Dwayne Johnson has experienced significant success in his chosen fields but his career trajectory might have taken a wild turn in his early days as a professional wrestler after revealing that he came close to quitting the WWE to pursue a career as a mixed martial arts fighter.
Johnson, or ‘The Rock’ as he is known to most, is one of the most legendary figures in the history of professional wrestling and has parlayed that success into a run as one of Hollywood’s most bankable action stars and a net worth in excess of $800 million, according to estimates online. But before he hit major success in the squared circle, Johnson was creatively unsatisfied with his early ‘Rocky Maivia’ persona in the WWE (then the WWF) — which led to him almost calling it quits and attempting to pursue MMA paydays in Japan.
“[In] 1997, I was still going to LA and working out. We were crossing all the MMA guys. PRIDE just opened up in Japan,” Johnson told Joe Rogan on an episode of his podcast. “I started seeing all these MMA guys going over to PRIDE. At that time, I was making $150,000 dollars wrestling 235 days a year. Do the maths on that and how much you’re making per match.
“We start hearing, ‘These guys in PRIDE are making $250,000, $350,000, $500,000.’ I thought then, ‘F*ck, 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*ckng smile, I don’t want to f*cking smile. That’s not who I am.’
He added: “I start talking to Ken Shamrock, I start talking with Mark Kerr, ‘tell me about PRIDE.’ I have this idea in my head ‘maybe I should train in MMA, go to PRIDE, and make real money and I don’t have to smile.’
“I’m going to get f*cked up, knock one of my lungs loose [laughs], but if I find the right coach and train….I have this whole thing in my head. I’m talking to my wife at the time, ‘I think this is the way to go. I can make real money while these fans are booing me for $150 grand [per year].’”
However, Johnson added that his creative dissatisfaction soon subsided after WWE writers opted to turn him ‘heel’, or bad guy, and set in motion one of the most prolific runs in the history of sports entertainment. He is regarded as one of the biggest icons in pro wrestling history, where he is a ten-time world champion and has participated in some of the biggest wrestling pay-per-view events in history.