Earlier this year, we looked back at that moment in 2001 when I realized that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would become the biggest movie star in the world. Keep in mind, this was about four years after The Rock became "The Rock"—the character with the raised eyebrow and slick tongue that would excite the millions (and millions!) of fans across the WWE Universe. When he initially entered the WWE in November of 1996, though? Different story.
Back in June, I described The Rock's Rocky Maivia persona as a "baby-faced good guy with a 100 watt smile and immeasurable charisma," adding that "he started out as a fan favorite who didn't really do or say much." His debut was built up in vignettes that eschewed the values and core of his babyface character.
That debut took place on November 17, 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the WWE's Survivor Series pay-per-view. Instead of placing The Rock in a one-on-one match to showcase his skills, Vince McMahon let their future superstar babyface blast off in a more traditional four-on-four Survivor Series elimination match, where he'd be up against a team featuring Jerry "The King" Lawler, Hunter Hearst Helmsley (aka one of his biggest rivals, Triple H), and Goldust. As you can see in the above video, that meant The Rock could put his skills on display for the MSG audience and the millions (and millions!) watching the pay-per-view at home. It's kind of amazing, since he won the match for his team, defeating both Crush and Goldust to be the last man standing.
The Rock actually reacted to this match back in October for his "Rock Reacts" series on YouTube, mentioning the "Chia pet" he had on his head and how much he was feeling himself. The best quote regarding his debut is how the crowd could have reacted to his debut...and how it actually went down.
"In that moment, 22,000 people can either go, 'Sh**, he's gonna get his ass kicked!' or they go, 'Sh**, he's gonna get his ass kicked. But you know what, we like that dude, and we want him to kick ass, too.' And 22,000 people did something in this moment that defined my career and literally changed my life in one night. And it's something you can't write... You can't script it... And that thing they did, was 22,000 people started chanting my name."
It's interesting to note that Jim Ross, arguably one of the greatest commentators in professional wrestling, said "there's going to be the man right there!" during The Rock's first WWE entrance. Sure, he was more than likely told to hype up The Rock's pedigree and future in the profession, but it's dope to have a soundbyte like that in the vault, given how The Rock helped change the face of professional wrestling (and the entertainment industry in general) in his two decades of dominance.
On this day, we salute you, Rock.