WWE's presentation of wrestling is all about the pomp and circumstance. The larger than life characters. The spectacle of a charismatic superhero clashing with a hated villain, although sometimes it's even more magical when the crowd doesn't know their damn role and cheers for the bad guy instead.
It may not be the smoothest bout or have the most jaw dropping stunts or have any technical wizardry, but Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 18, a clash of two generational icons from WWE's popularity peaks, exemplifies the magic of wrestling in its most basic form. The crowd going nuts for their chosen favourite who, with his opponent, manipulates their emotions and milks their reactions for all they're worth, whilst taking them on a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills.
You knew the match would be something special when the Toronto Sky Dome crowd filled the air with chants for Hogan as he made his way down to the ring.
Any hopes that The Rock might get his share of cheers throughout the match were quickly dispelled when The Hulkster shoved The Brahma Bull down in the opening collar and elbow tie up spot, did his patented muscle poses and motioned to his opponent to just bring it as the crowd went wild.
A chorus of Rocky sucks then rained down for the first time in years as Hogan worked over The Rock with a powerful side headlock. Willingly making Hogan look like a million bucks, The Rock took another theatrical bump off a shoulder block and stared open eyed as Hulk played to the crowd some more with his posing and ear cupping routine.
The cheers for Hogan just kept on coming as The Rock sold his punches like a champ. Proving that he had brought his working boots too, Hogan mowed down The Second Most Electrifying Man with his old running Axe Bomber lariat finisher. When the tables were turned by Rock ducking a second clothesline attempt and hitting a flying clothesline of his own, those cheers quickly turned to boos as now he wanted Hogan to bring it.
Being smart enough to go with the flow, Rock started wrestling more aggressively, like stalking after Hogan when he had punched him to the outside and hitting a rabbit punch just as he was about to re-enter the ring, and laying in with a stiff clothesline once he was back inside.
Hogan firmly took control of the match when he elbowed out of a Rock Bottom attempt and the crowd lapped up all his roughhouse heel tactics like raking Rock's head with his boot, scratching his back, biting his head, chokeslamming him, throwing him over the top rope and choking him out with his athletic tape, while booing any of The Rock's brief comeback attempts, especially when he mockingly cupped his ear to get even more of them.
The heat segment was very solid work by Hogan overall, as he worked at a much faster pace and displayed more varied offense than for much of his WCW run. Clearly, he had a point to prove to all his naysayers and doubters.
The match transitioned into the finishing stretch when a rabbit ax-handle smash sent Rock crashing into referee Mike Chioda. Shortly thereafter, Rock took over by planting Hogan with a spinebuster and had The Hulkster tapping with the Sharpshooter, but as Chioda was still knocked out, it was all for naught.
More Rocky sucks chants came when he aggressively tried to wake Chioda up, but the distraction allowed Hogan to recover, surprise The Rock with a low blow when he turned his attention back to the fight at hand and hit his own version of the Rock Bottom for a gloriously dramatic near fall.
Hogan then went to work, whipping Rock with his weightlifting belt, only for Rock to duck a punch with the belt wrapped around his fist and drop him with a DDT. The Rock then took great relish in returning the favour with some belt whips and a Rock Bottom of his own.
Cue The Hulkster Hulking Up and wagging his finger, as Jim Ross exclaimed "Oh My God", The Rock played the shocked victim even though it's a standard Hogan trope and the crowd losing their collective shit.
We all know what's next: the big boot and the running leg drop, as Good Ol' JR cannily reminded all the people at home that Hogan had beaten Andre with the move at WrestleMania 3. But Rock kicked out!
More fists and another boot to the face by Hogan! But just like his match with The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6, a missed leg drop spelled his doom. Hogan had went to the well once too often and his bucket was dry. Two Rock Bottoms and a People's Elbow later the torch had been passed again, but Hogan had the last laugh on this night, just like last time.
With one hand clutching his broken ribs, Hogan humbly offered his hand. The Rock thought about it for a few seconds, but graciously accepted his handshake, turning him back babyface in the fans eyes. Everyone was happy...
Well accept for The Outsiders Kevin Nash and Scott Hall who were disgusted with Hogan's gesture. Hall threw his toothpick in Hogan's face, Nash clobbered him from behind and they started to stick the boots to their nWo leader.
Unsurprisingly, The Rock came back to make the save and they teamed up to clear the ring of the two turncoats, then proved he was a Hulkamaniac at heart by insisting that Hogan they do his ear cupping and posing routine one more time to a riotous response, while he looked on with a huge grin on his face, before they left together and raised each other's arms up below the big screen.
The Rock had been well and taken to school by the old dog, given a lesson in crowd manipulation and psychology by the master at it. It was also a lesson for Triple H, who could only manage a fraction of the excitement and reaction in his main event match with Chris Jericho. What should have been his triumphant coronation as the new babyface kingpin on top of the promotion, ended just five weeks later when he lost the WWF Undisputed Championship to the red and yellow clad "Immortal" Hulk Hogan at Backlash 2002. That was one job even The Game couldn't get himself out of!