Lee Maughan: Hulkamania 3: The Inside Story of the GIANT Betrayal! Now THAT’S a subtitle!
We start with Craig DeGeorge interviewing Hulk Hogan on a speedboat. Who wears short shorts? Hulk wears short shorts! DeGeorge, naturally, is sat with his head resting right around the same height as Hogan’s crotch, legs akimbo.
Our story begins on Piper’s Pit in January of 1987, as President Jack Tunney presents a giant trophy to Hogan to mark his three years as WWF champion. Out comes Andre the Giant for comments, and what prophetic words they would prove to be – “Three years… is a long time to be champion.”
One week later, Tunney returns to Piper’s Pit to present a trophy to Andre for 15-years undefeated. Significantly, Andre’s trophy is smaller than Hogan’s. Just as Andre is about to give a speech to the fans, out rushes glory hog Hogan to steal the spotlight. To be fair, Hogan does put Andre over big time, saying he wants to be just like him. Shunted to the background, Andre walks off disgustedly.
Week three in the Pit and here’s Jesse Ventura to stir up the shit, bringing up Andre’s reinstatement. You see, Andre had been feuding with Bobby Heenan’s Heenan Family since 1984, but had gotten suspended by Tunney in 1986 after failing to appear for a tag team match against King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd (as on-screen cover for his New Japan tours and film work in England). Later that summer, a trio of masked wrestlers called The Machines (a successful New Japan gimmick built around Junji Hirata as ‘Super Strong Machine’) had arrived to make life miserable for the Heenan Family. Alongside Big Machine (Blackjack Mulligan) and Super Machine (Bill Eadie) was the familiarly proportioned ‘Giant Machine’, who Heenan claimed was Andre, despite not being able to offer any proof. By the autumn of 1986, Giant Machine had vanished and a hearing was held regarding Andre’s suspension. Surprisingly, Andre didn’t bother to show up to his own hearing, but the one man who did was… Andre’s arch-nemesis, Heenan. Jesse, noted Conspiracy Theorist, finds the whole situation fishy. Piper tells him to get to the point and Jesse tells him the world won’t believe what’s about to go down, before bringing up the size of the respective trophies and claiming Hogan has ducked opponents. With Jesse and Piper about to come to blows, they agree to bring both Andre and Hogan to the show next week to settle it.
Next, it’s showdown time as Piper brings out Hogan and Jesse brings out Andre… led by Heenan. Piper and Hogan are absolutely dumbfounded by the presence of Heenan, who rips into Hogan for stealing Andre’s moment, for getting a bigger trophy than Andre and for never in his life offering Andre a title match. Well, he’s got a point. Hogan tries to reason with Andre but Andre utters the immortal line – “Look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m here for one reason… to challenge you for a world championship match in WrestleMania.” Andre tears off Hogan’s shirt, not to mention his cross, ripping at Hogan with such force that he cuts open his chest. “You’re bleeding” notes a stunned Piper. This, by the way, was the only time in history that Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan were all on camera together at the same time. That alone is a pretty significant moment in itself.
Next week, a dejected Hogan returns to Piper’s Pit to explain “You don’t understand, man. I worship the guy! He was like a friend!” Wait, so he was ‘like’ a friend, but not actually a friend? I’m not surprised he got sick of Hogan after all this. Hogan spends most of the interview whining and crying about the sort of person Andre used to be, and how could he side with Heenan? Finally, Piper just angrily asks the question every fan was dying to know – “Tell me, yes or no, are you or are you not gonna fight him in WrestleMania III for the world heavyweight championship?” and Hogan gives it straight – “YEEESSSS!!!”
Finally, to the contract signing, as Tunney refers to Andre as “Mr. Roussimoff”, possibly the first time Andre’s actual name was referenced on WWF television. Heenan starts complaining about the title belt and how he wants a new one made that will fit Andre. Hogan suddenly snaps at Heenan to shut up and sign the contract, and Andre smiles the wryest of smiles.
