Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a legendary wrestler to A-List actor. Before The Rock became a household name, The Weekly Wanderer had an opportunity to interview him about his future. See what he had to say.
BY PHILL FELTHAM
Before becoming the WWE legend, “The Rock,” or an A-list movie star, Dwayne Johnson—a third generation wrestler—competed in the ring as Rocky Maivia, a combination of his father and grandfather’s ring names. His father, Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather, Peter Maivia, played pivotal roles in Dwayne Johnson’s decision to become a professional wrestler.
Johnson made his WWE wrestling debut in late 1996. In early 1997, WWE (then the WWF) hosted a wrestling event at the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) in Toronto, Ontario. Johnson was one of the wrestlers scheduled to perform at the event.
I had an opportunity to interview Johnson before the event on January 27, 1997, during a press conference. I spoke to Johnson about his wrestling debut, his family heritage, and his brief stint as a football player. Here is the transcript of that interview.
FELTHAM: Could you briefly explain in detail how you received your chance to compete in the WWE?
JOHNSON: Well, it helps that my grandfather competed in the WWE in the ‘70s, as well as my father in the ’80s. I also had a lot of ties through [WWE owner] Vince McMahon and [WWE executive and former wrestler] Pat Patterson. I gave Pat a call, and I was fortunate enough to hook up with him.
FELTHAM: You used to play football before becoming a wrestler, correct?
JOHNSON: I started playing football [in high school], and then I went on to play for the University of Miami. Then, I went on to sign a three-year contract with the CFL [Canadian Football League], which I broke to compete in the WWE.
FELTHAM: Why did you choose football over wrestling?
JOHNSON (smiling): Well, I chose football over wrestling first because I started playing it in high school. I did very well at it; [I] got a lot of scholarship offers. When I played for the University of Miami, they gave me a big $100 thousand dollar scholarship. I played football and won the National title. It was just after that, I knew I wanted to be in the business of pro wrestling.
FELTHAM: Just a few months before your WWE debut, you wrestled in the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) [a now defunct independent wrestling promotion]. What are your comments about that experience?
JOHNSON (laughing): It was exactly that: an experience. It was a great learning experience which was the sole reason why I was down there. It was just to learn, polish my skills, and enhance my abilities.
Competing against guys like Jerry Lawler and other veterans only helped my training.
FELTHAM: You made your WWE debut at Survivor Series [an annual wrestling event], on November 17, 1997, at Madison Square Garden. How did it feel to compete and win in front of that crowd? What was exactly going through your head at that time?
JOHNSON: Elation. Just elation. I felt elation and pride because I knew my grandfather and my father were in attendance. They had won a lot of titles in the Garden and to hear 23,000 people screaming and going nuts for me was great.
FELTHAM: In the last few months, you have made your presence felt in the WWE. Your incredible winning streak, your confrontation with [former WWE wrestler] Marc Mero and being pursued by [former WWE wrestling manager] Sunny. Care to comment on your impact? Would you want to be managed by Sunny?
JOHNSON: A comment on my impact. I have been received greatly by the fans. As for Sunny, she wanted to manage me and I appreciate that. I was flattered, and I said no—and that’s the bottom line. iT!