Inducted by Joey Shinobi and Samuel ‘Plan
Inductions don’t really get much simpler in the world of pro wrestling than The Rock, do they?
You want accolades? He’s a ten time world champion, a Triple Crown winner, a Royal Rumble winner. He’s main evented (count them) at five Wrestlemanias, and at the ones he didn’t, he faced Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and Evolution. And Erick Rowan. From humble beginnings as Flex Kavana, through his awkward start on the main roster as Rocky Maivia, right through to the superstar sensation that, to this day, even in Hollywood, is known simply as The Rock – the man’s commitment to squeezing every drop out of the talent that God gave him has been apparent.
When you look back at it, the transition from the white meat Rocky Maivia to the edgy, razor sharp Rock was something of a Hail Mary; had Johnson not made the change, one imagines he might have faded into midcard obscurity. He might not have made the grade, and when you consider the importance of The Rock in the story that unfolded from 1997 to 2001 in the fight for survival between WWF and WCW, there’s an argument to be made that WWF might not even be a thing anymore had The Rock not emerged from the carcass of Rocky Maivia.
All of a sudden, Rock was everything Vince McMahon has ever wanted in a WWF Superstar, and has been the measuring stick ever since. With the physique of a Roman Gladiator, the confidence and gumption on the mic to captivate audiences the world over, both live in attendance and at home on television. His pursuit of the WWF Championship was one of the most engaging facets of the industry-defining Attitude Era; while Austin vs McMahon is the enduring crown jewel of that time, The Rock was always close to them. When Austin was incapacitated by neck surgery in late 1999, it was The Rock who stepped up, providing Triple H with the perfect foil to cement himself as the top heel in the business in early 2000. By this time, Hollywood was sniffing around The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment, and in the wake of the stunning Wrestlemania 17 main event, where Stone Cold turned his back on the fans to align himself with Vince McMahon, The Rock went off to film The Scorpion King.
That was the beginning of the end, and although Rock returned that summer as the hottest free agent in the business to take a full part in the Invasion angle, by the time he’d faced Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania and then put over Brock Lesnar in a memorable Summerslam main event, the writing was on the wall. Dwayne Johnson was a wanted man in Hollywood, and with more and more offers pouring in, The Rock’s WWE stint fizzled out in 2003. Bar an appearance at Wrestlemania XX in 2004, reuniting The Rock and Sock Connection with Mick Foley, Johnson didn’t lace up his wrestling boots for seven years.
During this time, professional wrestling underwent a seismic change. The pillars of Attitude were gone; in their place, a oligopoly of main event talent that centred around Triple H, John Cena and Randy Orton. Fans tired of their dominance, and the likes of Jeff Hardy, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan flourished as a hunger for the underdog and a fresher approach developed. All three of those men could lay claim to The People’s Champion mantle that The Rock once held.
At times, Rock seemed to distance himself from wrestling. Whether this was fuelled by advisors, or simply to manage the expectations of his legion of fans desperately seeking closure on a shoo-in Hall of Fame career, it remains unclear. But one day in February 2011, magic happened. There are a handful of times I can think of when a crowd has reacted in the way it did to The Rock’s return on Monday Night Raw.
It seemed, after years of criticism from wrestling fans disappointed with The Rock’s decision to distance himself from the wrestling industry so as to help prove he could make it in Hollywood on his own merits, not only had the love for the industry truly never dissipated for the Great One – evident, I think, simply through the electrifying (mind the pun) energy he continued to bring whenever appearing for WWE – but that the fans’ love for him never did either.
Of course, his return in 2011 had some detractors, but at the box office you’d have struggled to tell: Rocky proved he was still practically unmatched, churning in huge profits during his two match series against John Cena at WrestleManias XXVIII and 29; the first of which, at least, has proven immensely, enduringly popular among fans and critics alike. And while it is his rivalry with Cena that will be most remembered from his latest stint with the company, Rocky has also returned to cross paths with the likes of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Rusev and New Day, even being able to boast the honour of having been on the receiving end of a Triple Powerbomb courtesy of that same generation’s most iconic faction, The Shield.
