You’ve probably heard of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but have you heard about his legendary father Rocky Johnson?
While The Rock worked hard to develop his talent for wrestling, he does owe some of it to his genes. Rocky Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Nova Scotia, Canada to Lillian and James Henry Bowles.
His ancestors were Black Loyalists who escaped Southern Plantations in the Confederate States of America after the American Revolutionary War.
At the age of 16, he decided to leave Nova Scotia for the greener pastures of Toronto. He worked as a truck driver to make ends meet but wanted a career as a professional athlete.
He began his career as a boxer, often going up against legends like Muhammad Ali and George Forman.
Yet, boxing never satisfied him and another sport was calling his name…
Two of Wayde’s favorite boxers were Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson. These idols inspired his moniker Rocky Johnson which he would be known by for the remainder of his life.
But while he chose his moniker after two boxers, he was beginning to develop an interest in professional wrestling. It was around this time that Rocky got in touch with Peter Maivia.
Peter Maivia was a member of the Anoa’i family, a family of professional wrestlers from the island of Samoa. Later he would become a celebrated champion in the United States.
It was because of his reputation as an expert wrestler, that Rocky Johnson approached him. The young boxer wanted to transition to professional wrestling and needed to learn from the best.
It was in the mid 1960s when Rocky Johnson began his career as a wrestler. By the late 1960s, he had moved to California and had become a household name in professional wrestling.
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It wasn’t long till Rocky Johnson became a top contender in the National Wrestling Alliance. He would take on many of the NWA’s great wrestlers and would win in both singles and team tournaments. However, he never managed to become the NWA World Champion as he never defeated champions Terry Funk or Harley Race.
Nevertheless, Rocky decided not to give up his career in wrestling. He was determined to be remembered as a great wrestler. In 1983, Rocky Johnson decided to join the World Wrestling Federation, also known as WWF and now known as WWE.
With the WWE, he found a partner in wrestler Tony Atlas. The two of them were a formidable team who immediately took the WWE by storm. They eventually became the first two Black wrestlers to win the Tag Team World Championship.
It must have been a glorious win for Rocky Johnson. But he wasn’t alone in celebrating his achievements.
While Rocky Johnson was learning the ropes of professional wrestling from Peter Maivia, he became romantically involved with Peter’s daughter Ata.
In 1972, Rocky and Ata welcomed their son Dwayne into the world. Little did they know that one day Dwayne would grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps. In fact, not only would he follow in his father’s footsteps, but he would reach heights in his career that his father never could.
But what was the relationship between Rocky and Dwayne like?
Young Dwayne’s childhood wasn’t the easiest. As the son of a professional wrestler, he had to constantly travel and move to a new house – completely taking away the stability that many children need to prosper. Dwayne recalls, “I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old, also lived in New Zealand.”
Part of Rocky Johnson’s career meant being away from his family often. He’d spend days training, wrestling, and partaking in publicity events. He was a huge celebrity, and this took a toll on his family life.
Rocky Johnson was known to have extramarital affairs with many women. He even had legal issues with being accused of molesting women.
One of the most notorious cases was when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman back in 1987. Rocky Johnson claimed this was a false accusation and that he had been set up by his wrestling rivals.
In fact, this charge led him to being blacklisted from wrestling. The charge took its toll on him and he would find a crutch in alcohol. This incessant drinking damaged his health and also took a toll on Ata and Dwayne, who was now in his teens.
Rocky would end up divorcing Ata in 2003. One can only imagine what stress Ata felt during the years of seeing her husband lose his career and turn to alcoholism.
But the biggest strain went to Dwayne. He admired his father and wanted to follow in his footsteps. Dwayne knew that he was part of a prestigious wrestling family and he wanted to carry on the tradition.
However, Dwayne Johnson began his career as a football player. He played defensive tackle while a student at the University of Miami. He had a short stint as a linebacker for the Canadian team, the Calgary Stampeders. Unfortunately, within two months of the season he was cut from the team.
He now had no other choice but to give wrestling a shot.
He began his career with the WWE in 1996. At first, he wrestled under the name ‘Dwayne Johnson,’ and had a few wins and losses. He would later change his wrestling name to Flex Kavana and won the USWA World Tag Team Championship along with Bart Sawyer.
It was after this match that he signed a contract with the WWE. He would go through different names, including Rocky Mavia – a tribute to his father and grandfather. Eventually, Rocky Mavia would become known as The Rock.
Within a few years, The Rock became known as one of America’s most famous wrestlers. Apart from his wrestling prowess, he also became known for his catchphrases and intense personality.
Dwayne Johnson knew that no matter how hard he worked, he had big shoes to fill. He knew he’d get compared to his father. He was determined to steal the spotlight and stand on his own two feet.
But what was Rocky Johnson’s reaction to his son becoming a wrestler? The elder wrestler was fully supportive of his son’s career.
If you look back at any of The Rock’s older matches, you’ll see Rocky Johnson watching proudly from the sidelines. While the elder Johnson had a tumultuous life following his wrestling career, seeing his son succeed gave him hope and joy.
And it wasn’t just his son’s wrestling career that would impress Rocky Johnson. The Rock had big ambitions to exceed his father’s fame. He knew that Rocky Johnson was respected in the wrestling world. He knew that this pressure meant that no matter how much he strived for, there was always the possibility that he’d be known as Rocky Johnson’s son.
He also knew that a wrestling career wouldn’t last forever. The Rock saw how his father destroyed much of his life after his wrestling career came to an end. He knew he had to expand out of wrestling.
This expansion came with acting. Eventually, The Rock wanted to be known as Dwayne Johnson and began his acting career. One of his earliest roles was in the first season of That 70s Show, where he depicted his father! No doubt this was a proud moment for both father and son.
He’d later act in films as varied as Walking Tall, The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, Furious 7, Be Cool, and Central Intelligence. He’s shown his range in drama, action, and comedy films.
In 2021, he began appearing as himself in Young Rock. This is a sitcom that details the true-life story of Dwayne Johnson as a young child. Actor Joseph Lee Anderson plays Rocky Johnson. The show has become a success and tells the wonderful story of both Dwayne and Rocky Johnson.
Unfortunately, Rocky Johnson didn’t live to watch this show about him and his son. On January 15, 2020 Rocky Johnson passed away from a pulmonary embolism at his home in Florida.
In the months after Rocky Johnsons death, the tributes to him were endless. Some new him only as “The Rock’s Dad,” something he often experienced when he revisited his neighborhood in Canada. Others remembered his wrestling legacy.
His achievements in the world of professional wrestling were never forgotten. In 2008, Rocky Johnson was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He was inducted by none other than his son, The Rock.
Rocky Johnson didn’t have an easy life, but he did live a fruitful life. He managed to go from an ordinary truck driver to a small-time boxer to one of professional wrestling’s greatest athletes. He will be remembered for breaking barriers for Black wrestlers and for serving as an inspiration for many wrestlers.
Perhaps best of all, he’ll also be known for raising one of America’s foremost wrestlers and entertainers. While Dwayne and Rocky Johnson had a tough relationship, they always stuck together. Dwayne Johnson admired his father and in turn, his father admired him.
In other words, they had the father and son relationship that many of us would want!
So, did you learn something new about Rocky Johnson? Do you feel he’s gotten his due as a wrestling legend? Or do still not know enough about him and we need future generations to appreciate his wrestling talents?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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