Mania Main Thoughts #3 – WMVIII Hulkamania’s Last Stand

Welcome back to the Mania Main Thoughts series, where I’m taking a look back at all of the Wrestlemania main events (final matches and world title matches).  I am really enjoying going back and looking at all of these matches with fresh eyes and I’m also enjoying doing them in a random order.  We’ve already been to The Attitude Era with WM2000 and the PG Era with WM25th, now it’s time for a look back at the very end of the Hogan Era, which is also considered WWF’s Golden Era.

Hulk Hogan was kind of the beginning of everything when it comes to Wrestlemania.  He main evented the very first Mania in 1985, making it a giant success, and helped launch WWF into the stratosphere in 1987 when he and Andre The Giant had their classic encounter at the Pontiac Silverdome.

From the first Wrestlemania until this point (this point being 1992), Hogan had been the linchpin that held the show together.  The only show he hadn’t main evented was Wrestlemania IV, which saw the Macho Man win a tournament for the vacant WWF Title. Still, the WMIV PPV was sold on the fact that Andre and Hogan would face off again in the tournament’s second round.  Not to mention that the Hulkster was right there at ringside for the main event, neutralizing Andre and the Million Dollar Man’s crony Virgil so that Macho could walk out the champ.

When you have a guy on top of the company for the better part of a decade, though, you have to start thinking about the future.  Like I’ve already pointed out – familiarity can often breed contempt with wrestling fans.

It’s not like WWF was hurting for talent either. The Macho Man returned to the ring at SummerSlam ’91 and the brand new Undertaker was just beginning his iconic run.  Then hell froze over and none other than “THE NATURE BOY” RIC FLAIR jumped ship from WCW to WWF in the fall of 1991.

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If you weren’t around for the days of WCW, it really was considered on par with WWF at the time, at least in the wrestling world.  WWF might have drawn slightly bigger ratings and houses, but to wrestling fans, both companies were neck and neck when it came to prestige.

Ric Flair had been on top of WCW  (and before that the NWA) as long as Hulk Hogan had been running things in WWF.  In fact, when Flair left WCW in 1991, he did it as the WCW World Champion (he even brought the belt).  The thought of Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan was an absolute dream match, and now with both men in one place, it looked like it would finally happen.  And what better place for that match than Wrestlemania?

Well, hold up. The story is just starting.

Flair immediately interjected into the WWF main event scene, calling himself the “Real World Champion”. At Survivor Series ’91, Flair interfered to help the Undertaker defeat Hogan for the WWF Title. A rematch was held a week later and this time Hogan won the title back after Flair interfered once again.  All of these shenanigans caused WWF President Jack Tunney to strip Hogan of the title and announce that the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble Match would become the new, undisputed WWF Champion.

The 1992 Rumble is quite possibly the greatest of all time, featuring 16 (and counting) future Hall of Famers. It was also the first time the Rumble had been for anything other than bragging rights.  After an hour-long classic, the last three men in the ring were Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice.  Sid had also jumped ship from WCW the year before and had debuted as a face and Hogan-ally.  Of course, we all know the Rumble is every man for himself, and Sid had no qualms about tossing his buddy Hogan if it got that gold around his waist.

In the WWF’s brain, the fans would take this shocking elimination as a travesty, instantly making Sid the biggest heel in the company.  In reality the fans cheered.  They’d had plenty of Hogan over the past 9 years and were ready for someone new. It was exciting.

Hogan didn’t help matters. Butthurt, Hulk reached up and tried to pull Sid out of the ring as punishment for dumping out a friend.  The fans went bonkers – with boos.  Flair snuck up from behind and helped toss out Sid, earning himself his first WWF Championship and becoming only the second guy in history to have held both the WWF and WCW Titles.

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With Flair champion and Wrestlemania just a couple of months away, the Flair/Hogan dream match seemed inevitable.  For their part, WWF teased that several men held claim to a title shot at WMVIII, including Hogan, Macho Man, Sid, the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Undertaker. President Jack Tunney held a press conference to make the official announcement.

If you’ve got five minutes and don’t mind the bad video quality, give this a watch.  I love how there was clearly not preferred dress code sent out to the wrestlers.  You’ve got Macho and Undertaker in their wrestling gear, Flair in a smart sweater, Sid in a windbreaker and Hogan wearing what looks like painter’s pants, which were super in style for a minute in the early 90’s.  Anyway, at the press conference, Tunney reveals that, yes, at Wrestlemania VIII, Ric Flair would defend the WWF Title against Hulk Hogan.

But wait.  Sid Justice went bonkers at the news, lobbying not for a championship match, but for a match with Hogan at Wrestlemania to settle the score between the two. So changes were made and WMVIII featured the first ever double main event in Wrestlemania history.  Sid Justice would take on Hulk Hogan in a grudge match and Ric Flair would defend the WWF Title against former champ “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

But why did the WWF really change the main event when they had a dream match available and already booked?  Some rumors say that Hogan and Flair faced off at a few house shows and the fans just weren’t into it.  More likely, though, it had to do with the steroid scandal that was tormenting the WWF, Hogan and Vince McMahon at the time.  McMahon was being taken to Federal Court over steroid allegations, and Hogan was one of the wrestlers at the center of the scandal.  So Hulk decided to take an extended hiatus from the ring and the big WMVIII match with Sid was billed as his Retirement Match. The Hulk Hogan Farewell Tour, if you will.

I know that’s a lot of history to throw out you, but I feel like it’s pretty important to set the stage for this Wrestlemania. With the story that Hogan really was calling it quits, the Hulk/Sid match was put on at the end of the show. It makes sense, I guess, but I don’t know why Flair/Savage went on in the middle of the card. But we’ll talk about that later.