During these myriad encounters and matches, it has been clear that The Rock was, and is, still capable of bringing magic with him whenever he shows up – especially his legendary abilities on a live microphone. It would be remiss in this induction not take a second to recognise that few, if any man has possessed quite the same personality in their promos as the Great One. Everyone has a favourite Rocky promo, from telling the police to shove their favourite jelly doughnuts in that usual place, to proclaiming Crash Holly and Headbanger Mosh his biggest threats in Royal Rumble 2000; from recounting the story of how even God felt Billy Gunn sucked, to singing Stephanie McMahon a very special birthday song; from Undertaker tickling Kane’s nipple, to William Regal wanting to play with Kurt Angle’s ball, all the way through to Chris Jericho cooking Grade A Canadian moose piss; and, of course, the merciless, relentless impressions “of the one thing [Big Show] does do well….”
It seems bizarre to say it, but The Rock’s legacy between the ropes is perhaps less celebrated than all of the above; than the emergence of his most popular self, his return from Hollywood, his cross-over success, his box office might and so on. It should not, however, be sniffed at. As already mentioned, The Rock has accrued a raft of WrestleMania hits against all three of WWE’s most Era-defining superstars not named The Rock, at some point even beating Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena in instant classics at the Showcase of the Immortals. His rivalry with Triple H is one of the company’s most important, following the two men from their humble beginnings clashing over the Intercontinental Championship in the dying days of the New Generation Era, through their ascent towards the main event in the early days of the Attitude Era and on to their World Championship pursuits in the latter days of that same time, repeatedly offering up hit after hit after hit; and even beyond The Rock’s return in 2011, the rivalry continued to follow them like a shadow, most notably introducing Ronda Rousey to the world of WWE at WrestleMania 31. The Rock’s chemistry with Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho proved itself capable of churning out elite quality work at a moment’s notice several times over too, and these are just some of his most memorable opponents – to name all of those he put together a great match with would keep us here all day.
Arguably most importantly of all, though, no ‘top guy’ in professional wrestling’s most historically important promotion – and, by extension, arguably, no ‘top guy’ in professional wrestling ever – has done as much as willingly as The Rock in giving back. It is easy to lose sight of everyone The Rock has tried to help elevate over his years in the ring. He might have never lost to CM Punk outright, but Rocky, in the land of WWE, helped ‘put over’ and ‘get over,’ either through extended programmes or memorable television encounters, the likes of Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Billy Gunn, Jeff Hardy, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Triple H (several times over) and, yes, even The Hurricane. I cannot think of another performer in the annals of pro wrestling to have ever enjoyed as immense an amount of success and fortune as The Rock enjoyed in the cut-throat world of pro wrestling to be quite so willing, giving and capable of helping his fellow performers as the People’s Champion was. I sometimes think the man doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves in that regard.
Even now, this many words in, still we haven’t accounted for his unprecedented cross-over success in Hollywood, really the first professional wrestler to manage something that had previously appeared impossible. Nor have we taken full account of the fact that, at the height of his popularity, he quite possibly rivalled Stone Cold Steve Austin as the top dog in one of the most competitive environments the industry has ever seen. But this is just an induction, and we’ve only so much room to fill.
Let it suffice to say, then, that between his iconic work on a microphone, his achievements in victories and championships across his pro wrestling career, the box office power he’s demonstrated time after time after time, his underappreciated library of quality ring work, his almost unmatched popularity among fans, the singular nature of the narrative of his departure from and return to the industry, his willingness and record of giving back to the industry that gave him so much and his successful cross-over into mainstream pop culture, as a fan of The Rock and as a fan of pro wrestling, it is difficult for me to sit here and not call the Great One, the People’s Champion, The Rock, truly, the greatest of all-time.
In closing, my partner and I doing this induction, Joey Shinobi, usually sign off our joint work with that famous phrase “iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another.” Well, for my money, it seems more fitting today to instead say that, as much as the industry helped sharpen The Rock, The Rock helped sharpen the industry just as much. It is our honour and pleasure to induct The Rock into the LOP Hall of Fame Class of 2019.