Imagine a world where Hulkamania did not ever exist. A cruel, desolate, cold world, to be sure. But dwell in it for a moment.
Try to picture a WWE pay-per-view where Roman Reigns is facing our beloved AJ Styles. It’s a great match, but AJ is dominating, and looking fantastic. Suddenly, AJ hits the Styles Clash, and then nails a picture-perfect Phenomenal Forearm.
AJ has been built up strong for months. NOBODY kicks out of this forearm.
1…2…Roman powers out. Literally tosses Styles off of him. AJ Styles punches Roman in the face. Total, complete no-sell.
Roman just shakes his head. “No.”
AJ punches him again. Roman reacts as if nothing happens. Wags a finger in AJ’s face. “No more, AJ. No more of this.”
AJ goes for a third punch, only to have it effortlessly blocked. Three punches by Roman, then he backs up…SUPERMAN PUNCH.
Runs to the ropes, hits his spear.
1, 2, 3. Roman wins.
Now imagine that happened every fucking PPV. To every single fantastic heel WWE has. That was essentially Hulkamania from 1981-1996.
15 fucking years of this shit.
And as a kid old enough to watch it from 1988-1996, the 5-13 year old “Cowboy” Bob ate it up. Little kids are all Yankees and Golden State Warriors fans. They love winners. Hulk Hogan never lost, and he looked good winning.
Now, granted, there were only about 4 pay-per-views a year, so we weren’t saturated with WWE Hey Mr. Postman or whatever stupid name they come up with yearly.
But still – 15 years. The same act. And Hulk Hogan was so good that he made it work. And so good that he spawned goody-good clones for decades to come in John Cena and Roman Reigns. Both of whom are excellent talents themselves, but Roman is clearly a downgrade from Cena.
It takes a truly special talent to be so agonizingly, teeth-rattlingly GOOD, like telling kids to train, say their prayers, take their vitamins, never give up or just be the guy (I guess Roman isn’t a great child role model)…and yet catch attention of an audience. It’s getting harder and harder as audiences evolve and lose attention spans. And get more cynical.
And eventually they turned on Hogan. So Hogan turned on them.
Hulk Hogan shocked the world by joining the NWO and killing Hulkamania seemingly for good. I mean, in wrestling, nothing is ever final. But in a way, this was.
Hulk Hogan was everything pure and good. He loved his fans. He loved kids. And he damn sure loved the United States of America. If there was one constant in life, it was that Hulk Hogan would never let us down.
And then he went and spraypainted belts and dyed his beard black. Why I never.
Now “Hollywood” Hogan, he created a stable of bad guys known as the NWO and ran roughshod over WCW. Astonishingly, Hogan now created a heel character almost as good at being evil as his babyface character was at being good.
Hulk Hogan was no longer cool. “Hollywood” Hogan, however, was cool.
With Hulkamania dead and buried, a new star would inevitably rise.
In 2002, this was an interesting time.
Stone Cold and The Rock both reigned supreme. While Stone Cold was still probably the top draw in the world, The Rock was right there, and the writing was so inevitably on the wall that Rock would surpass Austin.
Nobody could stand toe to toe with The Rock and win a charisma challenge.
Nobody from this current decade, anyway.
The Build to Wrestlemania XVIII
In 2002, Hulk Hogan and the NWO showed up at No Way Out. It was Hulk Hogan’s first appearance in WWF since being beaten by his own leg drop from Yokozuna back in 1993.
Hogan came out and gave a promo, basically saying that he didn’t turn on the fans, the fans turned on him. And you know what I’m going to say, the best promos are true. We did turn on Hogan. The act was stale. The finish has been done. We were tired of seeing our favorites lose to this machine.
It’s why we eventually took out our frustrations on John Cena, and then attempted to bury poor Roman Reigns.
When Hogan was interrupted by The Rock, it was a fantastic moment. The Rock, in his charming way, said that it wasn’t The People’s fault. It was the fault of Hogan, because eventually he told them to train, say their prayers and eat their vitamins so often that they went to the bathroom to take a hulking crap rather than listen to his stupid mouth.
Again, probably true.
“You talk about headlining Wrestlemanias, well what would you think about headlining one more Wrestlemania…with The Rock?”
The arena exploded.
“I accept. And good luck, because you’re gonna need it.”
Hogan then shook Rock’s hand and went to walk away, but Rock did not let go.
“Not as much as you…BROTHER!” and one rock bottom later and we were on our way to a Wrestlemania build. Trust me, it was more exciting than the prospect of Becky Lynch vs Nattie at Summerslam this year.
Of course, then there was the prospect of actually having the fucking match.
“Hollywood” Hogan? At age 49? Vs The Rock? Are you serious? How are these two going to pull this off?
