WrestleMania III: 20 Years Later (Part Three)

Before their memorable encounter at WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant feuded years earlier under very different circumstances.  Back then, Hogan was the heel and Andre was the good guy.  On August 9, 1980, they wrestled in Shea Stadium during a famous outdoor show in New York.  Andre came out on top that night.
When Hogan returned to the WWF in 1983, both he and Andre were fan favourites.  Hogan was groomed to become the company’s first true world champion (The WWF, originally named The World Wide Wrestling Federation, was just a small territory in the beginning (it covered the Northeastern parts of America and even Canada) that was part of the NWA before becoming a global independent the year Hogan re-joined) and Andre was being sent to various promotions across the country to expand his already impressive reputation.  (His stays were purposefully kept short so he wouldn’t wear out his welcome.)
After The Iron Sheik put Hogan over for the title, The Hulkster was interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund backstage.  As they were talking, Andre poured champagne all over Hogan’s head.  He shook his hand and congratulated him on his victory.
In 1985, Andre was feuding with Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy.  Hogan ended up becoming his tag team partner on a number of occasions to help him pound on his notorious foes.  Friends in and out of the ring by this point, the Hulk/Andre storyline was about to take a surprising turn 2 years later.
It all began in January 1987.  It was decided that Hogan would receive a trophy for being World Champion for 3 years on Piper’s Pit.  Andre was there for the presentation, as well.  The next week, Andre got a trophy.  Colour man Jesse “The Body” Ventura noted that his trophy looked much smaller than Hogan’s.  During the presentation to Andre, Hogan came out and said a few words about his longtime friend.  Looking less than thrilled about the Hulkster’s presence, Andre left abruptly in the middle of his own ceremony.
The following week, Ventura said he would convince Andre to appear on Piper’s Pit to talk about the trophy controversy.  Piper promised he would produce Hogan.  During the next Piper’s Pit a week later, however, Andre shocked everyone by appearing with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, the manager of his former enemies, Ken Patera, Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy.  Then, he made a direct challenge to the world champion.  He wanted a title shot at WrestleMania III.  As the storyline dictated, Hogan didn’t understand what was going on.  Andre had to rip his tear-away t-shirt and his cross to get his message across.
Finally, on yet another Piper’s Pit, Hogan accepted the challenge from Andre.  After all that tremendous build-up, the main event took place in the early evening on Sunday, March 29, 1987.
Neither wrestler was known for their scientific skill.  It was their charisma that made them.  After guest ring announcer Bob Uecker introduced the combatants, it was on.  There was a staredown.  Andre, with his feet firmly planted in the middle of the ring, stared intently at Hogan who started talking to him, his body moving uncontrollably, his eyes widening all the while.  Soon, Andre had enough.  He shoved him.  Hogan threw a couple of punches and then, immediately, attempted a bodyslam.  As planned, Andre wouldn’t allow him to lift his enormous girth into the air and as a result, they fell to the canvas with Andre on top.  The late Joey Marella (yet another car accident victim) slapped the mat twice and was about to do it for a third time when Hogan managed to get his shoulders off the ground.
Heenan complained.  Andre held up two fingers (a mistake, it should’ve been three), thinking he had already won.  He quickly got to his feet and controlled the tempo of the match which was slow but steady.  The excitement of the match overshadowed any pacing problems.  Steamboat vs. Savage, it wasn’t.  But it was exhilarating, nonetheless.  Who was going to win?  Hogan’s long reign looked doomed.
Andre, in his methodical manner, bodyslammed Hogan twice.  He choked him numerous times.  He punched him again and again.  He chopped him.  When Hogan was flat on his back he literally walked on him, as well.
At one point, the action went down to the floor.  Hogan removed some of the gymnastic mats that were strategically placed outside the ring area and attempted to piledrive Andre.  He never even got his legs up in the air before Andre slowly backdropped him gingerly to the ground.
When they got back into the ring, Andre pummelled him some more.  At one point, he got him in a bear hug.  Soon, after being manhandled for virtually the entire contest, Hogan was about to bounce back.  He got out of the bear hug and started bouncing off the ropes, slugging Andre.  At one point he threw the big man into the corner, but when he ran towards him he was met with a big boot to the face, which sent him crashing to the mat.
At some point, after regaining the momentum he temporarily lost, Hogan was able to knock Andre off his feet, the first time he was able to do that the entire match.  Then, he hulked up.  The most spectacular finish I’ve ever seen was about to take place.
Much to everyone’s utter astonishment, he bodyslammed Andre right in the ring.  Then, he ran to the ropes and delivered his patented leg drop.  He placed his body on top of the fallen Giant’s and 3 seconds later, he did the unthinkable.  He won.
Contrary to what was said at the time, Andre was not undefeated.  He had been beaten on occasion in the past (yes, smaller wrestlers actually pinned him, though it was a rare occurrence) and I remember seeing him lose a battle royal on The Best Of The WWF, Vol. 2 videotape.  Still, what a dramatic way to end a fantastic night of wrestling.  Andre had essentially passed the torch to his good friend, Hogan.  They would remain friends until 1993 when the retired Andre (he was just too sore and ill to maintain an active wrestling schedule in the 1990s) died of a heart attack in his sleep.
Hogan would eventually lose the title to Andre nearly a year later live on prime time Television.  The feud would continue throughout 1988 until the Hulk/Randy Savage storyline took over.  Andre stayed a baddie right up until 1990.  By that point, he was barely wrestling.  At WrestleMania VI, he had very little to do during the World Tag Team Title Match against Demolition.  (Andre and partner Haku, better known as The Colossal Connection, would lose the titles that day after almost 4 months as champions.)
He made his final appearance at WrestleMania VII in 1991.
Meanwhile, Hogan would win and lose the world title four more times before moving on to WCW (another former NWA territory turned independent company).  Still occasionally active in the WWE, Hogan remains one of the most popular grapplers in the company’s history.  He is the Nirvana of wrestling, the wrestler that took an underground business and made it a worldwide phenomenon.
After WrestleMania III, more WWF supercards were introduced.  Later in 1987, there was the first Survivor Series.  Then, in 1988, we got our first taste of The Royal Rumble and SummerSlam.  All four supercards remain annual traditions all these years later.
But WrestleMania III remains a benchmark, a moment in time that proved that when you combine old-fashioned storytelling with first-rate wrestling talent, you create a timeless classic.
Really, how can you top a main event like Hogan vs. Andre?  Answer:  you can’t.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 29, 2007
11:57 p.m.
Published in: on March 29, 2007 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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