Despite growing up surrounded by wrestling due to his father Rocky Johnson (the first African American Tag Team champ with Tony Atlas) and his mother Ata being the adopted daughter of High Chief Peter Maivia, making him a non-blood member of the Anoa’i wrestling family, Dwayne Johnson started off life pursuing a football career. Johnson was part of the 1991 Miami Hurricanes College Championship Team, and while only started once during his 4-year career, often appeared as a Defensive Tackle. However, he was usurped by future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and as a result, Johnson never really got a proper look in. He failed to draft in the 1995 NFL Draft, instead, landing in the CFL signing for the Calgary Stampeders as a linebacker. He was assigned to the practice squad and, clearly disappointed, lost interest and was cut within two months.
In 1996, Dwayne Johnson used his connections to train with Pat Patterson and was put into a developmental contract, performing under his real name defeating The Brooklyn Brawler in his in-ring debut, before signing for WWF properly in the summer of 1996. Johnson was given the ring name Rocky Maivia to honour his father and grandfather respectively and was hyped as WWF’s first-ever “Third Generation Superstar” (despite being two different lineages) and was pushed to the moon immediately despite being green as grass. His debut came in a fairly random Survivor Series matchup, created purely to put Rocky over as he would win as the sole survivor before he would shortly focus his attention on the Intercontinental championship.
After Royal Rumble '97, Rocky would begin his long, long feud with HHH, defeating him for the IC Belt on RAW on the 13th of February. Rocky would retain the belt against Hunter at In Your House: Final Four, before moving on to a match with his cousin Rikishi Fatu (in his brief “Sultan” gimmick) at Wrestlemania 13.
There were rumblings during this fairly dull match, but within the next month, Rocky, predating his cousin Roman Reigns by about 20 years, started getting nuclear go away heat, with “Rocky Sucks” and “Die, Rocky Die!” chants becoming a fixture of his matches, such as at his count-out loss defence of his title vs Savio Vega at Revenge of the Taker in April, before dropping the title to Owen Hart and being injured/written off in a match with Mankind at A Cold Day in Hell in May.
Returning in August, Rocky turned his back on the fans who had rejected him, joining The Nation of Domination and referring to himself in the third person as “The Rock”. A year after his debut, The Rock performed in a Survivor Series match yet again, however this time with his Nation of Domination in a losing effort, but established his young cocky heel character.
A month later, The Rock would have his first match with Stone Cold Steve Austin over the Intercontinental title at In Your House: D-Generation X, in which he would be unsuccessful but be given the IC title the next night on RAW anyway by Vince, to clear Austin for his upcoming main event programme with Shawn Michaels. The Rock entered a feud with Ken Shamrock who both at the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania XIV would get himself disqualified for being a mad man keeping the title on Rocky.
On the night after Mania, The Rock would usurp Faarooq as the leader of The Nation (dropping the second part of the name in the process) with Rock, D-Lo & Mark Henry losing to Faarooq, Ken Shamrock & Steve Blackman in the blow-off match at Unforgiven.
This feud led to a terrible match between Rock & Faarooq at Over the Edge '98, followed by that lovely racist feud with D-X in the summer. Shamrock finally got his revenge on The Rock, defeating him in the final of the King of the Ring tournament in arguably Shamrock’s biggest moment in the company.
The Rock resumed his feud with Triple H, escaping with his IC Title at Fully Loaded in a 2-out-of-3 falls match which ended in a time limit draw and featuring tons of Russo-esque interference from the two’s stable. This would blow off in a breakout moment for both Rocky and Hunter at Summerslam, in a fantastic ladder match for the IC Title where Triple H finally defeated The Rock and effectively ended The Nation group.
The Rock bounced around in some lesser matches for a couple of months, vaguely turning face again all for the grand swerve at Survivor Series: Deadly Games where, two years after his debut, The Rock was revealed to the be “crown jewel” in The Corporation stable, becoming the WWF World Heavyweight Champion, denying presumed favourite Mankind in probably Russo’s greatest storyline moment in his career.
The Rock’s first challenger for his newly won title was… X-Pac? Oh, it was in the UK, sure. The Rock lost by KO to Mankind at Rock Bottom, retaining the title, before finally losing to Mankind on the first RAW of '99, the moment cited as when WWF defeated WCW. The Rock would shockingly regain the title at the Royal Rumble in a match which, let’s just say, isn’t easy to watch.
Mankind would regain the title during “Halftime Heat” in that year’s Superbowl, an empty arena walk and brawl match, and would retain at St. Valentines Day Massacre thanks to a double count-out in a Last Man Standing match. The Rock would finally win the feud on RAW the night after, in a Ladder match, thanks to the newly-debuting Big Show interfered, a night after also unintentionally helping Austin beat Vince McMahon to effectively become the number one contender. The Rock would go on to his first Wrestlemania main event match, and first of three with Steve Austin, in a good match but more promised of what was to come than delivered. Ironically, the return match a month later at Backlash lived much more up to its potential.
