Long before taking WWE and Hollywood by storm, Dwayne Johnson was a young upstart in the professional wrestling business, making his WWE debut at Survivor Series in 1996 under the name Rocky Maivia in tribute to his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia. The first third generation star to enter the company, Johnson debuted in the role of a smiling babyface, teaming with Jake Roberts, Marc Mero, and The Stalker to defeat the team of Crush, Goldust, Jerry Lawler, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Maivia emerged victorious as the sole survivor of the match.
Despite his babyface persona, WWE crowds quickly turned on Dwayne Johnson‘s Rocky Maivia personality, leading to him eventually turning heel and become The Rock after hearing chants of “Die Rocky die.”
Vince McMahon Gave Dwayne Johnson One Particular Instruction During His Initial Babyface Run
During a recent interview with The New York Times, Dwayne Johnson was asked if he learned to embrace being booed during his time as a heel. The star opened up about his heavily-criticized babyface run prior to turning heel, and said that Vince McMahon had one piece of advice for him when it came to playing the role of a hero – a piece of advice that led to him being mercilessly booed everywhere he went.
“Before I became a great bad guy, I came in as the babyface [the good guy]. I was told, ‘You can’t smile enough.’ Vince McMahon told me that. ‘You have to go out there and be grateful to be here.’ I was booed in every arena across the country. So I did have to withstand that kind of vitriol. By the time I did turn heel, I couldn’t have opened my arms wider to get them boos, to come in and embrace them.”
Despite being booed by fans, Rocky Maivia went on to win the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 13 in 1997 when he defeated The Sultan, who would go on to become Rikishi. He lost the title shortly thereafter, losing to Owen Hart on the April 28th episode of Raw. After suffering a knee injury, Dwayne Johnson returned to WWE the following August, finally turning heel and allowing fans to boo him properly for the first time when he joined the Nation of Domination.
Johnson’s daughter Simone is currently signed to WWE NXT, where she performs under the name Ava Raine.