Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson isn’t just one of the most successful pro wrestlers of all-time, he’s become one of the top entertainers in the world, period. At this point, a new Dwayne Johnson movie is pretty much a guaranteed No. 1 at the box office, and the guy continues to pad his wrestling legacy every time he steps in the ring. The man’s life wasn’t always so electrifying, though.
Before he became The Great One, Dwayne Johnson dealt with his share of uncertainty and hard times. While The Rock isn’t ashamed of his past, his sometimes difficult early life isn’t often acknowledged. I mean, who has time to dwell when you’re teaming up with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania and blowing up helicopters with Vin Diesel? We here at With Spandex never forget, so here are a few facts about The Rock before he became The Rock…
1. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is related to a ridiculous number of other wrestlers. Dwayne Douglas Johnson (yeah, turns out his middle name isn’t actually “The Rock”) was born in 1972 to popular Memphis and Georgia-area wrestler Rocky Johnson and Ata Maivia, daughter of the legendary “High Chief” Peter Maivia. This made him a part of the legendary Anoa’i Somoan wrestling family.
Lil’ Rock working the cuteness angle pretty hard with gramps.
Sika and Afa, the original Wild Samoans, were Johnson’s uncles, Yokozuna, Black Pearl, Rosey, Roman Reigns, Tonga Kid, Umaga and Rikishi are/were his cousins and The Usos and Manu are his cousins once removed. I’m sure I’m missing some in there. I didn’t even mention any of the in-laws like Naomi. Also, Jimmy Snuka and his kids are considered close enough that they’re practically family. Rock’s ascendance to the top wasn’t without some trials and tribulations, but he certainly had a lot of people in his corner.
2. Johnson’s family were evicted from their home when he was a kid. The Rock’s dad may have been a fairly well-known wrestler, but back in the ’80s, a lot of mid-card talent didn’t make much more than your average blue collar worker. Add the cost of travel, maintaining a chiseled physique and the temptations of the road, and a lot of wrestlers were barely breaking even. This was unfortunately the case for Rocky Johnson.
When Dwayne Johnson was 14, he and his mother returned to their home in Honolulu to find an eviction notice pinned to their door. Only a week before, Rock’s mom had her car repossessed.
“We were living in an efficiency that cost $120 a week. We come home, and there’s a padlock on the door and an eviction notice. My mom starts bawling. She just started crying and breaking down. ‘Where are we going to live? What are we going to do?’”
Things would work themselves out for the family, but The Rock wasn’t exactly left with a glamorous impression of the wrestling business. Unsurprisingly, young Dwayne had no plans to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Cool muscles, Dad, but how about paying the rent?”
3. The back seat of a police car was a familiar place for teenage Rock. The Rock’s teenage years in Hawaii were a trying time for several reasons. Not only was money tight, but Dwayne had fallen in with a rough crowd. According to The Rock, he was part of a loosely knit gang that stole from tourists and high-end shoppers.
“In Waikiki there’s a couple high-end blocks where there’s your Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Armani, jewellery stores, plenty of jewellery stores. There are a lot of tourists that come into Waikiki and there’s a lot of money. A lot of foreign money that comes in, and we were part of a theft ring that would target those groups. We would target the money, we would target the high-end clothes and we would target the jewellery, turn around and sell it, best we could.”
Doesn’t sound like a bad scheme, honestly. Unfortunately, young Rock was apparently a lousy criminal, as he claims he was arrested eight or nine times by the time he was 17. Yeah, probably for the best that he left the underworld behind.
This dude’s going to steal the hell out of your travel fanny pack.
4. Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp were on Johnson’s college football team. Dwayne Johnson’s original ambition was to be a pro football player, and he got pretty damn close to making his dream happen. Johnson played for the championship-winning 1991 University of Miami Hurricanes. He was considered one of the standouts on the team and a sure bet for NFL stardom, which was pretty impressive considering that his team also included Ray Lewis and Hall of Farmer Warren Sapp. In fact, it was Sapp who took Johnson’s defensive tackle spot when he was sidelined with an ultimately career-ruining shoulder injury.
