The Rock’s rise makes the whole world admire: From legendary wrestler to Hollywood star from fighting for 40 USD to net worth of 800 million USD… and now director of the board of directors of WWE

This week, it was announced that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was joining the board of TKO Group Holdings – the parent company of WWE and UFC.

A regulatory filing showed that the world-renowned wrestler and movie star will make a whopping $30million in the position.

But Johnson, now 51, began his career far away from the C-Suite, telling The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2018 that he used to wrestle for just $40 per match… in a parking lot no less.

‘Oh, it was hardcore,’ he recalled. ‘So when I first started out… I had a guarantee of $40 per match every night. … I was living at the Waffle House. I ate there three times a day. So Monday nights were the flea market. I would wrestle there at the big time flea market in Memphis, Tennessee. Saturday would be the state fair, every Saturday. And then throughout the week, we would wrestle at used car dealerships.’

So how did ‘The Rock’ ascend from the doldrums of the wrestling world to become one of its most powerful executives?

His story in the ring began under a slightly different moniker, as Johnson initially fought as Rocky Maivia – a combination of his father (Rocky Johnson) and grandfather’s (Peter Maivia) names – both of whom were wrestlers as well.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is seen during a ceremony announcing he has joined the Board of Directors for TKO at New York Stock Exchange

Johnson became a beloved wrestler during his time in the ring with WWE

And now he’ll advise the company in an executive role from TKO’s Board of Directors

Maivia made his WWF debut in 1996 as a clean-cut figure, with the organization keen to emphasize his Samoan heritage.

And while he claimed the Intercontinental Championship a year later, he was not an instant hit with wrestling fans with his babyface persona.

Things started to shift a bit in the summer of 1997, when he began adopting ‘The Rock’ moniker, as he started developing the brash, loud-mouthed identity that he became known for, and joined the Nation of Domination.

He even referred to himself as ‘The Rock’ in the third-person.

Feuds with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Triple H would raise his profile, as would the infamous catchphrases he coldly yelled at his detractors. ‘It doesn’t matter!’ he would repeatedly tell them. ‘Can you smell what ‘The Rock’ is cooking?’ was also one of his favorite refrains.

By the late 90’s, ‘The Rock’ had blossomed into a full-fledged superstar and his massive list of accomplishments by the end of his career –  eight WWE Championships and headlining WrestleMania – showed just how highly-valued he ultimately became by the organization.

But after more than seven years of pro wrestling – which followed a brief career as a college and pro football player – Johnson decided to walk away from the sport at the age of just 32 in 2004 (he performed from 2011-13 as a part-time performer).

The Rock debuted as ‘Rocky Maiva in 1996, and was initially given a babyface persona

He later turned heel and won over fans with his brash personality and cutting catchphrases

Hulk Hogan and The Rock are seen at  Wrestlemania X8 in Toronto, Canada in 2002

‘I quietly retired from wrestling because I was lucky enough to have just a really wonderful career and accomplish what I wanted to accomplish,’ he told Live With Kelly & Ryan in 2019.

But ‘The Rock’ was not about to exit the public eye. On the contrary – he was leaving wrestling to become a full-fledged movie star, or attempt to do so at least.

The seeds for that route were sown before he was even done in the ring, as he hosted Saturday Night Love in 2000 and landed his first TV role in 1999, playing his father in an episode of ‘That ’70s Show’ that centered on wrestling.

But it was in 2001 that ‘The Rock’ landed his first film role in ‘The Mummy Returns’ before earning a starring role in ‘The Scorpion King’ the next year.

And just like his wrestling journey, it didn’t take that long before Johnson was fully thrust into the mainstream.

Johnson, seen with Roger Ebert (center) and Jay Leno in 2000, became even more famous after he left the wrestling world

His starring roles in movies such as ‘The Tooth Fairy’ made him a mainstream figure

He also starred in ‘Jumanji’ alongside Kevin Hart (left), Karen Gillan and Jack Black

In 2006 – two years after he retired from wrestling – he earned plaudits for the role of Sean Porter in ‘Gridiron Gang’, a youth football coach who tries to lead a group of youth delinquents away from a life of crime.

‘With Gridiron Gang, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has proved he’s able to make the leap from eyebrow-cocking wrestler-turned-actor to actual leading man,’ Empire wrote at the time.

He got further exposure from ‘The Other Guys (2010) and various roles in the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, while appearances in family-friendly, bubble-gum movies like ‘Tooth Fairy’ (2009) and ‘Jumanji’ (2017) helped cement his place as a household name with massive reach – and deep pockets.

Johnson is now worth an estimated $800million, as he has morphed from a high-flying wrestler to a businessman with his hand in a variety of different revenue streams.

He is believed to have a 30-40 percent stake in spirits brand Teremana Tequila, according to Yahoo! Finance, while he also founded his own production studio, Seven Bucks Productions.

He also has an athleticwear label with Under Armour, Project Rock, which signed a deal with UFC in 2022 to become the company’s official footwear partner.

But The Rock hasn’t merely partnered with leagues – he’s bought them as well.

In 2020, he and a group of investors forked over $15million to purchase the XFL, a football alternative to the NFL which shuttered earlier that year as a result of the pandemic.

Johnson, along with other investors, bought the XFL for $15million in 2020

The league merged with the USFL late last year, billing itself as the ‘United Football League.’

Making that organization viable will be a massive challenge, but regardless, the fact that Johnson now runs a football league is a sign of just how far he’s come.

He’s a worldwide movie star, best-selling author and WWE legend turned executive, who will now help lead the company through an extremely tumultuous time.

‘Very few people on the planet understand the convergence of sports, entertainment, media, and business like Rock,’ TKO executive chairman Vince McMahon said in a statement announcing Johnson’s new role on the board.

Roughly three decades after The Rock’s very humble beginnings in the wrestling world, McMahon couldn’t be more right.