Brian Damage, Jamie Lithgow & Craig Wilson
On this day in 1984 one of the most significant moments in WWE history took place when Hulk Hogan pinned The Iron Sheik to become the new champion. It was a moment that gave birth to Hulkamania and saw the then WWF go from a North-East territory to a global phenomenon.
This month we’ve counted down to that momentous occasion and with it being the 30th anniversary of that match Craig, Brian and Jamie share their take on the match and its significance.
Jamie: This was quite possibly one of the most significant matches in WWE, and wrestling, history. However, rather than look at its significance, I’m going to look at it for what it was; a professional wrestling match.
First thing’s first, the crowd in Madison Square Garden is white hot for this one. You just don’t get that these days. There is an almost tangible sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. It’s like everyone already knows the outcome, they just can’t wait to see it transpire. Most of this excitement can be attributed to Hogan, who is unbelievably over. The crowd at MSG love him. The Iron Sheik plays his part too. He garners some decent heat, although that wasn’t hard for a non-American to do in the 1980’s.
An interesting side note – Hogan is introduced as ‘The Incredible’ Hulk Hogan. This would land the WWF in hot soup with Marvel, hence why that particular nickname didn’t stick. With the introductions out of the way the bell sounds, and Hogan wastes no time. He jumps Sheik from behind before the Iranian can remove his robe. He follows this up with a rake to the eyes, a blatant choke and even spits on Sheik as he lies on the mat. This goes over a treat with the live crowd, but is a shining example of why I never liked The Hulkster. The guy was a cheat and a hypocrite. Had the Sheik used shady tactics first then fair enough. As Gorilla Monsoon used to say; “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”. However, Hogan being Hogan, he just behaved like a heel and got away with it, that never sat well with me.
Anyway, it’s all Hogan in the early going and he even managed to pin Sheik’s shoulders to the mat for an extended period of time. Problem is the referee was badly out of position so by the time he got down to make the count the champ had no choice but to kick out at one. Sheik dodges an elbow and Hogan crashes into the turnbuckle, which shifts momentum. The slow, but not half as slow as he would later become, Sheik uses submission holds and brawling to soften up his mighty challenger. To nobody’s surprise Hogan powers out of first a Boston Crab and then the dreaded Camel Clutch, which had won Sheik the title just 28 days previously. Rising to his feet Hogan carried Sheik on his back before crashing him into the turnbuckle. The champ staggers before hitting the deck square in the middle of the ring. Hogan then seizes his opportunity and drops his patented Leg Drop for the 1, 2, 3.
From bell to bell the match lasted 5 minutes 40 seconds and was extremely basic. However, as with most Hogan matches, that didn’t matter; the atmosphere in the arena carried this bout. Even The Hulkster’s heelish tactics don’t impact the match too much. He was so over that he could have pulled out a gun and shot the Sheik and he would still have been cheered, and no doubt the commentators would have justified it too.
A Hogan match is a lot like a Hogan film, a bit shit. However it’s knowingly shit. That’s why they were booked to be short and over the top, which is what we got here. With limited wrestling ability Hogan’s undeniable charisma and outstanding crowd control skills took over and delivered a thoroughly entertaining contest. The match is what it is and it delivers the goods, you can’t argue with that.
Brian: First of all, seeing the introductions at the beginning of the match gave me goosebumps. Not so much for what I knew was going to happen, but for all the childhood memories that a Madison Square Garden telecast gave me. Just the look and feel of an MSG show is like no other. It’s dark and gives it an old gritty look and feel to the matches. The booming voice of Howard Finkel making the introductions with both men already in the ring…no pyro…no Jim Johnston entrance music….no titantrons…just old fashioned wrasslin’. By the way…MSG really use to be that dark back in the day.
Even though Gorilla Monsoon was no Gordon Solie or Bob Caudle doing play by play…his voice still resonates those happy childhood memories of when pro wrestling was new and exciting. I had totally forgotten that before Bruno Sammartino and Bobby Heenan…Pat Patterson was a color commentator for the WWE.
As for the match itself, a few things really stood out….Hulk Hogan the babyface….attacking the Iron Sheik when his back was turned. After the “Pearl Harbor” job…he started choking Skeik with his own clothing. Hogan also raked the eyes of the Iron Sheik. A real heelish move by Hulk Hogan…especially in those days. I guess it was acceptable to break the rules…as long as you were a hated Iranian? Hogan dominated the majority of the match with Sheik getting little to no offense in at all. The Iron Sheik was more of a crash test dummy for all of Hulk’s soon to be patented maneuvers.
The culmination of the 5 minute “marathon match ” was Hulk breaking out of the dreaded camel clutch. As I understand it, the first time that was ever done…at least in the WWE. A big boot and a leg drop later…Hogan gets the 1…2…3 and is the NEW World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion…..The “Incredible” Hulk Hogan….Pandemonium was breaking loose that night.
The best part of the entire event…was the after party celebration…with Andre the Giant, Ivan Putski and Rocky Johnson pouring champagne over Hulk’s hed in celebration…with none other than “Mean” Gene Okerlund getting the new champs thoughts. 30 years ago….unbelievable!
Craig: It’s fair to say that both Brian and Jamie have certainly covered the “technical” aspect of the match. I think some of the words may be slightly harsh but there’s one thing you can’t criticise and that’s the importance of the bout.
I wrote over the festive period about The Iron Sheik’s title win and being a transitional champion in order to avoid a face v face match between the previous champion Bob Backlund and The Hulkster. The whole period demonstrated Vince McMahon’s “out with the old and in with the new” approach after he took over his Father’s company.
Out went Bob Backlund, a wrestler with a very old school mentality – ironic considering he was brought back some 8 years later and even won the title in 1995 – and in his place was a performer with more focus on charisma than in-ring talent.
The debate over whether Hogan created Wrestlemania or whether it created Hulkamania will no doubt rage for a long time to come. One thing is for sure, it’s hugely unlikely that Backlund could have been the superstar to lead the company through the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection period and draw millions of new fans to the WWF product.
I’m one of the many people that became a fan of the WWE during Hogan’s many years at the top and God only knows if another superstar would have had the same impact on the sport. What can’t be argued is the incredible changes that the wrestling world saw when Hogan was on top.
Not the greatest match you will ever see but a hugely significant one.