A Royal Family and Rocky Roads
A Royal Family and Rocky Roads
Being born into a family business is no guarantee that a child will or should one day join that business. Such was the case for young Dwayne Johnson. As a child, he frequently moved with his family from place to place, following his father's career as a professional wrestler. Dwayne regularly watched from ringside as his father, Rocky Johnson, tossed opponents from the ring and sometimes got tossed himself. When Dwayne briefly checked out his school's wrestling team, though, he found school wrestling matches dull and boring in comparison to the stylized acrobatics of the professional ring. In fact, for many years after the young teenager spent that brief time with the school's wrestling team, he thought his professional career would be football. However, injuries and a series of bad experiences cut that dream short. As his pursuit of professional football ended, though, a new path emerged. A decade after walking away from the school wrestling team, Dwayne Johnson entered the ring once again; this time as a professional wrestler, a third-generation member of the family business, professional wrestling.
Dwayne Johnson's wrestling lineage began with his grandfather Fanene Leifi Pita Maivia, known as "High Chief" Peter Maivia. Maivia was born in western Samoa in the 1930s. "High Chief" was not just his performing name, though, and Maivia was not just royalty in the wrestling business. Maivia was descended from a royal Samoan family and was the elected chief of his clan. And Maivia conducted himself with the dignity befitting a member of a royal family. Throughout his life Maivia was well-respected among the wrestling community as well as by the people of Pacific cultures.
The Samoan Culture
Most fans know that Dwayne Johnson's father is African Canadian and his mother is Samoan. Johnson has always taken pride in the heritage of each of his parents. However, many people know little about the Samoan culture.
Samoa is a group of six islands in the South Pacific, about 2,400 miles (3,862km) southwest of Hawaii. Said to be Polynesia's oldest culture, Samoans have occupied these islands for three thousand years. Samoa means sacred earth. To the Samoan people, this island group is a sacred place and they protect and cherish it.
Their system of government is called fa'amatai. The matai, or chief, governs the aiga, or extended family. The members of the aiga respect their chief and revere their elders. They are generous toward one another and take the same care of the children of other adults in their group as they do their own. They believe their extended families should work together and be mutually supportive for the common good.
Samoans are known for their handcrafted products, such as kava bowls. These are round wooden bowls of a variety of sizes with stubby legs on the bottom. Another Samoan craft is called siapo. Siapo are pictures or patterns painted on mulberry bark that has been hammered into sheets.
Samoan crafts, traditional music and dance, and system of government have been handed down through generations. The Samoans are a proud people who respect and honor the culture handed down by their ancestors and work diligently to keep it alive.
As a young man, though, the 5-foot, 9-inch young Samoan (1.75m), weighing 240 pounds (109kg), attracted the attention of New Zealand wrestling promoters, not because he was of royal blood but because of his size. Young Maivia moved to New Zealand, where he began his training as a wrestler. He also spent some time training in London, England, a place that seemed very exotic to the young Samoan. However, the first years of his professional career were spent in New Zealand. Maivia proved to be a natural. In August 1964, less than a year into his professional career, he won the New Zealand Heavyweight title from Steve Rickard in Auckland. Victory was brief, however, when just three days later Rickard defeated Maivia and regained the championship. Maivia had acquired a taste for victory, however, and he won the NWA Australasian Heavyweight title the next year, in 1965, a title he held until 1968. As they are today, matches were also scripted in those days, but most fans did not know it.
While living in New Zealand, Maivia met his future wife Lia. After the couple married, they had a daughter, Ata, and two sons, Peter Fanene Jr. and Toa. Maivia won many more championships in New Zealand before he, his wife, and his children moved to Hawaii, where Maivia wrestled a number of years. The family's next move was to San Francisco, California, at the beginning of the 1970s.
While in California the Maivias met another Samoan family, the Anoa'is, Tovale and Amituanai. In true Samoan tradition the two families "adopted" each other, and the men in the families became like blood brothers, making no distinction between who was related by birth and who was related by this bond. The Anoa'i children became Maivia's nephews, a family link that would continue throughout Maivia's life and would extend through two more generations of his family and the the Anoa'i family.