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre the Giant
One of the most famous matches in history, the match that brought 78,000 people to the Silverdome (and that’s the still-impressive legitimate number, as confirmed by the Silverdome and later reported in Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter, not the inflated 93,127 the WWF claimed). Steamboat vs. Savage might have stolen the show at WrestleMania III but make no mistake, Hogan vs. Andre sold it. Then again, it’s not like anyone really expected Hogan-Andre to be a technical wrestling classic. In terms of importance, historical significance, the monster crowd and the stature of both figures within the industry, everything about this match is ***** …besides the action. Built around Hogan’s initial inability to bodyslam Andre (which became a staple of all Hogan vs. behemoth matches), and an extremely significant close-call early on in the match (where Andre and Heenan protested what they thought was a match-winning three count that was to be the genesis for a super-sized Hogan-Andre rematch on The Main Event almost a year later, as seen later on this tape), the match wasn’t without it’s highlights. Indeed, despite it’s age and the lack of suspense in watching old footage, knowing spot-for-spot exactly what you’re about to see, it’s one of those rare matches that still gives you chills when you watch both guys come down the aisle, the anticipation as colour commentator Jesse Ventura runs down the tale of the tape a’la world title boxing, the buzz of the crowd as a shaking Hogan goes face to chest with the Giant, and the euphoria as Hogan, against all the odds, finally slams his nemesis down to the canvas and hits the legdrop for the match-winning pin. David finally slays Goliath. Or, perhaps more accurately; Superman finally slays Doomsday. It was everything the fans that packed the Silverdome that afternoon had come to see, and to not a single one of them did it matter that between those few highest of highspots, the rest of the action was a complete washout. Andre had been in tremendous pain due to his Acromegaly (the disease that had caused his body to continue to grow long after it should have stopped, commonly referred to as gigantism), and had left the WWF in 1986 to go film The Princess Bride. Flying to England to talk with him, Vince McMahon had convinced Andre to come back to the States for the heel turn and the match with Hogan. McMahon later went on record as saying he felt like Andre had gone to England “to die”, despondent over his condition, but that Vince’s pep talk and the promise of one last run re-energised and reinvigorated him to the point that it may just have added a few extra years to his life. Still, despite this new-found enthusiasm and his menacing stature, Andre’s body simply wouldn’t allow him to perform like he’d been capable of doing in the 70s and early 80s, and it was sad to see this man among men, this giant among giants, struggling to get through so many short, rotten matches, as became the norm. In many ways, the fact that this match didn’t completely stink perhaps gives it the distinction of being Andre’s last truly great performance. It’s bad no doubt, but it’s not as brutally bad as his matches were about to become as the pain took a further toll on his ravaged body. There’s a special spark to Andre’s performance here, and you can really tell he’s trying his absolute best to give every last person in that building their money’s worth. And that he did.
Final Rating: **½
To the past, as Hogan saves Andre and Tony Atlas from a beatdown courtesy of Bundy & Studd on Saturday Night’s Main Event, and then to the next edition of that show as Hogan & Andre clean house on Bundy & Studd after a disqualification finish to their tag team grudge match. Back on the boat, DeGeorge theorises that Andre’s change in personality was all down to Heenan. Hogan then stunningly drops some insider lingo, saying Andre “took [Heenan’s] advice, took [Heenan’s] money, and then did the job.” Back to more Saturday Night’s Main Event, as Heenan and Andre review the tape of Andre ‘pinning’ Hogan at the start of their WrestleMania III match, and Heenan demands a rematch.
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. King Kong Bundy
Heenan promises a surprise for this match and, you guessed it, Andre is going to be in Bundy’s corner. So we skip the backdrop of the Bundy-Hogan match and join the action with Hogan getting tripped from the outside by Andre, so the referee tells Andre to do one or he’s awarding a disqualification win to Hogan. Andre eventually complies, but absolutely mows down a cameraman on his way out in an awesome visual. We rejoin the action with Hogan Hulking-up, and an impressive bodyslam causes Bundy to take a powder to the outside. Hogan follows him to the floor for a brawl, and with the referee putting the count on, Hogan rolls Bundy back inside, only for Heenan to grab Hogan’s leg and prevent him getting back in the ring, giving Hogan a rare televised loss and necessitating a rematch on the next Saturday Night’s Main Event. Hogan throttles Heenan after the match, resulting in ‘The Brain’ sporting a neck brace for a few weeks (in real life, Heenan had genuine neck issues for a number of years.)
And now the story takes a colossal left turn as, after weeks of humiliating the fans into performing degrading acts for hundred dollar bills (including a pre-fame Rob Van Dam kissing his sweaty, soiled, post-match feet), ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase announces that he’s going to buy the WWF title from Hulk Hogan, because after all, “Everybody has a price!” Hogan’s response is an emphatic “Hell NOOOO!” but DiBiase concludes by calling Hogan a fool and suggests he’ll still acquire the title through other nefarious means.
