Finally… The Rock has come back….. to Jaywalks! Cue the cheap pop! And so it is that The Rock marks the final chapter in this series of superstars, last but not by any means least.
As a young man, Dwayne Johnson always hoped to make it big in football, playing for both Miami Hurricanes and Calgary Stampeders. However, in the mid-nineties a combination of injuries and cuts left him in a deep depression, to the extent that, when called back, he declined and instead looked to a new path in professional wrestling. This didn’t come on a whim; wrestling reached far in the family. His father was wrestling star of the seventies and eighties Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather ‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia. Several of his uncles and cousins are noted performers past and present.
The first third-generation performer to wrestle in WWF, his lineage was blended to give the name ‘Rocky Maivia’ and he made his debut in the summer of 1996, pitted against legendary Brooklyn Brawler in a series of trial matches. Johnson was so strapped for cash that he had to borrow an uncle’s trunks. Epitomising the clean-cut, smiling blue-chipper, his impact on fans was modest, to put it lightly. It wasn’t really until a year or so later, when he became part of the Nation of Domination, that audiences really felt the extent of Maivia’s prowess. Ditching the bright blue gear and going by the far harder moniker of The Rock, his sassy insults and entertaining mic work saw him propelled to leader of the stable, and subsequently Intercontinental Champion throughout 1998, giving fans all the more fuel to shout, “Rocky Sucks!”. Some hard-fought rivalries with crazy Ken Shamrock, and later Triple H, put on impressive shows and made promising signs of things to come. His SummerSlam ’98 ladder match with HHH stands out as one of my favourites of all, and indeed the first ever wrestling figures I bought were commemorative of this contest.
The sheer entertainment value of Rocky’s turns, however, would win fans over, and soon he was being cheered even as a villain. He’d be World Champion before 1998 came to a close, and later his escalating popularity was fully embraced with a turn to good guy, hailing himself ‘The People’s Champion’, and ‘The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment’. It’s hard to disagree; The Rock had already become one of wrestling’s most influential draws, and soon ended up appearing on all manner of TV shows across the world. People just seemed to love him. Shows and video games were being branded on the strength of his slogans and catchphrases.
After spending much of late 1999 battling The British Bulldog and then forming an inspired tag team with Mankind as Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection, 2000 would consist largely of trading the World title with Triple H. The two collided month after month, but it was ultimately young Olympian Kurt Angle to whom Rocky would drop the belt. He’d regain it in February of 2001, only to drop it to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XVII, with Austin turning heel in a moment many claim to be the death of the golden ‘Attitude Era’. Rock disappeared for several months to film his first movie, The Scorpion King. Acquiring a taste for the silver screen, this was the story of The Rock for the next couple of years, really; return for a few months, lose the title and then disappear to make another movie. Fans started to resent this, and by late 2002, chants of “Rocky Sucks” could be heard for the first time in years.
Returning the next year, The Rock became ‘Hollywood Rock’ – essentially capitalising on the prior reactions of the crowd, branding WWE a stepping stone and no longer a priority. Though the stint was brief, it was some of Johnson’s best work. After beating Hulk Hogan (for the second time) and Steve Austin at consecutive pay-per-views, he came unstuck against Goldberg and then vanished again – this time, actually leaving WWE to become a film star. He made one more special appearance at 2004 for the twentieth WrestleMania, but wouldn’t wrestle again until 2011, where he appeared to make a fairly substantial return and continues to drop in to this day.
A recent article identified Johnson as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning $64.5million in a year, so it seems he’s certainly found a way to transfer his in-ring skills with great effect. He comes across as a very humble and charitable person, both in and out of the ring; he always seemed quite happy to go out there with a young star and make them look good, for the benefit of business. And of course he was hugely entertaining… if you smell what The Rock is cookin’!
What better way of spending Christmas Eve than at a concert – a Rock concert, no less? In the pomp of his ‘Hollywood’ run, we were gifted a performance from the man himself. It is pitch-perfect. Rarely have I heard such heat from a WWE crowd.
Merry Christmas to you all!