Canadian professional wrestler
Johnson in December 1975
|Birth name||Wayde Douglas Bowles|
(1944-08-24)August 24, 1944
Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
|Died||January 15, 2020(2020-01-15) (aged 75)
Lutz, Florida, U.S.
|Children||3, including Dwayne Johnson|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Sweet Ebony Diamond
|Billed height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
|Billed weight||260 lb (120 kg; 18 st 8 lb)|
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Washington, D.C., United States
Kurt Von Steiger
Rocky Johnson (born Wayde Douglas Bowles; August 24, 1944 – January 15, 2020) was a Canadian professional wrestler. Among many National Wrestling Alliance titles, he was the first black Georgia Heavyweight Champion. He won the World Tag Team Championship in 1983, along with his partner Tony Atlas, to become the first black champions in WWE history.
Rocky Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, where he was raised, the fourth of five sons of Lillian (née Gay; 1919–1996) and James Henry Bowles. (1888–1957). A Black Nova Scotian, he was descended from Black Loyalists (Africans) who immigrated to Nova Scotia after escaping from a southern plantation in the United States after the American Revolutionary War. At the age of 16, Johnson moved to Toronto, where he began wrestling and worked as a truck driver. Initially, he trained to be a boxer and eventually sparred with greats such as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, but he was always fascinated by wrestling.
Professional wrestling career
National Wrestling Alliance (1964–1982)
Johnson began his career as a professional wrestler in 1964, in Southern Ontario; soon after his debut, he legally changed his name to his “Rocky Johnson” moniker. He chose the name Rocky Johnson as a tribute to two of his favorite boxing greats: Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson, the latter being the first black heavyweight boxing champion.
He was a top contender in the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s, receiving title matches against then-World Champions Terry Funk and Harley Race. He was well-suited for tag team wrestling, winning several regional tag team championships in the NWA. Johnson wrestled off and on in the Memphis promotion, often feuding with Jerry Lawler, winning Lawler’s crown at one point. He also wrestled under a mask as “Sweet Ebony Diamond” in the Mid-Atlantic area.
World Wrestling Federation (1982–1985)
In 1982, Johnson feuded with Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Mike Sharpe, Buddy Rose, and Adrian Adonis. He was then paired with Tony Atlas as a tag team. They defeated the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) for the Tag Team Championship on the December 10, 1983 episode of Championship Wrestling (taped November 15). They were the first black men to hold a WWF championship. Together, they were billed as “The Soul Patrol”.
After retiring in 1991, Johnson along with Pat Patterson, trained his son Dwayne to wrestle. While he initially resisted his son’s entry into what he knew to be an extremely difficult business, Johnson agreed to train him on the condition that he wouldn’t go easy on him. Johnson was instrumental in getting Dwayne (later dubbed “Rocky Maivia” after both Rocky Johnson’s and Peter Maivia‘s ring names) signed to a WWF developmental deal. Initially, Johnson had an on-camera presence at his son’s matches, and jumped into the ring on his behalf after he was attacked by The Sultan and The Iron Sheik at WrestleMania 13. Johnson was not seen on-camera again after the Rocky Maivia character flopped, and soon Dwayne achieved crossover popularity as a cocky heel, The Rock.
In early 2003, Johnson was hired as a trainer for the WWE developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, but was let go in May. He made a return to the ring, and defeated Mabel in a boxing match at Memphis Wrestling on November 29, 2003. On February 25, 2008, Johnson was announced as an inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame along with his father-in-law, “High Chief” Peter Maivia. Both Johnson and his father-in-law were inducted into the Hall of Fame on March 29, 2008 by his son, The Rock.
On December 20, 2019, Johnson joined the Board of Directors of the International Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Johnson recounted in his autobiography Soulman that he met his first wife Una Sparks at a dance while he was training to become a boxer. Una was from Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia and a devout Jehovah’s Witness. They had two children, Curtis and Wanda, whom he thanked at his 2008 WWE Hall of Fame induction. While married to Una, he became romantically-involved with Ata Maivia, daughter of wrestling legend “High Chief” Peter Maivia. Ata met Rocky after Maivia and Johnson were tag team partners in a match on the independent circuit. Maivia disapproved of the relationship – not because of anything personal against Johnson – but because of his chosen profession, as he knew first hand how hard it was for wrestlers’ families who were at home while they were constantly on the road. Their son Dwayne was born May 2, 1972. Johnson stated that in order to provide for his two families, he adopted a frugal lifestyle on the road, subsisting on beer, sliced cheese, and bologna, and “unlike most of the other boys, I wasn’t a partier”. He does not reveal if Una knew about Ata and Dwayne, but stated that she gave him an ultimatum to quit wrestling or they would have to separate as Jehovah’s Witnesses “didn’t believe in blood sport”. He stated that he and Una parted amicably, and remained good friends. He obtained a divorce in Texas, then filed for a marriage license in Florida on December 21, 1978 to marry Ata; they divorced in 2003. He was married to Sheila Northern, a speech pathologist, at the time of his death.
On January 15, 2020 at the age of 75 in the Lutz, Florida home Dwayne bought for him, Johnson died of a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot that travelled from a deep vein thrombosis in his leg.B. Brian Blair told the Associated Press that Johnson “thought he had the flu or something”, but refused to see a doctor. Dwayne paid tribute, stating “I’m in pain” and “You lived a very full, very hard, barrier breaking life and left it all in the ring. I love you dad and I’ll always be your proud and grateful son.”Hulk Hogan tweeted condolences, describing Rocky as “a great man, great friend” and “one of only a few that was kind and helpful when I first broke in.”
