When you mention ‘professional wrestling’ in most common settings, you’ll undoubtedly generate snickers and nervous laughter. “You believe that stuff is real??” And for those superfluous consumers (who probably can’t watch Family Guy or South Park without constantly reminding themselves that “it’s a cartoon!”) they’ll probably never understand this post. But joke as you may, wrestlers (professional and amateur) are about as well-conditioned as any athletes in the world. I’d argue that running around a ring and taking body slams for five nights a week with no off-season goes up against any football, basketball or even boxing schedule. (Even boxers prepare for months before a fight.) Regardless of whether the outcome is pre-determined, the conditioning is real. So in that sense, it’s about as real as any other physical sport.
As the film The Wrestler revealed to many, the road to the squared circle isn’t always paved with confetti and gold shiny belts. For every Hulk Hogan there has to be a Frank Williams and for every Andre the Giant, you’ve got to have a Domenic Denucci. (And if you can only remember two of the four names I mentioned – exactly.) As wrestling insiders will tell you, there’s very little difference between the huge babyface (read: Hulk Hogan) and the jobber (read: any guy whose name you can’t remember, but saw him get squashed in 3 minutes). It’s all based on who the promoter feels is better suited for the role. It’s all about exciting the fans. So, if you’re blessed enough to have “the look” and to find the favor of the booker (or writer, for those not familiar with wrestling-speak) you should consider it an honor.
When people think of “The Rock” today, many who don’t follow professional wrestling may assume that this handsome, charismatic movie star would have navigated his way to the top regardless of his wrestling past. But anyone who follows wrestling knows that this is far from the truth.
Dwayne Johnson grew up as the son of Rocky Johnson – former WWF Tag Team Champion and fan favorite. He grew up around wrestling all his life. His mother is daughter to WWF Hall of Fame legend Peter Maivia. After a failed football career in the CFL, Dwayne Johnson decided to try his hand at wrestling. I can recall the huge vignette-laiden lead-in to his WWF debut. I was actually at his WWF debut match at Survivor Series in 1996. For weeks before his appearance, there were montages and teasers that this 3rd generation WWF athlete was going to debut. And to be honest, his debut was a bust.
We fans suffered through almost a year of the ‘push’ that Rocky (then called “Rocky Maivia” – to leverage both his father and grandfather’s success) got. He was stiff. He was boring. He was a fake hero being forced down our throats at a time when the concept of the anti-hero was growing in popularity. And I while I don’t know all of the backstage politics, I’m sure there had to be some thought by the writers at abandoning the journey altogether. However, it was when the decision was made to “turn” Rocky Maivia into a rulebreaker – a so-called “heel” – that the magic started. Clearly Rocky’s acting talent began to show it’s first signs of birth. He was entertaining and he slowly turned from ‘the guy you waited for so you could go make a sandwich’ into the main reason to watch the product. It was amazing to see this dramatic turnaround in what I considered a failed wrestling career.
Fast forward to the mid 2000’s. The Rock is now the biggest attraction in all of wrestling. He’s showing up on Mad TV and on <fill in name of popular sitcom or variety show>.
And it’s at this point where he made the decision that almost no one who came before him has made.