Young Rock as a retrospective has a compelling start – catapulting the viewer into the future. The year is 2032, a presidential candidate sits down with Randall Park for an interview. The interview tells of Dwayne Johnson’s life and career, with great humour and levity from both The Rock and Randall. In using the ‘Brahma Bull’s’ life story, you learn a lot about The Rock and his younger days and how intertwined it is with other wrestlers. They say that wrestling is like a family, and this concept is introduced early on with references to ‘Uncle Iron Sheik’, who is treated like family despite no blood ties to the Johnsons.
Perhaps the show has got you questioning who some of the wrestlers featured are? Well ponder no more as each week we will delve into the history of the supporting cast of wrestlers featured in Young Rock.
Rocky Johnson, played by Joseph Lee Anderson
Born in Nova Scotia, Canada, Rocky Johnson is The Rock’s father. Outside of that, he was an acclaimed wrestler and former boxer. The ‘Soulman’ left boxing in the mid-1960s and turned to a different ring. He made his wrestling debut in 1966 and in the 1970s was a mainstay of NWA. Although he won several regional NWA titles, he never climbed to the top of the metaphorical mountain in the promotion. Eventually, he joined the WWF, where he teamed with Tony Atlas. As a team, ‘Soul Patrol’ made an impact, very quickly claiming the tag titles and creating history. In beating the Wild Samoans for the belts, Rocky and Tony became the first African-Americans to win the World Tag Team Championship.
Despite leaving the company as a wrestler in 1985, Rocky Johnson still had an influence on the WWF. Aside from helping train the ‘Great One’, he later trained the stars of tomorrow during a short stint with Ohio Valley Wrestling [a precursor of NXT]. He also made occasional cameos, often coming to the rescue of The Rock. This includes one notable time during WrestleMania 13 where he came down to the ring to help his son during a beat-down from The Iron Sheik, Sultan and Bob Backlund. Rocky Johnson was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the 2008 class alongside Ric Flair and Peter Maivia.
Junkyard Dog, played by Nate Jackson
A graduate in political science from Fayetteville State University and a former prospect for the legendary Green Bay Packers, Junkyard Dog was a perfect blend of brains and brawn. Everything changed in the 1970s as he started making his way to the ring instead of the gridiron. Born Sebastian Ritter, the near 300-pounder debuted for Stampede Wrestling, which was under the stewardship of Stu Hart. He gained his JYD moniker when wrestling for Mid-South Wrestling. In a manner befitting someone living his gimmick, he walked to the ring with a dog collar and chains. He was quick – despite his size – and could back it up with power.
In 1984, he made his debut for WWF. He challenged for the Intercontinental Championship against Greg Valentine albeit unsuccessfully. However, he did later win the first Wrestling Classic [the WWF’s first foray into pay-per-view]. In winning the tournament he confirmed his status as a wrestler of huge prestige. In a ‘Loser Must Bow’ match, JYD took on Harley Race at WrestleMania III. He later left the company to join NWA, which became WCW. During this time, he fought Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship and later claimed the WCW Six-Man Tag Team Championship. Retiring in 1993, ‘Junkyard Dog’ Sebastian Ritter was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2004 by the ‘Big Cat’ Ernie Ladd.
The Iron Sheik, played by Brett Azar
Trained by the legendary Verne Gagne and born in the Semnan Province of Iran, Iron Sheik was one of the most loathed wrestlers of the 80s and 90s. He was a former amateur wrestler in his native country and claimed the WWF World Heavyweight Championship just over 10 years after his wrestling debut. In beating Bob Backlund in controversial fashion, he solidified his status in the company. He lost his title against Hulk Hogan 28 days later. This led to an eventual rivalry with Sgt. Slaughter in a heavily nationalistic rivalry. This culminated in a Boot Camp match at Madison Square Garden, which his American opponent won. Teaming with Nikita Volkoff, he took on and beat the U.S. Express at the first WrestleMania and in doing so the foreign team left with the gold.
‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia is arguably the ‘doyen’ of the Maivia/Johnson wrestling dynasty, of which The Rock is a part. Father-in-law of Rocky Johnson and grandfather of the Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment, without him there would be no Dwayne Johnson. The Samoan-born, New Zealand-trained Maivia won multiple championships in both the South Pacific and in Hawaii. He claimed many titles in the west coast of America including the NWA Tag Team Championship with Pat Patterson. He became nationally renowned when he joined the WWF. For a time, he teamed with Bob Backlund, but later turned on his ally when Bob won the WWF Title.
As prolific as he was as a wrestler, Maivia was also successful outside of the squared circle. He trained Afa of the Wild Samoans as well as his future son-in-law Rocky Johnson. He also found success as a promoter of NWA Hawaii and had a cameo in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice. This was not the last time that his likeness was featured on the silver screen. He was the inspiration behind the characterisation of the demigod of the wind and sea Maui in Moana, as The Rock revealed. His grandson also inducted Maivia into the same Hall Of Fame class as Rocky Johnson, with both family members inducted together.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) October 3, 2017
Wild Samoans – Afa and Sika, played by John Tui and Fasitua Amosa
The locker room, they say, can feel like a family. This is no more pertinent than it is for brothers of the Anoa’i family, Afa and Sika. As nephews of Peter Maivia, they were no strangers to the wrestling world. Afa was the first of the two to learn the ways of the squared circle. Maivia and their cousin Rocky Johnson trained Afa, who in turn trained younger brother Sika.
Initially competing at Stampede Wrestling, they went on to debut in WWF in 1979. Led by manager Captain Lou Albano, the grunting pair quickly rose the ranks of the WWF. In total, they had three reigns with the WWF World Tag Team Championships. The first was in 1980, where they beat Ivan Putski and Tito Santana to claim gold. The final time they were champions was in 1983. They lost to Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas on that occasion.
Once done with active wrestling the two brothers became trainers. Between them, they have trained superstars that have won over 50 WWF/E Championships combined. The stars they have trained include Rikishi, Batista and Roman Reigns. In 2007, the Wild Samoans were inducted into the Hall Of Fame by Afa’s son ‘Samu’ and Sika’s son ‘Rosey’. Afa also set up a charity called the Usos Foundation, which provided scholarships to join the Wild Samoan Pro-Wrestling Training Center.
André The Giant, played by Matthew Willig
Although not featured directly in episode one, Andre does appear in the teaser for the following week. The ‘Eighth Wonder Of The World’ was born in France and already at the age of 12 was 6’2″. At one point during his childhood, he was driven to school by famed playwright Samuel Beckett [writer of Waiting For Godot]. Andre Rousimoff owed his size in part to suffering from acromegaly, but this was incredibly marketable in the wrestling world. He commenced wrestling at the age of 18 and quickly made a name for himself in Canada and Japan.
In 1973, he joined the WWF, which was being run by Vince McMahon Sr. at the time. Once he signed, he stayed with the company for 20 years and reportedly turned down an offer to play in the NFL. Billed as undefeated for nearly 15 years, he took on and beat many stars, including Hulk Hogan. He was one of the first wrestlers to enjoy mainstream success, making appearances in both TV and Film. His most famous role was as the giant Fezzik in Princess Bride.
He enjoyed two championship victories in the WWF, firstly the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. He relinquished this almost immediately to Ted DiBiase. The other title he claimed was the WWF World Tag Team Championship with Haku. They lost this at WrestleMania VI and Andre became a crowd favourite once more. In 1993, after his passing, Andre became the very first inductee into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
Vince McMahon, played by Adam Ray
The man who’s name is synonymous with the WWE, Vincent Kennedy McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Co. from his father in the 1980s. Since then he has revolutionised the wrestling industry and made the WWF/E the juggernaut it is today. He ensured that the WWE changed from being part of the regional ‘territories’ into a national and now global entity. Although he was the owner, he didn’t stay behind the scenes in the company. He spent time on-screen as a commentator and he has never been afraid to be in the ring either.
Vince made his debut in 1998 at the tender age of 52, when he took on Stone Cold Steve Austin in a match for the WWF World Heavyweight Title. His prowess for promoting is matched by his prowess in the ring as the chairman has a Royal Rumble victory to his name, and has held both the WWF and ECW World Heavyweight Championships. There’s ‘No Chance’ that Mr. McMahon’s legacy to the wrestling business will be forgotten.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage, played by Kevin Makely
Born in 1952 as Randy Poffo, Savage was the son of another wrestler – Angelo Poffo and brother of Lanny ‘The Genius’ Poffo. Although he nearly ended up playing baseball for the Cardinals, he rejected the diamond for the squared circle. He debuted as ‘The Spider’ but later became Randy Savage upon the advice of wrestling great, Ole Anderson.
In June 1985, he joined the WWF and had the managerial services of Miss Elizabeth. He reached the finals of the ‘Wrestling Classic’, which was won by Junkyard Dog. ‘Macho Man’ won his first title, when he beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Championship. He defended his title against George ‘The Animal’ Steele at WrestleMania II and he kept hold of the title until WrestleMania III where he lost to Ricky Steamboat in a highly acclaimed match.
Upon taking the moniker of ‘Macho King’ when he beat Jim Duggan in the King of the Ring title, he took on a new manager and replaced Elizabeth with Sensational Sherri. When Savage lost his match WrestleMania VII, he was attacked by his manager until Elizabeth came back and the duo was reunited. In 1993 he transitioned to commentating alongside Vince McMahon before moving to WCW. He retired in 2004 and was post-humously inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Sgt. Slaughter, played by Wayne Mattei
Trained as a wrestler by Verne Gagne, Sgt. Slaughter was first in the Marines before he came into wrestling. One of his early, pre-Sargeant gimmicks, was as a masked wrestler called Super Destroyer Mark II. Under this guise he fought alongside and latterly against Super Destroyer Mark III. In 1980, he debuted for the WWF and made his character the Sgt. we know today, with him adopting a ‘drill-instructor’ style and berating his opponents as if they were new recruits to the Army. In his debut year with the company he was involved in programmes with some of wrestling’s luminaries such as Andre the Giant and Bruno Sammartino.