Soon Maivia dominated the West Coast wrestling region, winning championships in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He excelled as both a single wrestler and a tag team member, pairing up with such legends as Billy White Wolf, Pat Patterson (who would later become a mentor of Maivia's grandson), and Ray "the Crippler" Stevens.
In addition to a successful wrestling career, Maivia worked in the movies for a time. In fact, he played a small role as a villain in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. By then Maivia was also training other wrestlers, so the film's directors made use of his teaching skills, coordinating fight scenes for the movie.
While working in California, Maivia became acquainted with African Canadian wrestler Rocky "Soulman" Johnson. This meeting would prove to be an important one in the lives of both men for both personal and professional reasons. Born Wade Bowles in Nova Scotia in 1944 and raised in Toronto, Johnson drove a truck
It's Not All Fake: A Brief Description of Professional Wrestling
In the United States as well as many other countries, professional wrestling is part entertainment and part sport. The feuds
and friction between wrestlers consist of scripted storylines, called angles, and the matches themselves have been carefully planned and choreographed. Many wrestlers who appear to be mortal enemies in the ring are, in fact, actually good friends. After hurling one another around the ring and slinging insults and threats, they may go out to dinner together.
However, the risk of injury is quite real. Wrestlers are carefully trained athletes, and, like any other athletes, despite careful preparations, they are sometimes injured. Dislocated shoulders, torn ligaments, concussions, and other injuries which may require surgery or physical therapy can take them away from their sport for anywhere from a few days to several months.
to support himself as he began his wrestling training while still a teenager. He made his professional debut at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1966. He continued to wrestle in the Toronto area until the winter of 1967, when he moved to the west coast of Canada and teamed with Don Leo Jonathan. In April of that year the two men won the Canadian Tag Team Championship from Chris and John Tolos. He continued to wrestle between Toronto and Vancouver for several years.
Johnson was a seasoned wrestler who had already paid his dues in the professional ring by the time he met Maivia and became one of his tag team partners. Johnson had other fighting experience as well. At one time he had been a sparring partner of boxing champion George Foreman.
Johnson met Maivia's daughter Ata at the taping of one of the wrestling matches. The two soon began dating and fell in love. Maivia disapproved of the relationship and tried to break up the pair. Maivia objected to their relationship because Johnson was a wrestler, and since Maivia was a wrestler himself, he knew how hard a life his daughter would have if she married Johnson. At the time, although professional wrestling was popular entertainment, wrestlers did not make much money, and they had to move frequently. The couple would not be discouraged, though. Since the family objected so strongly to their intended marriage, Ata and Johnson eloped. Because they went against her father's wishes, the young couple was estranged from Ata's family for nearly a year. The relationship improved when their son Dwayne was born. In fact, Johnson was finally accepted as a member of the Maivia wrestling family.
Johnson continued to make a name for himself in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) throughout the 1970s, becoming a top contender. He fought against then–world champions Terry Funk and Harley Race. Johnson performed well as a tag team member and was part of several winning teams before being recruited by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and paired with Tony Atlas, also a popular black wrestler, in 1983. The duo became known as the Soul Patrol. Ironically, the two defeated Maivia's adopted nephews, tag team champions Afa and Sika Anoa'i, in November 1983, making Johnson and Atlas the first black WWF Tag Team Champions. During his varied career, Johnson wrestled for the NWA as well as the WWF. At times he was also involved in a number of smaller wrestling associations in Europe. He would go on to hold over three dozen wrestling titles during his career.
In the meantime Maivia, his wife, and their two sons moved back to Hawaii in the late 1970s, where he purchased the NWA Polynesian Pro Wrestling territory. After a period of faltering, the Polynesian territory began to thrive and grow under Maivia and his wife's leadership. Though not a wrestler herself, Lia was an active participant in the family business, working as a fight promoter for many years.