I remember being put off by this match when it was booked and not really caring for it when I finally saw it.  So I was surprised when I went back and rewatched it.  It wasn’t bad at all really.

Sid Justice was a huge dude (with an awful perm) and played the part of monster Hogan-era heel pretty well.  By WMVIII, Sid had aligned himself with scuzzy manager Dr. Harvey Wippleman (a scuzzy doctor? I wonder what made the WWF think of this?). Harvey isn’t ever going to win any managerial awards, but his gimmick of checking Sid’s defeated foes for a heartbeat was entertaining.

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WMVIII was held in the Hoosierdome and had a pretty big audience of over 62,000 people (huge by early WM standards, small by today’s).  The heel pop for Sid wasn’t exactly huge, but man did they go nuts when Hulkster’s music hit.  If you dismiss Hulk Hogan as not being over in the latter years of his first big run, then you need to hear this crowd response.  Sure, the fans had been kinda fibbed to about it being Hulk’s last match, but still, that kind of noise came from a place of love.

Sid started beating Hogan down the moment his feet touched the mat, before Hogan’s music even quit playing or he’d even ripped off his shirt.  In fact, “Real American” kept blaring over the speakers until Hulk finally gained control and dumped Sid out of the ring, finally getting to do his customary shirt rip and posedown. I imagine the sound guy just sitting there all serious – “If I turn off this music before Hulk flexes, Sid Justice wins and we all lose.”

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The match could’ve been written by anyone who’d seen a Hogan match in the 80’s.  The two went at it until Sid finally took control, initiating the longest test of strength in Wrestlemania history. Seriously, Hogan was up, then down, then up, then down, only to finally have his comeback squashed by Sid and another rest hold applied.  This happened continuously for about three holds, including that one where the guy grabs the other guys shoulder and he’s supposed to eventually pass out.  I’ve never understood how that worked.

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Sid worked the crowd pretty well, and drew some big boos with a giant chokeslam, but by the third rest hold, they were over it.  Luckily for TV watchers, this Mania was called by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon, who may be my favorite Mania announce team ever. So there was no shortage of entertaining commentary. And I had no idea they were already calling Sid “Psycho” at this point in his career.

Sid finally hit Hulk Hogan with his finisher, a standing Powerbomb, and it looked like Hulkamania might go out with a whimper.  But Hogan kicked out to no one’s surprise, and started the big Hulk Up.  Hulk Hogan Match 101.

Hulkster absorbed the Sid punches, did the finger wave, hit his own big punches and then bounced off the ropes for the big boot. Sid, however, did not go down.  So in a callback to WMIII, Hogan lifted the big man up for a bodyslam.  With Sid on the mat, Hulk hit his finishing legdrop and went for the cover.  At that point, Harvey Wippleman jumped on the apron and into the ring to interrupt the count.  Hogan picked up Harvey and threw him at Sid like a foreign object.  Sid caught Harvey and the two guys just kind of stood there looking at each other as the referee called for the bell.  The Wrestlemania main event had ended in a disqualification. Yuck.

At this point, Papa Shango – the future Godfather who was working a voodoo priest gimmick at the time (you can laugh but my brother was afraid of him) – came ambling out.  When he finally hit the ring, Sid and Shango started double teaming the Hulkster, tying him up in the ropes.

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Now, the story goes that Papa Shango was supposed to hit the ring and interrupt the count, but he missed his cue backstage and didn’t hit the ring in time.  It seems plausible, since the entrance length to the ring was WAY longer than usual, being in the Hoosierdome. If that’s true, Harvey Wippleman and Hogan really did a bang up job covering for him.

Some people point to this mistake as ruining the match, but other than maybe 3 seconds of weirdness, I don’t think it interrupted the flow of the match from a fan perspective.  And if you think about it, the finish was still a DQ, which is super unsatisfying.

Anyway, as the dastardly Voodoo-West Memphis Connection beatdown Hogan in the ring, a familiar music hit over the loudspeakers, and the Ultimate Warrior came running down the aisle at breakneck speed to save the day.  I also like to think that the sound guy had kept Warrior’s music cued up for months just in case, and at WMVIII it all paid off. Warrior (sporting his new soccer mom haircut) quickly disposed of the two heels and Hogan was announced the winner (by DQ) as the crowd went nuts.

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A four minute posedown with fireworks ensued, and WMVIII was over.  My favorite moment from the celebration is Hogan pointing to a fan for his sign and holding it up in the ring, which read “Bring Back The Warrior”.  What an awesome story that guy has.  I also thought it was hilarious that the sign was written on the back of a crinkled up Metallica poster.

So WMVIII was in the books and Hulk rode off into the sunset as the Warrior returned to take his place (again). Of course, that didn’t happen, and Warrior would be gone in 6 months.  By WMIX, Hogan was back again to have his actual, final last match before he’d head to WCW and begin his career renaissance with the nWo.

This match is frustrating from a historical perspective since fans will always wonder about the Hogan/Flair match that could have been.  But taken on its own merit, it’s a nice Hogan match against a monster heel, with the added bonus of a hot crowd and the return of a major star.  It really was kind of Hulk Hogan’s WWF Retirement Match, too, as far as having a big sendoff, since his last run in 1993 would kind of just dissolve quietly as he signed on with WCW. If you’re a Hulkamaniac or just want to see Papa Shango look confused, it’s worth a look.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Tomorrow we return to this millennium, with a match that featured two future Hall of Famers and an errant firework.

Final Score: 6.0 (Take It or Leave It)

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