Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Trades Wrestling For MMA In New Movie Role

0 Posted by - December 22, 2023 - Film, MMA
Mark Kerr in The Smashing Machine (2002). Source: Millennium Entertainment’s YouTube

Finally, The Rock has come to the UFC.

On screen, at least.

Actor, pro wrestling legend, and dedicated mixed martial arts enthusiast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has signed on to play pioneering MMA fighter Mark Kerr in a new film called The Smashing Machine. Deadline reports that it will produced by the seemingly unstoppable A24 studio and directed by Benny Safdie. 

Johnson and his production company purchased the rights to Kerr’s story in 2019 and he’s been working with Safdie on the project ever since. 

“Dwayne and Benny are singular talents, and their shared vision for Mark’s inspiring story is electrifying. We are deeply honored to have their trust as collaborators in bringing this incredibly special project to life,” A24’s Noah Sacco told Deadline.

Kerr was previously the subject of a 2002 HBO documentary also called The Smashing Machine. If the dramatized version is even half as intriguing as the real-life story, this should be a great addition to the MMA film canon. 

Here’s everything we know about the subject of The Smashing Machine and how qualified The Rock is to play him:

Who is Mark Kerr?

Mark Kerr is a highly decorated wrestler and MMA fighter who was active from in the 1990s and 2000s. As an amateur and submission wrestler, he holds medals in the World Cup, Pan American Games, ADCC World Championships, and is a NCAA Division I champion. His MMA career highlights include two UFC Heavyweight Tournament Champion wins and a World Vale Tudo Championship victory. He also earned a number of wins in the early days of PRIDE

What did Mark Kerr accomplish in his amateur wrestling career?

Born in Ohio in 1968, Kerr spent his early years dreaming of being in what was then called the WWF. This interest eventually inspired him to try his hand at amateur wrestling. It was the beginning of a promising career. In addition to racking up accolades at both the high school and collegiate level, Kerr encountered — and sometimes defeated — some of wrestling and MMA’s most notable figures along the way.

In high school, he trained with UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich. A win over future UFC legend Randy “The Natural” Couture secured Kerr’s NCAA championship. Amateur and professional wrestling star Kurt Angle was both a training partner and rival in the lead-up to the 1996 Olympics. (Kerr lost to Angle and was unable to secure a spot on the U.S. team. Angle went on to win the gold medal in their division.)

What did Mark Kerr do in his MMA career?

When it was time to hang up his amateur wrestling boots, Kerr picked up some gloves and turned to a rising new combat sport called mixed martial arts. After a few false starts, he started training with American MMA pioneer Mark Coleman for the World Vale Tudo Championship 3 in Brazil in early 1997. Despite having a reputation for being an unstoppable beast in the ring or the cage, Kerr was actually so afraid to fight that he almost pulled out. Luckily, his manager persuaded him to go through with it, and he won the tournament’s Heavyweight division. It was the beginning of one of the most exciting MMA runs of the era. Over the next few years, Kerr would remain undefeated in both the UFC and PRIDE. 

Life and combat became more complicated for Kerr after that, but he continued to fight throughout the 2000s. He retired in 2009 with a record of 15 wins, 11 losses, and 1 no contest. 

Does Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have an MMA background?

The short answer is that the most electrifying man in sports and entertainment likely has some degree of martial arts experience under his belt. We’re just not sure how much MMA training he’s had or how seriously he pursued it. Johnson has talked about his interest in MMA a few times over the years, but old school wrestlers have a reputation for embellishing the truth sometimes. And this seems to be a case of The Rock keeping old traditions alive. 

In 2017, Johnson tweeted that he’d considered making the jump to the UFC a decade earlier. “My goal was [Greg Jackson] as my coach & 2 full yrs to train. Smartened up ’cause I prefer my jaw in tact.” 

In 2007 Greg Jackson was still relatively unknown and a couple of years from the start of his ascent as one of the great MMA coaches of the 2010s. It’s possible that Johnson got the timeline wrong. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a plucky young upstart Jackson got the ear of the biggest star in wrestling around that time. But it could also be a bit of tall tale on The Rock’s part. 

Does Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have an MMA background? Part Two

Earlier this year, Johnson went on to claim that he also considered mixed martial arts in 1997. Appearing on The Joe Rogan podcast, he said that he was training with a number of MMA fighters in L.A. at the time, including the man he’s about to play on screen. Between hearing about how much money they were making in PRIDE and how comparatively little he was making while struggling to establish himself in wrestling, he wanted a change.

“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 [messed] up, knock one of my lungs loose, but if I find the right coach and train… I have this whole thing in my head.”

Again, it is possible that Johnson knew about the existence of PRIDE in 1997. The promotion’s first event happened in October of that year. Whether or not he was seriously considering participating in a new career path for a brand new organization in Japan is another story. Also, Kerr’s first PRIDE match was in 1998 and Ken Shamrock’s debut was two years after that. 

Although he might be exaggerating how close he came to become a mixed martial artist himself — and when he considered doing it — it is clear that Johnson is connected to the MMA world and has a great appreciation for it. Between his physical abilities, his acting skills, and his general presence on screen, he should be a good fit to play his old training buddy.