Dwayne Johnson gets rights to “The Rock” name, will join TKO board

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson inducted into Polynesian Football Hall of Fame 00:23

“The Rock” is a name that has become almost synonymous with professional wrestling, but its bearer, Dwayne Johnson, has never legally owned rights to it.

That is changing under a new agreement with the WWE under which Johnson will also join the board of TKO Group, the sports and entertainment company that houses WWE and UFC. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but a statement from TKO said that WWE has entered a services and merchandising agreement with Johnson as part of the agreement.

Shares of TKO Group surged more than 22% before the market open.

“The Rock” is a name is derived from Johnson’s father, WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson, who was the first Black champion in WWE history (alongside partner Tony Atlas), according the WWE. Dwayne Johnson parlayed his wrestling fame into a film career and a business portfolio that includes production company Seven Bucks Productions, tequila brand Teremana Tequila, energy drink company ZOA Energy, Project Rock apparel brand and the United Football League.

“I’m very motivated to help continue to globally expand our TKO, WWE and UFC businesses as the worldwide leaders in sports and entertainment — while proudly representing so many phenomenal athletes and performers who show up every day putting in the hard work with their own two hands to make their dreams come true and deliver for our audiences,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “I’ve been there, I’m still there and this is for them.”

TKO Group Holdings Inc. says Johnson’s board appointment, effective Tuesday, reflects its “commitment to delivering long-term value and strong performance for shareholders through strategic growth initiatives across both UFC and WWE.”

The news about Johnson’s ownership of his nickname comes amid speculation that Johnson will return to WWE to compete against his cousin, current WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns, according to Variety. It would mark Johnson’s first WWE match in eight years.

Third-generation wrestler

Johnson began his wrestling career with WWE in 1996. The third-generation wrestler became famous for rivalries with wrestlers including “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H and his finishing maneuver, The Rock Bottom, according to his biography on WWE’s website. He has won eight WWE championships, has a New York Times bestselling autobiography, “The Rock Says,” and starred in movies including “Fast X,” “Black Adam,” “Jungle Cruise” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

Johnson has recently appeared on World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.’s “Smackdown” and “Raw” television programs.

“I am thrilled to partner with Dwayne and welcome his immense talent to TKO’s Board,” TKO CEO Ariel Emanuel said in a prepared statement. “Dwayne brings an incredible track record of creating content and building globally recognized consumer brands, and he will play a key role in realizing our ambitions for TKO.”

TKO also announced Tuesday that Brad Keywell will become a board member. Keywell has co-founded and led multiple companies, including Groupon, Echo Global Logistics, MediaOcean, and Uptake Technologies, where he is currently founder and executive chairman.

The additions of Johnson and Keywell will increase TKO’s board from 11 to 13 members.

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