A GIANT, A SUPER-GIANT, AND BOB UECKER WALK INTO A BAR...
(THE ONE WHERE 93,000 PEOPLE PACKED INTO A 70,000 SEAT ARENA TO WATCH A 6'8 HULK GORILLA PRESS SLAM A 9'9 800lb GIANT UPHILL BOTH WAYS BROTHER JACK DUDE)
The force of the slam caused earthquakes in Saudi Arabia, toppled the Berlin Wall and sent the US Military into DEFCON 2.
The year was 1984. Hulk Hogan had captured the WWF world heavyweight championship from the Iron Sheik in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd of nearly 20,000. It was a big deal for the New York-based promotion and its local wrestling fan base, but wasn't exactly a front page story in Peoria . Three years later, however, Hogan would be toe-to-toe with Andre the Giant surrounded by over four times as many fans in attendance (and millions -- plural -- watching on pay-per-view and Closed Circuit television).
Hogan's regionally televised main event win over Iron Sheik was important. His match with Andre would be a pay-per-view main event of mythic proportions.
It all began with a trophy. Two of them in fact. Andre the Giant had received a modest little trinket as a commemoration celebrating 15 years as an undefeated super heavyweight. The claim was largely kayfabe, though you'd be hard pressed to find too many examples of clean losses (Antonio Inoki made him submit for example, so there are instances). In the WWF he had been in some draws and suffered countout losses, but he was very protected during his time in Vince McMahon's wrestling empire. When he was announced as undefeated it was a believable claim. And it's Andre the Giant: Give the man a trophy. Make him into a statue (oh wait, they did). He was one of a kind and deserving of much love.
So, too, apparently, was Hulk Hogan. He likewise received a trophy, in this case commemorating 3 years as WWF world heavyweight champion. The Hulkster was on top of the pro wrestling world, having broken box office records at house show events, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and helped pro wrestling move away from a poor man's boxing show inside smoke filled arenas, to a certifiable pop culture phenomenon. For all his achievements in just a short time period, absolutely Hogan deserved a trophy.
But you know how boys are when they start comparing themselves.
Andre's trophy was tiny and looked even tinier when held by his giant hands. Hogan's trophy was hilariously large, like something a Texas Homecoming Queen would win. The size discrepancy was not lost on the giant, but I like to think he just assumed there was a clerical error backstage and the bottom part of his trophy was left in Connecticut. "These things happen." he thought. "The important thing is that we both were honored for our achievme--"
Except Hogan wouldn't shaddup about his trophy.
Hogan gonna Hog' and he took all the spotlight away from Andre's big moment. While Hogan rambled on and on about vitamins and believing in ones self, Andre had heard all he could stand and walked out disgusted by Hogan's grandstanding (for his valiant crusade against Hogan's douchebaggery, Andre was later inducted as the first member of the Internet Wrestling Community Hall of Fame).
The next time Hogan and Andre crossed paths, the gentle giant was flanked by the villainous Bobby Heenan. I'm going to quote myself from an article I wrote this time last year about this main event:
Andre confronted Hogan in an infamous segment on Piper's Pit, the evil manager Bobby Heenan at his side, and challenged Hogan to a match at "tha Wrestlemenya." Hogan tried to calm him down, but Andre grabbed Hogan's shirt and ripped it (planned) catching either his nail or Hogan's necklace in the process and slicing Hogan's chest (unplanned). The sight of blood on the champion at the hands of this angry giant had to have caused many a child to wet their pants. How would Hogan ever get the giant off his feet, much less pin him and retain the title? We'd have to wait until WrestleMania III to find out!
The breathtaking sight of the Silverdome filled to beyond capacity is still one of the great images in all of pro wrestling. In fact, that shot -- with the bright roof overhead, and the sea of people surrounding the tiny blue-bannered ring -- is itself one of WrestleMania's best moments. It serves as a visual of the peak of the 80's pro wrestling boom. When finally it came time for the match, the crowd -- having already seen the best WrestleMania show to date -- was at a fever pitch.
Andre's approach to the ring is a great WrestleMania moment, as he was pelted with trash from the fans, soaking it in with an evil grin on his face. Mr. Baseball himself, Bob Uecker, formally introduced the heel. Usually celebrities doing ring introductions takes away from the splendor of the show (who can say a name better than the Fink?), but in this case, it works. Uecker's call of "Andre ... the GIANT" is famous for anyone who watched WWE shows from 2007-2012, as it was one of the soundbites in the WWE programming signature.
Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon had the call here, and they remain the gold standard "team" for WrestleMania broadcasts. Everyone knows Gorilla's "irresistible force meeting the immovable object" line, but I love Ventura just bewildered, saying "Look at the size of the Giant. I mean, Hogan is 6 foot 8!" Oh Jesse, never change. Andre's wry smirk as Hogan was jarring at him always intrigued me. Andre was famous for ribbing the boys and even for being stubborn and doing things his way. I wonder if Hogan saw that smirk and wondered if Andre might decide to just change the script and go into business for himself. It was certainly a common enough occurrence in the old territory days that most champs had to know shoot wrestling moves in order to get out of a potential bind. I don't think Andre ever for a second thought about doing something like that in front of millions of viewers, but for that brief moment while he smirked, I wonder...