Maivia also continued to wrestle in Hawaii and in other parts of the world. By this time he had acquired his tribal tattoos, symbols of his rank, on his torso and legs. His grandson Dwayne Johnson later commented, "My grandfather's massive torso looked to me like a brilliant and vibrant cityscape, with dozens of intersecting lines and angles, each of which told its own little story."1 However, Maivia had begun backing away from title-winning bouts not long after he purchased the Hawaiian territory from promoter Ed Francis. This was because his primary goal was to promote the wrestling territory rather than himself. He won his final title, defeating Rick Davidson for the NWA Americas title, in Los Angeles in 1981.
During his years in the business, Peter "High Chief" Maivia set a standard in the professional wrestling industry that carries on to the third generation. The family tradition has been upheld by honorary nephews, such as Afa, Sika, and Samu Anoa'i, and Eddie Fatu, known in the ring as Umaga. Other names familiar to wrestling fans include Jimmy Snuka Jr., Rikishi, and Rosey, or Ro'Z, also members of Johnson's grandfather's blood-brother family. The legion of names continues with Maivia's son-in-law Rocky Johnson, Maivia's son Toa, and, of course, his grandson Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, the son of his daughter Ata and son-in-law Johnson.
The Anoa'i Wrestling Family
Although they are not actually related by blood, the Anoa'i wrestling family and Dwayne Johnson have close personal ties. His grandfather Peter Maivia was a blood brother of the Anoa'i family. The family's founders, Reverend Amituanai and his wife Tovale had four children: sons Afa, Junior, and Sika, and one daughter, Vera. Of the four, only Afa and Sika became wrestlers, a tag team called the Wild Samoans. However, all four of the children had children of their own who became wrestlers. Afa's sons, known in the ring as Samu, Afa Jr., and L.A. Smooth, are all wrestlers. His daughter Monica is the widow of wrestler Gary Albright. Junior is the father of the late wrestler Yokozuna. Sika's oldest son wrestles under the name Ro'Z. Vera married Solofa Fatu and all three of her sons became wrestlers. They are Sam, known as Tama; Solofa Jr. called Rikishi; and Eddie, called Umaga.
Dwayne Douglas Johnson was born in Hayward, California, on May 2, 1972. He was Rocky and Ata Johnson's first and only child. Dwayne's earliest memories were not typical of a child in the 1970s. Some of his first toys were his father's championship belts, and as a child of five, he would often sit at ringside with his mother while his father wrestled. He later spoke of his early exposure to the world of wrestling: "I grew up in the business, was kept close to the business, and never sheltered from it."2
Dwayne was a very active child and prone to mischief. As a small child, at night he would crawl out of his crib to play instead of going to sleep. At the armories and stadiums where his father wrestled, Dwayne would slip away from his mother and go exploring. Not even the family pet escaped his mischief. By the time Dwayne started school, he was using his dog to practice wrestling moves. At this point in his life, though, his parents were sure wrestling was just a game to Dwayne, another way to play and use up some of his extra energy. At least they hoped so.
The wrestling business was hard on families. Some stayed behind while the father traveled the United States to different wrestling territories and matches. However, Rocky Johnson did not want to be separated from his family. He took them with him when he moved from territory to territory. This meant that they moved frequently. In fact, by the time Dwayne was five years old, his family had already moved five times.
Moving around a lot meant that Dwayne was usually the new kid on the block, and after he was old enough to go to school, the new kid in class. As he grew older and larger, other boys often picked fights with him so they could prove how tough they were. Dwayne usually did not start the fights, but he did not back away from them, either. Since he was usually the largest kid on the playground, he won the fights, and sometimes the other boys got hurt. When this happened, Dwayne was branded a bully, even when he was only defending himself. One of these fights was not even a real fight—it was actually a demonstration. One of Dwayne's friends had asked Dwayne to show him some of the wrestling moves he had learned from his father. During the demonstration the boy was injured. Dwayne felt bad about hurting his friend and had not meant to injure him. However, Dwayne was still suspended from school for fighting, which got him into trouble with his mother. She, not his father, was the parent in charge of handing out the discipline.
