantic than most.
There was no getting cold feet at The Rock’s wedding.