The opening minute of the match is almost as memorable as the ending. Hogan unleashes a flurry of punches, dazing the Giant, and then the "Hulkster" goes for a slam. He gets Andre waist high and then falls over. Certainly this was planned; it set up the story of the match: the only way he's winning is by slamming the Giant, and he's now 0-1 in his attempts.
But when Andre fell on Hogan and the ref started counting to three, Andre didn't lift his body up. Or maybe he did, but the sheer girth of Andre's giant gut remained pressed on Hogan's chest. Hogan barely (just barely) wormed his way out from under him. This is classic storytelling. The champ is vulnerable and the odds are clearly against him
Hogan is more than capable of putting on a great match, and knew how to work, but this was never supposed to be a great match. Andre's physical limitations, and the need to sell the Giant's power, made this a heavyweight slugfest. Andre took over after the early two count, slamming Hogan and tossing him around like a ragdoll. This is a sight these fans have never seen before. Andre works Hogan over in the corner, body slamming and head butting while "The Brain" cheers him on.
Hogan makes a comeback, giving the Giant everything he's got, but Andre never hits the turf. Andre locks in a bear hug (rest spot/time for the kids to get scared), until Hogan starts hulking up, breaking the hold. The champ runs the ropes and gives Andre a big body splash, but still the giant stays up; Hogan bounces off him like a rubber ball. Really, this is some great selling, and I wonder if Hogan has gone unappreciated for how well he put Andre over here.
The action spills to the outside and Hogan eats an ugly body drop on the concrete (Andre's knees just had nothing left in 1987). Back in the ring it looks like the Hulkster's on his last leg. Hogan runs the ropes for the third time in the match. The previous two times have ended with either him eating Andre's boot or bouncing off Andre's giant chest. Andre goes for the boot but Hogan side-steps, bounces off the ropes, hits Andre with a full head of steam and, finally, the Giant goes down. The crowd explodes, Heenan looks scared, and Hogan starts to feel it.
Andre staggers back to his feet, and oh the tables have turned. Hogan is jacked, the announcers are jacked, the crowd is jacked, I'm jacked watching the replay, and then the moment: Hogan looks to the crowd while nodding his head, as if to let us know he's going for it, walks over, picks him up, turns him over, and SLAM. One leg drop later and it's 1-2-3, cue up Real American.
The slam happened at just the right time, right at the peak of the crowd's frenzy. It wasn't a technical masterpiece, but it was perfectly paced so that the climax in the ring hit right as the audience was at their most excited. The announcers put it over like Hogan just did the impossible, and because of the opening minute of the match, it's not a hard sell.
It really is the signature moment in pro wrestling history. The slam is to pro wrestling what "Babe Ruth calling his shot" is to baseball. It's mythical, larger than life, and a great story for a fan to tell someone who's never heard it before. This main event is what solidified WrestleMania as the show. Hogan was already over, Hulkamania was already running wild, but this main event is why they call WrestleMania "The Showcase of the Immortals." This was the moment that made WrestleMania the show where, no matter the odds, no matter how daunting the task, in the end, the hero always conquers the villain, and you'll flip out when he does.
Again, it's a match that was "monkey butt ugly", as JBL would say, but it does exactly what it's supposed to do. I never understood why people hate this match. You don't get mad at your car because it can't toast bread! Why hate on Hogan vs. Andre when it was never going to be Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat? Take the crowd out, remove the epic nature of the feud, and this match becomes unbearable, I agree. Same with a lot of matches. But you can't do that. You can't remove the crowd from a pro wrestling match. They are the 12th man out there. Likewise you can't remove the buildup and get the same level of enjoyment out of it. I mean if you just sit a non fan in a room and show him a match between CM Punk and John Cena and he knows nothing about why they are having the match, they can enjoy it, but they will struggle to truly care. Tell them the story and watch their interest pique.
If the match were better, this would be elevated to the number one entry on the countdown. But this countdown is about more than final matches at each WrestleMania. This is about deciding which is the greatest "main event" in WrestleMania history. And everything that built to the moment when Hogan and Andre stood toe to toe in Detroit, and the storytelling that led to the triumphant finish, make this the third greatest WrestleMania main event of all time.
Sound off, Cagesiders. I know some think this match should be lower because of the quality of the match, and I can't argue with your criticisms of the bell-to-bell action. I just hope I managed to convince you that the "main event" is worth more than the 12 minutes Hogan and Andre were in the ring. Judging it on the merits of everything that went into it, I think it's more than deserving of its place.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Tomorrow's main event is the runner up. See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #4: Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
- Ranking Mania main events #5: Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
- Ranking Mania main events #6: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior
- Ranking Mania main events #7: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle
- Ranking Mania main events #8: Triple H vs. John Cena
- Ranking Mania main events #9: Steve Austin vs. The Rock
- Ranking Mania main events #10: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
- Ranking Mania main events #11: John Cena vs. The Rock
- Ranking Mania main events #12: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena
- Ranking Mania main events #13: Undertaker vs. Edge
- Ranking Mania main events #14: Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels
- Ranking Mania main events #15: Batista vs. Triple H
- Ranking Mania main events #16: Mick Foley vs. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Big Show
- Ranking Mania main events #17: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna II
- Ranking Mania main events #18: John Cena vs. The Rock II
- Ranking Mania main events #19: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
- Ranking Mania main events #20: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow