If one were to conceptualize professional wrestling’s Mount Rushmore, there’s absolutely no doubt that one of the heads would be that of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson was in the unique position to have an almost parallel career trajectory to that of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, ironic for the fact that Austin was The Rock’s greatest rival. Indeed, The Rock was the “Macho Man” Randy Savage to Stone Cold’s Hulk Hogan, or the Lita to his Trish Stratus. Most of the greatest stars could only have become so successful with a dance partner of equal talent, and without The Rock we would likely have no Steve Austin.
The Rock is revered the world over as one of the greats. Like Steve Austin, The Rock has had very few hiccups in his career that linger on the lips of wrestling fans. The “Great One” has had a distinguished enough career that his successes have far overshadowed his failures, mostly because he hasn’t had that many failures to begin with. Dwayne Johnson retired at a young age from wrestling because by that time he had already done everything there was for a WWE Superstar to do and he’d done it exceptionally well.
Despite all the doubters, Johnson moved on from wrestling to a massively successful film career, becoming one of the most sought-after men in Hollywood. But with all that success and the respect he’s garnered in both the wrestling and movie industries, even The Rock has had his share of stumbles. Here are the greatest ups and worst downs of his career.
15. Up: First Intercontinental Championship
In 1997 there would be a special edition of Raw called “Thursday Raw Thursday,” and it was on that night when the ball got rolling on the iconic career of Dwayne Johnson. Only three months into his WWE career, The Rock, known then as Rocky Maivia, was set to challenge Triple H, at that time known as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, for theIntercontinental Championship in a match that would serve as a precursor to one of the hottest rivalries in the careers of both men.
Rocky Maivia won that match in a huge upset for 1997, leaving with the first championship in a long and illustrious career full of them. For The Rock to be entrusted with the prestigious Intercontinental Championship was a massive vote of confidence from the company, an honor which has become the peak of many a wrestler’s professional life. However, The Rock ran with it and became one of the biggest stars of all time.
14. Down: The Fanny Pack Photo
In an utterly humiliating moment that has no bearing whatsoever on his actual wrestling career but is completely embarrassing on a personal level, a photograph “leaked” online in 2014 which completely flew in the face of Dwayne Johnson’s famous sense of class and his flair for style. The picture was an old shot of The Rock from some time in the 1990s wearing his hair all done up, a shiny necklace over top of a turtleneck sweater, and his elbow resting on a towel (so as not to get his turtleneck dirty, of course). But the real kicker was the worst of all crimes against humanity and fashion alike: a fanny pack.
In a sick twist, it turns out that Dwayne himself posted this photo to the internet, knowing the scrutiny it would come under. He uploaded the shot to his Instagram account with the message, “WTF.” Days later, Johnson would be asked about the photo by Jimmy Fallon, and while Johnson wouldn’t provide much of an explanation, he did clarify (hopefully jokingly) hat the fanny pack held Pop Tarts and condoms. The Rock was obviously making fun of himself by uploading this photo, but it remains so bad that it has to be seen as a low point.
13. Up: Iron Man Match versus Triple H
Years after The Rock first grabbed a bit of the spotlight by winning the Intercontinental Championship from Triple H, he was all set to meet The Game again, only this time in the most taxing type of match the masterminds at WWE have ever dreamt up: an Iron Man match. In this match, both competitors would wrestle for an entire hour and the man with the most victories in that time period would win and leave with the WWE Championship.
The Rock and Triple H had already become fierce rivals by this point in time; in fact, they are seen as having one of wrestling’s most legendary feuds as they seemed to keep crossing paths. The Iron Man match was a barn burner, memorable enough on its own, even before the return of the Undertaker, who had been missing in action for months. Despite the chaos in the match’s closing moments, the showdown between these two wrestling titans goes down in history as an all-time great.
12. Down: Halftime Heat
In 1999 at the height of the Attitude era, WWE decided it was time to get into the business of leeching off the Super Bowl audience by putting on a match during halftime on a show called “Halftime Heat.” That match would see The Rock fighting one of his most popular opponents of all time in Mick Foley, then under the Mankind persona, in an “empty arena” match. It sounds awkward, and that’s probably because it absolutely was.
Just as the name implies, the arena was completely empty, and because there was not a soul in the audience there was no reaction. That alone is jarring to any wrestling fan viewing from home, but it’s not as if the fight stayed in the ring for very long anyway. The battle tore through the entire arena and had the silliest ending of just about any wrestling match to ever take place when Mankind used a forklift to lower cargo onto The Rock in order to pin him. To make matters worse, the camera theatrically zoomed in on The Rock’s face as the cargo was lowered, showing the world what goofy face a man makes when he loses the WWE Championship.
11. Up: SummerSlam 2002 versus Brock Lesnar
In 2002 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was on his way out of professional wrestling and headed for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. As is a common practice in wrestling when a legend is ready to leave the company, The Rock was about to do a major favor for one of WWE’s hottest new stars, Brock Lesnar, at the second biggest show of the year, SummerSlam.
Lesnar was still considered a rookie at this time, dubbed “The Next Big Thing” by Paul Heyman, who managed him since the beginning of his career. Brock had been ripping through the competition on his rapid rise to the top of the card and he was ready to take the crown, which is exactly what he did when he defeated The Rock in one of SummerSlam’s most historic contests. The Rock was about to bring to a close his full-time career as one of WWE’s most popular icons, but before he did that, he helped make a star who still proves to be one of the company’s biggest draws in 2016.
10. Down: Ending CM Punk’s WWE Title Reign
In a situation quite the opposite from the time he lost the WWE Championship to a young Brock Lesnar in order to make him a huge star in 2002, The Rock returned to WWE in 2013 and managed to sweep the rug out from under WWE’s biggest Superstar at the time. CM Punk had been the longest reigning WWE Champion in decades, and for good reason; he’d captivated the crowd like no one else with his honest promos which skirted the line of reality and fiction and mesmerized them with his ability to have amazing matches with just about anyone he faced.
And then, The Rock was set to challenge him for the title. It was heavily rumored that The Rock was promised a run with the WWE Championship by Vince McMahon, so everyone knew it was coming, but that made it no less heartbreaking when The Rock defeated Punk at the Royal Rumble taking the title and snuffing out Punk’s momentum. CM Punk would never return to his top spot in WWE, and it’s all thanks to the major push received by The Rock which no part time performer should get.
9. Up: WrestleMania XIX versus Steve Austin
Dwayne Johnson’s wrestling career has seen him become one of the most popular performers in WrestleMania’s long, rich past. Ever since his first appearance at WrestleMania where he defeated The Sultan to retain the Intercontinental Championship, he’s gone on to compete in many of the annual event’s most memorable showdowns. Three of those WrestleMania appearances saw him face perhaps his greatest rival, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
The third and final time The Rock would meet Austin on the grand stage was in 2003 at WrestleMania XIX. The Rock was playing the antagonist for the first time in years and his goal was to finally defeat the Rattlesnake at WrestleMania, which he’d not been able to do the first two times they met. The Rock pulled out all the stops and picked up the win in an instant classic of a match, one that would be remembered fondly as the last match Steve Austin would ever wrestle.
8. Down: Tooth Fairy
When Dwayne Johnson left WWE for Hollywood in the early 2000s few knew just how big a movie star he would become. The Rock has starred in so many blockbusters that he is now one of the most in-demand stars on the movie scene, but as is the case with anyone who has been in as many films as Dwayne Johnson, not all of them were winners.
In 2010 Johnson would appear in a film which he’d have a hard time living down. That film was called Tooth Fairy and it saw The Rock playing a hockey player who is punished for his bad decisions by being forced to be a don a skin-tight pink ballerina costume and tutu with wings and become a tooth fairy. The performance was so embarrassing that it was still being made fun of sometime later on WWE television when John Cena referenced the movie in a controversial promo before their first showdown at WrestleMania XXVIII.
7. Up: Joining the Corporation
The Rock is one of the most notorious “good guys” in all of pro wrestling, but it’s important to remember that he also had several runs as a villain, each seeing varying degrees of success. One of those runs as a heel provided The Rock the platform to establish the version of his character that eventually made him such a beloved WWE Superstar, and it happened when he aligned himself with Vince and Shane McMahon.
It was 1998 and the show was Survivor Series, one year after the infamous “Montreal screw job,” and there was about to be another one. Vince McMahon called for the bell when The Rock locked in a Sharpshooter on Mankind, as if Mankind had tapped out when he really didn’t. It paralleled the previous year’s drama involving Bret Hart and fans were furious when it was revealed The Rock had joined forces with Vince and was rewarded with the WWE Championship. It put The Rock on the map and was one of the most important moments of his wrestling tenure.
6. Down: Rocky Maivia
In 1996 WWE still had a death grip on the cartoon era of wrestling. The competition, WCW, had its finger on the pulse of the wrestling fandom and knew what it wanted to see, but Vince McMahon’s corporate giant was not willing to accept it, at least until they were forced to upon the inception of the Attitude era. Until then, we were stuck with campy, wacky characters like “The Blue Chipper” Rocky Maivia.
Maivia, Dwayne Johnson’s first WWE ring persona, debuted at the 1996 Survivor Series and viewers quickly realized he was bland at best. His name came from his father, Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather, Peter Maivia, and that’s about as interesting as the story got. Rocky was full of smiles and generic charisma, and WWE soon gave him a total character makeover which would see him to great heights. That first gimmick, however, is one of the low points in Dwayne Johnson’s career.
