This past weekend marked 16 years since Wrestlemania 18 took place at the Sky Dome in Toronto with nearly 70,000 fans in attendance. In retrospect, the event and aftermath had a major effect on the industry in the years that followed.
At the top of the card, Triple H defeated Chris Jericho to win the Undisputed title, a victory that ultimately cemented him as the top star in the next era, especially without Steve Austin or The Rock full-time in the mid-2000s. Speaking of Austin, his lackluster match with Scott Hall contributed to the walk out a few months later that eventually culminated with his retirement the following year after several injuries forced him to hang up the boots.However, perhaps the most well-known development from that night at the Sky Dome was the reclamation of Hulkamania.
By 2002, WCW folded the previous year and the Invasion angle squashed any momentum that remained from the record-setting Monday night wars. Many of World Championship Wrestling’s biggest stars were contracted to the Ted Turner media group, not WCW so when Vince McMahon bought the wrestling organization, many opted to collect their Turner paychecks at home for the duration of the deal. It was no coincidence that Flair, Nash, Hall, and others showed up on WWF TV around the same time, as it was when their Turner contracts finally expired. Hulk, one of the biggest and most political stars in the history of the industry, saw his profile minimized post-WCW. A dispute over his creative control clause led to the infamous Bash At The Beach incident that saw Jeff Jarrett go to the mat for a three count and Hogan got the win he insisted on. Vince Russo, the former WWF writer that wrote WCW into bankruptcy, cut a “shoot promo” and fired Hulk, who later filed a lawsuit. It was Hogan’s final WCW appearance, and after Jimmy Hart’s XWF didn’t secure a TV deal in 2001, the WWF was the Hulkster’s only option in the United States.
Much like his WCW run, Hulk had a rocky past with the WWF. He abruptly left the company after the steroid scandal of the early 90s and refused to put Bret Hart over before his exit. Hogan thought if he did the job to a wrestler that wasn’t a monster, it would hurt his drawing power for the classics like Thunder in Paradise and Mr. Nanny that he starred in after his departure. With all that happened at Bash At The Beach, Hulk’s profile was probably at its lowest before he reemerged on WWF TV in 2002.
While the New World Order revival was mostly doomed to from the start, it provided an introduction for Hulk and set the stage for his return to WrestleMania, where he hadn’t competed for nine years. Hulk worked the main event of WM several times, including the first WM in 1985 that secured the WWF’s national expansion in the “Rock ‘N Wrestling” era. As mentioned, Steve Austin was dissatisfied with the creative direction of the promotion at the time, which probably wasn’t helped when his heel turn the previous year fell flat. So, the dream match of Austin vs. Hogan wasn’t a realistic option from a political stand point. Therefore, The Rock was the opponent for Hulk’s return to WM.
In the lead up to Toronto, the NWO attacked Rock in the most devious ways possible, including hitting him in the head with a hammer and ramming an ambulance with a semi truck in a rather outlandish scene. But, none of that mattered to the 70,000 in attendance when the “People’s Champ” squared off with “The Immortal” Hogan.
The crowd wanted to see Hulk back at the event he helped build and in some ways, it was nice to see him presented as a legend after he faded away from WCW in rather disappointing fashion. It was years since the classic red and yellow Hogan “Hulked” his way around a WWF ring and the nostalgia of it all created a memorable scene at WrestleMania 18. The fans accepted Hulk back into the WWF and went wild for anything the supposed heel did. Being the pros that they are, The Rock and Hulk flipped the script and performed an impromptu match that suited the fan reaction. The audience in the building and at home wanted the hero persona of Hulk Hogan and that’s exactly what the two in the ring presented that night. The Rock was smart enough to resent the reaction the crowd gave Hogan, and it only added to the drama as Hulk rallied toward the end of the match. The audience turned Hulk baby face again and that tremendous reaction led to one last title run a few months later. Was the match a five-star contest? No, the 48-year-old Hogan was at least five years past his prime at that point, but it didn’t matter. The Rock/Hogan bout was a sports entertainment classic that generated a legitimate reaction from the audience.
However, don’t make any mistake, Hogan did the job to The Rock at WrestleMania 18 because he had no leverage otherwise. At that point, Hulk needed the WWF much more than the company needed him. But, it was great to see the organic and spontaneous reaction that reclaimed Hulkamania that night.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Hogan would be typical Hogan again. He left WWE in 2003 because of creative disputes, insisted on beating Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam in 2005, ironically had a knee injury in 2006 when he was supposed to lose to Randy Orton before the finish was changed, and became a tabloid circus in the years that followed. Plus, the disgusting racist comments Hulk Hogan made that surfaced a few years ago led to him being removed from the hall of fame.
Still, WrestleMania 18 was a memorable event and a prime example of the moments that can be created by an organic and spontaneous crowd reaction.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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