Rocky Johnson (born Wayde Douglas Bowles; August 24, 1944) is a retired Canadian professional wrestler. Quite popular in his own right in the 1970s and 1980s, he is also known for being the father of American actor and professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. During his wrestling career he became a 1-time National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Georgia Champion and also became a 1-time NWA Southern Heavyweight Memphis Champion as well as winning many other championships. Along with his partner Tony Atlas, Johnson was a part of the first black tag team to win the World Tag Team championship in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Rocky Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, where he was raised, the fourth of five sons of Lillian and James Henry Bowles. A Black Nova Scotian, he is descended from slaves who escaped from the American South. At the age of 16, Johnson moved to Toronto, Ontario, where he began wrestling and worked as a truck driver. Initially, he trained to be a boxer and eventually sparred with greats such as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, but he was always fascinated by wrestling.
Professional wrestling career
National Wrestling Alliance
Johnson began his career as a professional wrestler in the mid-1960s. He was a top contender in the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s, receiving title matches against then-World Champions Terry Funk and Harley Race. He was well-suited to tag team wrestling, winning several regional tag team championships in the NWA. He also wrestled under a mask as “Sweet Ebony Diamond” in the Mid-Atlantic area as well.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1983, he was recruited by the World Wrestling Federation where he feuded with Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Mike Sharpe, Buddy Rose, and Adrian Adonis. He was then paired with Tony Atlas as a tag team. They defeated the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika Anoai) for the Tag Team Championship on November 15, 1983. They were the first black tag team to hold the tag title. Together, Johnson and Atlas were known as “The Soul Patrol”.
After retiring in 1991, Johnson along with Pat Patterson, trained his son Dwayne to wrestle. While he initially resisted his son’s entry into the business because he knew it was extremely difficult, he agreed to train his son on the condition that he would not go easy on him. Johnson was instrumental in getting Dwayne (later dubbed “Rocky Maivia” after both Rocky Johnson’s and Peter Maivia’s ring names) signed to a WWF developmental deal. Initially, Johnson had an on-camera presence at his son’s matches, jumping into the ring on his son’s behalf after he was attacked by The Sultan and the Iron Sheik at WrestleMania 13. Johnson was not seen on-camera again after the Rocky Maivia character flopped, but this was actually a blessing, as his son achieved crossover popularity as a cocky heel, The Rock.
Johnson was hired as a trainer for the WWE developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, in early 2003 but was let go in May of that year. On February 25, 2008, Johnson was announced as an inductee for the 2008 class of the WWE Hall of Fame along with his father-in-law “High Chief” Peter Maivia. Both he and his father-in-law were inducted into the Hall of Fame on March 29, 2008 by his son and professional wrestler, The Rock. One week earlier on March 22, Rocky Johnson wrestled his retirement match in Toronto for Stranglehold Wrestling.
Johnson married into the prolific Samoan wrestling family, which included the Anoa’i family, by marrying “High Chief” Peter Maivia’s adopted daughter Ata Maivia. Ata met Rocky after Maivia and Johnson were tag team partners in a match on the independent scene. Maivia disapproved of the relationship—not because of anything personal against Johnson, but because of Johnson’s chosen profession. The couple had a son, Dwayne, in 1972. Dwayne Johnson portrayed his father in an episode of That ’70s Show.
Johnson lived in Davie, Florida with his wife, Ata. He also has two other children, as he announced in his 2008 HOF induction, a son Curtis, and a daughter Wanda from his first marriage in 1967. Johnson is honored being the first non-Samoan to be named High Chief. His title is High Chief Tafiaiafi.