Former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died Wednesday at age 75.
Johnson was the first African American wrestler to hold the tag-team title in the then World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) when he and Tony Atlas, wrestling as the Soul Patrol won the tag-team title in 1983.
In addition to being a pro wrestler, Johnson served as a sparring partner for boxers such as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Johnson incorporated boxing moves, such as the Ali Shuffle, into his pro wrestling routing.
According to wrestling journalist-historian Dave Meltzer, “When Dwayne Johnson, a childhood wrestling fan who moved from territory to territory while growing up, was cut from the Canadian Football League, he asked his father to train him for pro wrestling. Rocky Johnson was very negative on his son becoming a wrestler, but eventually he and Ron Slinker trained Johnson, and through Rocky Johnson’s longtime friendship with Pat Patterson, brought Patterson in on a session.
“Patterson reported to Vince McMahon that Dwayne Johnson had more potential to be a pro wrestling star than anyone he had ever seen, and recommended they sign him.”
The rest is history.
Rocky Johnson is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
The WWE released a statement noting Johnson’s death that read, in part, “Johnson’s sports-entertainment career began in the mid-1960s when he made a memorable impression in the National Wrestling Alliance. However, Johnson found his highest levels of success when he began his WWE tenure in 1983.
“The physically imposing and wildly charismatic Johnson had several memorable rivalries with the likes of Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Don Muraco and Adrian Adonis. He found his greatest success when he teamed up with Tony Atlas as The Soul Patrol. The two men became the first African-American World Tag Team Champions in WWE history when they defeated The Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.
“WWE extends its condolences to Johnson’s family, friends and fans.”