The Enduring Legacy of Hulk Hogan

Part Eight

Last time we saw the epic encounter between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at the Showdown at Shea as well as their rematch on WWF TV. In 1980, the two wrestlers’ roles were reversed with Hogan working as a heel and Andre working as a babyface. Fast forward to 1987 and WWF promoter Vince McMahon made their match-up even more interesting with Hogan playing the role of babyface and Andre working as a heel.

 

As we saw in Part 6, the angle that launched the Hogan/Andre match at Wrestlemania III was exceptionally well done. The WWF didn’t stop there though. They were banking on selling out the Pontiac Silverdome, an arena that could hold over 93,000 fans. While Andre vs. Hogan was an epic match and undoubtedly the biggest bout of both men’s careers up until this point, Vince McMahon wasn’t taking any chances.

The Wrestlemania IIII match between Andre and Hogan nearly didn’t happen. In an interview on The Ultimate Hulk Hogan Anthology, Vince McMahon recalls how Andre told him that he was finished with wrestling. Andre had severe back problems and was contemplating retirement. However when Vince McMahon told Andre what he had planned for him at Wrestlemania III, Andre couldn’t refuse.

 

After the angle at “Piper’s Pit” with Andre challenging Hogan for a championship match at Wrestlemania, the WWF did a slow build-up to the match itself. The next week on WWF Superstars, Hogan showed up and accepted Andre’s challenge. Now, the WWF had less than two months to build up the match.

 

Arguably the biggest build-up to the Andre/Hogan match (besides the “Piper’s Pit” angle where Andre turned heel) was the 20 man battle royal on the March 14, 1987 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. The battle royal included Andre and Hulk Hogan and fans naturally wondered how things would play out with the two men in the ring. Prior to the start of the match, Hulk Hogan confronted the Giant and fans prepared for the two men to throw down. 

 

However Andre’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had other things in mind and he had two of his charges Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and the Mighty Hercules attack Hogan before he could get his hands on Andre.

Andre showed a vicious streak during the match as he punished his opponents before throwing them out of the ring. One victim in particular was “Leaping” Lanny Poffo who Andre bloodied before sending him over the top rope. Announcer Vince McMahon noted Andre’s brutality, arguing that this was a new sadistic Andre the Giant.

 

Despite Orndorff and Hercules’ efforts to keep the Hulkster from Andre, Hogan eventually caught up with him. However the confrontation proved to be extremely one sided as Andre manhandled Hogan, tossing him out of the ring with seemingly no effort. If this was a harbinger of the upcoming match at Wrestlemania III, Hogan was indeed in for the challenge of his life.

The build-up to Wrestlemania III continued with a contract signing between the champion and the challenger. With WWF President Jack Tunney presiding over the event, Andre’s manager Bobby Heenan started things off by brow-beating Hogan and chiding him for his three year title reign in which Heenan accused Hogan of laughing behind Andre’s back and ducking him Hogan could take no more and told Andre to sign the contract. Andre did and handed the contract over to Hogan who signed it and noted that he had signed many contracts during his career but that this one was the hardest he ever had to sign. He called Heenan and Andre “sick” and told Andre that all he had to do was ask for a title match. Andre told Hogan that he had taught him everything Hogan knew in wrestling but at Wrestlemania III he had one last lesson to teach the champion.

 

After weeks of anticipation, Wrestlemania III had finally arrived. Ticket sales had met Vince McMahon’s expectations with the event selling out (although it should be noted that some wrestling observers have questioned whether the event was a legitimate sell-out or whether the WWF inflated the number of tickets sold to achieve the illusion of a sell-out). 

 

The card itself featured a strong undercard. The Intercontinental Championship match between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat stole the show and is generally regarded as one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time. By the time of the main event, Hulk Hogan and Andre had a tall order to fill. The match had been billed as the biggest main event of all time. Would it live up to the expectations?

 

Having watched the main event several times, I personally feel that while it could not (and did not) match up to the technical prowess of Savage/Steamboat, the match itself was in its own right, one for the ages. The match featured great commentary between the legendary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura including the historic call by Monsoon “the unmovable force meets the irresistible object”.

At its core, the match was all about Hulk Hogan struggling to overcome a bigger and stronger opponent. For years, Hogan had relied on his superior size and strength to win matches. 

 

Hogan tried to get an early advantage over Andre but this almost proved to be his undoing. Hogan threw some mighty right hands at Andre then tried to bodyslam the Giant early on in the match. However Andre shifted his weight, falling on Hogan. The referee counted to three. At first it looked like Andre had done the unthinkable-pinning Hogan in less than a minute. However a close look at the match clearly shows that Hogan kicked out at two and the match continued. While Hogan had escaped a pinfall, he did not escape unscathed. It was clear that he had injured his back in his attempt to lift the Giant. 

 

Andre went to work on Hogan, punishing his opponent with headbutts, big boots, and chops. Andre was no technical wizard but with 550 pounds of mass behind his attacks, he didn’t need to be a scientific wrestler. Andre concentrated his offense on Hogan’s weakened back with devastating results. Hogan was on his hands and knees, crawling around the ring while Andre continued his attack. Announcer Jesse “The Body” Ventura noted that he’d never seen Hogan in this much trouble before.

 

Things looked bleak for Hogan until Andre missed a headbutt and struck the turnbuckle. Hogan tried to rally, firing off punch after punch at Andre. The champion then rammed the challenger’s head into the turnbuckle multiple times, dazing the Giant. Hogan charged into the corner only to meet a big boot from Andre, sending the champion down to the mat.

 

With Hogan’s back injured, Andre attempted to gain a submission win by placing the champion in a bearhug. Andre applied pressure and Hogan writhed in agony, unable to power out of the hold. Andre’s hold began to weaken the champion to the point where the referee went to check to see if Hogan was still conscious. The referee raised Hogan’s arm two times with Hogan failing to raise it. The referee went to check on Hogan’s arm one more time. A third failure to raise it would end the match and see the crowning of a new champion. As the fans in the Silverdome and those watching the event at home looked on with suspense, Hogan rallied and kept his arm up. He was in serious trouble but he wasn’t finished yet.

 

Hogan began pounding away at Andre’s head with blow after blow until the Giant finally released him. Free from the excruciating hold, Hogan attempted another comeback only for the Giant to knock him out of the ring. Andre followed after Hogan but made a key mistake when he tried to headbutt Hogan and missed, striking the ringpost. A dazed Andre stumbled around the ring while Hogan attempted a desperate move. The champion removed one of the protective mats covering the concrete floor. Hogan then attempted to piledrive Andre on the cement. A successful execution of the piledriver would undoubtedly turn the tide but Hogan’s desperation had blinded him to the fact that there was no way he could lift Andre up for a piledriver. As Hogan struggled to lift Andre up, the Giant back body dropped Hogan onto the cement.

 

Once again in control of the match, Andre threw Hogan into the ring. Andre continued the attack on Hogan. Hogan’s championship reign looked to be coming to an end when Andre threw Hogan into the ropes and attempted a big boot. However Hogan ducked out of the way and bounced off of the ropes with a powerful clothesline. The champion then lifted Andre up and slammed him. Hogan delivered his famous finisher the Legdrop and covered the challenger for a successful 1-2-3. Hogan had done the unimaginable-defeating Andre the Giant.

 

As Hogan triumphantly left the arena, the fans marveled at what they had seen. Hogan had beaten a seemingly unstoppable foe. However this would be only the beginning of a long war between Hogan and Andre, a war that would continue over the next year and see the WWF launch its second big pay-per-view with a Hogan/Andre rematch headlining it.

 

Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page http://www.thehistoryofwwe.com/ !

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