The Rock has taken to social media to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his professional wrestling debut – claiming he was so broke, he resorted to wearing volleyball knee pads.
In a recent Instagram post, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson marked the anniversary by detailing the moments surrounding the time period. Famously, Jim Ross signed ‘The Great One’ after Johnson was cut from The Calgary Stampeders, ending a potential NFL career. With only seven dollars to his name, The Rock would sign with WWF in 1996.
Recalling his debut, The Rock remembers borrowing gear from the legendary Haku, as well as being introduced by his real name. Despite the match being his first ever, The Rock remembers a surprising lack of nerves, heading into the bout:
“25 years again TODAY, I had my first ever pro wrestling match in 1996 in front of 15,000 people in Corpus Christi, Texas for @WWE. Not only had I never wrestled an actual real match before, but I had NEVER wrestled in front of people. And I was so broke, the only thing I could afford to buy was a pair of white volleyball knee pads 🤣🤦🏽♂️
I called my uncle, “King Haku” (pictured with Andre the Giant) and asked if I could borrow a pair of his wrestling trunks (he loved purple) and I borrowed a pair of my dads old wrestling boots that his tag team partner, George Wells used to wear (pictured in the ring). I remember before the match not being nervous at all – I could feel my adrenaline pump hard, but I was eerily calm. Told myself over and over, just go out there and be sharp and confident with your moves and block out the noise.
That was a good strategy because the very first thing I heard when I walked thru the curtain as my name was announced to the arena, “Dwaaaaaayne Johnsoooon” was “YOU FUCKING SUCK” from a drunk fan 😂😂😂 True story 👍🏾
Man I look at this picture in complete awe and gratitude for the wild, unpredictable journey and at times – the tough roads this hard working, fanny pack wearing kid would go down. And for the record, the man I’m wrestling is the legendary Brooklyn Brawler. He was gracious enough to let me win my first ever match. Which is why it was important to me to lost my very last match. May sound strange, but that’s how you give back to the wrestling business when you leave it.
You lose. And you move on down the road.
Following his victorious debut at a house show in Corpus Christi, The Rock would make his television debut with the company at Survivor Series shortly after. Billed as ‘Rocky Maivia’, he was heralded as the first third-generation Superstar in WWF history.
During a 2019 episode of ‘Grilling JR’, Jim Ross recalls his first meeting with Dwayne Johnson, long before he would become the most electrifying man in sports entertainment:
“I was at a little restaurant near Davie, Florida, where he was living. And we went to this little Cuban restaurant to eat, he and I. And I took him, and I remember vividly what he ordered. He ordered like three breasts of grilled chicken, black beans, and yellow rice and a great deal of sweet tea.
So I said a lot like that women in When Harry Met Sally, I said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ Gonna be a big shot, right? Except, he had his tank top on. If i had been wearing a tank top, people would’ve thought I just had a litter of pups and would’ve run their ass out of the restaurant. So in any event, every woman in the house — and some that didn’t even work there — came by our table to see if we needed more water and tea just to get a look at him.”
Ross recalls that, following the meeting, it became imperative to sign this promising young talent. Admitting that many performers initially begin on smaller contacts, Jim Ross revealed the reasoning behind offering The Rock a larger, lucrative deal:
“A lot of guys we paid $300 a week to get started, but Dwayne was not one of those guys. Dwayne got a lot more money than that because — the playing the games, the negotiating game, it’s like I told Vince, ‘I’m going to pay this guy X. It was six figures. And we’re not going to have to worry about him going to the other guys or looking around. Let’s just shut this deal down right away,’ and so we did. We shut it down right away. And that’s when — I was gonna buy lunch.
We shook hands, we had a deal, and he said, ‘I’d like to buy lunch, but I don’t have any money.’ Another statement you’ll never hear him say anymore. And he says, ‘I’ve got seven bucks to my name,’ which by the way, is the name of his production company, Seven Bucks Entertainment, a little bit of trivia for you.
But Dwayne was a can’t-miss. So, I didn’t want him back on the market. I wanted to close our deal. And I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that we had — I believe I called home office in Stamford and had them wire a bonus check — a signing bonus — to the guys that count. It ingratiated us. It was the right thing to do, and we gout our guy. So, successful mission on that behalf, all over those chicken breasts and those black beans and rice.”
The Rock would go on to become one of the biggest names in professional wrestling and Hollywood alike. During his legendary career, ‘The Great One’ would become a triple crown Champion, capturing the Intercontinental, Tag Team, WCW and WWE Championship on multiple occasions. Headlining countless pay-per-views, his rivalries with the likes of Mankind, Triple H, Hulk Hogan and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin would produce some of wrestling’s all time classic matches and moments.
A sure-fire Hall of Famer, The Rock stepped away from a full time WWE schedule in 2004 to pursue a career in Hollywood. Becoming one of entertainments highest paid actors. Officially retiring from professional wrestling in 2019, Dwayne Johnson’s incredible journey has taken him from a blue chipper rookie in the WWF to a household name across the world.
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