Part Twenty One
The 1989 edition of SummerSlam had come and gone with Hulk Hogan and Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake emerging victorious in their tag team match against Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Zeus. The pay-per-view had been a success, doing slightly better than the previous year’s inaugural SummerSlam in terms of PPV buyrates.
Apparently there was actual talk about building a program up between Hulk Hogan and Zeus that would culminate at Wrestlemania VI. As we all know, that did not happen and instead, we had the unforgettable Ultimate Challenge. I have looked into things but I never have found any conclusive evidence as to why a Zeus vs. Hogan WrestleMania VI match failed to materialize.
One likely reason is that No Holds Barred was not the financial success that Vince McMahon had hoped for. Had the film been successful, he probably would have felt that a Hogan/Zeus match would get a lot of interest from the mainstream media and a mainstream audience just as Hogan/Mr. T vs. Piper/Orndorff had with the first WrestleMania.
Another reason is that Zeus really wasn’t that good in the ring. He had a great physique and an undeniable intensity but the WWF wisely limited him to tag team matches with an experienced partner who could work most of the match. It’s hard to imagine a Hogan/Zeus singles match being anything main event worthy, especially at the promotion’s top show.
For whatever reason, the WWF abandoned any plans it might have had for Hogan/Zeus at WrestleMania VI. However the WWF knew that Zeus had some mileage as an opponent and he would be featured against Hogan for the rest of the year. The Hulkster would face other opponents but Zeus would be a constant threat on the horizon.
One thing that was interesting about the program between Hogan and Zeus was that Zeus had been pinned at SummerSlam. Billed as “The Human Wrecking Machine”, Zeus had been pinned in his first match (albeit with the help of a foreign object) which in hindsight probably shouldn’t have happened. Why have your monster heel get pinned during his first match?
The WWF did everything it could to build Zeus back up however and this would be seen on the October 14, 1989 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. "The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was scheduled for a title shot against WWF champion Hulk Hogan. DiBiase revealed that he had acquired the services of Zeus. During a pre-match interview with Jesse “The Body” Ventura, DiBiase proclaimed that he planned for every contingency.
In his pre-match interview with Mean Gene Okerlund, the Hulkster compared his grip on the WWF championship as to him being a “majority stockholder”. He promised to stop DiBiase’s financial and in-ring chicanery and noted that he (Hogan) had the help of the Big Cashier in the Sky. Yet another bombastic interview by Hogan.
The match saw Hogan facing the technically savvy DiBiase with the added presence of Zeus outside the ring. DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil was nowhere to be seen but Zeus’ presence more than made up for this. Zeus interfered in the match whenever possible (and behind the referee’s back). When DiBiase had Hogan backed up in a corner, Zeus grabbed Hogan’s leg so that he couldn’t elude “The Million Dollar Man”. Another time, Zeus tripped Hogan up when the Hulkster bounced off of the ropes.
Hogan had thwarted DiBiase’s previous attempts to wrest the belt from him but DiBiase had worked his way back into title contention despite an ongoing feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Once again, the Hulkster seemed up to the task of defeating Zeus but every time he built up momentum, Zeus would interfere in the match. There seemed to be little chance of Hogan emerging victorious with Zeus at ringside.
The fans began cheering when babyface Jake “The Snake” Roberts came out and argued with DiBiase. The two men had been feuding after Roberts returned from an injury he’d suffered at the hands of DiBiase. However Roberts’ presence soon faded when DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil showed up and stole Roberts’ pet snake Damien. Roberts ran to the back after Virgil, leaving Hogan to fend for himself.
With Hogan distracted, DiBiase used his technical superiority to gain the upper hand. At one point, DiBiase landed a flying kneedrop on Hogan, covering the champion for the pin. However Hogan hulked up and went after DiBiase. Things looked grim for DiBiase but The Million Dollar Man’s insurance policy came through with Zeus entering the ring and grabbing Hogan from behind. Referee Dave Hebner was very liberal with the rules and began counting, presumably giving Zeus a count of five to release Hogan (rather than outright disqualifying him for coming into the ring).
DiBiase went to clothesline Hogan but the Hulkster dodged the blow and DiBiase hit Zeus, stunning the big man. Seizing the opportunity, Hogan rolled DiBiase up for the three count, winning the match. After the match, Hogan confronted Zeus but DiBiase saw an opening and he Pearl Harbored Hogan. DiBiase then instructed Zeus to break Hogan’s neck. Zeus complied, wrenching Hogan’s neck. DiBiase capitalized and applied his finisher “The Million Dollar Dream” (aka the Cobra Clutch). Hogan soon faded into dream land as color commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura wondered if Hogan was having nightmares about Zeus.
The WWF put a clever spin on the feud between Zeus and Hogan. Zeus was more concerned about hurting Hulk Hogan than winning his WWF championship. That was why Zeus allied himself with men like Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ted DiBiase, allowing himself various opportunities to put Hogan out of commission. This would explain Zeus’ lack of singles matches against the Hulkster and his failure to challenge Hogan for his WWF title.