Winning the Orange Bowl is neat, but if you don’t get to call your opponents kung pao bitches afterwards, the victory is hollow.
5. The Rock has a degree in criminology. So, what was Johnson actually studying at college in between football games? Y’know, aside from gender relations and Beer Bong Constuction 101? Well, it turns out The Rock has a bachelor degree in criminology. Considering all the bad guys the dude has annihilated over his movie career, that seems somehow appropriate. I bet Rock aced his “Witty One-Liners” and “Walking Away From Explosions in Slow Motion” classes.
The Rock’s class presentations left an impression.
6. He admits to using steroids during his football career. While he always denied using them during his wrestling career, The Rock has admitted in more recent years that he tried steroids during his college football days. According to Rock, he didn’t stay on them long because they simply didn’t work…
“I tried them when I was 18, me and my football buddies. Nothing happened.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Johnson has found something that works since.
Steroids didn’t work. That vial of Hulk blood on the other hand…
7. Johnson struggled with depression in his formative years. Johnson’s early years often weren’t particularly happy. His dad was largely absent, working 12 or 13 out of every 14 days, and the family had to move at least a dozen times when he was a kid, bouncing between California, New Zealand, Hawaii, Miami and small town Pennsylvania. While Johnson made friends easily, he couldn’t help but feel like an outcast with his address changing every few months.
His first serious bout with depression came when his college football career was scuttled by injury…
“I didn’t know why I didn’t want to do anything. I had never experienced anything like that.”
Johnson almost flunked out of school, but managed to drag himself through. He was passed over by the NFL, but was signed to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Johnson was supposed to be making $35,000, but was relegated to the practice team, which paid a starvation wage of $150 a week. Living in a two-bedroom apartment with three other players while sleeping on a dirty, scavenged mattress, Johnson hit rock bottom (sorry) mentally. Then, he was cut.
“There was no injury. It’s just, ‘That’s it. You’re not good enough.’ That was very sobering. The dreams I had, they’re dashed. There is no more football. That was my absolute worst time.”
Broke and with his dreams in shambles, Johnson basically had only one option left to him. Thankfully, that option worked pretty well for him.
Okay, so there were a few more hurdles.
8. Johnson wrestled The Brooklyn Brawler in his first match. In the mid-90s, Johnson started training to be a wrestler under his dad’s training. The legendary Pat Patterson got Johnson a series of tryout matches in 1996, the first of which was against the Brooklyn Brawler. Man, imagine the alternate history if Brawler decided to go into business for himself and won that first match against proto-Rock.
You coulda been a contender, buddy.
9. The name “Flex Kavana” was Johnson’s own idea. After those first few tryout matches, Johnson moved down to Memphis and started wrestling for Jerry Lawler’s USWA promotion under the name Flex Kavana. Most assume Flex Kavana was the malnourished brainchild of Vince McMahon or Lawler, but the name was actually Johnson’s brilliant idea. He wanted to distance himself from his famous relatives, as he didn’t want to be seen as exploiting his family’s name, and still had mixed feelings about his father’s legacy.
Johnson’s reluctance to embrace his family ties wouldn’t last long. In less than a year, he was brought up to the WWF as the blue chipper, third generation star, Rocky Maivia. I’ll go out on a limb and say the name change was in everybody’s best interest.
I’m beginning to think young Rock may not have been a cool guy. Nah, couldn’t be.
10. The Rock is Canadian. Step aside, Bret Hart. Go jump in a lake, Edge. There’s a new top Canadian wrestler in town. The Rock’s father was Canadian, being born and raised in Nova Scotia. In 2009, Canada changed their citizenship laws, making all children with at least one Canadian parent Canadians themselves, even if they weren’t born in the country. The law was retroactive, so as of 2009, The Rock is officially a Canadian citizen. My Canuck heart swells with pride.
There you are, a few interesting facts about Mrs. Johnson’s baby boy. Got any young Rock facts of your own? Just want to rib young baby fat-having Dwayne? Hit the comments and have at it.