Talking with Rocky Maivia sure has changed over the past year.

I first interviewed Maivia in January 1997 at SkyDome during an informal press event.

He was soft-spoken and easy-going. He wasn’t the centre of attention and he didn’t seem to want to be.

Of course, he was a good guy then.

So, what’s he like now?

The Rock now. Photo by Greg Oliver

“I see myself as a leader in the World Wrestling Federation,” he told a press gathering on Saturday before the SkyDome show. “I see myself as being the top villain in the World Wrestling Federation.”

In other words, he’s gained a lot of confidence and is enjoying being a bad guy.

His father, Rocky Johnson, “wasn’t too happy” with The Rock’s heel turn. “All his life he’s been a ‘good guy’ so he really wasn’t too happy with that,” said Maivia. “But then as the tides turned and I became more successful in the role I am in now as The Rock, I became the man people love to hate — he applauds the decision.”

Rocky Maivia might be the hottest heel going in the WWF these days. The fans love to boo him and the Nation of Domination.

And even the newest viewer to the WWF can see that there is great potential for violence within the Nation — just as they dish it out in the ring.

“That happens anytime you get a bunch of guys together like the Nation of Domination,” explained Maivia, who still supports Faarooq as leader of the NOD. “You get one guy who does his thing, like The Rock does, and he attains goals and championship status. There’s bound to be some jealousy and animosity.”

As for Mike Tyson joining the WWF, Maivia is all for it.

Rocky Maivia in January 1997. Photo by Greg Oliver

“It will be great to have him at WrestleMania. There’s a lot of media giving him a hard time about joining the World Wrestling Federation and becoming a part of our family. The thing we’ve got to remember is that nobody was ever out here trying to insult anybody’s intelligence — meaning you the media — by saying that what we do is completely on the up and up and that I go out there with the intentions to kill Ken Shamrock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Obviously there’s a lot of showmanship and theatrics in what we do. That’s a point that I’d like to get across right away. He’s coming into our world, which is a world of entertainment and show business. Not a far cry from what Don King was doing all this time.”

There’s also a real Jeckyll and Hyde thing going on with Maivia. One minute he’s The Rock, Intercontinental Champion.

The next he’s just Rocky, a real newcomer to this sport with, admittedly, much to learn.

“I’ve got a whole hell of a lot more to learn and learn from my mistakes,” he confessed. “And when you’re in there with certain guys you can’t help but learn.”

One of the wrestlers who took the time to help Maivia out was Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart.

“He was the only one when I first came in the WWF a year ago that actually took me aside and helped me tremendously.”

Maivia hopes that in time he’ll be able to help the Next Generation, much like Bret Hart.

“I consider the WWF a family, whether it’s here in Toronto on the Canadian side or the American side or what have you. We’re all in it to win, we’re all in it to make money. I can’t see how someone would not help someone young. God, I remember — and I’ve only been in it two years, mind you.

“My first month in it, I didn’t get any help from anybody.”