Dwayne, The Rock, Johnson spoke during The Joe Rogan Experience about his plans to join MMA in the late 90s. The Rock couldn't make the kind of money they were making in MMA at the time, at least the rumors were circulating then.
The Rock was also frustrated by the reaction of WWE fans. He couldn't take the booing anymore. “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, 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 smile, I don’t want to 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 * 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. ’”- The Rock said, as quoted by pwmania.com
The Rock and his father
The Rock had knowledge from a young age that his father passed on to him.
In addition, his friends in MMA advised him to join and believed that he could really build a career there. “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.’”