Hulk Hogan & Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Ted DiBiase & Virgil
We skip ahead a little for some reason, as Andre is already in DiBiase & Virgil’s corner here (which doesn’t make much sense if you think about it, as DiBiase brokered a deal with Heenan to become Andre’s manager, not vice-versa.) Either way, the crowd in this one is absolutely molten the whole way through, like the antithesis of the coming Trump Plaza crowd that killed the atmosphere at WrestleMania IV by being so bored with the whole thing that they made the any good matches come across as painfully average, and the average matches come across a whole lot worse than they actually were. Here though, a really good, energetic, action-packed match is actually taken up a few notches thanks to the enthusiasm of the rabid New York audience. And what a fun, all-action match it is, as DiBiase just bounces around like a pinball for Hogan & Bigelow in an extended opening segment, before Andre finally trips Hogan from the outside and the heels get the heat on him. That’s pretty interesting actually. I know they had big plans for Bigelow in 1988, but you might be forgiven for thinking DiBiase & Virgil would get the heat on Bigelow and have Hogan take the hot tag, but it’s the other way around here. And all seems very justified when Bigelow does eventually get the hot tag, and MSG just absolutely explodes as he casually throws Virgil around. In fact, I was positively giddy watching Virgil get the shit kicked out of him here. Not because I don’t like the guy or anything, it’s just this match was SO much fun, I couldn’t help but get into it as if I was watching it live. Eventually, Bigelow just mows him down and goes for a pin, but DiBiase comes in to drop an elbow on Bigelow, but Bigelow drops and DiBiase elbows Virgil instead. I don’t know why, that’s a pretty common spot in wrestling, but here it was almost other worldly. DiBiase’s (and Bigelow’s) timing was immense. Then, as DiBiase and Bigelow brawl, Hogan comes darting in from the other side and legdrops poor Virgil with all the glee of a cheeky four-year old who’s just drawn a picture on his mum’s new wallpaper. Bigelow adds a massive splash for the exclamation point and that’s that as far as the bout goes, but now here’s Andre for the post-match festivities and he drops Bam Bam with a pair of headbutts from behind, and Hogan gets destroyed on the floor until Bigelow returns and actually puts Andre down with a drop-kick. Hogan comes back in with a pair of steel chairs and the heels flee, with DiBiase & Virgil attempting to hold Andre back, as the crowd just loses their collective minds.
Final Rating: ***½
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. King Kong Bundy
Just the finish here as Hogan reverses an Irish whip into the turnbuckles then polishes off Bundy with the legdrop. But the real story is the post-match, as Andre lumbers into the ring while Hogan has his back turned during his posing routine, headbutts him, then chokes him out relentlessly. Out sprint The British Bulldogs, but together they’re unable to even budge Andre. A double running headbutt gets the Giant’s attention, and he casually dumps both Bulldogs over the top before he resumes choking Hogan with his massive bear claw-like hands. That brings out a pretty top-line group of guys to try and rescue Hogan (contrary to the bottom-rung names that usually show up for these sorts of angles, you’ve got Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Junkyard Dog and tag team champions Strike Force) and they can’t do a single thing to stop Andre’s choke job on Hogan. Finally, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan barrels down the aisle and cracks Andre across the back with a plank of wood, who sells it like someone just tapped him politely on the shoulder, as he stares a hole right through Duggan. In all, it took SEVEN of the WWF’s tip top stars to get Hogan out of Andre’s clutches. Now THAT’S how you get a monster over effectively. Fantastic angle. It’s hard to argue against an angle that contributed to 35 million people tuning in to see the Hogan-Andre NBC match.
Back to the syndicated television shows now, where DiBiase reveals the next phase in his master plan – he’s bought Andre’s contract out from Heenan for a cool million, making him the manager on record for the Giant going into the big Andre-Hogan rematch. A public contract signing at the first Royal Rumble ends with Andre slamming Hogan head-first into a table and turning it over on him, before Hogan hits the gym to train like he’s never trained before.
