dwayne Johnson was born into a wrestling family. His maternal grandfather, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, emerged on the professional scene in the 1960s and ’70s. Johnson’s father, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, worked the American regional wrestling circuit and boxed; in 1974 he was a sparring partner for George Foreman, then preparing for “the Rumble in the Jungle” with Muhammad Ali.
However, the younger Johnson initially preferred the gridiron to the mat. He was a standout high-school athlete, and he played on the 1991 NCAA Championship football team at the University of Miami (Bachelor of General Studies, 1995). After injuries cut short his career in the Canadian Football League, he turned to wrestling.
Gifted with a remarkable combination of size, speed, and agility as well as impeccable microphone skills, Johnson made his World Wrestling Federation (WWF) debut in 1996 as Rocky Maivia, a name that paid tribute to both his father and his grandfather. He was heavily promoted as a “face” (crowd favourite), and, after just a few months of exposure, Johnson captured the WWF Intercontinental title.
The aggressive push triggered a backlash from fans, however, and subsequent story lines saw the Rocky Maivia persona sidelined in favour of the Rock, an unapologetic “heel” (“bad guy”). The turn led to increased popularity.
The Rock engaged in a series of high-profile feuds with the biggest stars in the WWF and captured the first of several world championship titles in 1998.