Nowadays, Dwayne Johnson is as big an actor as Brad Pitt or George Clooney. In other words, he’s someone whose name alone can – and has – attracted millions of people to cinemas around the globe. While he’s starred in many an uninspired, action-packed tentpole, the 6 foot 5, 260 pound actor has also landed roles in some delightfully cinematic films – like the Jumanji franchise and Disney’s Moana – that would doubtlessly not have been the same without him.
Many trace his career as a performer back to his experience as a WWE fighter, but while the man formerly known as The Rock is now remembered as the king of the wrestling ring, he wasn’t always. As part of an Instagram Q&A, Johnson took fans through the peaks and valleys of his fighting days and – needless to say – it’s the valleys that attracted the most attention.
“My low started within about six months of my coming into the WWE,” the actor said. “I came in like a bat out a hell. I mean I came in like a runaway train rolling down that track. I was this young rookie, baby-face, fresh out of the University of Miami. I was brash, talking s–t.”
Johnson goes on to describe his first WWE match ever. Rather than going easy on this “rookie,” his managers decided it was a good idea to make him a gladiator of their next Survivor Series, in which a single wrestler must withstand waves of opponents. And Johnson recalls how the stares from his enemies were almost as nerve-wrecking as those coming from the stands.
“Not only did they have to have an incredible amount of investment and confidence in you,” he reflected, “but also the locker room has to buy into it too. All of my fellow wrestlers had to buy into it from The Undertaker to Triple H to Stone Cold Steve Austin, everybody was in the locker room in that time. The ones who I mentioned certainly did get behind it, some others didn’t but that’s OK. Eventually I persevered through that.”
The culture and history of WWE is surprisingly complex. Like a longstanding TV show, fans have ingrained opinions about whom they like and whom they don’t, and The Rock – as difficult as it is to imagine today – was definitely disliked. A newbie having come to challenge familiar faces, Dwayne Johnson fought the toughest battle of them all with his own audience. However, as the rest of his career implies, people eventually got around to him, and the rest is history.