For his losses, The Rock was fired from The Corporation and as a result began his mega babyface run which would continue for the rest of his career bar his departure in 2003 (and, depending on who you ask, his most recent run, in 2013). The Rock lost in his next title attempt against The Undertaker at the King of the Ring, and then was unsuccessful in a number one contender match with Triple H, thanks to that year’s KOTR winner, Billy Gunn. The Rock easily defeated Gunn at Summerslam, going on to form The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection, winning the Tag Titles from Taker & The Big Show after the highly-rated “This Is Your Life” segment.
The Rock was unsuccessful against new champion Triple H during the Six-Pack Challenge at Unforgiven and in a cage match in the UK at Rebellion. Both then jobbed out to The Big Show at Survivor Series (who was kayfabe mourning his passed father), and the Rock ‘n’ Sock lost their final attempt at the Tag Titles against The New Age Outlaws at Armageddon, ending a slightly disappointing year for The Rock. FEAR NOT! However, the year 2000 (& 2001) would be Rocky’s year, kicking it off by winning the Royal Rumble match (just don’t tell Big Show).
The Rock had to defend his status as the number one contender against The Big Show at No Way Out, which he lost thanks to interference from Shane McMahon. He won his right back at RAW a couple of weeks later, however, setting up the “McMahons in Every Corner!” fatal-four way main event at Wrestlemania 2000. Rock would survive into the final two with champion Triple H but would lose thanks to Vince turning on him in a moment that feels eerily similar to what was to come a year later.
Rocky wouldn’t have to wait long, however, as he would finally win the title against Triple H at Backlash with an assist from Stone Cold, kicking off a year of dominance for The Great One. The Rock would briefly drop the title back to H, however, in an absolute classic Ironman Match, where, being bloodied and beaten by D-X, a returning American Badass Undertaker would return to make his presence immediately felt.
Johnson would regain the title for his 5th(!) reign a month later, in a complete mess of a six-man tag match at King of the Ring that is also for the World Title? Where he tags with The Brothers of Destruction against HHH and the McMahons and wins the title by pinning Vince? Regardless, it would lead to another classic with redacted at Fully Loaded in July.
The Rock would defend his title successfully twice more in some multi-man matches that proved just how strong the roster was in the year 2000, taking on Kurt Angle, Triple H, Kane, The Undertaker and redacted over Summerslam and Unforgiven. It would be Angle, however, who would end the dominant run (for now), after defeating The Rock for the title at No Mercy, capping off arguably the greatest rookie year of any pro-wrestler ever.
Then there was the deeply regrettable and yet ultimately forgettable “I did it for you Rocky” feud with Rikishi over “who ran over Stone Cold?” the year before. sigh. Not The Rock’s fault as he dispatched with the big quiche at Survivor Series (and not quite the awkward snuff film of Steve Austin trying to murder Rikishi the months before) but it was a largely pointless divergence in the tale. This did lead, however, to the absolute chaos that was the six-man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon, so there’s that at least. The Rock won the Tag Team Titles for a literal day with The Undertaker against Edge & Christian around this time for some reason too!
In 2001, The Rock was unsuccessful at the Royal Rumble but would still ultimately get to the main event of Wrestlemania X-7, defeating Kurt Angle to win his title back at No Way Out, after Earl Hebner hilariously fucks up the count causing The Rock to stare daggers at him while getting the pinfall.
And so the stage was set. The biggest rematch in WWF history at its biggest and most successful event in its history. Capping off the end of The Attitude Era as we knew it, The Rock took on Stone Cold once again in the main event of Wrestlemania for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, a full two years after their last, much smaller by comparison encounter. Infamously, the match would see Vince turn on The Rock for the second year in a row, shaking hands with Austin in a devil’s pact, and symbolically ending the company’s most successful period in the process. Professional Wrestling would never be the same again.
The Rock went off to begin his Hollywood career that he is now far more famous for after this, filming The Scorpion King for the next three months. When he would return he would find a very different landscape in WWF, as the WCW/ECW InVasion angle had kicked into full gear. On his return match at Summerslam, Rocky would win his first-ever WCW World Heavyweight Title against Booker T, in one of the few dream matches we got during this godforsaken era.
After defending against Booker & Shane McMahon at Unforgiven, Rocky would enter a feud with Chris Jericho who had finally reached the main event level, losing the title to him at No Mercy.
The Rock would win the title back on RAW a couple of weeks later, and the two would briefly have to put their rivalry aside as they competed in the Survivor Series “winner takes all” WWF vs Alliance match.
After the dust had settled after WWF had defeated the evil WCW/ECW Alliance, the job now was to unify the two world titles, the honour of which was bestowed to Chris Jericho defeating both The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night to become the top guy of the company. Rock was unsuccessful in his rematch with Jericho, putting the new top talent over strong.
