20 Surprising Facts About The Rock's Athletic Career
Dwayne Johnson, better known as "The Rock," has done just about everything there is to do. He went from being a football star to a WWE Superstar to a Hollywood megastar thanks to a combination of hard work, athleticism, charisma and self-confidence.
He won a national championship at the University of Miami, became the most popular wrestler in WWE history and today is the highest-paid actor in the world. If that’s not enough, The Rock also was named The Sexiest Man Alive by People and boasts over 150 million Instagram followers.
The Rock is a global icon, but he’s still an athlete at heart. In fact, he would not be "The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment" without his athletic achievements and disappointments.
Dwayne Johnson Was Born Into Greatness.
If there is a first family of wrestling, it is the Anoa’i family. The family originates from American Samoa and The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia, was the blood brother of Amituana Anoa’i, the patriarch of the family.
The family has boasted dozens of wrestlers over the years, including Roman Reigns, Yokozuna and The Usos, all of whom are The Rock’s cousins. On the other side of The Rock’s family, he is a cousin to WWE Superstar Nia Jax.
Even WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, though not Samoan, was related to The Rock through marriage. Rock affectionately called Snuka "Uncle."
A Young Rock Kept Moving.
The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, was a wrestler and often had to relocate in order to work for a different promotion. That meant that a young Rock (aka "The Pebble") was often on the move.
He was born in Northern California and lived in New Zealand, Connecticut, Tennessee, Hawaii and Pennsylvania all before turning 18. He attended two high schools in Nashville, one in Honolulu and graduated from Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
As you would expect, Rock was both a wrestler and a football player in high school, but he also was a member of the track team before his body outgrew a runner’s physique.
He's Always Had a 'Just One More Set' Mentality.
You may find this hard to believe, but The Rock has been a certified meathead since his youth. While growing up around wrestlers, lifting weights was part of his daily routine just as brushing your teeth is for you or me. Thus, Rock wouldn’t let anything stop him from a workout, including a visit from a college recruiter.
Rock, who had offers to play football from Penn State, Clemson and Florida State, among others, was working out in the basement of his parent’s home when a recruiter visited to try to lure him to his school The Rock’s parents let their son know that the recruiter was there, and The Rock told them he can wait until he finished his workout.
No word on if the recruiter was ticked off or impressed with The Rock’s commitment to his workout, but he ended up signing with the University of Miami, which had just won a national championship the previous season in 1989.
Rock Got Sapped Out.
Being the physical specimen that he is, The Rock was so impressive during summer workouts at Miami that he was expected to be the team’s only freshman not to redshirt. But shoulder surgery ended that dream, and things were never the same after that.
Rock healed just fine from the surgery, but when he returned to the field, there was already a strong, new freshman that had taken his spot by the name of Warren Sapp. As Sapp recalled, he told Rock, "I'm here for your job, b---h."
And there was nothing Rock could do about it as Sapp went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. But Rock did just fine when he traded in pads for a pair of trunks.
Boys Will Be Boys.
You often hear about offensive and defensive linemen teammates getting into fights, but The Rock fought with one of his D-line mates in a coach’s office.
It started during practice earlier one day when Kevin Patrick called out The Rock for how he went through a drill. It carried over to after practice when they got into a scuffle in an office that broke a coach’s desk.
The Rock didn’t appreciate Patrick’s public criticism, and according to Miami’s strength coach, during the fight. Rock told Patrick, "I’m going to pull that tongue out of your head if you keep talking that trash."
There were no real punches thrown, just lots of grappling and name-calling (just like a pro wrestling match). Rock and Patrick laughed about the fight minutes later, and the two remain friends to this day.
He Was a Three-Time Letterman
The Rock’s college football career didn’t start out as planned as he got injured, lost his position to Warren Sapp and was placed on academic probation before playing a game.
But he was able to turn things around and became a contributor to Miami’s 1991 national championship team. He was also named an academic captain and lettered for Miami from 1992 to 1994.
Over his college career, Rock played in 39 games (one start) and registered 77 tackles and 4.25 sacks, including one of Heisman winner Charlie Ward of Florida State.
His NFL Dream Ended.
Even though he portrays a former NFL player on his HBO show, "Ballers," The Rock never even got a sniff of the NFL after college. He was forced to head to Canada to continue his pro career and joined the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.
