There is a case to be made for several men as the greatest professional wrestler of all-time. Your grandfather might tell you about Buddy Rogers or Lou Thesz. Your dad can spin tails about the amazing Ric Flair and "Handsome Harley Race." A vampire or the Highlander might even make an argument for Jim Londos or Frank Gotch.
But to me, the Rock stands alone at the top of the list. With apologies to Lex Luger, the "Great One" was the real total package.
What makes him the greatest of all-time? Read on, reminisce and enjoy.
From the very beginning, the Rock stood out as something special. Maybe it was genetics. After all, he's the son of Rocky Johnson and the grandson of Peter Maivia, both WWE Hall of Famers. Maybe it was, rather, hours of hard work training with Tom Pritchard before he made his debut? Maybe it was a combination of nature and nurture?
Regardless, the Rock, as Rocky Maivia, came out of the gate like a ball of fire.
The Rock gets a big push from the very beginning.
The WWE tried their best to get the Rock over, but techniques that worked like a charm in the 1970's and 1980's just weren't effective in the cynical 1990's. The crowd simply wouldn't accept the Rock as a good guy the way he was portrayed; not in a world that had "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as its lead babyface.
The Rock would have to learn to deal with adversity and a riled-up crowd early in his career. Trying to gauge their mood would work wonders for a young wrestler who would later have the audience in the palm of his hand.
When Rocky was offered a chance to turn heel, he leapt in with both feet. The plain jane babyface just wasn't him. But a trash talking, ultra-confident athlete who knows he's good? That was an extension of Rock's real personality. And the best wrestling characters are born out of truth.
The Nation of Domination was supposed to be Ron Simmon's (as Farooq) group. It was an ensemble, a holding grounds for wrestlers of color that didn't have anything else to do or anyplace else to be on Monday night. But it didn't take long for Rock to make the group his own, both in real life and in storyline.
The deadly serious, and deadly dull, NOD was soon one of the highlights of Raw thanks to Rock's clever work on the mic. It was becoming clear, as he turned on Farooq and took control of the stable, that the Rock was something special.
The Rock was just learning, but he was a charismatic performer on the microphone early on.
Every great wrestler needs a rival. While Rock would have several over his career, the first wrestler who really pushed him was HHH. Both were rising young stars, and their battles raged both in the ring and behind the scenes as they each fought for position.
It's one thing to be good. Lots of guys are good. But only the top guys bring out the best in their opponents. The Rock was so good, so funny, that he inspired DX to do some of their best work.
When you are too good as a bad guy, the fans have a tendency to try to turn you. The WWF had seen it in the 1970's with "Superstar" Billy Graham and with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. It happened to Ric Flair as a matter of routine. And, without fail, it happens to the Rock.
The WWF needed a way to keep Rock as a bad guy, especially if they wanted to successfully feud him with Austin.
Enter Vince McMahon. At the 1998 Survivor Series, the Rock was revealed as Vince's lackey, the "Corporate Champion." It was a brilliant move to keep heel heat on the Rock.
Sometimes it's the little things that mean so much. The Rock matters so much to the crowd, his every move is scrutinized so carefully, that something as small as lifting an eyebrow can become iconic.
Can you do it? I, alas, can not.
Mick Foley says his job was to prepare the Rock for Stone Cold Steve Austin. When the Rock hit the ring against Austin, the fans should think of him as the baddest man walking. Mission accomplished. Rock took Foley's generous offer to make him look good and used it for all it was worth.
Poor Mick Foley. This Rock Bottom was just the beginning.
Despite his rough-and-tumble ladder match with HHH and the beatings he delivered to Mankind, Rock still seemed more like a comedian than a tough guy.
That impression changed after their "I Quit" match in 1999. Rock beat Foley like a government mule and showed the world a guy could smile and still be a violent lunatic.
Wrestling was so big in this era, they took on the Super Bowl halftime show—with great results. Mankind and Rock, in an ode to a Jerry Lawler-Terry Funk classic, beat each other up and down an empty arena.
Behind the scenes, Rock was in a fierce battle with Steve Austin for the top spot in the company. Austin, according to Rock, used to sign all of his autographs "Stone Cold No. 1." Rock wanted that honor for himself.
At Wrestlemania XV, though, Rock wasn't quite ready to assume Austin's place at the top of the ladder. The Texas Rattlesnake was one of the biggest stars in history for a reason. The Rock would have to settle for second.
When it was Austin or HHH's time to shine, Rock always found something interesting to do with his time. Who could forget his tag team with Mick Foley, dubbed the "Rock and Sock Connection." The two were polar opposites and played off each other brilliantly.
Amazingly, almost none of their interplay was scripted. The two went out and winged it, never failing to bring the house down.
Vince McMahon was furious about how long this segment went. Until the ratings came in. An 8.4 in the Nielsen Ratings tends to change a man's mind quickly.
Poor Michael Cole. Poor Jonathan Coachman. Poor Lilian Garcia. If you were assigned to interview the Rock, things were going to get ugly quickly. The Rock poked, prodded, flirted with and generally wreaked havoc on any and every announcer he talked to. And the crowd loved every minute.
No one before or since has been better than the Rock at making the crowd part of his act. The Rock didn't just have one audience participation catchphrase. He had a handful. When the Rock was in town, everyone was a star. It was singalong with the Rock, and we all loved it.
Do you like this slideshow? IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU LIKE THIS SLIDESHOW!
This doesn't strictly matter when you judge all-time greats. But you can't say the Rock didn't have an entertaining wardrobe. Bright, shiny, patterned, XXXL, the Rock wore them all. Top three buttons optional.
In 2000, the Rock became just the second wrestler to host Saturday Night Live. He was great, so good that it spelled the beginning of the end for his wrestling career. Offers started coming in, and Rock became a wrestler/actor, then an actor/wrestler and finally, just an actor.
The Rock as President.
Let's face it, by WrestleMania 18, Hulk Hogan had gone past washed-up into brand-new categories of ineptitude. He was broken down, his gimmick was stale and he hadn't had an entertaining match in ages.
Enter the Rock.
The two brought the house down in Toronto, miraculously producing one of the best matches in WrestleMania history. They say Ric Flair could carry a broom to a great match. But he couldn't have carried that version of Hogan. Rock did.
These videos really emphasized the athleticism of these two great wrestlers.
When it was time to build a new generation of stars, the Rock went willingly to his doom. He put over Brock Lesnar, not only losing his title belt, but also his claim to being the youngest champion in WWE history.
It's that kind of selflessness, perhaps the product of knowing you will be over no matter what, that made the Rock such a valuable commodity for the WWE.
He had lost twice before at WrestleMania to his greatest rival. But finally, at WrestleMania 19, the Rock beat Austin in the center of the ring. It was Austin's last match and a fitting way for the great champion to close his Hall-of-Fame career.
He's handsome. Talented. Muscular. Charming. Witty. Clever. Athletic. Does he really have to be a good guitar player and singer too? The Rock can truly do it all. It's what makes him so special.
Dwayne Johnson is a unique talent. I look forward to seeing him on the silver screen and in the ring for years to come.