Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson conquered sports entertainment, then left the squared circle to go conquer Hollywood. Though he is now a ubiquitous marquee name in movie theaters, The Rock never forgot the fans who loved him first—the WWE Universe. Since returning to the WWE in 2011, The Rock has jumped in with both feet. As host of WrestleMania 27, he jobbed John Cena so the WWE’s golden boy would lose to The Miz, then The Rock beat Cena outright in the headlining match of WrestleMania 28. After another full year of trash talk, the beef has reached a fever pitch, and The Rock and Cena will once again headline WrestleMania—this time with the WWE Championship on the line!
WAIKIKI, HAWAII: SUMMER OF 1984.
Dwayne Johnson is pinned under 135 pounds of iron. He’s 12 years old and working out for the first time. His father, famed pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, is his mentor in the weight room and young Dwayne wants nothing more than to get the bar off his chest. He can’t budge it.
1. “Till I Collapse” — Eminem
2. “Cult of Personality” — Living Colour
3. “Ghost” — 2Pac
4. “Enter Sandman” — Metallica
5. “Moment of Clarity” — Jay-Z
6. “Can’t Truss It” — Public Enemy
7. “A Country Boy Can Survive”— Hank Williams Jr.
8. “Where U From” — Trick Daddy
9. “Hell 4 a Hustler” — 2Pac
10. “I Stand Alone” — Godsmack
In the early days of professional wrestling, when the pay was lower and the boards beneath the mats were harder, Rocky became the first African-American World Wrestling Federation champion and a member of the first all-black championship tag team. He was also one of the first pro wrestlers to enter the ring with a physique like a bodybuilder’s, which was a larger part of his fan appeal. Besides being a gifted athlete—he once worked as a sparring partner for George Foreman—he was seriously dedicated to the iron, a point that wasn’t lost on his son. As a headstrong preteen Dwayne could be a challenge to Rocky’s authority, but when it came to training, father and son always clicked. After that Saturday morning when Dwayne couldn’t put up 135 pounds, he had seven days until his next workout session with his dad.
“I’ll never forget that feeling of being pinned under the bar,” Johnson says. “I did push-ups all week, and I came in the next Saturday and got it off. I was so happy.”
By the time he was 13, Johnson was more than 6' tall and weighed 170 pounds. He started training every day at the local Boys Club or the World Gym in Waikiki, a 3-mile walk from home. His regimen was old-school bodybuilding with a lot of benching, squats and deadlifts. “I still train like that: big, heavy, basic movements,” he explains. “I’m not a one-arm reverse wrist curl while standing on an exercise ball kind of guy.”
The gym became a haven, an escape from the eviction notices taped on the door of the one-bedroom efficiency he shared with his mom while Rocky scratched out a living for them wrestling in faraway states. Those were tough times, but defining ones. Johnson always had an inkling that he’d influence people, that he’d be a man with a voice. Getting that bar off his chest made it clear how that would be accomplished.
“When I was 13, I realized I could control my destiny through hard work. I knew I had these,” he states, flexing his mitts. “I had my hands and I was going to work my ass off, and I was going to initiate and create some sort of change in my life.” He just didn’t know yet in which direction he was headed.