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Today in Wrestling History (February 5)
Posted by Jared "JHawk" Hawkins on Feb 5, 2003, 11:23
Today in Wrestling History (February 5)
by Jared "JHawk" Hawkins
Professional wrestling and network prime time television. It's something we almost take for granted these days with two hours of SmackDown! every week. But professional wrestling wasn't always popular enough to justify it. In fact, following the cancellation of professional wrestling on network television in 1955, it would be another 30 years before it even appeared on a network, and then three more years after that before professional wrestling ever saw prime time wrestling.
And it was 15 years ago today that the return to prime time network television occured. It would up being the most watched wrestling match in history and the beginning of the end for the wrestling boom of the 1980s. It also featured one of the most widely talked about finishes in the history of wrestling.
The story so far: On January 23, 1984, the WWF's national expansion officially began with Hulk Hogan's WWF title victory over The Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden. The first man in the locker room to officially congratulate the new champion...Andre the Giant.
For the next three years, Hogan and Andre were friends and occassionally tag team partners. Forgotten was their feud in 1980-81 and their match at Shea Stadium. Until one fateful television taping.
Over the course of five weeks of television in January/February 1987, Piper's Pit was the setting for what wound up being the build-up to the main event of WrestleMania III. One week, President Jack Tunney presented Hulk Hogan with a trophy commemorating his third anniversary of being heavyweight champion. Out to congratulate Hogan, much like he did back at MSG, was Andre, who said, "Three years to be the champion. That's a long time."
The following week, Jack Tunney was out for another trophy presentation, this one being in honor of Andre the Giant's "15 year" undefeated streak. This time it was Hogan who came out to congratulate Andre, but Andre walked off the set.
One week later, Piper's guest was Jesse Ventura. He pointed out that Hogan's trophy was larger than Andre's and that Andre's "feels like" rotting old lead while Hogan's was real gold. Ventura said he'd produce Andre next week if Piper could produce Hogan.
So one week later, there was Hogan and Andre, but Andre had his own guest -- and his new manager -- Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. Andre challenged Hogan to a title match at WrestleMania III and ripped the cross from around Hogan's neck for emphasis. Hogan accepted the challenge one week later.
March 29, 1987. In front of 93,173 fans (give or take about 15,000) in the Pontiac (Michigan) Silverdome, Hogan pins Andre with the Big Leg Drop to win the main event of WrestleMania III. Andre, however, had gotten a very near fall in the opening minute when Hogan's back gave out on a bodyslam attempt.
Heenan and Andre would spend the next several months claiming that Andre had actually pinned Hogan and should be the champion. Enter Ted DiBiase. DiBiase had just begun using the "Million Dollar Man" gimmick and, in November 1987, claimed he was going to buy the WWF Title. Hogan gave him an emphatic "Hell no".
December 7, 1987. At a taping of Saturday Night's Main Event in Landover, Maryland, Andre is in the corner of King Kong Bundy during a title match with Hogan. Following the match, Andre comes in from behind during Hogan's postmatch posedown and proceeds to choke Hogan for several minutes straight. It takes five faces and Jim Duggan's 2x4 t finally break the hold. A week or so after this match airs, Heenan publicly sells Andre's contract to Ted DiBiase just as they announce the date for the WrestleMania III rematch -- will will air live on NBC. DiBiase immediately claims Andre is going to bring him the title.
January 24, 1988. At the first ever Royal Rumble, the contract is signed for the upcoming match. With Hogan becoming visibly upset at the duration of signing (Andre had spent five minutes re-reading the contract), DiBiase told Andre to put "the stamp of approval on it." Andre responded by sending Hogan face-first into the table and dumping the table on top of Hogan.
Without any further ado... It's The Main Event. February 5, 1988, live on NBC from the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana. Your hosts are Vince McMahon and Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
Your hosts begin by recapping the feud from WrestleMania III on.
Mean Gene Okerlund interviews Andre the Giant, Virgil, and Ted DiBiase. DiBiase claims Andre got the win at WrestleMania and should be champion already. Now he's ready to take the title because he's smart enough to go where the money is. Andre says that when he gets his hands on Hogan this time, he's not letting go.
The challenger makes his way to the ring.
Okerlund is now with Hulk Hogan, and Hogan tried to keep an open mind about WrestleMania, but viewing the tape shows that he got the win fair and square. Hogan tells DiBiase to go ahead and watch the referee because the Hulkamaniacs will be watching DiBiase. Remember that, it's important.
