"That's blue chipper!" - Jim Ross, Survivor Series 1996.
Little did Good Ol' J.R. know that the young man at the age of twenty four whom he described as a "blue chipper" would go on to great, and nearly unmatched things, in his wrestling career. The man he described was a newcomer by the name of Dwayne Johnson.
As a soon-to-be third generation superstar, Dwayne Johnson had wrestling in his blood and natural athletic gifts in his genetics. He used those gifts to be a starting defensive player at the University of Miami (FL) for their standout Football program. He won a National Title with them and all signs were pointing to the NFL. After going un-drafted and not getting a call or contract offer, he tried his luck with the Canadian Football League. Things did not work so well there either. It was around that time that a young Dwayne Johnson began to feel a calling. One that had been there from the very start, One his Father and Grandfather had both heeded to. He began to feel the itch for professional wrestling.
After a couple years of training and bad gimmick Ideas, he was packaged as Rocky Maivia. The name was a tribute to both his Dad (Rocky Johnson) and his Grandfather ("High Chief" Peter Maivia). He made his WWF(E) debut on November 17th, 1996 at the Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden. He would go on to win the traditional Survivor Series match up that night and was talked up a lot by the announce team. He showed promise that night. A kind of promise that seemed to hold great, perhaps big things, in his future.
As 1996 gave way to 1997, Rocky Maivia was pushed to the middle card status pretty fast, winning the Intercontinental Title from Hunter Hearst Helmsley (soon to be known as Triple H) in February 1997 after being in the Wold Wrestling Federation for only three months. Things seemed to be looking up for this new star. But as the fans turn, so do the superstars.
As time went on, the fans who once loved him began to get tired of the smile laden babyface and began to chant "Rocky sucks" and "Die Rocky Die." It was a harsh but great shove into reality for Maivia and the WWF writing staff. Seeing that his current character was going nowhere, they decided to turn him heel and join the faction The Nation of Domination. What this did was give young Rocky Maivia more creative license to say and act a little more open and naturally. Now, he could use the fans venom as inspiration.
As his time in The Nation went on, people began to love to hate the newly heel Rocky. His promos and interviews were becoming very sharp, witty, and biting. But perhaps, nothing benefited his young career quite like a feud for the Intercontinental Championship with the companies rising mega star Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was in this feud that Rocky Maivia began to get a sense of what the fans wanted from a heel and what they wanted from him. It was in one promo that the industry would once again be changed forever. In a promo with Austin, Maivia would utter this iconic sentence: "Your bottom line will read this: Stone Cold Steve Austin: Has-been. Compliments of The Rock!"
It was right there that a legend was born. Most fans didn't know it, Vince McMahon didn't know it. Heck even Johnson himself didn't know it, With "The Rock" came a cocky, snorting, spitting, funny, honest, self-centered, and brash heel that the wrestling world had never seen. He referred to himself in the third person and began to mutter his own catchphrases. The fans, while supposed to be hating him and booing him, began to enjoy the fresh life in his character.
Going into 1998, with the birth of The Rock and a fresh gimmick, he began to soar to a new height in his popularity. He would become the leader of the Nation, feud with DX and hold the Intercontinental Title a few more times. After leaving the Nation, he was given babyface status only because of the crowd reactions he was getting. As he began to climb up the ranks, the WWF decided to do something bold. They were going to push him up to the big time. They were going to make him World Champion.
The setting was Survivor Series 1998. Just two years after making his WWF debut, The Rock would defeat Mankind and turn heel once again with the helps of Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon in one of the all-time great swerves in company history. He was now the main attraction in the McMahon's heel stable The Corporation. It was here that The Rock truly took off. His feuds with Mankind and Stone Cold during late-1998 to mid-1999 is what made him standout. His in-ring work got better, his mic skills had reached a level that no one is the business at that time was able to touch, and he was so bad, he was cool. The fans reacted to his "heel" character just as they had to Stone Cold's a few years back. The Rock was becoming a legend before our very eyes.
While the Corporate Champion, The Rock began to become popular despite being the heel character her was. Even though he was cowardly at times, and needed constant help to gain and retain the title, there was something the fans couldn't ignore: His charisma.
I still believe The Rock is the most original and entertaining gimmick in wrestling history. He was funny, cunning, sarcastic, and even a little annoying. The Rock managed to take all those traits and turn them into something the crowd found fun, endearing, and lovable. He was the heel the fans "loved to hate." He was booed, but his promos, catchphrases, and music garnered a good pop for a guy who was supposed to be hated by wrestling fans everywhere. His feud with Stone Cold really brought him to new heights. He was the perfect foil for the fan favorite, beer swilling, anti-hero, voice of the people. The two of them created magic with each other in the ring. No matter when or what year, there was always something special about it. I truly believe The Rock isn't the same without the history of Stone Cold to look back at.