In popular culture
Championships and accomplishments
- “Rocky Johnson Profile”. Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
“Rocky Johnson returns home”. SLAM! Sports. 2005-07-16. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
Growing up, Mr. Johnson was known as Wayde Bowles
- “Rocky Johnson: Hall of Fame”. World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.36)
Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Simon and Schuster. p. 146. ISBN 0-7434-9033-9.
He was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1944, the fourth of five sons born to James Henry Bowles and Lillian Bowles. His family members were descended from slaves who had escaped the plantations of the American South
- “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies”. The Ringer. January 20, 2020. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
- “Soulman” Rocky Johnson[permanent dead link] Samoan Pro Wrestling Page of Fame. Accessed on September 3, 2010.
Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Simon and Schuster. p. 147. ISBN 0-7434-9033-9.
In 1964, the already ripped twenty-year-old debuted as a wrestler in the southern Ontario area. He took on the ring name Rocky Johnson, and wound up liking it so much that he soon had his name legally changed.
- Levenson, Michael. “Rocky Johnson, Pro Wrestler Who Trained His Son the Rock, Dies at 75”. The New York Times. January 15, 2020.
Staff (19 August 2019). “Book Review: Soulman – The Rocky Johnson Story”. POST Wrestling. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
The book wraps up with Johnson’s time in Mid-Atlantic territory working under a mask as Sweet Ebony Diamond…
Jimmy Geurts (17 June 2019). “Mick Foley, Rocky Johnson to visit Sarasota wrestling charity event”. Sarasota Herald Tribune. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
Johnson joined the WWE in 1983, where he and Tony Atlas formed The Soul Patrol and became the first black tag team to win the World Tag Team Championship.
- “Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dies at 75″. noroman.net. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
- “Chapter 5: Job Men” Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books. Retrieved January 15, 2020
- Rock, The. The Rock Says… (pp. 6–7).
- “Chapter 27: Bubba Von Dougas” Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books Retrieved January 16, 2020
- “Chapter 10: White Women” Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books Retrieved January 15, 2020
- Oliver, Greg (2003-08-20). “Rocky Johnson: The unknown WWE trainer”. Slam! Sports. Archived from the original on 2015-12-23. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- “Who is Dana Martin? Rocky Johnson’s Wife, Bio, Age, Husband, Children and Net Worth”. Thefamousinfo.com. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
- “Rocky Johnson’s Cause Of Death Revealed”. Heel By Nature. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
- “Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dies at 75″. noroman.net. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
- “The Rock’s dad, who was also a professional wrestler, has died; Rocky Johnson was 75” by Brett Clarkson Sun-Sentinel Retrieved January 15, 2020
- “Rocky ‘Soulman’ Johnson, The Rock’s Dad and WWE Superstar, Dead at 75”. TMZ. January 15, 2020.
- “Rocky Johnson WWE Hall of Famer and father of ‘The Rock,’ dies at 75 (January 15, 2020) ESPN retrieved February 19, 2020
- Burch, Sean. “Dwayne Johnson Posts Loving Tribute to Late Father and WWE Star Rocky Johnson: ‘I’m in Pain‘“. Thewrap.com. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
- Casey, Connor (2020-01-16). “Hulk Hogan Remembers Rocky Johnson Following His Death”. Comicbook.com. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
- “NWA World Tag Team Championship (Detroit version) history”.
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- “NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship history”.
- “NWA Florida Tag Team Championship history”.
- “NWA Florida Television Championship history”.
- Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary (2006) [2000.]. “(Memphis, Nashville) Tennessee: Southern Tag Team Title [Roy Welsch & Nick Gulas, Jerry Jarrett from 1977]”. Wrestling title histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Waterloo, Ontario: Archeus Communications. pp. 185–189. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- “Southern Tag Team Title”. Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
- “NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship history”.
- “NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship history”.
- “NWA Macon Tag Team Championship history”.
- “WCW World Television Championship history”. Archived from the original on 2008-04-12.
- “NWA Canadian Tag Team Championship (Vancouver version) history”.
- Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2006). “(Texas) Dallas: NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Title”. Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. p. 271. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- “Texas Brass Knucks Title [East Texas]”. Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
- Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). “Texas: NWA Texas Heavyweight Title [Von Erich]”. Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 268–269. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- “NWA Texas Heavyweight Title”. Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
- Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). “Texas: NWA Texas Tag Team Title [Von Erich]”. Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 275–276. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- “NWA Texas Tag Team Title [E. Texas]”. wrestling-titles.com. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- “NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship history”.
- Hoops, Brian (January 16, 2019). “Pro wrestling history (01/16): Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton win WCW Tag Team Titles”. Wrestling Observer Figure Four Online. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
- “NWA Americas Tag Team Championship history”.
- “NWA Beat the Champ Television Championship history”.
- “CWA/AWA International Tag Team Championship history”.
- “Memphis Wrestling Southern Heavyweight Championship history”.
- “NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (San Francisco version) history”.
- “NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version) history”.
- “NWA Polynesian Pacific Tag Team Title (Hawaii)”. Wrestling-Titles.com.
- “NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship history”.
- “NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship history”.
- “Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 Wrestlers of the PWI Years”. Wrestling Information Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-08-22. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- “Rocky Johnson’s and Tony Atlas’ first World Tag Team Championship reign”.
- Mick Foley (2001). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 768. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.