The Rock’s father was born and raised in Canada, but going from Miami to Calgary was a big adjustment for the then-23-year-old. After being moved to linebacker from the defensive line, he didn’t have what it takes to be a pro football player and was cut after two months.
Rock calls this moment a blessing in disguise. When his football career was over, he got to explore other opportunities, and those other opportunities were the family business.
Rocky Maivia Was the First of a Kind in Wrestling.
Just as Vince McMahon represents the third generation of McMahons to own WWE, The Rock is part of the third generation of wrestlers in his family.
His grandfather, Peter Maivia, became a star in New Zealand and Hawaii before joining the WWE (then called the WWWF) in the late 1970s.
A few years later, Rock’s father (and Maivia’s son-in-law), Rocky Johnson, joined the then-WWF and became part of the first black tag team to win the tag titles.
The Rock joined WWF in 1996 under the moniker "Rocky Maivia," a combination of his father’s and grandfather’s names. Rocky Maivia became the WWE’s first third-generation Superstar when he made his debut.
The Rock Made History as the First Black WWE Champion.
On Nov. 15, 1983 an 11-year-old Dwayne Johnson watched his father, Rocky Johnson, and partner Tony Atlas become the first black tag team to win the WWE tag titles.
Exactly 15 years later, in 1998, The Rock became the first black WWE champion by winning the title at Survivor Series. There have been a total of 49 men to hold the WWE championship, but The Rock remains the only African-American to hold that title.
Additionally, Rock, Booker T and Kofi Kingston are the only black Superstars who have won the WWE version of the Triple Crown (world title, tag title, intercontinental title).
He Had a Little Nip and Tuck for Aesthetics.
Due to various cultural factors, over 80 percent of Samoans are overweight by the age of 15. The Rock has a great physique now, but back in the day, he fell victim to that statistic and carried around a little extra baby fat when he was a grown man. In order to look better in the ring, The Rock had liposuction on his chest to remove excess fat.
"It was an aesthetic thing," Rock said in 2005. "I went in and showed the doctor, and he said, 'Are you crazy?' I was walking around with my shirt off all the time, so I had it done."
To hide the fact that he had liposuction, WWE often had The Rock wear Hawaiian shirts while on television to let the scars heal before resuming his normal wrestling wardrobe.
He Was a Ratings Magnet.
While The Rock is a world-class athlete, he also has been graced with the gift of gab. That was evident when he was part of the most-watched segment in "Monday Night Raw' history, even though it didn’t involve any wrestling.
In 1999, The Rock and Mick Foley performed a "This Is Your Life" segment, which showed off The Rock’s spontaneity and comedic chops. The segment drew an 8.4 rating, the highest rating for any wrestling segment in the history of cable television.
Shortly thereafter, The Rock hosted "Saturday Night Live," and he says these two things are what led to him receiving numerous acting offers from Hollywood studios.
The Rock Lived Up to the Hype.
The Rock left WWE in 2004 to become a full-time actor, with his final match at WrestleMania 20.
He made a surprise return in 2011 to set up a year-long feud with John Cena that culminated in a match between the two at WrestleMania 28. The match was hyped by WWE as "The Most Anticipated WrestleMania Match of All Time," and their promotion paid off as the pay-per-view garnered 1.2 million buys, making it the most purchased wrestling event ever.
Rock defeated Cena and later defeated CM Punk to become WWE champion for the eighth time. However, Cena got his revenge and took the WWE title from Rock during their rematch a year later at WrestleMania 29.
Age Ain’t Nothin' but a Number.
Unlike most other sports, in pro wrestling, you don’t often make it to the big leagues (i.e., WWE) until your 30s. Superstars like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Roman Reigns didn’t become WWE champions until they were on the wrong side of 30.
But The Rock reached the pinnacle early in his career and won his first world title at the age of 26. He was the second-youngest Superstar in WWE history, at the time, and he didn’t stop there. Rock had eight world title reigns in all, spanning his 20s, 30s and 40s.
That makes him, so far, the only WWE Superstar to win the world title at each of those ages.
The Injuries Aren’t Fake.
The Rock’s last wrestling match (for now) turned out to be his most painful one.
