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The latest episode of NBC’s “Young Rock” packed quite a punch for fans of the WWE as it showed the exact moment Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson met a handful of the Superstars who would join him in becoming some of the biggest names in the sport.
The episode titled “Corpus Christi” depicted Johnson (portrayed by Uli Latukefu) getting his big shot at wrestling in what was then called the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). At the time, it was unheard of for someone with no experience to get a call to not only appear in a WWF match but be told they’re going to win and be eyed as a new lead for the brand.
However, that’s exactly what happened to The Rock in the 1990s, as he detailed on his Instagram ahead of the episode’s premiere.
“March, 1996. I had one opportunity. I had one shot. The night my life changed,” Johnson wrote. “My first ever pro wrestling match, in Corpus Christi, Texas - I was thrown head first into the fire in front of 15,000 unmerciful wrestling fans.”
While The Rock’s story is always an inspiring one, it’s the moment he went backstage before his first match that really has WWE fans talking. While getting ready and trying to manage his nerves, Johnson is introduced to some of the best in the business who would go on to be his contemporaries in the ring and good friends outside of it.
Since these characters will likely keep popping up as the series continues, we thought it was worth going over exactly who they are:
Michael P.S. Hayes (played by Brad Burroughs)
When The Rock arrives at the arena, one of the first people he meets is Michael P.S. Hayes, the man in charge of his match that night.
In addition to showing a young Dwayne Johnson the ropes, he himself had a pretty illustrious career in wrestling as one of the people who made up The Fabulous Freebirds along with Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy and Buddy “Jack” Roberts. As a tag team, the group revolutionized in-ring entertainment and even helped pioneer the practice of having Superstars enter the ring to a signature theme song, according to the WWE’s website.
After rising to new levels of popularity in the World Class Championship Wrestling, the former multi-time world tag-team champion had to take a step back from getting in the ring due to multiple injuries accrued over time. He joined the WWE as a behind-the-scenes guy who interviewed Superstars before and after matches as well as provided some color commentary alongside the greats such as Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler.
Iron Sheik (played by Brett Azar)
Johnson sees The Iron Sheik, also known as Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, backstage on his big night, but they were already familiar with each other thanks to his dad’s days in the ring. Sheik had quite the in-ring career in the 1980s as a notorious nationalistic bad guy whose rivalry with Sgt. Slaughter dominated the sport for years.
By the time The Rock got in the ring, though, he’d been hired by the WWE as a manager for The Sultan. Although his wrestling days were behind him, he could still rile up a crowd like no other. In the episode, he gets on the phone with the Johnson family to give them beat-by-beat commentary on Dwayne’s first time in the ring.
Stone Cold Steve Austin (played by Luke Hawx)
One of the first wrestlers Johnson meets backstage is a young guy from the south going by the name The Ringmaster. In a voiceover, Johnson notes he would go on to be “the man who revolutionized the wrestling business and, in my opinion, the greatest of all time.”
Back then, though, Austin’s career was in a bit of a slump. After an elbow injury got him fired from the WCW, where he was a rising star going by “Stunning” Steve Austin, he bounced around the business for a while before being given a shot in the WWE as The Ringmaster. In the episode, he notes that McMahon didn’t want him doing a ton of talking, but that would later go away as his loud-mouth, brash attitude and ability to captivate wrestling fans made him one of the most recognizable figures in the game.
In fact, he and The Rock would go on to have one of the most electrifying feuds in wrestling history. They competed in three WrestleMania Pay-Per-View Events against each other that would ultimately lead to the mutual respect they share today.
Triple H (played by Miles Burris)
Speaking of feuds, the episode depicted the moment The Rock met one of his other in-ring rivals, Hunter Hearst Helmsley (aka Paul Levesque). Today Triple H is known as the king of the WWE and an executive vice president of the whole business. Back then, however, he had adopted the persona of an upstanding gentleman, taking to the ring in a tailcoat suit jacket and instructing his fellow Superstars on proper etiquette.
In the episode, a young, well-dressed Triple H points a cane at Johnson and the two begin their lighthearted war of words right then and there. Although The Rock calls him one of his closest friends in wrestling today, their rivalry and contention over the Intercontinental Championship remains one of the best feuds to ever grace the WWE ring.
Mankind (played by Brock Dunstan)
Just as The Rock is trading barbs with Triple H, Mankind comes over to pay his respects to the son of Rocky Johnson. Without meaning to, he freaks Johnson out by letting him know there’s a lot of pressure on the winner of the match, as it means Vince would be watching to see if the crowd liked him enough. If they did, that would mean a shot at the big time.
What the young Superstar couldn’t have known at the time was just how much wisdom he was getting from a man who would not only go on to revolutionize wrestling entertainment but become his tag-team partner as one half of the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection.
Mankind was one of three wrestling personas of Mick Foley. This one was a deranged man who lurked backstage at the WWE and would make a name for himself by doing some of the most death-defying stunts in the business and injecting some pretty outrageous humor into his performances. He and The Rock couldn't have been more different, but they were a tag-team force to be reckoned with.
The Undertaker (played by Josh Rawiri)
In 1996, there was perhaps no bigger name in the WWE, or wrestling in general, than The Undertaker. Also known as Mark William Calaway, the Superstar adopted the persona of a supernatural fighter who could survive an inhuman amount of punishment with the eerie catchphrase “Rest In Peace.” Despite being the king of the Attitude Era, he was quite welcoming to a young Dwayne Johnson in the episode, encouraging him to do his thing in the ring and win over the crowd at all costs.
While he would go on to have some impressive bouts with The Rock before their time was done, his career is far and away marked by his rivalry with his brother, Kane (Glenn Jacobs). The Brothers of Destruction dominated sports entertainment in the 1990s and were two of the many villains profiled on Peacock’s “WWE: Evil.”
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