The Rock Says He Considered Leaving WWE in 1997 to Compete in MMA Fights with PRIDE | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors
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Dwayne Johnson parlayed one of the most successful WWE runs of all time into becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but The Rock said this week that he nearly walked away from pro wrestling in the embryonic stages of his career.
Appearing Wednesday on the Joe Rogan Experience (h/t Alexander K. Lee of MMAFighting.com), The Rock noted that he gave some consideration to transitioning into the world of MMA in 1997:
“In ’97, during that time, while I was still going out to L.A. and working out, we were crossing all the MMA guys. Pride just opened up in Japan so I was seeing all these MMA guys going over to Pride. … At that time I was making $150,000 wrestling 235 days a year. So do the math of that and how much you’re making per match. We start hearing, hey these guys over in pride are making 250, 350, 500 [thousand dollars].
“I thought then, ‘F–k, I don’t think I’m going to make it in WWE.’ People are booing me out of the arenas, I can’t be myself, they’re telling me to f–king smile, I don’t want to f–king smile, it’s not who I am.”
The Rock, who is the son of WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson and grandson of another WWE Hall of Famer in “High Chief” Peter Maivia, made his pro wrestling debut in March 1996 after falling short of achieving his dreams to be an NFL player.
By November 1996, The Rock made his WWE debut under the name Rocky Maivia, and he won his first title by February 1997, beating Triple H for the Intercontinental Championship.
While The Rock was being pushed as one of WWE’s rising stars out of the gates, fans regularly booed him despite his status as a babyface, as they weren’t buying into his character.
During the interview with Rogan, The Rock said he spoke to UFC fighter turned WWE Superstar Ken Shamrock and former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Kerr at around that time to gauge whether getting into MMA would be the right move for him:
“I start talking to Ken Shamrock at that time, who was wrestling with us, I run into Mark Kerr, I start talking to him. ‘Tell me a little bit about Pride.’ And I had this idea in my head, maybe I should train in MMA and go to Pride and make money, real money. Then I don’t have to smile. I’m sure I’m going to get f–ked up over there, knock one of my lungs loose, but maybe I can do something.”
Pride Fighting Championships was created in 1997, and it was the most popular MMA promotion in the world aside from UFC. It remained in operation until 2007 when it was purchased by UFC.
The Rock had no professional fighting experience in 1997, and he ultimately decided to stick with pro wrestling, which turned out to be the right move.
In August 1997, The Rock turned heel and joined The Nation of Domination, which allowed him to use the negative crowd reaction to his advantage. He eventually became the leader of The Nation, and by November 1998, he became WWE champion.
Overall, The Rock became an eight-time WWE champion, two-time WCW champion, two-time intercontinental champion and five-time tag team champion, and he headlined WrestleMania on multiple occasions.
The Rock has also starred in numerous blockbuster movies, and his success in WWE paved the way for him to reach those heights.
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