Rocky "Soulman" Johnson, the father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and one of the most agile heavyweight wrestlers of the 70s, passed away today.
Brian Blair, the head of the Cauliflower Alley Club, and a friend of Johnson's, said that he had been ill over the last two weeks.
Johnson was 75.
Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia. While a pro wrestler, he worked as a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Henry Clark, and boxing combinations and the Ali shuffle were a big part of his pro wrestling comebacks.
He was the king of the dropkicks in the 70s. Even though he was built like a thick bodybuilder, 6 feet and 255 pounds, he was generally considered the most agile heavyweight in the industry at the time. He had the highest dropkicks, very similar to Kazuchika Okada today or Jim Brunzell in the 80s, but even more impressive in that he usually did a series of three dropkicks, all high, leading to his usual Boston crab finish. He also would land on his feet after high backdrops.
Johnson, while being based in California, began dating and married Ata Maivia, the daughter of Peter Maivia, who was a frequent tag team partner. On May 2, 1972, the couple, living in Hayward, CA, gave birth to their only child, Dwayne. Johnson had two children from a prior marriage.
The couple split up and Johnson married Sheila Northern, a longtime wrestling fan.
Johnson, who legally changed his name to Rocky Johnson during his career, started wrestling in Nova Scotia in 1964. By 1966 he was working the top circuits in Canada like Maple Leaf Wrestling, International Wrestling and Stampede Wrestling, and captured the Canadian Open tag team title with Don Leo Jonathan in 1967.
His combination of fire and agility, along with an impressive physique made him a headliner from 1966 on. He had a run as world tag team champion in Detroit in 1969 with Ben Justice, and then came to Los Angeles in 1970 during a wrestling boom.
Johnson won the first-ever major Los Angeles Battle Royal, and the Americas title from the Great Kojika, on the same night. He was the top babyface in the territory until the turn of Fred Blassie, after the two had a big money singles program.
He then had a long tenure in San Francisco, where he would be remembered as one of the biggest stars in the history of Roy Shire's Big Time Wrestling. Always a babyface, was both a singles headliner at the Cow Palace, and tag team headliner with partners like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Maivia and Pepper Gomez.
He remained a headliner, being one of the biggest draws in the history of the Tennessee territory for his matches with Jerry Lawler, where he started out in 1976 with a storyline that he was a top-ten ranked boxer who had never wrestled, doing a boxer vs wrestler program with Lawler to take advantage of the topical Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki program.
He remained one of the most in-demand wrestlers in the country, working different territories, where he almost always won the top singles title, as well as the major markets like St. Louis, Houston and sometimes Tennessee or San Francisco as a fly-in star. He was a frequent opponent of both Terry Funk and Harley Race as world champion and would be ranked as one of the bigger stars for Sam Muchnick of the 70s.
On the biggest night of pro wrestling in the 70s, the night of the Ali vs. Inoki closed circuit show, Johnson was chosen on one of the regional undercards broadcast in many NWA cities and territories to face Terry Funk in a match in Houston for the NWA title.
He also worked under a mask as Sweet Ebony Diamond in the Carolinas.
He is a member of the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame and the WWE Hall of Fame.
He was the first wrestler of his race to hold the Georgia state title and the first to hold any title in the WWF, when he and Tony Atlas, called The Soul Patrol, beat The Wild Samoans, Afa & Sika, to win the tag team title. The team didn't get along outside the ring and was broken up
quickly, losing to Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis.
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.
Johnson worked a little with his son as a rookie, and later worked as a coach for WWE developmental in Louisville but had been out of pro wrestling.