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre the Giant
Although something like this can never be entirely finite, the approximately 35 million people who watched this match live in prime time on network television make it, by certain definitions, the most-watched match in North American professional wrestling history, if not the most-watched match ever on a worldwide basis too. Obviously the importance of this match can’t be understated and with that in mind, for the serious WWF fan/footage collector, I’d absolutely recommend tracking down a copy of the original broadcast of the whole show on historical significance alone (although you’ll have to hit the bootleg/download/trading market to do so, as WWE have never officially released the event for retail through any means, although the Honky Tonk Man vs. Randy Savage match from that show is available on the Macho Madness – The Ultimate Randy Savage Collection DVD, and this Hogan-Andre match is part of the Best of Saturday Night’s Main Event DVD.) Still, despite all it’s historical significance, the match itself is largely atrocious. Despite how poor the overall match quality was, there had undoubtedly been a spark to Andre’s performance at WrestleMania III. Here, that spark was gone. Andre was deteriorating at a rapid rate and it was becoming almost as painful to watch the guy perform as it must have been for him to have to come to terms with the fact his body was breaking down, and he was no longer capable of the kind of performances he’d once been able to give. Perhaps mercifully, this tape clips the match down to just a couple of significant spots, including Hogan doing a pretty impressive flying clothesline off the turnbuckles of all things, something I can’t really recall having seen him do at any other point in his career. But the match is almost irrelevant anyway, at least compared to the drama that was about to unfold. Andre catches Hogan with a pair of headbutts and then sort-of suplex/slams him and crawls on top for the pin. Hogan lifts his arm at one but referee Dave Hebner counts to three anyway and awards the title to Andre, robbing Hogan after a little over four years as champion, and the crowd is just absolutely stunned. Vince McMahon on play-by-play is absolutely mortified at Hebner’s “stupid mistake” and steadfastly refuses to believe Hogan has lost the title. And then things take a turn for the unexpected as Gene Okerlund comes out to interview the new champion, as Hogan remonstrates with Hebner in the corner, only for Andre to surrender the title to DiBiase, finally making The Million Dollar Man the champion, by hook or by crook. The crowd remain stunned, and McMahon remains mortified. “This is ridiculous!” And then things take a turn for the downright bizarre as colour commentator Jesse Ventura barks “What have we got going on now?!” and the camera pans back to the ring as Vince is just in absolute disbelief. “Look in the ring! There’s two Dave Hebners!” Sure enough, a pair of identical referees are stood arguing, centre-ring, as a perplexed Hogan looks on. “How the hell can there be two Dave Hebners?!” shouts Ventura. Finally, the evil twin punches the good one in the face, tipping off Hogan (although the completely confused crowd cheer the wrong twin), and Hogan torpedoes Dave Hebner over the top rope from the ring, down onto Andre, DiBiase and Virgil (or at least, that was the plan, Hogan completely overshot his target and Hebner went plummeting straight over all three and onto the floor in a nasty looking landing.) “How much for the plastic surgery!?” cries Hogan. And with that, the world had just witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime angle of pure, insane genius. Incredible. Absolutely incredible, and it’s edge of the seat stuff even today, no matter how many times you watch it. Just the twists and turns of the whole thing, a total emotional rollercoaster of unpredictability, unlike anything ever seen before or since in a wrestling ring. The twin referee of course was Dave Hebner’s brother Earl, secretly signed away from the NWA (and what are the chances of having identical twins who both referee for rival promotions, and one suddenly becomes available just in time for your prime time network television debut? Man, talk about all the stars aligning.) A largely dreadful match (clipped down to just the key parts) and then the entire aftermath of shocking plot turns and conspiracy revelations (I wonder if this is what set Ventura off to become a conspiracy theorist?) in an all-time legendary angle (albeit one they could have probably dragged out over the course of a few months rather than a few minutes), and it all led to the set-up of the title tournament at WrestleMania IV, which in turn set up the Mega Powers meltdown and monster WrestleMania V buyrate over a YEAR later. Vince McMahon might have started to come across like a crazy, bewildered old fossil since the mid-2000s, but once-upon-a-time, he was the king of long-term booking, angles and storytelling.
So DiBiase is technically the champion for a few days (even wearing the belt and being announced as the champion at a couple of locally televised house shows) until WWF president Jack Tunney comes down with the following edict. Firstly, DiBiase isn’t the rightful champion since you can’t just be awarded the title (yeah, trying telling that to Triple H.) Secondly, Andre isn’t the champion either, because when he surrendered the title to DiBiase, he technically forfeited his claim to the belt. And finally, Hogan isn’t the champion because he was pinned and lost a title match, and the referee’s decision is final (although I’m pretty sure if any of this was actually real, Hogan would have had a hell of a court case against Tunney given the blatant improprieties of a false referee making a clearly biased call.) As a consequence of all of that, for the first time in it’s history, the WWF title is officially vacant, and a 14-man single elimination tournament will be held at WrestleMania IV to crown an undisputed champion.
Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
More joined-in-progress action here as Savage is annihilating DiBiase until Andre starts beating the shit out of Savage on the outside (complete with some dreadfully dubbed-on crowd heat which I dare you try not to be distracted by) and Savage gets counted out. A three-on-one beat-down occurs until Savage’s valet Elizabeth does her disappearing act, only to return with the Hulkster, who makes the save for Savage in a re-run of their angle from the November Saturday Night’s Main Event, where Hogan helped out Savage after an assault from The Honky Tonk Man and The Hart Foundation.
