Dwayne Johnson is among the biggest WWE stars of all time and one of Hollywood's leading actors. However, as long time WWE fans know, The Rock struggled at points during his wrestling career and it wasn't always so obvious that he would become the mega star that he has. Years before wrestling Hulk Hogan at Toronto's Skydome in one of WrestleMania's most famous matches, or Steve Austin at the Astrodome in another iconic WrestleMania moment, Johnson was struggling as the Intercontinental Champion as fans openly revolted against his early push in 1996 and 1997.
During an Instagram question and answer session, Johnson commented on the highs and lows of his WWE career.
"My low started within about six months of my coming into the WWE," Johnson admitted. "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, babyface, fresh out of the University of Miami. I was brash, talking s--t.
"I got to the WWE and had a huge initial match. My very first match in the company was in the mecca, Madison Square Garden. It was sold out. It was one of the company's big PPVs called Survivor Series, and the company had decided I was going win the entire thing. And in order for that to happen, not only did they have to have an incredible amount of investment and confidence in you 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."
He went on to discuss his eventual Intercontinental Championship victory that happened shortly after his debut.
"So it was my very first night in the company, Survivor Series. I win the whole thing at Madison Square Garden. I got 22,000 people chanting, 'Rocky. Rocky.' I was on a high, it was like a dream because I could not believe what was happening. I was so grateful. It was so humbling," Johnson said. "And a few months later, the company decides they were gonna make me Intercontinental Champion. That's how much I was getting over, ascending in the world of professional wrestling.
"Had a phenomenal match with one of my best friends in the professional wrestling business, still today, Triple H, and again, I was on a high. Now what's interesting what was going on in that time, in the world of pro wrestling, is it started to shift, and no longer did fans want tradition. They wanted to buck tradition. They didn't like cookie-cutter. They didn't want stale. And they wanted anti-authority. Anti-authority came in the form of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
"I represented everything, at that time, that was wrong with pro wrestling, and the fans turned on me. They started chanting, 'Rocky sucks,' at every arena that I went to. Now imagine, at every arena that I went to they chanted, 'Rocky sucks,' and it was hard for me, as you can imagine psychologically, but also hard as a company. The company's scrambling like, 'what do we do?' They've never seen anything like this before. Vince McMahon said, 'I've never seen anything like this,' a visceral reaction that is so anti what we want."
He went on to recall how this entire situation caused him to question his decision to go into professional wrestling.
"It all culminated at WrestleMania. It was my very first WrestleMania as Intercontinental Champion," Johnson said. "I wrestled The Sultan, who's also Rikishi, he's my family, my ainga, and 15,000 people in Chicago were chanting 'Rocky Sucks.' And this is WrestleMania, and I remember Rikisi telling me, 'don't listen to them,' but you can't help it. You're listening to them. That was the culmination that the company felt like we can't do anything anymore with Rocky, me, Rocky Maivia. They took the belt off me. They gave it to somebody else, Owen Hart I think it was, my dear friend. Rest in peace. And I got hurt and was sent home for the summer.
"That was my low because I'm at home, I have no money and I'm thinking my wrestling career is just like my football career. It's all just gonna end before it actually begins. I'm thinking Jesus Christ like do I go to law school because I wanted to work for the CIA. Well, I can't afford law school, and my study habits were the s--ts. Do I even consider UFC? I went well, I prefer not to get punched in the face. Do I go to Japan to wrestle in Japan? I don't know even if I could do that. I'd need a fresh start."
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My career in pro-wrestling was filled with epic highs and epic lows, but all the more important were the lessons it taught me. Respond authentically. Always honor (and protect) my relationship with the people. And don’t be afraid to step away even when it’s counterintuitive. Because there’s no harder rock bottom lesson than thousands of fans chanting “Rocky sucks” in every arena across the country. That was my low. Until I became me. And that became my high. Stay healthy, my friends and thanks for all the great questions. #rockysucks #lowsbecomehighs
Eventually, Johnson realized it wasn't a personal shot at him when the fans were boo'ing. They were revolting against his television character.0comments
"So I had a lot to reconcile, but the main thing I needed to reconcile was the fans booing me," he said. "But I realized over that summer, they weren't booing. They didn't hate me for me. They didn't actually hate me. They hated that I actually wasn't being myself because I would go out as a babyface and they would be like 'Rocky sucks,' and I was told by the company, 'you gotta smile because you're happy to be there.' So I would go out and fans would chant, 'Rocky sucks,' and I would be, hey, yeah, thank you. 'Die Rocky die.' Hey, yeah. I wouldn't respond, and they hated that. Of course they did. That was my career low."
[H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcript]