By May of 1985, Hulkamania was a truly national phenomenon. Hulk Hogan had gained mainstream publicity through appearances on MTV and NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He’d main evented Wrestlemania, laying a strong claim as the national symbol of professional wrestling. Further cementing his fame was his appearances on NBC’s wrestling special Saturday Night’s Main Event (SNME).
The WWF carefully cultivated the Hulk Hogan phenomenon. Keeping with a longstanding tradition of not overexposing their champion on weekly television, Hogan rarely appeared on the WWF’s weekly syndicated programming. If fans wanted to see the Hulkster in action, they had to pay to see him at their local arenas. Even then, the Hulkster made limited appearances in the smaller markets, concentrating his appearances in major arenas such as Madison Square Garden.
An exception to this was SNME. The WWF loaded this show up with big name talent and Hulk Hogan was the focus of every show. The Hulkster main evented the inaugural show with a follow-up match of sorts from Wrestlemania. Hogan battled “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s henchman “Cowboy” Bob Orton in a title match, defeating Orton by disqualification, and keeping fans interested in a singles match between Piper and Hogan.
While the WWF teased its fans about a rematch between Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, the federation had plenty of opponents for the Hulkster to defend his WWF Championship against. Hogan worked programs with former Intercontinental Champions Don “The Magnificent” Muraco and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Nikolai Volkoff, “Big” John Studd, and newcomer Brutus Beefcake. From time to time, Hogan battled “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in singles and tag matches but neither man scored a pinfall or submission victory over one another.
After the success of the first SNME, NBC aired the show two more times in 1985. The first show saw Hulk Hogan defeat the Soviet menace Nikolai Volkoff by pinfall. The second show saw the Hulkster team up with “The Eighth Wonder of the World” Andre the Giant against the mammoth team of “Big” John Studd and “King Kong” Bundy with Hogan and Andre winning by disqualification. The tag match would be a harbinger of Hogan’s next big struggle.
In November of 1985, the WWF aired its second pay-per-view (PPV), The Wrestling Classic, a sixteen man tournament featuring some of the promotion’s biggest stars (as well as a couple of jabronis).
The PPV was interesting for a tournament in that the winner (The Junkyard Dog) didn’t win anything but bragging rights. The only person who won anything of value on the show was Michael Hamley, a fan who won a contest for a Rolls Royce. The show also featured a WWF Championship match between the defending champion Hulk Hogan and his persistent nemesis “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Once again, nothing was settled between the two men as the match ended in disqualification thanks to outside interference on Piper’s behalf by “Cowboy” Bob Orton.
During the latter half of 1985, Hulk Hogan faced two men who he would face at future Wrestlemanias- King Kong Bundy and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Hogan would score pinfall victories over both men, which makes you wonder how much the fans’ appetite for future matches was whetted (as opposed to Hogan’s matches against Roddy Piper which always left the question open about who was the better competitor).
As 1985 wound down, Hulk Hogan had accomplished quite a lot. The question now became could the WWF continue its success in 1986? The WWF’s two biggest rivals - the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and Jim Crockett Promotions had ambitions of their own and while Vince McMahon was making it clear that he thought there was only room for one wrestling organization, the war with his rival promoters was not over.
1986 started with another SNME special. The main event saw WWF champion Hulk Hogan defending his championship against former National Wrestling Alliance World champion Terry Funk. The Junkyard Dog had had his share of troubles with Funk in 1985 and he accompanied Hogan to the ring to counteract the outside interference of Funk’s manager Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. Hogan would win the match and spend the first few months of 1986 defending the belt at house shows against Funk.
New York City’s Madison Square Garden is known as “The Mecca of Professional Wrestling.” The WWF often ran matches there before they worked their way through the various arenas of the United States and Canada. In January 1986, Hulk Hogan started a program with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Their first match saw Hogan trying to overcome the unexpected interference of Savage’s manager Miss Elizabeth. Miss Elizabeth was unlike other female managers and valets in that she didn’t try to interfere in the matches or act maliciously. Unfortunately her charge “The Macho Man” had no qualms about using Elizabeth as a human shield against his opponents. This led to frustration on his opponents’ part and in this particular case, led to Hogan being counted outside during the WWF title defense. The two men would have a Lumberjack Match rematch in February with Hogan winning via pinfall after outside interference from Savage’s persistent nemesis George “The Animal” Steele.
The success of Wrestlemania had fans wondering whether or not there’d be a sequel. Given the success of JCP’s Starrcade (JCP had run the third edition in 1985), it seemed like a no-brainer that Vince McMahon would run a Wrestlemania in 1986. Wrestlemania had been built around several high-profile matches- the main event of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as well as undercard bouts between Andre the Giant & “Big” John Studd (with Andre’s career on the line), a Woman’s Championship match between Wendi Richter and champion Leilani Kai, and a WWF Tag Team Championship bout between the defending champions the U.S. Express (Mike Rotunda & Barry Windham) against the hated team of the Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff. Any sequel to Wrestlemania would have big shoes to fill.
1985’s Wrestlemania had been built around the white-hot feud between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. While Hogan had had other opponents during his tenure as WWF champion, it was difficult to see who could compare to Piper in terms of heel heat. How would the fans react to a Piper-Hogan rematch in 1986?
WWF head honcho Vince McMahon threw the fans a curve when he decided that Wrestlemania II would not only feature three main events, but that it would air from three different venues. Roddy Piper would be in one of the main events but it would not be against Hulk Hogan but against Hogan’s tag team partner from Wrestlemania, Mr. T.
So if Mr. T was facing “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who would the WWF’s number one babyface face? The WWF decided to pit the champion against the man who had set a record during his debut at the inaugural Wrestlemania for the fastest match- none other than “King Kong” Bundy (Bundy would hold the record for the fastest match ever until it was broken at Wrestlemania XXIV by Kane).
Born Christopher Pallies, the man who would become known as “The Walking Condominium” by WWF announcer Gorilla Monsoon earned his stripes in the territories, adopting the name King Kong Bundy in Fritz Von Erich’s Texas based World Class Championship Wrestling territory. During these formative years, Bundy introduced the gimmick that he was so confident in his abilities that he gave his opponents a five count (rather than the traditional three count) to kick out from a pinfall.
With a billed height of 6’4” and a weight of 450 pounds, Bundy proved to be a formidable opponent. He worked a program against Andre the Giant where Bundy inflicted a kayfabe injury of a broken sternum to Andre. Bundy eventually formed a tag team partnership with another big man, John Studd, and worked in tag matches against Andre and partners such as Hillbilly Jim and Hulk Hogan.
By 1986, King Kong Bundy had established himself as a dominant force in the WWF. Now, all that remained was to give the fans a reason why they’d want to see Hulk Hogan fight.
This incentive was provided on the March 1, 1986 edition of SNME when Hulk Hogan defended his championship against “The Magnificent” Muraco. Muraco’s manager Mr. Fuji was supposedly ill so the WWF’s top heel manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan offered to fill in.
The fans should have been suspicious when Heenan proved so eager to help out. In any event, Heenan’s true intentions became known when Heenan interfered in the match, costing Muraco a disqualification loss. All of this was a set-up for King Kong Bundy to run in and attack Hogan. Bundy destroyed Hogan, delivering multiple “Atlantic City Avalanches” and big splashes to a helpless Hulkster. The Hulkster was taken to a hospital where it was revealed that he’d suffered injured ribs.
Eager for revenge, Hogan ignored his injury and agreed to a steel cage title defense against Bundy. With Hogan injured, Bundy’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was undoubtedly counting on a victory. This was arguably going to be Hogan’s most dangerous match yet.
Wrestlemania II proved to be an interesting night. Billed as “bigger, better, badder”, Wrestlemania II was held in three separate locations (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) with a main event and undercard at each city. It was the first Wrestlemania to be available in people’s homes via pay-per-view (PPV). It was also the first (and only) Wrestlemania to air on a Monday night.
The Hogan/Bundy match was the third and final main event of the show. The match was noteworthy in not only was it the first cage match at a Wrestlemania but it also saw the introduction of the WWF’s blue steel cage. With Bobby Heenan lending his expertise from the outside, “King Kong” Bundy went to work immediately on the champion’s injured ribs. Despite Hogan’s best efforts to avoid the challenger’s finisher, Hogan fell prey to Bundy’s “Atlantic City Avalanche”. However the power of Hulkamania prevailed and Hogan was able to “Hulk up”, kicking out of Bundy’s pinfall. Hogan then rallied and climbed the cage.
With Wrestlemania II now in the record books, fans wondered what lay in store for Hulk Hogan. Although Wrestlemania II was the biggest show of the year for the WWF, there were plenty of surprises in store for fans of the Hulkster. The summer would see Hogan involved in a feud with a trusted friend turned enemy. This feud would lead to a record breaking crowd for a wrestling show. And no, I’m not talking about Andre the Giant. Join me next time as we further explore the enduring legacy of Hulk Hogan.
Special thanks to Greg Vale’s History of the WWE site for information on the Hulkster’s matches!