Before he became the Hollywood household name that he is today and before he became the WWE Hall of Famer pretty much synonymous with the WWE Attitude Era during the late ’90s, The Rock was in a transitional period in his life; after receiving a full scholarship to play football at the University of Miami in 1991, and a brief stint in the Canadian Football League, The Rock followed in his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Maivia’s footsteps to become a professional wrestler. The Rock’s first gimmick in the WWE was that of a jovial babyface do-gooder using the name Rocky Maivia — the Rock’s first run in the WWE wasn’t a very successful one; the fans didn’t take to Rocky Maivia’s unremitting and contrived exuberance. In fact, the fans disliked him so much that chants of “Die Rocky Die!” and “Rocky Sucks” would erupt from the crowd anytime the “Blue Chipper” made an appearance, prompting The Rock to turn heel and become the quick-witted leader of the Nation of Domination, which led to more organic promos on the microphone, more TV time and springboarded him to stardom.
Because The Rock didn’t know whether or not he’d become as successful as he did in the industry, there was a period in his life when he thought about pursuing other career choices instead of continuing in the WWE. In fact, The Rock thought about going into mixed martial arts before his legendary WWE run. He talked about his consideration for an MMA career on a recent episode of The Joe Rogan podcast.
“[In 1997], I was still going to LA and working out,” The Rock said. “We were crossing all the MMA guys. PRIDE just opened up in Japan. I started seeing all these MMA guys going over to PRIDE. At that time, I was making $150,000 dollars wrestling 235 days a year. Do the math on that and how much you’re making per match. We start hearing, ‘these guys in PRIDE are making $250,000, $350,000, $500,000.’ I thought then, ‘F–k, I don’t think I’m going to make it in WWE. People are booing me out of the arenas. I can’t be myself. They’re telling me to f–king smile, I don’t want to f–king smile. That’s not who I am.’ I start talking to Ken Shamrock, I start talking with Mark Kerr, ‘tell me about PRIDE.’ I have this idea in my head ‘maybe I should train in MMA, go to PRIDE, and make real money and I don’t have to smile.’ I’m going to get f–ked up, knock one of my lungs loose [laughs], but I find the right coach and train. I have this whole thing in my head. I’m talking to my wife at the time, ‘I think this is the way to go. I can make real money while these fans are booing me for $150 grand.’”
Before The Rock could go ahead and pursue any plans in Pride or MMA however, WWE CEO Vince McMahon called him up and divulged his plans to reinvigorate The Rock’s wrestling gimmick and do away with the happy-go-lucky Rocky Maivia gimmick that the fans seemed uninterested in.
The Rock continued, “I get a call from Vince [Vince McMahon], ‘How is your knee?’ ‘It’s healing up.’ I don’t tell him about this idea and that I’ve been talking to Shamrock and Kerr. He says, ‘I want to try to bring you back this one time. I want to turn you heel and we have a faction called Nation of Domination, I want to have you join them and we’ll see how it works out.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ but I still have this MMA idea in my head because I want to make money and be myself. I get to the arena that night, I went to Vince and said, ‘When I go out there, can I have two minutes on the microphone?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, it’s live, all our time is allocated for.’ ‘I just need two minutes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I just want to be real and tell the fans how I feel and I needed to recalibrate things.’ He said, ‘Fine, a minute, you got it.’”
What do you think of the fact that The Rock thought about going into MMA before his legendary WWE run? Do you think he could have found any success in Pride if his pro wrestling career never took off? Let us know in the comments.