The People’s Elbow is one of the most iconic signature moves in all of wrestling. Many a foe have fallen victim to the electrifying move over the years despite it never being planned to be used more than once. Here is the ridiculous story behind its creation and why The Rock shifted away from using his original signature move that had a history of legitimately breaking shoulders!
The Rock Debuts in WWE – A Forgetful Affair
The Rock made his official WWF debut at Survivor Series on November 17, 1996, inside Madison Square Garden. Going by the alias "Rocky Maivia," his name paid homage to his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather Peter Maivia. He began his career as an ultra-smiley babyface sporting longer curly hair and bright attire that had tassel-looking straps going down from his shoulder pads to his trunks — a campy look that would make even The Ultimate Warrior feel proud!
On February 13, 1997, less than three months after his main roster debut, he won the Intercontinental Championship from Hunter Hearst Helmsley on Monday Night Raw. Like his cousin Roman Reigns would experience two decades later, WWF fans began rejecting his character and immediate push from the company. Cruel chants like "Die Rocky Die!" were not out of the ordinary. In response to this backlash from the fans, he turned heel, changed his name to "The Rock," and later joined The Nation of Domination.
The Rock and His Original Signature Move That Had a Legitimate History of Breaking Shoulders
Before creating The People’s Elbow, The Rock used the Running Shoulder Breaker as his signature move. It is a move that used to sell tickets as it had a history of legitimately breaking shoulders. Voices of Wrestling ran a great piece elaborating on this.
"In 1977, NWA Big Time Wrestling—which ran out of Northern California from 1960-81—managed to pull off a hot angle that highlighted the Shoulder Breaker and demonstrated how dangerous a hold it can be."
The Shoulder Breaker is a maneuver with the intent of diminishing the opponent’s use of their arm, making it nearly impossible for them to kick out of a pinfall attempt.
"A well-known variation of the move has been used throughout the years, in which the wrestler turns the opponent upside-down and drops the opponent shoulder first on the wrestler’s knee."
A green Rocky Maivia personalized the Running Shoulder Breaker, and recently, current WWE superstars Elias and Nia Jax have added it to their arsenal.
By 1998, The Rock saw a big uptick in fan support, and by the end of the year, his popularity had spread like wildfire despite playing the role of an arrogant and cocky heel. The crowd latched onto catchphrases like If ya smell what The Rock is cookin’ and Know your role and shut your mouth! For The Rock to connect with "The People," he needed to drop his old signature move, The Running Shoulder Breaker, and introduce The People’s Elbow.
The Spontaneous Creation of The People’s Elbow
In an interview with Greg James of BBC Radio 1, Triple H opened about being on the receiving end of the first-ever People’s Elbow. Triple H explained that there wasn’t even a name for the maneuver at the time and that it was just a spot The Rock called on the fly in the ring one time to make his opponents break character and laugh.
The wrestler he wanted to break character the most in that match was The Undertaker.
Taker has a long history of being all business when in front of the camera, and there have been many instances of wrestlers trying (unsuccessfully) to get him to crack a smile on air. Despite The Rock failing in his attempt to get Taker to crack that night, the crowd loved the move. As a result, The Rock continued to use it.
Triple H recalls, "It got to the point where it would happen at a couple of events, and there was a night where I think we were all working a tag match on TV, and [Mick] Foley said: ‘I dare you to do that elbow tonight!’
"These things morph in those ways that they just catch on and, trust me, we’re quick to go: ‘Oh, they like that. I’m sticking with that.’"
While fans loved the move, wrestlers like Triple H joked that it was a bit unrealistic.
"I loved working with The Rock, so this is in no way disparaging of him, but it is the hokiest move ever. You gotta wait for twenty minutes while he takes his elbow pad off and works the crowd. He runs back and forth, then he comes up, drops an elbow on you that looks like it barely touches you except a lot of times the point of his elbow hits you right in the mouth and you come up bleeding!"
The People’s Elbow has significantly evolved since its first introduction on live television back in 1997. The first rendition of the move was running off the ring rope and dropping the elbow on his opponent. It then evolved to the build-up we know it for today with the Brahma Bull standing at the shoulders of his weakened opponent, a dramatic smell of what might be cooking, a toss of an elbow pad into the crowd, a swing of the arms across the chest, a bounce against one rope, a hop over the downed adversary, a bounce off the other rope, an electrifying lift of one leg and an exaggerated drop of an elbow on the chest. It’s fair to say that the evolution of the move helped make it must-see.
In 2015, the wrestling world lost a legend and true pioneer of the business, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. In a June 12, 2015 post on Instagram, The Rock paid a tremendous amount of respect in a tribute to him; and how Dusty’s "Bionic Elbow" helped inspire The Rock’s People’s Elbow.
"Dusty’s epically entertaining ‘Bionic elbow’ was my inspiration to create ‘The most electrifying move in sports entertainment – The People’s Elbow.’ This Heavyweight World Champion personified the blue-collar fighting spirit, and his influence on the wrestling business is invaluable. I’ll be forever grateful for the tremendous influence he’s had on me and my career in our beloved squared circle."
Whether it was his endless stream of catchphrases, his raised eyebrow, or his signature moves, The Rock always knew how to work a crowd. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine The Great One getting over as much as he would have had he stuck with his Running Shoulder Breaker alone. Despite its hokiness and not being good enough to make the Undertaker crack a smile, the People’s Elbow was the perfect setup move that got him over immensely with the millions (and millions) of wrestling fans. One could even go as far as saying that it is the most iconic signature moves of all time.
Watch the 24 Greatest People’s Elbows of All Time:
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