Last week we saw the development of the Hulk Hogan/Paul Orndorff feud. The angle that led to Orndorff’s heel turn and ensuing feud with Hulk Hogan was masterfully done.
However would the feud translate into box office? As we shall see, the feud was one of the biggest of both men’s careers and proved to be a tremendous success with lasting power.
The WWF did a slow build to the first Hogan/Orndorff match. Although the Orndorff heel turn angle had aired on WWF Superstars in June of 1986, the majority of the Hulkster’s matches during the summer were against Adrian Adonis. However by August, house shows began to feature “Mr. Wonderful” taking on Hulk Hogan.
If the WWF had intended for its slow build-up to the first series of Hogan/Orndorff matches to build anticipation, they found that their gambit had paid off when they ran an outdoor show in Toronto, Canada on August 28, 1986 at the historic CNE Stadium. Toronto, a longtime hotbed of wrestling featured the show which became known as “The Big Event”. The card featured eleven matches with Hogan vs. Orndorff as the main event.
In Hulk Hogan’s 2002 autobiography Hollywood Hulk Hogan, he talks of how he was surprised at how many people showed up for the stadium show. While the WWF was expecting a robust crowd, no one was expecting the turn-out that they had. In the end, 74,000 fans attended the show, setting an outdoor attendance record (Please note that I have seen figures that suggest less people paid for their tickets but in any event, the show was an overwhelming success regardless of the dispute attendance figures). While the show featured several high profile matches, nothing could compare to the white-hot feud between Hogan and Orndorff.
The match between Hogan and Orndorff ended in a win by disqualification for the Hulkster after “Mr. Wonderful’s” manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan hit Hogan with a chair during the match. Like many an opening match for a feud, there was no clear-cut winner.
This would be seen across the country as Hogan and Orndorff’s matches typically ended in a disqualification win for either man.
The Hogan/Orndorff match was a perfect fit for NBC’s Saturday Night Main Event. The Hulkster defended his WWF Championship against Onrdorff and like many of their previous matches, this one ended via disqualification (in this case, a win for Hogan). Like any well-handled feud, the fans were manipulated into wanting to see a decisive winner but kept from doing so until subsequent rematches.
The feud between Hulk Hogan and “Mr. Wonderful” led to some interesting matches. With the Hogan/Orndorff matches often ending in disqualifications, promoters arranged for matches with the special stipulation that Orndorff would win the WWF championship should Hogan be disqualified. Even more interesting were the tag team matches which saw the Hulkster team up with his long-time rival “Rowdy” Roddy Piper against Orndorff and Adrian Adonis. Just over a year ago, Hogan had teamed up with Mr. T to face the team of Piper and Orndorff. Fans wondered if the team of Hogan and Piper could co-exist. To many fans’ surprise they did. The duo of Hogan and Piper also teamed against Piper’s rivals “Cowboy” Bob Orton and “The Magnificent” Muraco, the two men who had sided with Adrian Adonis against Piper.
Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, wrestling feuds typically culminated in a steel cage match. The Hogan/Orndorff rivalry was no exception to this rule and the two men began facing each other in steel cage matches across the country. While the initial matches between Hogan and Orndorff were inconclusive, the steel cage matches were all won by Hogan, signifying that the feud was drawing to a close.
With Orndorff seemingly behind him, Hulk Hogan moved on to new challengers. In January of 1987, Hogan worked a series of matches against Kamala the Ugandan Giant. Although Kamala’s size and savagery made him a legitimate challenger, Hogan was on a collision course with his greatest challenger yet.
During the January 17, 1987 episode of WWF Superstars, WWF President Jack Tunney presented Hulk Hogan with a trophy honoring his three years as WWF Champion. The award took place on “Piper’s Pit” and saw Hogan’s longtime friend Andre the Giant come out to congratulate the Hulkster on his award. Andre told Hogan “Three years is a long time to be champion”, a statement that no one took note of at the time but which would soon become ominous in hindsight.
The following week on “Piper’s Pit”, President Tunney presented Andre with a trophy recognizing his achievement as the only undefeated man in WWF history. The trophy was smaller than the one which had been awarded to Hogan. During the ceremony, Hulk Hogan came out to congratulate Andre but his congratulations seemed to turn the focus away from Andre and onto himself. Andre left the set, leaving everyone scratching their head.
The following week on “Piper’s Pit”, WWF color commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura confronted Roddy Piper and told him that he would produce Andre the Giant the following week if Piper produced Hogan. Piper agreed and the fans began to be intrigued as to what was going on. It seemed as if Ventura had some sort of surprise in store for Hogan but what would it be?
WWF fans waited with anticipation until the next edition of WWF Superstars. Jesse Ventura showed up on “Piper’s Pit” and prepared to unveil his surprise. Piper had delivered Hulk Hogan as promised but where was Andre? Everyone waited and then Ventura delivered a bombshell - Andre the Giant showed up as promised but he was not alone. With him was his longtime nemesis Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Hogan was shocked. What was Andre doing with Heenan?
The answer was quickly revealed as Heenan told Hogan that Andre was tired of living in his shadow. Andre then challenged Hogan to a world championship match at Wrestlemania III. Andre ripped off Hogan’s gold cross and left “Piper’s Pit”.
The wrestling world was stunned. How could Andre align himself with a man who had tried to drive him out of professional wrestling? For years, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had waged war against Andre, costing Andre his hair during the infamous “Haircut Match” and siccing his charge “King Kong” Bundy on Andre, injuring the Giant in the process. Somehow, Heenan had turned Andre against Hogan, just as Heenan had helped turn Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff against Hogan.
Although he did not like the circumstances that had led to the match, Hogan agreed to put his WWF title on the line against Andre at Wrestlemania III. The match was billed as the greatest match of both men’s careers and the WWF put a lot of hype into the match. There were many exaggerations to the match. The WWF claimed that Hogan and Andre had never wrestled each other (both men had wrestled years earlier during Hogan’s first run in the federation when he worked as a heel). It was said that Andre the Giant had never been pinned. While Andre’s pinfall losses were few, his record was not spotless as claimed. Finally, Andre was billed as never having been slammed. This too was untrue. A review of the Hogan/Andre match from the Showdown at Shea’s in August 1980 would have shown Hogan bodyslamming Andre.
Despite the misrepresentations, the match was huge. The WWF was counting on this because it had booked Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, an outer arena that was the largest NFL stadium at the time.