Not many people recognize the name Dwayne Johnson. Some remember his college football career for the Miami Hurricanes. Fewer remember his unsuccessful Stampeders training camp. All in all, Dwayne is a pretty obscure personality–about as famous as your average university football stud can get.
After leaving football, he got married and took on the same profession as his father and his grandfather. Sounds normal enough. But last weekend, he did something amazing, something only a handful of athletes has ever done. Did he record five sacks in a game? Did he become the governor of Minnesota? No, he hosted Saturday Night Live and the crowd chanted his name–at least his adopted name. You see, Dwayne Johnson is the Rock–the trash-talking, Elvis-singing, fan favourite in Vince McMahon’s traveling soap opera, the WWF.
The Rock is by far the most popular WWF athlete and by hosting SNL, he joined a very exclusive club of athletes. Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan are two of the most famous members, though I don’t recall anybody chanting "Wayne, Wayne" or "Mike, Mike." Not that I’m equating the feats of MJ or Gretzky to a pro-wrestler–that would be blasphemy in the highest degree. After all, wrestling is not a pure competitive sport; it’s a highly athletic soap opera, merging a screenwriter’s fantasy and the athletic talents of its actors. The outcomes may be fixed, but the crowds don’t care because they are there to willingly suspend their belief and cheer on the Rock as he takes on a new villain each and every week.
My comparison lies with what Jordan, Gretzky and the Rock have done for their respective league/federation. Jordan helped elevate basketball’s popularity into the mainstream with his vertical leap, his tongue and the marketing of Nike. He’s not just a basketball player, but a movie star (see Space Jam) and arguably one of the most famous people in the world. With his fame, the NBA enjoyed its golden years. The same can be said for Wayne Gretzky, a magician on ice and a true Canadian hero. He lifted the NHL to new heights, allowing it to expand further into the US.
The Rock does the same for the WWF. His strength, agility and mouth help draw a new generation of wrestling fans. More people watch the Rock on Monday nights than the NFL’s flagship, Monday Night Football. Just like Gretzky and Jordan, the Rock is doing commercials, and he is rumoured to have landed a major role in the sequel to The Mummy.
What the Rock proved was that wrestling has truly made its way back into the mainstream. After all, it doesn’t get much more mainstream than SNL Since the "Rock ‘n’ Wrestling" days of the mid-1980s, wrestling was pushed further and further away by the media. Steroid scandals, wrestling-related deaths and general dislike for the "fake" sport left wrestling with only a small core audience. Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin, enter Bill Goldberg, enter the Rock, and say hello to the new American pastime. It’s cool to like wrestling again and the term "jabroni" which is already used by many, is spreading like wildfire. Finally, say hello to a new star, just as bright as any other that graces our television screen–say hello to Dwayne Johnson.