(CBSLA/CBS Local) — For Simone Johnson, having The Rock, one of the most successful professional wrestlers of all-time as your father, will open some doors. It also doesn’t hurt that Dwayne Johnson one of the top-grossing movie stars in the world. But that is where the advantages stop for WWE’s newest signee.
There is a tough road ahead for the 18-year-old daughter of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as she attempts to become the first fourth-generation Superstar in sports entertainment history. She’s not just following in her father’s famous footsteps, but also those of her grandfather Rocky Johnson and her great grandfather “High Chief” Peter Maivia, both of whom are members of the WWE Hall of Fame.
The expectations are sky-high for Simone Johnson as she begins training at the WWE Performance Center. While wrestling is an industry where most performers crave the spotlight, few would welcome the intense media crush she is already experiencing without having competed in her first match.
Count Paul “Triple H” Levesque among those not envious of her position.
“In every conceivable format and every conceivable level, people are talking about it,” he told reporters this week.
Levesque has acquired what many would consider to be a lifetime’s worth of wisdom during his nearly 30 years in the business. His career includes 14 world championship reigns and membership in WWE Hall of Fame as part of the famed Degeneration X faction. He is also the current Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events & Creative for the company. Yet, not even Levesque feels like he’s in a position to counsel the younger Johnson about certain realities of wrestling given her unique pedigree. Instead, the father of three is leaving that up to her own larger-than-life parents.
“I don’t think that there’s any advice I could give her that she doesn’t have already coming at her from her dad and her mom,” he said. “They will know the challenges that she will face of being the Rock’s daughter.”
In many respects, Simone Johnson finds herself facing the same obstacles that still challenge Charlotte Flair, daughter of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Despite having won nine championships and headlining WrestleMania, she faces criticism from some who say she has been handed everything on a silver platter.
“To this day, she still deals with that,” said Levesque. “[People say], ‘Well, she gets what she gets because of her dad. She’s pushed because of her dad. She’s this because of her dad.’”
But Levesque, who has had a ringside seat to her entire career and watched her grow into one of the most recognizable women to ever set foot in a WWE ring, says the idea that she’s still riding her father’s coattails is absurd.
“Charlotte earned everything. Every single thing that’s put in front of her, she earned,” he said. “But yet she’s still questioned on it, and that’s tough.”
Levesque expects the same for Simone Johnson. Nothing will be gift-wrapped for the teenager, and all opportunities must be earned.
It may not be long before opportunities begin to present themselves. As a new recruit, she isn’t shying away from her position as low woman on the totem pole at the WWE Performance Center and isn’t thumbing her nose at even the most remedial jobs. She’s just eager to prove herself.
“The reason she’s in the PC is not because she’s the Rock’s daughter. She had a passion to do this,” Levesque said. “When I say she does everything, I mean she’s putting up the ring, she’s picking up towels, she did everything every time she’s ever been here to prove herself. It’s not a thing like, ‘Well, I’ll just do this for a little bit to show them that I care.’ It’s just who she is.”
It became clear early to Levesque and the other coaches at the Performance Center that she inherited her father’s legendary work ethic that followed him from his days in WWE to his current status as one of biggest box office attractions in the world.
“She’s treated like everybody else here. She’s earned the spot. It’s hers to lose or to keep. It’s hers to succeed at. It’s hers to grab and work harder than everybody else,” said Levesque. “She’s like her dad. She stays humble.”
In listening to Simone Johnson, you get the impression that she would love this business whether her father was a 10-time champion or whether fans never quite smelled what he was cooking. Being part of WWE makes her feel like the 10-year-old little girl who fell in love with wrestling after watching countless hours of decades-old matches with her grandmother. It was those viewing parties, not watching her father compete, that truly piqued her interest.
Yet, one of her fondest memories is of sitting ringside and watching her dad wrestle in front of the nearly 80,000 fans who packed SunLife Stadium in his hometown of Miami for WrestleMania 28.
“I was so happy because I’d always seen him act, but to see him do something different and see him do something I know we both really connected with, it was amazing,” she said in an interview with Cathy Kelley posted online by WWE.
It was while her father was training to wrestle the following year that she first stepped into the ring. It was a moment that brought crystal clarity to her future.
“I was 11. At the time, my dad was preparing to come back for WrestleMania 29. He was training and one day he brought me with him,” she recalled. “To be able to just finally be in a ring, it was kind of surreal to me and it just further cemented the idea that I knew this is what I want to do.”
Both parents have given their blessing for her to chase her own WrestleMania moment. Now she’s taking the ball and running with it.
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Dreams ain’t just for dreamers. Congrats to my #1 born, Simone Johnson on officially signing her wrestling contract with @wwe @wwenxt and on her way to becoming the first ever 4th generation WWE athlete. Carry our family name proudly, but your road will always be yours to create, earn & own. So proud. Live your dream. Let’s work. #humblehungry #hardestworkersintheroom #4thgeneration
As for the scrutiny? The teen is handling it with grace thus far and remains calm under pressure. She knew it would be there, and perhaps it just comes as part of the package of being the daughter of two Hollywood titans.
“I do feel pressure, but I know that at the end of the day it’s something that is always going to be there,” she said. “I know it’s up to me to take that pressure and use it to just motivate myself.”
If pressure is in fact her great motivator, she’s making sure it’s in no short supply. When not throwing punches in the ring, Simone Johnson is hitting the books in pursuit of a college degree.
She’s not just following in her father’s footsteps, either. Her mother, Dany Garcia, is one of the biggest producers in the entertainment business. So, naturally, Simone plans to major in entertainment management.
“My parents have always been really big on me going to college and furthering my education,” she said. “I want to make them proud and I also want that for myself. In my head I knew that I always was going to have to balance them both. Keeping that in mind is how I’m able to do it.”
Between classes at school and at the Performance Center there isn’t much downtime, not that she wants any and not that anyone would expect that she would anyway. It’s just not in her DNA.
Knowing that makes her future boss confident that she will rise to the top no matter what challenges arise.
“I see it in her, I believe it. She will go to any length to succeed at this because of the passion that she has for it,” Levesque said. “If there’s anything that I feel like I can offer to her here and this team can offer her in the Performance Center is the ability to stay strong and be able to get through all the stuff that’s going to come her way because of her last name. Because of who her family is that’s going to take a strong person, but she can do it. She has that resolve.”
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.