The Rock says he considered leaving WWE and joining an MMA company during the early part of his wrestling career

During an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson commented on how he considered leaving WWE and joining an MMA company during the early part of his wrestling career…

“97, I was still going to LA and working out. We were crossing all the MMA guys. PRIDE just opened up in Japan. I started seeing all these MMA guys going over to PRIDE. At that time, I was making $150,000 dollars wrestling 235 days a year. Do the math on that and how much you’re making per match. We start hearing, ‘these guys in PRIDE are making $250,000, $350,000, $500,000.’ I thought then, ‘Fuck, I don’t think I’m going to make it in WWE. People are booing me out of the arenas. I can’t be myself. They’re telling me to fucking smile, I don’t want to fucking smile. That’s not who I am.’ I start talking to Ken Shamrock, I start talking with Mark Kerr, ‘tell me about PRIDE.’ I have this idea in my head ‘maybe I should train in MMA, go to PRIDE, and make real money and I don’t have to smile.’ I’m going to get fucked up, knock one of my lungs loose [laughs], but I find the right coach and train. I have this whole thing in my head. I’m talking to my wife at the time, ‘I think this is the way to go. I can make real money while these fans are booing me for $150 grand.’”

“My dad [Rocky Johnson] was a great amateur boxer. He sparred with Foreman [George Foreman] a few times. Sparred with Ali [Muhammad Ali], that was a little bit more of a show. Great amateur, Golden Gloves in Canada, he was a badass. He was teaching me how to hit at a young age, heavy bags and speed bags. I felt like I’ve always been very coachable at whatever it is that I did, whether it was football or wrestling. I felt like, ‘If there’s a shot at this, I can go to PRIDE and make money.’ I had this thought of PRIDE because it felt like those guys were making money, they’re putting on big shows, there are 20 or 30,000 people at these shows and they look incredible. When you’re talking to guys and they’re in it and saying, ‘You can do it.’ Shamrock was very smart, which I appreciated. He was like, ‘You might want to stick with this first. There’s a real shot here. Stick with this.’”

The Rock brought up how he ultimately made the call to continue his WWE career…

“I get a call from Vince [McMahon], ‘How is your knee?’ ‘It’s healing up.’ I don’t tell him about this idea and that I’ve been talking to Shamrock and Kerr. He says, ‘I want to try to bring you back this one time. I want to turn you heel and we have a faction called Nation of Domination, I want to have you join them and we’ll see how it works out.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ but I still have this MMA idea in my head because I want to make money and be myself. I get to the arena that night, I went to Vince and said, ‘When I go out there, can I have two minutes on the microphone?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, it’s live, all our time is allocated for.’ ‘I just need two minutes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I just want to be real and tell the fans how I feel and I needed to recalibrate things.’ He said, ‘Fine, a minute, you got it.’”

“That was the most freeing thing for me in my career. You know how you have these defining moments? In that one little moment, I was ripping all this open. Now you can boo me, watch how I respond. Fuck the smiling, I’ll smile when I want to smile. Watch how I respond, watch my words and actions. The fans felt something that night and within a month, I became the hottest heel in WWE.” (quotes courtesy of Jeremy Lambert)