After winning the World Title three times in a span of four months, it was time for The Rock to go on his own. After getting sick of living in The Corporation's shadow and having them cost him the title at Backlash 1999, he finally said goodbye to them with a Rock Bottom to Shane McMahon. It was that Rock Bottom that turned The Rock babyface again and made him a worldwide phenomenon.
No better example of how "over" he had become then the "This Is Your Life" segment with Mick Foley (Mankind) on a September 1999 edition of Raw is War. It was and still is the highest rated segment ever. It was The Rock giving the people twenty five minutes of fun and entertainment. A very memorable segment that only gets better with each viewing.
1999 was the year The Rock really began to feed off of the "People." He began to allow them to "sing along with "The Great One" during his catchphrases. And there were many of them:
"One-on-one with The Great One!"
"Just bring it!"
"Who in the blue hell are you?"
"It doesn't matter!"
"Know your role, and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!"
"Take (random object), shine it up real nice! Turn that sum bitch sideways, and stick it straight up your candy ass!"
"Finally!...The Rock has come back to (insert town he's in)!"
"If you smell what The Rock is cookin'!!!! "
The list goes on and on. Whatever he said, the crowd said it with him. He had them in the palm of his hand. And the crowd loved every minute of it.
As 1999 gave way to the new Millennium, Stone Cold was out of action with a real life neck injury.
It was now 2000. It was now the year of The Rock.
He became the World Champion at Backlash 2000 for the first time in a year and never looked back. He had feuds with a lot of people that year. Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Vince McMahon. None, however, were as important or as great as the feud he has with Triple H. Their back and fourth form the better part of that year is what made it (to me) the best year in wrestling and the company's history. The Rock was on fire. He didn't have a single sup par match all year.
In fact, he had some down right great matches. His promos were the best ever (and still are), his ability to put people over (even as the biggest star), and his ability to excite everyone watching was just amazing. His backstage vignettes and interviews are something special. If you haven't seen many or any of them, YouTube The Rock and watch. They are truly legendary. He carried the company and did it perfectly through the best year they ever had product wise and financially.
The year 2000 is what proves that The Rock is a legend and, right there with Stone Cold, belongs in the category with why the Attitude Era worked and was so great.
2001 and 2002 saw him keep the company steady with feuds with Stone Cold, Booker T, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Chris Jericho, Vince McMahon and even Triple H again. His promos continued to be the stuff of legends and his matches were great as well. (See: WrestleMania X-Seven vs. Austin). He would put over people like Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar and allow them to go on to win the World Title and become legends in their own right. His unselfish and unique abilities are what rose him straight to the top in the wrestling world (and soon Hollywood).
His brief, but genius return to the WWE in 2003 was something else to behold. Not only was The Rock back with a new look, but a new attitude as well. He came back as a heel of the Hollywood proportion. He was snide to the fans. He took their hate and made it into comedy. He also came back with a new and exciting edge to his promos (check out the 2003 promo in Toronto). He even managed to make The Hurricane of all people fun and gave him what was probably the biggest and only decent push he ever had.
That was the thing about The Rock, he never kept anyone down. He always made himself, and others, better. 2003 was an example of that. Which is why he was chosen as the perfect foil to go up against the newly acquired Goldberg that year. He makes people better. It was plain and simple.
What made him legendary was not his abilities in one specific area. It was taking all the skills he had in those areas and molding them all together. He may not have been the technician that a Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, or Chris Benoit was, but his matches told great stories, and he got the job done. He put people over when he probably didn't have to. I mean, the guy lost three straight WrestleMania main events (1999 - 2001).
His interviews made you love him and believe in him. Nobody got me to pay attention to a TV screen quite like The Rock. You chanted his names, recited the catchphrases and cheered upon hearing his music. He really did make it seem as though he had the actual ability to electrify someone.
He always kept me interested and excited as a fan. There was nothing boring or lame about The Rock. You cared about his character and you cared about his storylines. The Rock was someone you loved because he was the "babyface" that didn't make you sick to your stomach. His promos are legendary and from beginning to end, The Rock had me, and the millions (and millions!!!!.....) in the palm of his hand.
There was something about him. The way he dressed, the way he spoke, the facial expressions, his persona, his storytelling, his music, etc. He was and still is one of the few who fits the definition of the "complete package."
This article could go on and on, but I have decided to sum up my feelings on him to end this:
For all the things he did for me as a fan, and for the company in general, I want to thank him and invite all his other fans to read this and remember him and talk about how great he was. I miss him every time I watch or think about wrestling. I think that in itself is a testament to how much he will mean to the world of wrestling, and to me, forever.
Their have been many before and many since, but there will truly never be anyone quite like The Rock. Since his debut in 1996, to leaving for good in 2003 to pursue a career in Hollywood, very few who watched him perform don't miss him. When I think about what he was and what he still is to the world of Sports Entertainment, I think about how no one made it quite as exciting as The Rock. Actually, exciting is a disservice. I meant to say electrifying.