5. Up: Icon versus Icon
When it was announced that the New World Order would be coming to WWE, initial excitement among the WWE Universe eventually turned to dread. After all, the nWo was a moment in time during the Monday night war between WWE and WCW; it was the silver bullet that got WCW ahead in the ratings, and WWE wasn’t likely to be able to duplicate that magic. Those doubters were absolutely correct because it went almost nowhere. It did, however, lead to something magnificent.
Leading the nWo, Hollywood Hulk Hogan faced WWE’s most electrifying Superstar, The Rock, at WrestleMania X8 in a match billed as “Icon versus Icon.” The Rock was as big a hero as they came in WWE at this point in time, and Hogan was playing the heel. That, however, did nothing to stop the WrestleMania crowd from chanting the way they wanted to chant. Fans watched as, right before their eyes, Hulk Hogan naturally became a babyface again as the audience cheered him and booed The Rock. Despite drawing the heat of the live crowd that night, The Rock was part of something special that no wrestling fan could ever forget.
4. Down: Getting Booed with Roman Reigns
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a hero to the WWE Universe. In fact, that could be an understatement. The Rock is one of those WWE Superstars who can just seem to do no wrong in the eyes of the fans. He’d had a few heel runs in his career and was booed against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8, but in all fairness, Hogan is another wrestler the fans can’t stay mad at for very long. Generally, The Rock is a sure-fire crowd pleaser, especially after retiring from full-time competition.
The Rock’s cousin, Roman Reigns, has always had a rough time getting the WWE Universe behind him. As the least popular member of The Shield, the fans began turning on Reigns when it became clear WWE favored him over the other members, but Vince McMahon was determined to get the crowd to cheer him. Vince hatched a plan to help Roman get cheered when he won the 2015 Royal Rumble match, a plan which saw The Rock make a special surprise appearance to celebrate with his cousin in hopes that his presence would garner some cheers for Reigns, but the fans just booed harder. They hated Roman Reigns so bad that they actually began booing their beloved Dwayne Johnson, certainly an embarrassment for The Rock.
3. Up: WrestleMania X-Seven versus Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is undoubtedly The Rock’s most legendary rival and especially his most important WrestleMania opponent. Austin and The Rock wrestled three times at WrestleMania before their respective wrestling careers came to a close, but the consensus among the WWE Universe seems to be that the match that stands above the others was the second matchup, which took place in 2001 at WrestleMania X-Seven.
The match was a thrilling roller coaster ride; the two real life friends always had excellent chemistry and this time they were particularly killing it, but the fans were in for a huge surprise on this night when Vince McMahon, arch rival to Stone Cold and one-time ally to The Rock, walked to the ring and helped Austin win, turning Austin heel in the process. A villainous Steve Austin was a concept so alien to wrestling fans that no one saw it coming and together, Austin and The Rock created perhaps the most memorable night in WrestleMania’s storied history.
2. Down: The Rock versus John Cena 2
Wrestling fans have been sick and tired of seeing John Cena do the same exact thing and stay miles ahead of their favorite Superstars for over a decade now, but when The Rock showed up for a dream match against Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII, the WWE Universe was willing to give the situation the benefit of the doubt. It was a legendary happening, the clashing of two icons of separate eras and appropriately billed as “Once in a Lifetime.”
Except it wasn’t once in a lifetime, now was it? Because they did it all over again the next year. The same exact match between two guys who had been around for a very long time were dominating the WrestleMania main event two years in a row, taking that opportunity from younger, full-time stars. Though the match mostly went off without a hitch, few really cared all that much the second time around and WrestleMania 29 is seen as one of the dullest WrestleManias of all time. Fans were more than ready for something new and exciting, but John Cena and The Rock did not fit that description.
1. Up: This Is Your Life
The Rock is known for his special moments, but in September of 1999 he would be a part of something so unforgettable that it would outshine all of his classic battles throughout the years. He shared the stage with one of his all-time greatest rivals, Mankind, who also turned out to be his most popular tag team partner. The soft-hearted Mankind wanted to show his appreciation for his more arrogant tag team partner by throwing him a party in the form of a life retrospective. He called it, “This Is Your Life.”
Mankind introduced The Rock’s former teacher and his high school sweetheart, among others, and one by one The Rock dismissed them all in hilarious fashion. Mankind even brought out his beloved clown friend, Yurple, which did nothing to please The Rock. It was one of the most watched segments in the history of Monday Night Raw, a fact which stands over twenty-three years since the show’s first episode, and was perhaps the most memorable moment in the careers of both Mankind and The Rock.
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