Throughout the 80s, he would do battle with the pro-Iranian Iron Sheik. They had matches right across the US and leaned heavily on the political climate of the day. Slaughter left the WWE due to a legal dispute involving the GI Joe series, which he joined and which left him unable to wrestle for WWE. Ten years after his debut for WWE, he did the unthinkable and sided with Iron Sheik and became an Iraqi sympathiser. This led to him becoming one of the most hated wrestlers after having been one of the most popular at the time. Sheik and Sgt. Slaughter eventually joined up with General Adnan to form the Triangle of Terror, who took on Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam in 1991. Since retiring from wrestling, he has become a WWE Ambassador and does charity work.
Throughout the show we also see cameos from wrestling legends who are not featured as characters within the story, often in Rocky’s imaginings from his past glory days.
He is a man who is synonymous with the wrestling industry and has one of the biggest legacies in sports entertainment. Having previously been an American Footballing prospect, he went on to professional wrestling under the tutelage of Verne Gagne. Unfortunately he was involved in a plane crash that nearly derailed his ambitions of wrestling. Reportedly, doctors told him he would never be able to wrestle again. This did not deter him and he changed his style, becoming the ‘dirtiest player in the game’.
He is a 16-time World Champion and a two-time inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame – once as a solo performer and once with the legendary Four Horsemen. ‘Nature Boy’ is still present in WWE programming – at time of writing he is the manager of Lacey Evans, who is feuding with his daughter, Charlotte Flair.
A true legend of sports entertainment, Roddy Piper headlined the very first WrestleMania show, teaming with Paul Orndorff against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. He excelled both in the ring and on the mic, as he often presented his ‘Piper’s Pit’ interview segment which always made for compelling viewing. Mr T was his opponent once more at the following WrestleMania and he retired briefly after WrestleMania III.
During his time away from the then WWF, Roddy started acting and starred in ‘They Live’ by John Carpenter. However, he came back into the fold and won the Intercontinental Championship when he beat The Mountie. He later lost the title at WrestleMania VIII to Bret Hart. Although he left WWE, he came back in 2006, when he teamed with Ric Flair and won the World Tag Team Championships at the age of 52. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005 alongside Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff.
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Another son of a former wrestler, Greg Valentine wrestled extensively for the NWA and WWE in the 70s and 80s and then for WCW in the 90s. He held multiple titles, including the Intercontinental Title, which he defended on the first WrestleMania against Junkyard Dog. He also was part of the first Starrcade show for NWA, where he defeated Roddy Piper for the United States Championship. Before either of those title reigns he teamed with Ric Flair for the NWA Mid-Atlantic World Tag Team Title.
His last mainstream match came in 2005 on an episode of Monday Night Raw at 35 years after his debut match. Since then he has wrestled extensively on the independent scene and was inducted to the 2004 Hall of Fame.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Ricky was a Hawaiian wrestler, born Richard Blood and wrestling initially under this moniker. Once he had developed his name as a wrestler, he first started to gain prominence in the Mid-Atlantic for variously named Jim Crockett promotions. Although he specialised in tag-team wrestling, he also held titles as a singles competitor. Upon joining the WWF, he was given the sobriquet of “The Dragon” and hence the dragon was born.
Steamboat is possibly best remembered for his WrestleMania III match against Randy Savage, where he won the Intercontinental Championship. Upon leaving the WWF, he joined World Championship Wrestling (later WCW). He immediately got embroiled in the NWA World Heavyweight Championship picture and beat Ric Flair for the title.
He retired from wrestling in 2004 and Steamboat became a backstage producer for the WWE as well as appearances on-screen as a guest referee on several occasions. Despite his retirement he did have one final match in 2009 teaming with Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka to take on Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXV. That same year, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Ric Flair.
King Kong Bundy
Born Christopher Pallies, Bundy was not only a wrestler, he was also an actor and stand-up comedian. He mainly wrestled during the 80s and 90s and took on Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania II. King Kong Bundy headlined the very first Survivor Series event in 1987 and ECW’s November to Remember in 1993. Although he never had the honour of being a title-holder in WWF, he was decorated in the NWA and AWA among others during his career.
Black Demon (Charlie Fulton)
Although not a major player in the wrestling business, Charlie made a name for himself as a journeyman during a career spanning over 20 years. His role was predominantly as an enhancement talent, someone who’s purpose was to make everyone else look good. He retired for health reasons in 1985, although he went on to open a training school before becoming a corrections officer in Ohio.
He retired from that in 2006 but kept busy working with independent promotions. He was described fondly by many of his peers in the business.