Hogan continued defending his WWF championship as Survivor Series drew closer. The series between Hogan and Savage began to wind down with both men facing each other in steel cage matches and the Hulkster emerging triumphant. Hogan and Savage took their feud overseas with appearances in London, England, Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France. Hogan wrestled occasional tag team matches at house shows as well. One encounter in the Niagara Falls Convention Center saw Hogan team up with Jake Roberts to defeat Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase in a steel cage match.
Hulk Hogan assembled a strong team comprised of WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition (Ax and Smash) and Jake Roberts. The Hulkamaniacs would square off at Survivor Series PPV against the Million Dollar Team of Ted DiBiase, Zeus, and the Powers of Pain (The Warlord and the Barbarian). The Hulkamaniacs appeared on the November 18, 1989 edition of “The Brother Love Show” to hype their match against the Million Dollar Team.
Survivor Series was held on November 23, 1989 (the same day as the infamous “Bounty Bowl” NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys). The Hulkamaniacs and Million Dollar Team were mostly comprised of power-based wrestlers. Fans expecting a slugfest were not disappointed.
The Million Dollar Team entered the ring first. When the Hulkamaniacs came out, the Million Dollar Team blocked them from entering the ring. Whatever mind games they were trying to play were thwarted by the master of mind games, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts threw his pet snake Damien into the ring, clearing the ring of the heels. The Hulkamaniacs entered the ring, showing that they weren’t going to back down from anyone.
Jake Roberts entered the ring against Zeus but Zeus demanded that Hogan start the match against him. Fearless as ever, Hogan tagged in and confronted Zeus. The Hulkster tried move after move but nothing could make Zeus budge. Punches, kicks, and running knees all proved ineffective against the monster Zeus.
Remembering what had worked before, Hogan raked Zeus’ eyes then bodyslammed the big man. Hogan celebrated but his celebration was premature as Zeus rose up as if the move had had no effect. Zeus then went on the offensive, wrapping his hands around the Hulkster’s neck and choking him mercilessly. When referee Dave Hebner tried to stop Zeus, the big man shoved him aside. Zeus continued choking Hogan and the referee started a five count again. Hebner tried to break the choke again and once again, Zeus shoved him aside. The second time was enough and Hebner disqualified Zeus. Hogan’s teammates tried to get in and break things up but Hebner ordered them to return to their corner. Perhaps sensing that his entire team might get disqualified should Zeus continue choking Hogan out, DiBiase offered some financial persuasion to Zeus to leave the ring.
With Hogan in trouble, Demolition Ax squared off against his rival the Warlord. Ax looked to be in good shape but the Warlord’s manager Mr. Fuji intervened at just the right time, tripping up Ax and enabling the Warlord to drop an elbow on Ax for the pin. Eager to gain revenge, Demolition Smash entered the ring. Things were going well for Smash as he used his power advantage to dominate “The Million Dollar Man”. DiBiase relied on his wits to gain the upper hand, making a blind tag to the Barbarian. Smash dropped DiBiase’s neck over the top rope and thought victory was his. In a terrible reversal of fortune, Smash got hit with a flying clothesline by the Barbarian and the Barbarian covered him for the pin.
With only Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Hulk Hogan left, the Hulkamaniacs were at a two to three disadvantage. As often happens in tag team matches, the referee had trouble maintaining control and DiBiase and Roberts brawled outside the ring while Hogan fought the Warlord and the Barbarian. One on one, the Hulkster probably would have prevailed but even he could not hold out for long against the Powers of Pain. The Powers of Pain hit a spike piledriver on Hogan, leveling the Hulkster.
This was a game changer for the Million Dollar Team. However the move backfired as the referee saw the double team and disqualified both members of the Powers of Pain for an illegal double team. This call infuriated color commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura who argued that Hebner had saved Hogan not once but twice by disqualifying Hogan’s opponents when they had him on the ropes.
Regardless of Hebner’s motivation for the call, the Hulkamaniacs now had a two to one advantage over the Million Dollar Team. The reality of the situation was different for Hogan was in bad shape. All the time Roberts battled DiBiase, Hogan lay lifeless in his corner. If DiBiase were to somehow defeat Roberts, he would have easy pickings against the Hulkster.
Driven by revenge after DiBiase had sidelined him for months, Roberts took the battle to “The Million Dollar Man”. Just when Roberts was about to deliver the DDT to DiBiase, DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil ran up on the mat apron, distracting Roberts. Roberts pulled Virgil into the ring and DDTed him. This allowed DiBiase the chance to regroup and he hit a fistdrop on Roberts, covering him for the pin with some added help by putting his legs on the ropes.
DiBiase rolled a lifeless Virgil out of the ring then turned his attention to the other lifeless form in the ring-Hulk Hogan. Hogan was still suffering the effects of Zeus’ brutal chokehold and the spike piledriver delivered by the Powers of Pain. DiBiase went to work on Hogan, but incredibly the Hulkster held on. In the end, Hogan hit the legdrop on DiBiase, pinned him and won the match for his team.
Once again Zeus had failed to destroy Hulk Hogan. However one final battle remained - a brutal tag team rematch that would see Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake face Randy Savage and Zeus in a steel cage. The Hulkster had managed to squeak out a win at SummerSlam thanks to an illegal move that had backfired and this night with a disqualification win. The cage match would have no rules so there would be no stopping Zeus. How on earth was Hulk Hogan going to survive?
Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page The History of WWE!