The Rock reveals he came really close to an MMA career: I should train MMA, go to Pride, and earn real money. Then I wouldn’t have to smile

Dwayne Johnson, better known as “The Rock” from his professional wrestling days, recently revealed he once seriously considered pursuing a career in mixed martial arts.

During a November 2023 appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Johnson explained what attracted him to MMA and how close he came to stepping into the octagon.

Johnson rose to fame in the WWE during the late 1990s before transitioning to acting in the early 2000s. However, in the late 90s, Johnson became fascinated with the beginnings of modern MMA. He was particularly drawn to the success of early UFC stars like Ken Shamrock.

“In ’97, during that period when I was still traveling to LA and working out, we were encountering all the MMA guys. Pride had just opened up in Japan. I observed numerous MMA guys transitioning to Pride. ”

“During that timeframe, I was earning $150,000, wrestling 235 days a year. If you calculate that and consider how much you’re making per match, we started hearing that the guys in Pride were making $250k, $350k, $500k. At that point, I thought, well, I don’t think I’ll make it in WWE. People are booing me out of the arenas. I can’t be myself. They’re telling me to smile. I don’t want to smile; it’s not who I am. I began talking to Ken Shamrock, who was wrestling with us at the time. I ran into Mark Kerr and had a conversation with him. He shared a bit about Pride. I had this idea in my head – maybe I should train for MMA, go to Pride, and earn real money. Then I wouldn’t have to smile. ”

“So, I had this entire plan in my head. I discussed it with my wife at that time, saying, I think that’s the way to go because those guys are paying real money, and these fans are booing me over here for 150 grand.”

Intrigued by MMA as an opportunity, Johnson revealed he began training seriously with the intent of competing. He worked extensively on his striking and conditioning. However, after suffering a knee injury while pro wrestling, Johnson was forced to reconsider. His coach advised him to stick with wrestling for the time being, leading Johnson to ultimately never make an MMA debut.

Still, Johnson remains an MMA fan and discussed at length the talents of early MMA pioneers during his podcast appearance. He clearly still wonders what impact he could have made if he transitioned to the fledgling sport in the late 1990s.

While Johnson found incredible success in Hollywood, his brief flirtation with MMA training indicates he will always be drawn to combat sports.

Interestingly, his claims on JRE are in contrast to comments he made in 2017. Johnson revealed back then that he contemplated an MMA career in 2007, envisioning a two-year training process with Greg Jackson, but ultimately opted to continue his path in the movie industry.