The build was atrocious. I’m pretty sure Hogan actually literally tried to murder The Rock by vehicular homocide. By the time we got to the main pay-per-view, the expectations weren’t as high as they had been on that one magical Raw. But that’s what is so amazing about the legitimate sport of professional wrestling, isn’t it?
You never know.
“Cowboy” Bob Notes As He Re-Watches The Rock vs “Hollywood” Hogan at Wrestlemania XVIII
As a quick note, I rate matches in “Bobs”. They are somewhat like stars, but they are very different. There are nuances involved that I don’t have time to get into.
- The NWO theme starts and Hogan gets a MONSTER fucking pop. The idea that this would be heel Hogan vs babyface Rock is instantly out the window. The fans don’t care what story you’re trying to tell. The fans don’t care if it’s “Hollywood” Hogan. The fans are here for Hulk Hogan. And they will cheer Hulk Hogan, even if he has on black and white.
- Hogan rips off the shirt and the place fucking EXPLODES and then starts up very LOUD “Hogan” chants.
- You know it’s great when good ol’ JR has to acknowledge the “many Hogan fans”.
- Is this slight BOOS for The Rock? Try to understand, this isn’t super-smarky days where it’s a surprise if Roman Reigns gets cheered. You did not boo The Rock. It simply didn’t happen. He was impossible to dislike. As cynical as you are. Even if you were a 400 pound fattie in a New Age Outlaws shirt. You couldn’t help but like The Rock.
- Jim Ross calls it a “mixed reaction” in what is larger propaganda than Hanoi Jane in Vietnam.
- The fucking amazing moment where both Rock and Hogan are face to face, yet both have to look to the sides and check out the unbelievable, rabid crowd.
- I have never, not before or since, felt an electric atmosphere like this while watching a pro wrestling event.
- They lock up and Hogan and his 24 inch pythons shoves Rock across the ring. The crowd roars, and then Hogan does the iconic poses and the entire Toronto Skydome ejaculates all at once.
- Another lock-up, another sequence of Rock tossed across the ring, and Hogan is milking the ever-loving fuck out of this.
- The Rock does an amazing bit here too. With that look of “Okay, okay, this isn’t gonna be a walk in the park. The old man has come to play.” Amazing stuff.
- Hogan with the goddamn Rocky III reference. “You ain’t nothing, meatball!” This is a nostalgia trip like no other and Hogan knows what fills his bank account.
- The Rock gains the advantage, tells Hogan to “bring it” and the crowd BOOS. This is insane, my dudes.
- The Rock does his 3 punches plus the one where he spits to REALLY make it hurt, and poor Hogan can’t fall over the top rope. Oh well. Crowd doesn’t care.
- You know how in WWE today, the crowd essentially is on their phone the entire match until the end, because they know that the match won’t end in under 10 minutes and everyone needs to get in their signature moves? The crowd is reacting to EVERY fucking move here. Every PUNCH. Every meaningless elbow. Every whip to the turnbuckle. Every maneuver matters to them. This will probably never happen again.
- This is truly a war of the greatest of all-time, trying for his one last shot of glory, against the young star trying to take his spot.
- And that’s what’s so great about wrestling too, isn’t it? In real life, that’s essentially what it was too.
- Hogan with heel back rakes getting cheers as if it was a picture-perfect Styles Clash.
- Massive cheers as Hogan BLATANTLY BITES THE ROCK’S FACE to gain an advantage.
- Before this match, Hogan was stuck trying to navigate Vince Russo clusterfucks and jobbing to Billy Kidman in WCW. This has to be his first gigantic, meaningful showcase match in what? 5 years?
- With the ref out, Rock locks in his shitty sharpshooter that he, for some reason, used for years without ever getting right.
- The ref being basically dead for 5 minutes because Hogan bumped into him is very silly.
- Hogan has an insane look on his face as if he’s taking out a machete and he takes off his stupid plastic belt and whips Rock with it.
- After Rock gets his revenge. He hits the Rock Bottom. 1…2…
- And then it happens, motherfuckers.
- Is…is he fucking hulking up?!
- For the first time in probably about 6 or 7 years, despite being “Hollywood” Hogan the vile heel, we are back to the time-honored tradition.
- You can’t put a price on this. What you hear from the crowd is a reaction that you truly need to re-watch and immerse yourself in. It’s…realization. The crowd is ecstatic that Hogan kicked out, but then, once he is on his knee shaking his head, it elevates. The energy gets taken to another level. The hard-cam crowd RISES. This is Hulk Hogan. This is my childhood hero.
- Hogan is so amped up that he accidentally skips a step of the hulk-up. (the “No.”)
- He is fucking going for this.
- For the record, The Rock deserves a goddamn Oscar for his old-school 1980’s dumb heel selling of this. Wide-eyed, staring to the crowd in disbelief.
