The journey of Dwayne Johnson from Rocky Maivia to The Rock, and then a Hollywood star

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalMay 02, 2023 | 13:18

The journey of Dwayne Johnson from Rocky Maivia to The Rock, and then a Hollywood star

Dwayne Johnson, popularly known as The Rock is one of highest paid actors in Hollywood today with his annual incomes in 2022 at $22.5 million USD. Photo: Getty

Dwayne Johnson, popularly known as The Rock, or the People’s Champ, turns 51 today. Born on May 2, 1972, The former WWE star is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, the fourth highest followed celeb on Instagram, and one of the richest Hollywood stars of this generation. And above all, The Rock is an inspiration for millions. 

But for Dwyane Johnson, the transition from an American football player to a wrestling star and then establishing a career in Hollywood was never easy. It was a career which was marred by setbacks and an uncertain future.


 The Rock's football career

Johnson was a considerably good football player whose skills on the field earned him a scholarship to play Division 1 football at the University of Miami.

He was soaring in his football career in 1991, had played 39 games, and was on his way to be part of the National Football League (NFL) one day. However, an injury to his shoulder and lower back became a stumbling block in his career. Although Johnson signed in to play for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League made it to the practice roster, he was dropped just two months into the season.

The Rock later revealed that this left a mental scar on him and he was in depression for some time. Later, he received a call from the head coach of his football team, and they wanted him back. But he had changed his mind. As he hung up the call and looked at his father, he had a different response. When his father said that you are going to join, right, Dwayne looked up and said: "No, my gut tells me I’m done with that. I want to get into the wrestling business and want you to train me."


His father advised him against it, but The Rock was adamant. He knew that he had to tread on the path which his father and grandfather once did.

Rocky Maivia becomes The Rock

In 1996, Dwayne Johnson made his debut in the WWF with the ring name Rocky Maivia (a combination of his father’s and grandfather's ring-names). Though he won his first bout at the Survivor Series, in a tag-team match, his character for the next few months received flak from the audience.

And just one day after apearing at the Monday Night Raw, Dwayne took the mike amidst the boos and said: “Well, Rocky Maivia may be a lot of things, but sucks isn’t one of them”. 

And the rest is history. Rocky Maivia changed his ring name to The Rock and became one of the hottest characters in the company. 

Dwayne Johnson made his debut in WWF as Rocky Maivia in 1996. Photo: WWE

For the next six years, The Rock went on to script his historic feuds with The Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Rikishi, Undertaker and The Kurt Angle.

Throughout his career, he won the WWF (Now WWE) Heavyweight Title a whopping six times. From being a nobody in 1996, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson became a name that pulled crowds for WWF.

Dwayne Johnson's transition from Rocky Maivia to The Rock was a huge success in WWF. Photo: WWE

The Hollywood turn

In 2001, The Rock was at the zenith of his career. He had won the Royal Rumble of 2000 and was the WWE Champion. But then, he decided to walk away from the company. 

The Rock himself confessed that he had decided at the age of 29 only that he wanted to establish a long career in Hollywood and he had given himself 10-12 years for that.

After his SummerSlam match against Brock Lesnar, which Lesnar won, The Rock left the company and shot his first film, The Mummy Returns (2001). The success of the Mummy Returns propelled The Rock to shoot for The Scorpion King.

Though he came back to WWE for sporadic appearances, for a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Goldberg, he had decided that he would be leaving the company to establish himself in Hollywood. 

“I wanted to have a real, long-lasting career, that had weight and had value. And I wanted to become a real box-office presence,” The Rock had told CinemaBlend. And he thereby left the company in 2004.

Throughout the 2000s, Johnson continued to make headway in blockbuster movies like  Be Cool (2005) Gridiron Gang (2006), The Game Plan (2007) Tooth Fairy (2010). By acing his role in a variety of genres, Dwayne Johnson proved that he could handle any role from drama to action to comedy.

In 2011, Dwayne Johnson, registered his name amidst the big-fame actors when he appeared in the fifth part of the Fast and Furious franchise, Fast Five. Since then, he has starred in every Fast and Furious installment.

He also starred in the 2019 film Hobbs and Shaw. 

According to Forbes magazine, Johnson earned $89.4 million between 2018 and 2019, making him the highest paid Hollywood actor.

Kept the wrestling career alive

The best part of Dwayne Johnson’s plan was that he kept his WWE persona alive, and the crowd still loved him.

In 2007, he made a televised promo before a match against Bobby Lashley and Umaga. The crowd chants reminded the company that The Rock was still irreplaceable.

He made a return in 2011 as the host of the WrestleMania 27, and within a year, he won the WWE Championship against CM Punk. In 2014, at WrestleMania 28,  he won a once-in-a-lifetime match against John Cena. Though he lost the second match against Cena in WrestleMania 29, The Rock had the crowd behind him.

The Rock returned to WWE in 2011 and defeated John Cena in a one-on-one match at WrestleMania 28. Photo: WWE

The Rock’s last appearance in WWE was in 2019 when he returned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of SmackDown.

Last updated: May 02, 2023 | 13:18
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