A wrestling card is only as good as its main event and while Wrestlemania III had many memorable undercard matches, its success was largely due to the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant main event. If the original Wrestlemania put the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on the map nationally, the success of Wrestlemania III took the company to even greater success.
Wrestlemania III sold out the Pontiac Silverdome, setting a sports attendance record that would not be broken until Valentine’s Day 2010 when the NBA All-Star Game broke the record with an attendance record of over 108,000 people attending. The WWF made an estimated $1.6 million in ticket sales. This was just the tip of the iceberg for revenue. The card was also broadcast on closed-circuit television and pay-per-view at home, drawing in millions of viewers and bringing the WWF an additional ten million dollars in revenue.
Wrestlemania III’s tremendous success greatly strengthened the WWF’s position in the national wrestling turf wars. As we shall see later, the WWF was able to use its success with Wrestlemania III to strengthen its bargaining position when it launched a new PPV in November.
As great as a wrestler’s success may be, things ultimately boil down to the question posed by Janet Jackson in her 1986 hit, What Have You Done for Me Lately? As big as the Hulk Hogan/Andre match was, the Hulkster had new opponents to face.
Fortunately promoter Vince McMahon had no problem bringing in new competitors for the WWF champion to defend his title against. After Wrestlemania III, the Hulkster defended his title against the Kamala “The Ugandan Giant”. He also appeared in several tag team matches with partners such as Olympic strongman Ken Patera and “The Birdman” Koko B. Ware.
One of Hogan’s most persistent opponents during the second quarter of 1987 was against eight-time National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race. Race had been a mainstay of the NWA during the 70’s and first half of the 1980’s but by 1986, financial woes at running his NWA territory in Kansas City led him to sign with the WWF.
Although the WWF did not acknowledge Race’s past as a world champion, they gave him the prestigious name of “The King” after he won the 1986 “King of the Ring” tournament.
With a prestigious name and a known pedigree, Race provided Hogan with many memorable matches at house shows. On May 18, 1987 at Madison Square Garden, the Hulkster prevailed against Race in a title defense but a post-match attack by Race saw a bloodied Hogan challenge Race to a rematch with the stipulation that the match would be under Texas Death Match Rules and that Hogan would retire if he lost the bout. Both men competed in Texas Death Matches around the country with Hogan triumphing, thus keeping both his title and career.
After the series with Harley Race, Hogan worked a brief program with Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Savage was coming off of a long reign as Intercontinental Champion and would have loved to add the WWF Championship to his resume. Unfortunately for “The Macho Man”, his dreams would not come true until the following year.
Along with his matches against Savage, Hogan appeared against opponents such as the Honky Tonk Man, newcomer “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and the One Man Gang.
One of Hogan’s most bizarre opponents was the 6’5” 300 plus pound monster known as Killer Khan. Billed as coming from Mongolia, Killer Khan had made a name for himself in the WWF several years earlier when he broke Andre the Giant’s leg. The two big men feuded and Khan eventually left the WWF. However his return to the Fed saw Khan earn a title shot against the Hulkster after he blew green mist into Hogan’s face, temporarily blinding the champion.
Killer Khan’s use of green mist proved to be a difference maker in his matches with many opponents. Khan had used it successfully against Hogan but during their title matches, the Hulkster was able to counter Khan’s use of mist and in some matches, actually used it against him by blocking it then rubbing the mist into Khan’s eyes. Khan would face Hogan in Mongolian Stretcher Matches but regardless of what the match was, Hogan emerged victorious with his championship.
In November of 1987, the WWF decided to compete against rival promotion Jim Crockett Promotions' flagship PPV, Starrcade. JCP had been running Starrcade since 1983 and it success had inspired Vince McMahon to launch Wrestlemania. Now, the WWF was going to run a new PPV entitled Survivor Series.
In an interesting move, the WWF ran Survivor Series as all tag team matches. To make things even more interesting, these were tag team elimination matches with teams ranging in size from five wrestlers to ten wrestlers. The format was fairly simple. When a team’s wrestler lost a pinfall, they were eliminated from the match. This continued until all of a team’s wrestlers had been eliminated (This was slightly altered in the match consisting of five tag teams against five tag teams where both members of a team were eliminated when one of its members lost a pinfall).
The main event built upon the success of Wrestlemania III’s main event, pitting Hulk Hogan’s team (Hogan, Don Muraco, Ken Patera, “Bam Bam” Big Bigelow, and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff) against Andre the Giant’s team (Andre, One Man Gang, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Butch Reed, and “King Kong” Bundy). Most of the wrestlers on each team had feuds against wrestlers on the other team so there was lots of hype leading into the main event.
In an exciting match, the Hulkster’s team started off by eliminating one of Andre’s wrestlers (Butch Reed). However things quickly went downhill as Ken Patera and Paul Orndorff were eliminated. Don Muraco evened things up by eliminating Rick Rude. However, One Man Gang eliminated Muraco, giving Andre’s team the advantage. Now wrestling 2 against 3, Hogan and Bigelow fought to prevail. However Andre’s team eliminated Hogan by count out when they used underhanded tactics to keep him from returning to the ring. “Bam Bam” Bigelow now faced three opponents. He fought against the odds and managed to eliminated One Man Gang and “King Kong” Bundy. However in the end, Andre the Giant prevailed, pinning Bigelow and becoming the sole survivor.
This finish did nothing to settle the feud between Andre and Hogan. After the match, Hogan spoiled Andre’s victory by clobbering “The Eighth Wonder of the World” with the WWF championship, knocking him out of the ring.
While Hogan vs. Andre was not settled, Survivor Series all but settled the war between the WWF and JCP. By 1987, the WWF was clearly in the lead but competitor Jim Crockett Promotions was still in the game. However this changed when the WWF’s success with Wrestlemania enabled it to call the shots when it came to PPV.
In a bold move, Vince McMahon ran his new PPV Survivor Series on the same night (Thanksgiving) as Starrcade. In an even bolder move, McMahon told PPV providers that anyone who carried Starrcade rather than Survivor Series would not be able to carry Wrestlemania III.
Given the success of Wrestlemania III and the money it had generated for PPV providers, very few PPV providers carried Starrcade. This killed JCP’s Starrcade buyrate and since JCP relied heavily on Starrcade for its revenue, the company suffered a crippling blow.
As 1987 began to wind down, forced were aligning against Hulk Hogan. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase had quickly made a name for himself since his return to the WWF in 1987. A talented technical wrestler, DiBiase was not above using his wealth (as well as his bodyguard Virgil) to get whatever he wanted. A man of refined tastes, DiBiase made it clear that he coveted the WWF Championship.
Unlike other competitors, DiBiase was not above buying the championship outright. While DiBiase had been able to buy many people, Hogan was not one of them. The WWF champion refused DiBiase’s offer. This infuriated DiBiase. “The Million Dollar Man” seemed prepared to do whatever else was necessary to obtain it. DiBiase explored such an avenue when he bought Andre the Giant’s contract from Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
With 1988 fast approaching, Hulk Hogan’s reign as WWF champion seemed more at risk than ever. With DiBiase and Andre combining forces, things looked dark for the Hulkster. However an unlikely alliance would form in 1988, and a new chapter would unveil in the legacy of Hulk Hogan.
Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page http://www.thehistoryofwwe.com/ !