It’s always difficult to pick out the most powerful wrestler in Canada due to the number of accomplished wrestlers in the country and its rich history in wrestling. However, if there is one Canadian professional wrestler who was highly regarded in the 1960s for his skills and prowess in the ring, that would be none other than Rocky Johnson. In his active years, he was well-loved for his in-ring presence, captivating matches, agility, speed, and above all, his ability to stay relevant in the midst of so many competitors.
Being an extremely powerful wrestler, Johnson engaged in classic battles with icons like Adrian Adonis, Buddy Rose, Mike Sharpe, Greg Valentine, and Don Muraco. Equally impressive was his powerful build, body control, and grappling skills which endeared him to so many people outside the ring. Besides his most memorable feuds with rivals, here are lesser-known facts about Rocky, as well as five fulfilling achievements he recorded in his lifetime.
Rocky Johnson’s Background and What He was Known For
Rocky Johnson was originally born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, on 24th August 1944. He was the fourth son of James Henry Bowles and Lillian Bowles. A descendant of Black Loyalists who fled from a Southern Plantation in the U.S to Nova Scotia at the end of the infamous American Revolutionary War.
Johnson was known in Canada and beyond its shores as a professional wrestler. He made his first appearance in the ring in 1964 in Southern Ontario after many months of intense training. Shortly after his debut, Johnson picked up the moniker “Rocky Johnson” as a tribute to his boxing heroes – Jack Johnson and Rocky Marciano. The wrestler equally had other names with which he made grand entries into the ring, including Sweet Ebony Diamond and Drew Glasteau.
In a career that spanned over two decades, Rocky faced off against prominent wrestlers in The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) between 1964 and 1982 and the World Wrestling Federation between 1982 and 1985. He retired in 1991 and was later hired at the Louisville, Kentucky-based professional wrestling company Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he worked briefly in 2003.
The wrestler made a return to the ring on 29th November 2003 when he feuded with the American professional wrestler Nelson Frazier Jr. at Memphis Wrestling in a boxing match.
Life Before Wrestling
Rocky Johnson was very passionate about combat sports right from his young age. Although he had an initial interest in boxing, he began showing great seriousness in wrestling at the age of 16 after he moved to Toronto, there, he also worked as a truck driver.
During the days he took up boxing lessons, he had the privilege of training with legendary boxers George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring. Rocky, however, lost interest in the combat sport after some time and made his way back to wrestling. He was trained by Peter Maivia, Rocky Bollie, and Kurt Von Steiger in the course of his career.
Rocky Johnson’s 5 Career Highlights
The “Soul Man”, as he is fondly called may have passed on but his legacy will be continuously felt in the wrestling world in years to come. Rocky’s career was highlighted by memorable matches with rivals trough which he earned special recognition and titles. Despite facing various challenges like racism in the early stage of his career, the wildly charismatic and physically imposing wrestler was able to wind up his career on a high note. Here are some of his greatest achievements:
1. National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Career
Rocky Johnson made memorable impacts in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) between 1964–1982, feuding with the likes of Harley Race and Terry Funk who were World Champions at that time, as well as Jerry Lawler, whose crown he won at one point. He also participated in tag team wrestling and bagged several regional team championships in the National Wrestling Alliance as one of the top contenders at that time.
During his storied career, Johnson took part in over 7,000 competitions and won more than 50 wrestling championship titles. He was also famed for participating in wrestling in every major region in the U.S.
Johnson retired with an avalanche of NWA titles (both individual and tag team titles) with several wrestling promoters. He won the NWA World Tag Team Championship four times along with Ben Justice with Big Time Wrestling, he also won four championships (1 tag team championship and 3 personal championships) with Championship Wrestling from Florida and recorded victories four times with Soul Train Jones and Jimmy Valiantin the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship through the wrestling promoter, Continental Wrestling Association.
Rocky holds the record as the first black to have won the NWA Georgia Heavyweight Champion. He won it twice before going ahead to win the NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship with Jerry Brisco (1 time) and later the NWA Macon Tag Team Championship with Danny Little Bear (1 time).
Some of his other NWA major titles include but not limited to NWA Polynesian Pacific Tag Team Championship with Ricky Johnson (twice), NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (once), NWA “Beat the Champ” Television Championship (twice), NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship (twice), NWA Canadian Tag Team Championship with Don Leo Jonathan (once), NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (once), and NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship (once).
2. World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Success
Despite Rocky’s outstanding career in NWA, his time in WWF (now WWE) is widely regarded as the most flourishing period of his career. He is known to have recorded a great deal of success during his WWE tenure in the year 1982.
Apart from battling with great wrestlers like Adrian Adonis, Mike Sharpe, Don Muraco, Buddy Rose, and Greg Valentine, Johnson also emerged the winner of the World Tag Team Championship along with his teammate Tony Atlas (billed as “The Soul Patrol”). Their victory over the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) saw them emerge as the first black wrestlers in the history of WWE to achieve such feat.