Despite the frequent moves and getting into trouble for fighting, Dwayne was a good student and made good grades. His parents wanted their son to get a good education so he could have a better life. They made sure he did not miss school, studied for his tests, and kept up with his homework, no matter how much they moved. With good grades, they knew that their son would be able to get into college and have a career that would allow him the opportunity to put down roots somewhere and have a normal home life. But for the rest of their years together as a family, they had to keep moving and following the wrestling jobs.
One of the family's moves took them to Hawaii, where Dwayne was able to spend some time with his grandparents. Now eight years old, Dwayne was old enough to understand what an important man his grandfather was, and that he was respected both inside and outside of the wrestling community. However, his time with his grandfather would be sadly brief. Maivia had worked hard to promote his wrestling territory but had neglected his own health. He refused to go to the doctor when he had obvious warning signs that his health and his life were in jeopardy. By the time Maivia did go to the doctor, it was too late. Dwayne's grandfather, wrestling legend High Chief Peter Maivia, died from cancer on June 13, 1982. His grandfather's memorial service in Honolulu, Hawaii, attended by thousands of fans and friends, reinforced what Dwayne already knew—that his grandfather had been an important and greatly respected man.
A few years after his grandfather's death, Dwayne's family returned to the mainland, moving this time to Pennsylvania. This particular move worked in Dwayne's favor. While living in Pennsylvania, Dwayne developed a serious interest in football, a good choice for a 6-foot-tall, 170-pound thirteen-year-old (1.8m, 77kg). He worked hard to become a good football player and to keep up with his studies, but he also had other interests, such as girls.
While his mature size and muscular build attracted the attention of football coaches and tough guys spoiling for fights, it also attracted quite a bit of female attention. At fourteen, Dwayne had an eighteen-year-old girlfriend. He admitted later that all of this attention made him cocky and somewhat arrogant: "In my mind, I was God's gift to women . . . the player to end all players . . . the mack of all daddies."3
He did not allow his interest in girls to sidetrack him, though, and he became one of the top high school football players in the state of Pennsylvania. During his senior year a number of colleges were scouting him. By the time he graduated from high school, he had been approached by a number of colleges with offers of football scholarships. He later recalled that exciting time:
It's amazing what a simple letter can do to a kid's ego. You walk to the mailbox and there's an envelope with Penn State or Notre Dame stamped in the upper left-hand corner, and your heart just about does a somersault. Then the phone starts ringing . . . day and night. And then the assistant coaches begin showing up, knocking at your front door after dinner or visiting you at school. It's extraordinarily flattering, and it can really go to your head if you're not careful.4
Dwayne considered all of the offers and opportunities. Ultimately, he settled on the University of Miami because he respected their recruiting methods. They did not offer him anything under the table, such as cars or money. They just offered him the opportunity to go to college and play football.
Dwayne arrived in Miami in the summer of 1989, ready to begin football practice. There, he experienced a large dose of culture shock. First, Dwayne had never been away from family and on his own. Second, at the University of Miami, he was not the largest football player or a big star as he had been in high school. Many of the other players were as large as Dwayne, and some were even larger. Also, many of them could play football just as well as he could. Some were even better—a lot better. Dwayne had plenty of work ahead of him during the summer training program if he expected to see time on the field as a freshman. He was willing to work hard and do whatever he had to do to get that opportunity. Finally, toward the end of summer football practice with the first game practically in sight, Dwayne was tackled from behind and taken to the ground during a practice session. He had been tackled many times over the summer, but this time something went wrong. His shoulder was badly injured. The trainers could
The Miami Hurricanes
Dwayne Johnson's first sport was football, not wrestling. He was such a good football player in high school that he was awarded a five-year athletic scholarship with the University of Miami. He played defensive lineman for their team, the Miami Hurricanes, from 1991 to 1995. During Johnson's years with the Hurricanes the team took the Big East Conference Championship three times and tied for the championship once.
