Dwayne ‘The Rock‘ Johnson nearly bailed on his career as a WWE Superstar to strike it rich in the world of mixed martial arts.
Johnson, known by the millions… And millions of his fans as The Rock, is one of the biggest stars in the world today. Making it big in sports entertainment, he eventually transitioned to film and television roles en route to becoming one of the highest-grossing actors on the silver screen.
But as it turns out, things could have been very different for Johnson following a rocky start to his pro wrestling career, no pun intended.
“97, I was still going to L.A. and working out,” Johnson began during his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. “We were crossing all the MMA guys. PRIDE just opened up in Japan. I started seeing all these MMA guys going over to PRIDE. At that time, I was making $150,000 wrestling 235 days a year. Do the math on that and how much you’re making per match.
“We start hearing, ‘These guys in PRIDE are making $250,000, $350,000, $500,000.’ I thought then, ‘F*ck, I don’t think I’m going to make it in WWE. People are booing me out of the arenas. I can’t be myself. They’re telling me to f*cking smile, I don’t want to f*cking smile. That’s not who I am.’ I start talking to Ken Shamrock, I start talking with Mark Kerr, ‘Tell me about PRIDE.’ I have this idea in my head ‘Maybe I should train in MMA, go to PRIDE, and make real money and I don’t have to smile.’
“I’m going to get f*cked up, knock one of my lungs loose [laughs], but if I find the right coach and train… I have this whole thing in my head. I’m talking to my wife at the time, ‘I think this is the way to go. I can make real money while these fans are booing me for $150 grand.’”
‘The Rock’ Went From Despised WWE Superstar to Multi-Entertainment Megastar
Kickstarting his WWE run as Rocky Maivia at the 1996 Survivor Series, Dwayne Johnson was marketed as a happy-go-lucky prospect who smiled from ear to ear and loved to compete. It was a gimmick that wrestling fans immediately rebelled against, bringing his career to an uncertain crossroads.
Fortunately, the powers that were decided to repackage Johnson as The Rock, a cocky heel with a heap of catchphrases and a ‘f*ck you’ attitude. The turn worked so well that within a few years, fans began to cheer, forcing the WWE to change him from the proverbial bad guy to an anti-hero, something that was all the rage in the ’90s pro wrestling scene courtesy of stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Johnson still makes the occasional appearance, but he has largely moved on from the WWE. Nowadays, The Rock stays busy with his film career and as a part owner of the XFL football league. He is also the CEO of Seven Bucks Companies, “a multi-platform global enterprise crossing all entertainment and creative verticals with a consumer-first mentality rooted in authenticity, passion, and storytelling.”
Though he never made his way inside the Octagon, The Rock closed a deal with the UFC last year to make Project Rock the official footwear of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.