During that rematch with John Cena at WrestleMania 29, Rock suffered multiple injuries that required surgery. He tore his adductor tendon from his pelvis (ouch!) and also suffered three hernias during the match, which he still managed to finish.
The Rock was a month shy of his 41st birthday, and his body felt every bit of his advanced age. He had surgery just weeks later and described the injury in a way that only wrestlers can appreciate: "Just part of the job."
He’s the Only Actor Signed to Under Armour.
Under Armour boasts some of the biggest names in the world as sponsors, including Cam Newton, Steph Curry, Bryce Harper ... and The Rock. The sports apparel company usually only caters to pro athletes, but they made an exception and made Rock their only actor signed to the company.
Under Armour has even given The Rock his own wing within their catalog called "Project Rock." Many of the clothing items are outfitted with the Brahma bull that The Rock has a tattoo of and made famous in the WWE.
The Rock even has risen to the level that every athlete dreams of as a kid (even though he’s no longer an athlete) — he has his own sneaker line, and it sold out in 30 minutes when released.
He Remains a Certified Meathead.
The Rock is entering his late 40s but still enjoys the "clanging and banging" of the weight room more than ever. He works out six days a week, and due to his work schedule, which usually involves hours of filming, he prefers to start his workouts with a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call.
When not working out at a private gym down in South Florida, Rock has been known to have temporary gyms constructed on a movie set so he doesn’t have to leave to get a workout. He does cardio either by taking a morning jog or hitting the elliptical for 30-50 minutes.
All the hard work he puts in is evident with his physique. He’s in better shape now than he was 20 years ago when he was at the peak of his wrestling career.
Ouch! (Over and Over Again)
In terms of sports, which inflict the most physical damage, Rock couldn’t have chosen two any worse than football and wrestling. Life on the gridiron and in the ring has taken its toll on his body, and he’s had at least eight different surgeries.
He had four knee surgeries in college alone, as well as reconstructive shoulder surgery that forced him to redshirt a year. He then had cosmetic surgery on his chest to get rid of excess fat and another knee surgery due to rigors in the ring. His most recent surgery (that we know of) was a triple hernia that also reattached a muscle to his pelvis.
If that wasn’t enough, Rock has also ruptured two discs in his back, torn his quad muscle and torn his Achilles' tendon.
It's Good to Be the King of Miami.
The University of Miami has boasted some of the greatest football players of all time, including Ray Lewis, Jim Kelly and Michael Irvin. Yet in 2013, the athletic department named its football locker room after The Rock, who made one start at the school.
It helps that the high-profile status of The Rock will help Miami in recruiting. It also helps that Rock gave to $1 million to the football program, the largest donation ever made to Miami’s athletic department by a former student-athlete.
"It is important to give back because Miami has made me into the man I am today ... taught me about hard work, discipline and sacrifice, but most importantly how to lose graciously and win graciously and humbly," Rock said about his contribution to Miami.
He Finally Shook the One that Got Away.
On The Rock’s TV series, "Ballers," he plays an ex-football player who still struggles with the way his career ended. It turns out that character depiction is simply art imitating life as Rock admits that "not making it' in pro football still affects him to this day.
"For years, I would have these dreams where I was playing in the Super Bowl," Rock said. "I'm the star player, and everyone in the stadium is waiting for me, and I walk out of the tunnel and I don't have my f---ing cleats on. Or I can't find my shoulder pads. It started to get weird, like sometimes I would run out of the tunnel, and my uniform fit like a diaper. I couldn't shake it."
He says that the dreams of being a football star only stopped when he arrived as a movie star. The Rock became a rousing success in wrestling, TV and movies, but the fact that his football career consisted of "only" making it to one of the elite college programs makes football the one that got away.
The Rock Is Not Done Yet.
As of now, The Rock’s final wrestling match was losing the WWE championship to John Cena at WrestleMania 29. That was five years ago, and there have been no signs of a return in the near future.
Most wrestlers say that you should "go out on your back" by losing as a sign of respect for the industry, and Rock seems content with that defeat being his last match. However, he did leave the door slightly ajar.
"I’d like to leave it open," Rock said. "But if I’d never wrestle again, I’d be very content with that. ... I don’t know. We’ll see."
Wrestlers always have a hard time staying retired, and it would only be fitting if everything came full circle for Dwayne Johnson, and he ended his career in the same place where The Rock was born.