WWF Championship Tournament Quarter-Final
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
As the last two officially-recognised champions, Hogan and Andre have a bye into the quarter-finals, but Jesse speculates that facing each other is tantamount to wrestling twice anyway. Well, I can certainly imagine it being doubly hard work to get a good match out of Andre at this point, and ultimately this just winds up as another bad match between the pair. Being about six minutes long and the only match of the night for either guy, it’s at least fairly energetic by Hogan’s standards, and the pretty subdued Trump Plaza crowd does come alive for it, but there’s really not much else going for it beyond that. Finally, Virgil gets up on the ring apron to distract the referee and, as Hogan attempts to bodyslam Andre, DiBiase slips in from behind to clobber Hogan across the back with a steel chair (which is actually a fairly subtle plot-point that gets paid off later, although most people don’t seem to pick up on it and the announcers never mention it.) Anyway, that draws Hogan’s attention enough that DiBiase flees but leaves the chair behind, and Hogan cracks Andre across the back with it (though not drawing a DQ from referee Joey Marella, which might seem a little biased, but given the shit Hogan went through in losing the title, you can sort of forgive him, even if it is a case of two wrongs possibly making a sort-of right… or something). Andre wrestles the chair away from Hogan, clonks him over the bonce with it, and finally that’s enough to draw the double DQ, putting both guys out of the tournament, thus guaranteeing a brand-new, first-time-ever WWF champion will ultimately be crowned.
Final Rating: ½*
WWF Championship Tournament Final
Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
The rest of the tournament is ignored and we head straight to finals with DiBiase against Savage (DiBiase having defeated former Mid-South partner/rival ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and Don Muraco in the first two rounds before getting a bye into the finals after the Hogan-Andre double-disqualification finish, whilst Savage beat Butch Reed, Greg Valentine and The One Man Gang to earn his spot in the match.) The match itself was somewhere between decent to good, but was brought crashing down to earth completely on account of the horrifically stifled Trump Plaza atmosphere with a crowd completely burnt out after a long, four-hour card full of mostly short, uninspired matches. In fact, Savage-DiBiase was the SIXTEENTH match of the afternoon, and I guess it’s just one of those things that Savage and DiBiase would have such consistently great matches during their series throughout 1988, that the one time things just didn’t come together for them happened to be in the most important match of the lot. Again, this is joined in progress, as Andre trips Savage from the outside, sending Miss Elizabeth scurrying back to the locker rooms to bring out Hogan to back Savage up, which does wake the crowd up momentarily. When Andre starts choking Savage from the floor, Hogan runs around and clocks Andre right in the mush, but Savage misses the big elbow. DiBiase gets the Million Dollar Dream sleeper, allowing Andre to take another pot-shot at Savage, which the referee (one of the Hebner twins oddly enough, presumably the good one although either way that seems like a serious conflict of interests, especially in light of how recently the screwjob title change that caused this entire thing went down) admonishes Andre for, and with his back turned due to the interference, in slips Hogan to wallop DiBiase from behind with a steel chair. I’ve heard and read a lot of opinions about this show over the years and while a lot of Hogan-haters like to point out how blatantly unsporting that was (and it’s very easy to forget what happened earlier given how long the card is), when you see that back-to-back with DiBiase doing the same to Hogan earlier in the night, Hogan’s really just fighting fire with fire, and DiBiase finally got what was coming to him. Savage, dazed and confused, goes up top anyway and lands the big elbow for the pin and his first of two WWF titles. Savage is the champion, Hogan’s off to conquer Hollywood with No Holds Barred (ahem), and all is right with the world. And then Hogan picks up Elizabeth in celebration…
Final Rating: **
Back on Hogan’s boat, The Hulkster crows “We got our belt back!” What a glory hog. Savage is the champion, Terrance, not you! On top of that, Hogan rather arrogantly claims he’ll have the belt back around his waist soon enough. No wonder Savage felt like he couldn’t trust the guy! But the story of Savage’s reign as world champion and the implosion of The Mega Powers? Well, I guess that’s just another tape for another time…
Summary: What a fantastic two hours this was, with almost everything of importance from the Hogan vs. Andre issue of 1987-1988 chronicled together in one handy package that just absolutely blows by, in no small part thanks to the heavy clipping of some of the crappier matches. Sure, the complete version of the DiBiase-Savage Saturday Night’s Main Event match would have been nice, but really, that was all a sub-issue to the main plot. Terrific storytelling, memorable angles, legendary matches, and even some pretty good action dotted throughout. Highest recommendation possible for this one, Hogan fan or not.