The title of this very article raises a lot of questions.
How can a man who was the star of WWE for years, who has been and has continued to be one of the biggest draws in WWE history, someone who is a bona fide Hollywood star be considered overrated?
Back in the mid-1990s, WWE was a different place. Struggling to keep up with a changing world where over-the-top gimmicks and colourful characters had run their course while other companies like ECW were looking outward towards wider popular culture, the WWF (as it was) seemed like it was out of touch with its fanbase. This, combined with the company’s competition from Ted Turner’s WCW meant that the WWF was in for a rough ride unless they changed tack imminently.
Enter third-generation WWF Superstar Dwayne Johnson. Having been injured out of his college football career, Johnson followed in the footsteps of his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia and started training as a professional wrestler in earnest. The young Dwayne Johnson was truly a product of the WWF system, coming up through Jerry Lawler’s USWA promotion where he was soon signed to a WWF contract.
The Rock’s start was not without its hiccups, though. It took some time to find his groove as the seeds for revitalising the Attitude Era were sowed. As Stone Cold Steve Austin began the calculated turn to an anti-hero babyface, so too was the newly reminted Rocky Maivia, who was relentlessly booed for his clean-cut image previously, turned heel and started talking about himself in the third person as The Rock.
As mentioned in his autobiography The Rock Says, this was a move that proved a perfect fit for Johnson as The Rock character was merely an extension of the kind of smack-talking banter that he enjoyed with his college football teammates several years previously.
The Rock’s abilities on the mic were unparalleled and his promos blazed a trail in terms of defining the Attitude Era. His verbal takedowns of opponents were often brutal. His ability in front of the camera, good looks and charm were only matched by his athleticism in the ring. Considering The Rock is six-feet-five-inches tall, he was always quick on his feet with his Rock Bottom finisher often coming from out of nowhere and his ostentatious People’s Elbow providing an opportunity for grandstanding in front of the crowd which is arguably unparalleled.
A great wrestler is defined by his rivalries, of which The Rock had plenty during his career. His matches with Stone Cold Steve Austin certainly stand out to this day as some of the best quality the WWE has ever seen. Their showdown at WrestleMania 17 was one for the ages. The enmity between the blue-collar Rattlesnake and the over-the-top Brahma Bull made for compelling viewing and the two not only tore the roof off the Astrodome in Austin’s native Texas but complemented each other’s styles so well.
The Rock’s legendary match against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 18 was a real passing-of-the-torch moment. Similarities between the two could easily be struck based on their crossover Hollywood appeal alone and for Hogan to lose cleanly to The Rock given the Hulkster’s notoriety for calling the shots should not be understated.
The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment even managed to navigate his way through the absolute shower that was early 2000s WWE after Vince bought out all of his competition. The Rock’s iron man match against Triple H at Judgment Day 2000 went the full distance and, despite its typical-of-that-era interference-fest hellscape of an ending, it was an excellent match. The Rock sold like death and worked his socks off despite his longest match up until that point having been around the thirty-minute mark (again, quite typical of the WWE style).
And there are countless others. His matches against Mankind, including a potentially career-ending moment of utter madness on The Rock’s part in their ‘I Quit’ match at the 1999 Royal Rumble where instead of a pre-agreed five chair shots, The Rock delivered a brain-scrambling fifteen, also stand out. It was a moment that no one would ever forget apart from Mick Foley who was severely concussed. Their ‘Halftime Heat’ empty arena match during SuperBowl XXXIII was another ground-breaking moment for the company as such affairs are often more-hit-than-miss. The Rock’s constant smack-talking to camera certainly made for an entertaining match.
The true breakout moment for The Rock was probably the WWE takeover of Saturday Night Live in 2000, a comedy institution in the US and beyond, responsible for the breakout of comedy stars ranging from Chris Farley to Eddie Murphy. This star turn was proof that The Rock could move beyond WWE and it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. Since then, he’s been in everything from Star Trek: Voyager, playing an alien combatant in an illegal fight club in space, to his first big feature role as the Scorpion King in the Mummy franchise. The Rock continues to be a box office draw in Hollywood to this day, embodying what it means to be a true megastar.
Given his place as a wrestling legend and Hollywood star, it’s hard to argue against The Rock’s standing as one of the greatest of all time, someone who has thrown a spotlight on the industry and influenced subsequent generations with his fast-talking, layin’-the-smack-down attitude.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!