Rare is the occasion when promoters do not recycle a match-up between two wrestlers to capitalize on their chemistry. The WrestleMania III match-up between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant was no exception. Nearly seven years before the record-breaking main event in the Pontiac Silverdome, Andre and Hulk Hogan wrestled in another outdoor event, although they would not be in the main event.
The summer of 1980 was hot, both for the United States and Richard Pryor. A heat wave in the U.S. killed over 1,700 people while comedian Richard Pryor sustained burns over half of his body after a free-basing cocaine incident gone bad. In politics, Ronald Reagan won the Presidential nomination from the Republican party while incumbent President Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination. The Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics but a U.S. boycott of the event cast a shadow over it. Ted Turner launched CNN, the Cable News Network and rockers AC/DC released their biggest album to date, Back in Black.
In the world of wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) promoted the third of a series of outdoor wrestling events held at Shea Stadium. The third and last event was held on August 9, 1980 and was main evented by a cage match between WWF icon Bruno Sammartino and his protégé gone bad, Larry Zbyszko.
The undercard was strong and featured several high-profile matches including WWF champion Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales defeating the Wild Samoans for the WWF Tag Team Titles. It also saw WWF Intercontinental Champion Ken Patera retain his championship after losing by count-out to Tony Atlas.
Another match that stuck out was an epic battle between two big men, Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. The two men had battled at house shows in the months leading up to the match but nothing could compare to the epic arena in which they battled. Hogan had unsuccessfully battled against WWF champion Bob Backlund and now turned his attention to “The Eighth Wonder of the World”.
The match itself saw both men in their prime. While Hogan was no ring-savvy veteran, he was no rookie either. Andre had been wrestling since the 1960’s while Hogan had been wrestling for about three years. The match-up between Hogan and Andre was a natural.
Promoters knew that the fans loved to see a big man challenge Andre and while no one was as tall as Andre, competitors like Hogan looked like they could give the Giant a run for his money.
Andre dominated the first two thirds of the match, using his size and power to keep Hogan at bay. Hogan tried to outpower the Giant with moves like a shoulderblock and body slam but he just couldn’t get the job done. Things changed however when Andre bodyslammed Hogan and inadvertently knocked the referee down. Andre went to check on the referee and as he did, Hogan attacked him from behind, hoping to capitalize on the moment.
Back in the ring, Andre got to his feet and called Hogan out. However Hogan was long gone. With Andre looking for revenge and Hogan looking to make a name for himself by defeating “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” promoters eagerly signed a series of matches at arenas across the country.
While it would seem that the two men would have been involved in a long, money-making feud, the actual program was short-lived. Andre the Giant defeated the Hulkster in singles and tag team matches before the two wrestlers went their separate ways.
This was clearly a case of a promoter leaving money on the table. A Hogan/Andre feud could be big money if promoted correctly. Vince McMahon’s son wisely saw this and when it came time for a main event for Wrestlemania III, he knew who he could count on to sell out an outdoor arena.
On cue, wrestling manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie and his new charge Hulk Hogan showed up to confront the giant. Blassie told Andre that Hogan had wrestled all of the people that Andre had but that he’d defeated them in less time. Things heated up with both men agreeing to fight the next week on WWF TV. When Hogan got into Andre’s face, Andre suggested that they battle right away. Hogan decided to wait until the following week.
The next week on Championship Wrestling, Hogan and Andre squared off. Hulk Hogan had to have recalled how his last battle with Andre had gone and this time he wasn’t going to allow the Giant to get the early advantage. Hulk Hogan launched a furious assault against Andre proving that he was one of the Giant’s most formidable opponents to date. However even Hogan’s determination could not keep Andre at bay for long and he soon fought back, knocking Hogan to the mat.
Perhaps realizing that all was lost, Hogan took advantage of a mistake by Andre and exited the ring after Andre missed a bodysplash. Hogan went to his manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie and took a foreign object from Blassie, inserting it into his elbow pad. Then, just as he had done at “The Showdown at Shea”, Hogan blasted Andre in the head with the loaded forearm pad, bloodying the Giant once again. Hogan then bailed out of the ring, satisfied that he had hurt the Giant.
Hogan had a brief offensive flurry but Andre soon fought back. Andre landed a big splash on Hogan and a substitute referee made the count. The count was quick and the referee failed to notice that Hogan had kicked out at two. After the match, an angry Hulk Hogan went outside the ring where his manager loaded a foreign object into Hogan’s elbowpad. Hogan then returned to the ring where he blasted Andre in the back of the head. Hogan then whipped Andre into the ropes and caught his opponent in the head with the loaded elbow pad. Hogan left a now bloodied Andre in the ring.
The match was interesting in that it was not a clean victory for Andre. Hogan had clearly kicked out before the three count. It also saw Hogan bodyslam Andre, something that was not a regular occurrence in Andre’s career (although it should be noted that Hogan was not the first or only man to slam Andre).
In an interesting move, the Andre/Hogan rivalry was not built up on WWF TV until after their epic match at Shea. This would take place on the 8/23/80 airing of Championship Wrestling. In a well set-up angle, WWF announcer Vince McMahon (attired in a truly awful canary yellow suit and doing his best Howard Cosell imitation) interviewed Andre. He set things up by pointing out that Andre was undefeated but that eventually, someone was going to beat him. Andre pointed out that he had defeated a previously undefeated wrestler early on in his career and that he understood that even he was not invincible.
Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page http://www.thehistoryofwwe.com/ !