- When Hogan gets to the “pointing”, it’s just insane.
- The big boot. The leg drop.
- As the ref drops for the count, arguably Jim Ross’ best moment of all-time as he screams “HE BEAT ANDRE THE GIANT WITH THAT MOVE!!!”
- Hogan tries his big boot/legdrop routine again…but it misses, this time.
- From here, it’s time to take out Old Yeller.
- Two more Rock Bottoms, a kip-up and a People’s Elbow and the deed has been done.
- 1, 2, 3. The star of the past has been vanquished. It’s been a good run, Hogan, but I can take it from here. As beautiful of a passing-of-the-torch as we’ve seen, probably since Hogan did the same thing for Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI about 12 years prior. That was passing the torch of company star to new company star. This was the passing of Greatest of All-Time to the new Greatest of All-Time.
- And then, in such a beautiful moment, the humbled, hobbled, hurting Hogan (alliteration) extends a hand to The Rock, who shakes it and and looks him in the eye and gives what looks like a very sincere “Thank you.”
- The NWO comes out and attacks Hogan for reasons. I mean, they both got the shit beat out of them in their matches from earlier, so I don’t know what their beef is. Rock and Hogan clean house.
- The Rock implores Hogan to take the spotlight and do his posedown here.
- My only, only, only criticism of this entire segment that this is just fucking BEGGING for Real American to start playing at the posedown.
- The Rock walks the wounded Hogan back down the aisle, who raises Rock’s hand and puts him over as the incredible star he is.
- The Rock chokes back tears at the top of the ramp in a very underrated little moment. This is The Rock. The alpha male who bullies people over whether they eat poontang pie or strudel. Not exactly the emotional type. But the moment is too large. The oppponent was too great. And you were deemed worthy to be put over him.
- This was an amazing sequence.
- And that’s how Wrestlemania XVIII ended.
- Oh wait, it didn’t. Because it was booked by a complete mongoloid who thought Triple H beating Chris Jericho in the main event would top this shit.
How was it this great?
It’s a match that can never, and will never, happen again.
It was great because of history.
It was great because the crowd demanded it was great.
It was great because it was legitimately the two greatest to ever do this. Not bullshit pro wrestling hype.
It was great because of the subversion of expectations. If this was The Rock vs Hulk Hogan, wearing his yellow tights, it would have been good, but not the same.
We would’ve expected the hulk-up. We would’ve expected the posedowns.
“Hollywood” Hogan buried Hulk Hogan. He hadn’t done that routine since 1995. What was painfully over-done for 15 years was simply a thing of the distant past now. A relic of “cartoony” wrestling.
“Hollywood” Hogan, mid-match digging all the way deep in his bag of tricks as one last attempt to take out the young star with his signature “Hulk-up” is one of the greatest moments in the history of wrestling.
The match is 5 Bobs. I don’t care that the match would be 0.5 Bobs with the volume off and no context.
The volume matters. The context matters. The entertainment is 5 Bobs. That’s what it’s all about. This isn’t the NFL. We aren’t keeping score on who is selling what and how many flips come off the top rope.
These are two men who went out there and did nothing but punches and clotheslines, aside from their signature moves. And they pulled off a masterpiece remembered to this day.
This year, Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole had two matches that are legit 5 Bobs. These are matches with expert pacing. Precisely performed maneuvers. Stories being told that lead to amazing crowd reactions. Moments that make you lose yourself in two dudes smaller than most 205 Live participants that are pretending to fight each other in a routine as choreographed as a Broadway play. These are two matches that deserve all the praise, all the Bobs and all the stars in the world.
But neither were as good as The Rock vs Hulk Hogan blowing the roof off the building on that magical night in April of 2002.
The match was so fucking good that Hogan was back in his yellow undies and winning the WWE championship from Triple H not a month later.
When The Rock came back to face John Cena back in 2011 to pay it forward, it just wasn’t the same. Was The Rock just as worthy of the “legend” role as Hogan? Yes and no. Rock was every bit the talent, but he was only at the very top of the industry for about 3 years until Hollywood called. Hogan was at the top for about 5 times longer.
Was Cena just as worthy of the “new star” role? Yes and no. Cena has every ounce of the talent and charisma, but the people rejected it. While it was absolutely stunning when the crowd booed The Rock in 2002, it was totally expected that the crowd booed John Cena in 2012. We loved The Rock. We never gave Cena a chance.
The match between Hogan and Rock was attempted that second time with Rock and Cena. It will probably be attempted in 20 years with Roman Reigns vs DeClan McMahon or whatever. But it will just get more and more watered down.
Something special happened in the Skydome at Wrestlemania 18.
And a new legend was crowned, brother.