The next month, Rocky had a fairly forgettable encounter with the newly heel Undertaker at No Way Out, a night more famous for being his first on-screen interaction with Hogan, Hall & Nash. parp-parp! This set the stage for symbolically one of the biggest non-main events of Wrestlemania ever, as The Rock took on Hulk Hogan in a generational “Icon vs Icon” match in which the nuclear Toronto crowd turned Rocky heel and Hogan babyface. Amazingly, the two called an audible in the ring having taken in the crowd’s reaction and completely switched roles on the fly. As a result, The Rock comfortably got Hulk Hogan’s best match out of him in his evergreen years.
Rocky took a break from wrestling following this in which he would consider whether he still had the same passion for the business with Hollywood knocking on his door. He would return to defeat Kurt Angle and then champion The Undertaker in a fantastic (and slightly underrated for its time) triple threat at Vengeance to win a record (now WWE) seventh title, however, it had become clear that the fans were growing tired of The Rock, aware he was probably going to commit to his film career any moment, and so Johnson put over the hot young talent Brock Lesnar at Summerslam, allowing him to be the youngest World champion ever at the time.
After getting a negative reaction in that match despite being the face, The Rock had enough and left to go film The Rundown (anyone? no?) before returning in 2003 in a brilliant turn as the Hollywood phoney the crowd assumed he was and would become shortly after. He had a dreadful rematch with Hulk Hogan at No Way Out which WWE wants you to forget, but shortly after entered his final programme with Steve Austin, as both were quietly preparing to retire as full-time wrestlers. The third and final instalment in The Rock vs. Austin trilogy may not have quite hit the magnitude of their previous encounter, they put on a fine bow to their series where The Rock finally defeated Austin, four years in the making.
Before departing again to film the Walking Talk reboot, Rocky would put over a debuting Goldberg on his way out, in an exciting but ultimately quite messy affair at Backlash. The Rock would make sporadic performances before returning to reform the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection against Evolution at Wrestlemania XX for his final match for the next 7 years. If only it had been for good…
In 2011, coming off one of WWE’s worst years creatively, The Rock was drafted back in to attempt to steer the sinking ship from certain death. By that I mean, he returned to start a feud with John Cena so The Miz could retain the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania XXVII because sigh 2011. A year later, The Rock would get his “Once* in a Lifetime” match with Cena (notably overshadowing the fantastic year C.M Punk had as champion) but not before The Rock and Cena would team up at Survivor Series to defeat the indomitable tag team of The Miz and R-Truth or, The Awesome Truth. Sigh.
The Rock defeats Cena, despite tearing his right quad early on, at Wrestlemania XXVIII in a perfectly serviceable, highly anticipated main event, replicating somewhat the Rock vs Hogan, Icon vs Icon match ten years earlier. The match was a huge success financially, however, meaning WWE were right to gamble on a returning Rock facing John Cena, it’s just… what happens next as a result that’s the problem.
Because the match was deemed a success, The Rock and/or WWE decided it would be a great idea to give The Brahma Bull another title run, announcing at RAW 1000 in July that he would face whoever was champion at next year’s Royal Rumble. Fine on paper, but the problem was it was at the behest of C.M Punk, who was coming off one of the greatest world championship runs in years and had brought many eyes back to the product in the process.
The two put on a very good match, but taking the belt off Punk so it could be added to Rock and Cena’s “twice in a lifetime” match (as Cena won the Rumble match itself that night) was particularly damaging for the former champion’s character, who had consistently (along with Daniel Bryan) been the best thing about the company’s otherwise fairly shambolic product over the previous two years. This was compounded when Punk was beaten clean as a whistle at Elimination Chamber, as he could have won the title back if Rock got disqualified.
So, in his final official match with WWE (for now, unless we are counting jobbing out Erick Rowan and the Wyatt Family at WM32) Cena gets his win back and the title, injuring The Rock even further this time as he tore his abdominal and abductor tendons, meaning Hollywood, concerned about their most profitable star getting hurt unnecessarily, pulled him from any further participation.
Even more amusingly, or frustratingly, depending on your view, fans, funnily enough, weren’t as bothered the second time around, and while C.M Punk was rewarded with an excellent encounter with The Undertaker (he should have won, dammit!) the rot from his resentment of not being respected as the main event talent would lead to his departure from the company and wrestling all together less than a year later.
The Rock has since made a few sporadic appearances, the best being his legendarily confused demeanour when a bloodthirsty Philadelphia crowd rained boos down on The Rock’s attempts to present Roman Reigns as the new top babyface of the company but is yet to return since properly. Rumours of a match with Reigns has been bounded about recently, which now Reigns is finally over as a heel could be brilliant if the studios allow it, but for now Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has enjoyed an incredibly successful career as Hollywood’s leading “action man”, so the likelihood of a return to in-ring action remains slim… for now.