One fall for the WWF Heavyweight Championship: "The Eighth Wonder of the World" Andre the Giant (w/Ted DiBiase and Virgil) vs. Hulk Hogan (champion)
Hogan storms the ring and charges, but referee Dave Hebner immediately pushes Hogan back to the corner as Andre moves out to the ring apron. Ventura says Hogan's outburst could waste too much energy too soon. Ventura also points out this isn't the same referee who worked their WrestleMania III matchup. The bell rings with Andre still on the apron. Many fans are actually standing with anticipation. Andre finally enters the ring, but Virgil and DiBiase are still on the apron. Hogan finally gets fed up with the waiting game and charges in with a right hand. Hogan gets rid of DiBiase and Virgil, then goes to work on Andre with plenty of punches. And chops. Andre tries to back Hogan away, but Hogan keeps coming. A series of turnbuckles smashes. Running elbow to the head, and Andre's still on his feet. A clothesline barely staggers Andre. Virgil on the apron, so Hogan floors him. Ventura: "He can knock DiBiase down, he can knock Virgil down, but he cannot knock Andre off his feet." DiBiase checks the money, and Hogan steps on his hand. Hogan with more punches to the giant. Facerake. Corner clothesline. Swinging bolo punch, and Andre's still on his feet. Then a mistake. Hogan climbs to the top rope, but Andre catches him and throws him to the mat. Andre goes for a diving headbutt but misses. Hogan goes for a cover, but Andre reaches up with a chokehold. A series of chokeholds with Andre breaking just before the count of five. Right hand. Whip into the corner, and Hogan collapses to the mat. Stomp to the hand, and now a scoop slam by the Giant. Big headbutt. Chop. And a facebuster. Andre now with forearms, chops, and headbutts in the corner. Huge "Hogan" chant as Andre goes back to the chokehold. Irish whip and a big boot that sends Hogan to the floor. Virgil quickly throws Hogan back into the ring. Hebner yells at Virgil, and Andre uses the strap of his singlet to choke Hogan. Into a nerve hold now. Hogan begins to power out of it. A knee to the midsection breaks it, and Hogan chops away. Series of eyerakes, and up to the second rope...a flying clothesline knocks Andre down. Hogan off for the legdrop, but Virgil hooks the leg. Hogan breaks free, Hebner yells at Virgil, and Hogan goes off the other side of the ropes to hit the Big Leg Drop. Cover, but there's no count as Hebner yells at Virgil. Hogan comes over to complain. Andre gets up, grabs Hogan from behind, hits two headbutts, then takes Hogan down with a half-hiptoss half-suplex takeover. There's the cover. Hebner counts...
left shoulder up...
Hebner shifts his body to look at the right shoulder...
The bell rings at the 9:08 mark, and the crowd has no idea what's going on. Hebner presents the belt to Andre and raises his hand as Howard Finkel makes the official announcement, and the crowd is PISSED! So was I as a nine year old mark, but in retrospect, this is one of the greatest angles ever. The match itself, though, was OK at best. *
Okerlund goes to interview Andre, who immediately surrenders the title...and gives it to Ted DiBiase. Hogan is pissed and goes after them, but they're able to hightail it. DiBiase taunts Hogan with the belt. Meanwhile, behind Hogan, a second referee who looks identical to Dave Hebner is in the ring, and they begin arguing with each other. Hogan finally sees this and grabs each one by the shirt. Hogan lets go in disbelief...and one Hebner punches the other. That's enough for Hogan, as he grabs the imposter and tosses him on top of DiBiase and Virgil, who have returned to ringside.
Aftermath: Obviously, the "imposter Dave Hebner" was actually current senior referee Earl Hebner, fresh off of his stint in the NWA. Eight days after this match, President Jack Tunney officially said that the referee's decision was final, even though the referee wasn't the official referee. Therefore, Hulk Hogan was not the champion. He ruled that Andre could surrender the title at any point, so therefore Andre wasn't the champion. And then he ruled that you couldn't win the title without winning it in the ring, so DiBiase wasn't the champion either. The title was declared vacant and put up in the WrestleMania IV title tournament, and Randy Savage defeated DiBiase in the finals to win the title while Hogan and Andre went to a double disqualification in the quarterfinals. And be sure to read Brandon's review of the Ted DiBiase shoot interview for details on the tournament.
The final ratings tally? I don't have the exact rating, but it equaled 33 million viewers, easily won the time slot, and is still the most watched wrestling match ever. And it won Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Match of the Year, proving that casual fans don't necessarily know what a good match really is, but they know what they like.
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