Tape Reviews
Today in Wrestling History (January 23)
By Jared "JHawk" Hawkins
Jan 23, 2003, 13:33

Today in Wrestling History (January 23)
by Jared "JHawk" Hawkins

You guys forgot I still did this column, didn't you? Well, indeed I do, but lately a lack of anything trult significant (that I have a tape of, anyway), combined with a lot of non-wrestling stuff that I shall not get into has taken priority, so you've been pretty much stuck with anything I did that had an absolute deadline. Today, however, we take a look at what could very well be the most significant event in professional wrestling history ... the birth of Hulkamania.

The story so far: On December 26, 1983, The Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund to win the WWF Heavyweight Championship, and if you missed it, I covered it here. Backlund had come into the match with an injured back and neck, which were aggravated further during this match.

A few weeks earlier, Hulk Hogan had been wrestling in the AWA and was finally scheduled to go over Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Title in Denver, but according to pretty much everybody, Verne Gagne was asking Hogan for 50% of everything he made on his Japan tours as champion. Hogan basically told Gagne to go to hell since Vince McMahon had already been asking Hogan to make the move to the WWF.

So at a TV taping on either December 27, 1983 or January 3, 1984 (depending on the source), Backlund was scheduled to take on Samu. Samu had his relatives/partners, Afa and Sika, at ringside with him. This led Backlund to bring out an insurance policy to even the sides... Hulk Hogan. The plan for the upcoming match was in motion.

In a tactic that would never fly in today's internet age, Backlund had been touring the country and maintaining his commitments, including several rematches with the Sheik. But somehow Backlund's "doctor" refused to release him for their scheduled match at Madison Square Garden. Hogan was then named the number one contender by the WWF president (I believe it was still Hisashi Shinma at the time, but I could be wrong) and would replace Backlund at MSG.

But, as noted last month, Verne Gagne was desperate to prevent Vince McMahon's national expansion, and was willing to do anything necessary. Sheik was offered a ton of money (around $100,000) to screw Vince and Hogan over, either by simply walking out and "defending" the WWF Title in the AWA (Bobby Heenan's version), or by breaking Hogan's leg during the match (Hogan's version).

Without any further ado... We go to January 23, 1984, as the MSG Network (and later the USA network on tape delay) presented the match that would change wrestling history forever. Your hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson, with Mean Gene Okerlund in the back doing interviews.

And Mean Gene immediately interviews The Iron Sheik and "Ayatollah" Freddie Blassie. Sheik promises victory before Okerlund cuts them off, which sends Blassie on a tirade about how you should never cut the champion off.

One fall with a one hour time limit for the WWF Heavyweight Championship: The Iron Sheik (champion--w/Ayatollah Freddie Blassie) vs. Hulk Hogan

Hogan come to the ring to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor and to my knowledge becomes the first WWF wrestler to ever have his own theme music. The key there is "WWF wrestler", so no Gorgeous George or Fabulous Freebirds e-mails, please. As soon as the bell rings, Hogan attacks with a double axhandle. Whip into the turnbuckle, followed by an elbow, and the champion is down. Sheik finally takes his robe off, so Hogan whips Sheik into the ropes and clotheslines him with it, then holds a chokehold. Finally referee Jack Loetz (wrongly called "Dick Loetz" by Gorilla) removes the jacket. Series of punches, then a whip into the ropes leads to a clothesline. Kneedrop. Facerake. Choke lift. Hogan spits on Sheik, who is begging off. Another whip and a big boot for 2. Another whip and an elbow to the head, followed by an elbowdrop for 2. The heat here is amazing. Corner whip, and Hogan charges, but Sheik moves out of the way. and Hogan's back hits the corner hard. Sheik stomps away hard at the back, then he takes Hogan down with a backbreaker for 2. Kick to the chest. Sheik loads his boot and kicks Hogan in the back. Double-leg takedown into a Boston crab, and Hogan eventually does a push-up to break it. Sheik with a gutwrench suplex for 2. Sheik locks in his finisher, the Camel Clutch, and it's hooked in very well. However, Hogan soon powers his way to his feet and, with Sheik on his back, runs backwards into the turnbuckle. One Big Leg Drop later, and Hogan gets the pin for the title at 5:40, and Madison Square Garden becomes UNGLUED! This was pretty much what a normal main event on Raw is these days. Not bad, but not a classic like you'd expect a World Title change to be. **

Postmatch, Okerlund is interviewing Hogan, when they are interrupted by Andre the Giant pouring champagne on the new champion. I only mention this because it became somewhat famous when it was shown as part of the WrestleMania III hype. There is also an interview with Hogan and his parents later on.

Aftermath: If you don't as least have a general idea of what happened next, then I'm not sure I can help you. Vince McMahon had already set the wheels in motion for his national expansion. After this, the combination of Hulk Hogan's charisma and Vince McMahon's marketing led Hulk Hogan into the status of "most popular wrestler ever" and helped propel the World Wrestling Federation into national and, later, global prominence. This was the beginning of the wrestling boom in the 1980s that led to weekly prime time cable shows, rock 'n' wrestling, the return of professional wrestling to network television, and a little thing called WrestleMania. Sheik got dozens of rematches over the next three years, as Hogan held the title until the famous twin referee angle came up (and we will cover that in a couple of weeks right here). They still debate over whether either man could have achieved so much success without the other, but the two of them together were unstoppable.

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