3. Training Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
As a child, Dwayne Johnson was greatly inspired by his father’s wrestling prowess and impressive feats in the sports industry. Even though he is now best known for his tough roles in movies, he actually started out as a wrestler. The younger Johnson was trained by his father Rocky alongside the legendary Canadian-American professional wrestler, Pat Patterson. We gathered that Rocky initially refused to groom his son into a wrestler due to the nature of the sport but he later changed his mind after his retirement in 1991.
Dwayne eventually launched his career as a wrestler in 1996 with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), winning his matches with The Brooklyn Brawler and at the USWA World Tag Team Championship with veteran wrestler Bart Sawyer (twice) and losing his feud with Owen Hart and Chris Candido. He later joined the WWE in the same year, using the ring name Rocky Maivia, which was a combination of his grandfather and father’s ring names.
Rocky Johnson used to attend Dwayne’s matches during the latter’s budding years. He was known for jumping into the ring on behalf of his son during attacks, including at Wrestlemania 13 where Dwayne was pounced on by The Iron Sheik and The Sultan. Rocky stopped making on-camera appearances at his son’s match after the Rocky Maivia character suffered defeat. Dwayne later achieved great popularity with the ring name The Rock, winning several titles under WWE. He retired from wrestling in 2004 and subsequently made a return to WWE in 2011. Dwayne officially announced his second and final retirement from wrestling on the 3rd of August 2019 after his final outing at SmackDown’s 20th Anniversary.
4. W.W.E Hall of Fame
2008 was indeed a remarkable year for Rocky Johnson and everyone who admired his exceptional career as a wrestler. The Black Canadian was inducted into the W.W.E Hall of Fame in that year by his son, The Rock. The induction took place on 29th March 2008, one month after it was officially announced.
Prior to his death in January 2020, Johnson was appointed on 20th December 2019 to serve as a member of the International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, adding to his long list of achievements. Sometime in 2003, the accomplished wrestler briefly served at WWE’s developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, as a trainer.
5. He Earned Himself A Spot on That ’70s Show
There is no better way to celebrate a loved one than portraying who they are and what they are known for in a movie. One of Rocky’s achievements was having his son recreate his wrestling skills in the ring in the American sitcom, That ’70s Show. The Rock was featured in season one of the show, precisely in the episode “That Wrestling Show” which debuted in the year 1999.
Interestingly, That ’70s Show was Dwayne’s first acting job. “That Wrestling Show” chronicles how some characters met Dwayne (in character as Rocky) in the locker room after his wrestling game to take an autograph and how he predicted that his son would be a superstar in the sports entertainment. Although at that time, Rocky’s words seemed funny, it actually came to fruition.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson remains one of the most respected wrestlers of his time even though he has since transitioned into a full-time movie star. Other wrestling professionals who got featured in the episode include The Hardy Boyz, Ernie Ladd, and Ken Shamrock.
A Look At His Personal Life Achievements
Besides his career exploits, Rocky Johnson also performed well in other facets of life. Although there are no records of him involving himself in charitable works or having entrepreneurial success, he was a great man who did his best to instil an unquenchable drive for greatness in everyone around him, especially his own kids.
While some people consider marriage as an achievement, others believe staying happy in marriage is the real achievement. For Rocky Johnson, he may not have spent his entire life with one woman but the love he had for his family and his ability to unite them all before drawing his last breathe was one big achievement.
The Soul Man tied the knot three times in his lifetime; he got married to his first wife Una Sparks in 1966 after they got connected during his boxing training session. The two divorced in 1978 after having two kids: Curtis Bowles Johnson and Wanda Bowles Johnson. Una is a Nova Scotian and devout Jehovah’s Witness, Curtis is a successful businessman who had an initial interest in wrestling, while Wanda’s personal life is under the radar. Rocky made his last known outing with his Sparks’ children in 2008 during his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The name of Johnson’s second wife is Ata Maivia. The two became romantically attached to each other while he was still married to his first wife. Ata’s father, who was Rocky’s tag team partner at the time, initially objected to their relationship because he knew wrestlers are always on the road but he later consented to their marriage in 1978 which resulted in the birth of Dwayne Douglas Johnson on 2nd May 1972, in Hayward, California. Maivia and Ata divorced in 2003 after many years together.
The wrestler’s first son, Curtis, may not have followed in his footsteps but Rocky’s belated decision to train Dwayne to carry on the family’s legacy is considered as an achievement by many people. Today, the family name still rings a bell in the wrestling world, be it in WWE or NMA.
Rocky Johnson died at the age of 75 from a pulmonary embolism on 15th January 2020, in Lutz, Florida, in the United States. At the time of his death, he was married to his third wife, Sheila. Detailed information about their relationship is not available for public consumption.