The Rocky career of Dwayne Johnson

The Rocky career of Dwayne Johnson
Black Adam trailer
Warner Bros

The story goes that at the age of 23 and seeing his dreams of becoming an NFL star shattered, Dwayne Johnson had only seven bucks to his name.

The man who would go on to become the superstar that we all know today as 'The Rock' was released by the Calgary Stampeders just two months after joining the team. Seemingly short of options he decided to follow in his family's footsteps and put a call into the World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. Within a few short years he was a major star and decades later he is the biggest A-lister in Hollywood.

Given the man's success, it's hard to fathom that the biggest star of them all had a difficult start to his career but in many ways, there has always been turbulence surrounding Johnson's ascension to Hollywood's summit. To explain this we need to go back the start of Johnson's career in WWE.

After a few tryout matches where he competed under the name of Flex Kavana, Johnson was officially signed by WWE and made his debut in November 1996. He was given the moniker of Rocky Maivia, a combination of both his father's (Rocky Johnson) and grandfather's ('High Chief' Peter Maivia) names, both of whom had wrestled in the WWE in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.

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Johnson's rich lineage was referenced by commentators on WWE television but that didn't necessarily resonate with the fans. Johnson was given a 'blue chipper' good guy persona and soon rocketed up the card and even captured the Intercontinental Championship. Chants of 'Rocky sucks' and 'die Rocky die' could regularly be heard as fans rejected the bland do-gooder character and the heavy push he received from management despite his overall inexperience in the ring.

After a few months out with a knee injury, he returned in August 1997 and as if by magic suddenly learned how to have some charisma. This was a completely different individual overall who appeared much more comfortable and witty in his new villainous role. Not only had his wrestling improved but he was now able to speak and connect with the fans and boy...could he connect.

“Rocky Sucks”: How The Rock became WWE’s most despised Superstarwww.youtube.com

There have been few wrestlers in history who are quite as good on the microphone as The Rock. There's a reason why he is known as 'The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment'. In his prime, it was like The Rock was a human power plant that could provoke a huge reaction from live audiences by just saying his catchphrases, almost creating a rock concert-like atmosphere in arenas. Before The Rock had even gotten into the ring he had already verbally decimated them on the microphone with a unique set of insults that were very in keeping with the shock and awe era of late 90s television. He was like Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali rolled into one person but all in his own original way.

Eventually, The Rock was a good guy again and was soon one of the most marketable commodities that the WWE has ever had. His t-shirts, Brahama Bull logo and even his famous raised eyebrow were all over not just WWE but entertainment in general. He appeared on Wyclef Jean songs and made cameos on Star Trek and That 70's Show. He even hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. This was a genuine mainstream crossover star so it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling. However, much like the start of his wrestling career, the world of acting was initially not kind to Johnson.

His first film was The Mummy Returns (2001), a film that he was barely in and was replaced by a bad CGI monster come the end of the movie. The film was still enough of a success for Johnson's character to get his own spin-off movie The Scorpion King (2002) where he was paid $5.5 million, a Guinness World Record for an actor in their first ever leading role. Following those two forays into franchise cinema Johnson seemed slightly at odds as to what he should do next. Double down on being a major action star or establish himself as a credible actor. Inevitably he tried both with some very, very mixed results.

The action-comedy romp The Rundown is possibly still his best movie and showed signs that The Rock could fill the void of action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He didn't confine himself just to action movies either. In Be Cool he plays a gay bouncer in a very amusing performance, while in the largely maligned but misunderstood flop Southland Tales, he plays an amnesiac actor at the centre of a government conspiracy. Among those titles are films that he would probably not like to be reminded about like The Tooth Fairy and Doom.

The Rock in Southland TalesUniversal

The Rock's career in Hollywood wasn't exactly faltering but it had hardly gotten off to a flying start, so in 2011 he went back to where it all began, wrestling. For the first time since 2003, The Rock was a semi-regular character on WWE television and was put into a major feud with the company's then-top name John Cena, who is now a top star in Hollywood in his own right. Although he kept on releasing movies during this time, including two Fast and the Furious titles, The Rock's return to wrestling was a huge success where he recaptured the WWE Championship and achieved the company's biggest ever buy-rate for his main event clash with Cena at Wrestlemania 28.

It would be unfair to say that Johnson's overall appeal was waning at this time but he was only a true megastar in the wrestling world. The attention that his matches with John Cena and CM Punk arguably propelled him back into the upper echelons of pop culture almost as if returning to wrestling rejuvenated him and reminded everyone what he is capable of.

Seven of his highest-grossing movies ever have all come following his two-year return to wrestling and that doesn't include 2021's Red Notice which is reportedly the most streamed movie ever on Netflix. Say what you want about the quality of these films but they are clearly working even if it does feel like he is in cruise control as an actor.

The Rock is now seemingly unstoppable and he now has his own superhero franchise under his belt with DC's Black Adam, which is forecast to have a $135m worldwide opening weekend. To add to this he's also a social media star, runs his own production company, is an activist, can open up the Superbowl and has so much influence and appeal that many want him to run for president. Oh, and there is also a television drama about himself.

Although he's not everyone's cup of tea, the world is undeniably Dwayne Johnson's oyster. Not bad for a guy who started out with seven bucks in his pocket.

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