A third generation wrestler, he was hated by fans early in his career as an undeserving punk who was pushed based on the reputation of his family. He responded by letting the world know that he was his own man… and along the way became the most popular performer in all of professional wrestling.
Real Name: Dwayne Johnson
Stats: 6′ 5″ 275 lbs.
Born: May 2, 1972
The sport of professional wrestling has changed dramatically over the last twenty years and the the wrestler who typifies this the most might be Rocky Maivia. His path to stardom shows how fans perceptions of wrestlers have changed and how wrestlers have adapted. This has allowed him to go from being the most despised newcomer in the sport to becoming the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.
In days of old, a young wrestler would have to toil through the drudgery of traveling hundreds of miles everyday to small venues where they could look forward to losing every night. This routine might last for several years as the learned the ropes and gained a knowledge of the professional wrestling hierarchy. After years of paying their dues, they might gain the opportunity to climb their way up the ladder of success. In today’s wrestling scene, stars can be created almost overnight – such was the case with Rocky Maivia.
Rocky was born into a wrestling family, the son of former NWA Florida and WWF Intercontinental Champion Rocky Johnson and the grandson of the great multiple-champion High Chief Peter Maivia. With wrestling in his blood, it would be foreseeable that he would set his sights on a career in the ring but he took a different route. Maivia (real name Dwayne Johnson) was a tremendous high school athlete and was a USA Today All-American football player. He was recruited aggressively by the top schools across the country but decided to join the University of Miami. After a solid junior year (in which he sacked Heismann trophy winner Charlie Ward) he was named to a preseason All-American team and looked forward to dominating as a defensive lineman. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe back injury and struggled with the injury throughout the season. He was able to come back, however, and started in the Hurricanes Orange Bowl loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He next set his sights towards playing in the National Football League but went unselected in the 1995 NFL draft. Determined to make it in the NFL, he decided to play one season in the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders. Because of league rules restricting the number of non-Canadians who can appear on the active roster, Rocky was placed on the teams taxi squad, practicing but not playing. As the season wore on, he began thinking more and more about following in his fathers footsteps into the squared circle.
After being cut by the Stampeders, he convinced his father to help train him and eventually received a tryout in front of World Wrestling Federation official Pat Patterson. After two later tryout matches against Steve Lombardi and Chris Candido, he was signed to a developmental contract with the WWF and was sent down to Jerry Lawler’s Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association. Wrestling under the name “Flex Kavana” he impressed the WWF enough that they recalled him and entered him in the Survivor Series in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Surprisingly, wrestling under the name Rocky Maivia, he won the prestigious tournament in his official debut.
At this point, it seemed that Rocky had everything going for him – athleticism, good looks and a wrestling heritage. What he lacked, however, was an interesting persona. Winning the Survivor Series in his official debut earmarked him for early success – but stardom is not necessarily an easy thing to deal with or to maintain. Fans have changed over the years, and while Maivia smiled and looked wholesome, wrestling fans had grown tired of the corny image years ago. Instead of embracing him and cheering for him, they turned against him and began booing him mercilessly with chants of “Rocky Sucks” and “Die, Rocky, Die!” Things did not get any better for him when he defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley for the WWF Intercontinental title. At that point, the fans perceived him to be an undeserving, inexperienced pretty boy who was being shoved down their throats. Things finally came to a head when he suffered a minor knee injury and took some time to ponder his future, his career and the direction of his character.
Deciding that a change was needed, Rocky joined the Nation of Domination, one of the WWF’s heel groups at that time. Standing with the Nation, he scolded the fans for ever booing him in light of his hard work and dedication. This eventually led to a confrontation with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was fast becoming the top babyface in the promotion. In his breakthrough moment, he challenged Austin to an Intercontinental title match, saying “if you do accept my challenge, then your bottom line will say” ‘Stone Cold – has been. Compliments of the Rock.'”
In that moment, the Rock emerged as an arrogant, self-absorbed character who always referred to himself in the third-person. He constantly ran down the crowd, eliciting the loudest boos possible. Eventually, however, he also received a number of laughs because of some of his catch-phrases, as well as his exaggerated expressions and mannerisms. Soon, the crowd began looking forward to seeing him – not just to boo him, but to be entertained as well. Claiming that he was the “People Champion”, he eventually won them over. With chants of “Rocky, Rocky” behind him, he captured the WWF Heavyweight championship after winning the 1998 Survivor Series on November 15, 1998.
Over the next year and a half, Maivia turned against the fans and his former allies, joining Vince McMahon and running roughshod over WWF competitors. Eventually, however, he saw through McMahon’s facade and and returned to his position as the “People’s Champ.” In doing so , he crossed over to non-wrestling audiences, taking part in first run theatrical releases and an appearing on television shows, including hosting the popular Saturday Night Live.
In only four years, Rocky Maivia surpassed all of the success enjoyed by his father and grandfather. Even more, he surpassed any conceivable expectations by becoming the most popular and charismatic wrestler in the world. As he juggles personal appearances, acting opportunities and his chosen career, Maivia has already solidified his place in wrestling history.