The team's success was not due to Johnson's talents alone, though. The Miami Hurricanes have a long history of success. From the 1930s to the present, they have played in over thirty bowl games and have won more than half of them. Over the years, the Hurricanes have developed a strong connection with their fans, and fans and team members have created strong traditions. Since the 1950s, for example, games have started with the team running onto the playing field through a cloud of smoke. Accompanying the smoke is a recording of an actual hurricane. And at the beginning of the fourth quarter of every game, team and fans hold up four fingers. This means they believe that the game is won in the fourth quarter.
see right away that it had popped from its socket. Dwayne was in tremendous pain as he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. X-rays and MRIs confirmed a separated shoulder as well as a number of torn ligaments. The injuries required surgery and weeks of physical therapy. Dwayne was not out for a few games; he was out for the entire season.
Seriously depressed, Dwayne began skipping classes. His grades fell so low that by the end of the semester he was placed on academic probation. Although he had been a good student throughout school, his grade average had slipped to 0.7 out of a possible 4.0. This was almost as hard to take as the tackle that had knocked him out of the season.
"In that moment, I felt about as worthless as I had ever felt in my life. I had let my parents down, I had let my teammates and coaches down, and I had let myself down,"5he said later.
Instead of giving up and going home, though, Dwayne accepted the terms of his probation. He had to carry a paper around to all of his classes and have his professors sign it. This piece of paper was his admission slip to football practice. Without it he could not attend practice. After months of mandatory tutoring and study sessions, Dwayne had improved his grades enough to get off of probation and back on the team.
Dwayne was happy to be back on the team, and he intended to keep up his grades and work hard in practice sessions to stay there. He also had another especially good experience during this time. While visiting a club with friends one evening, he met his future wife, Dany Garcia. Although she was twenty-two and nearly finished with college while he was only eighteen with several years of school ahead of him, they became a couple.
The University of Miami's football team won the Orange Bowl on January 2, 1992, and Dwayne continued to play through his next three years. But during Dwayne's senior year he suffered another injury. He ruptured two disks in his lower back. He was told to take two weeks off from football but was back on the field in just a few days. It was his senior year, and if he hoped to be drafted by the NFL, he had to be seen on the field. Despite his best efforts, though, Dwayne was passed over by the NFL.
He was offered a job with the Calgary Stampeders, a Canadian team. Although he knew the pay would be very low, he needed a job. Arriving in Calgary, he learned the pay would be even lower than he originally thought. He would be only a practice player with a weekly paycheck of less than two hundred dollars. To get by, Dwayne and three other players rented a dingy apartment, which they furnished with whatever useful items they could pull from dumpsters. To eat, Dwayne went to practice sessions and meetings he did not have to attend— he knew that food would be served there.
Canadian and U.S. Football: Different Countries, Different Rules
Although he had played football since he was a teenager and thought he knew all of the rules, Dwayne Johnson encountered a few surprises during his brief stint with the Canadian Football League. One thing a Canadian player might have told him is that football actually came to the United States from Canada about 130 years ago. Once in America, the size of the field changed and the rules were modified.
Actually, when written on paper, all of the differences in the rules could cover several pages. The first obvious difference is that U.S. football is played on a smaller field. This leads to one of the most basic differences; the number of players allowed on the field during the play. In Canada it is twelve players. In the United States the number is eleven. One of the most notable differences, though, is in salaries of professional football players. In Canada the salaries range from about $30,000 for rookies to $250,000 for starting quarterbacks, whereas in the United States salaries for the top NFL players can reach into the millions.
On his lowest day, Dwayne was called into the team office. He was cut as a practice player and was being replaced by a player who had just been cut from the NFL. Dwayne was stunned. As bad as things had been, at least he had been earning a paycheck. At twenty-three, he felt like a washed-up has-been. With no hope of a position with another team in Canada or the United States, or any other job prospects, all he could think to do was fly back to Miami, to Dany.