(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31537457?contextType=wwe-show&contextId=heatwave&contentId=69363704&watchlistAltButtonContext=series)
(Sorry for the lack of posts lately…thanks to a visit to Amsterdam, a close friend’s wedding, and general laziness, I’ve been reluctant to do anything with my free time apart from…nothing!)
It’s the kind of thing that only happens in the movies. A sporting legend goes one on one with his modern equivalent. Well, it happened in ‘Rocky Balboa.’ But this match, pitting The Rock against Hollywood Hulk Hogan, is nothing like that great final boxing match in the aforementioned film. Balboa built some hurting bombs, while Hogan only hurt The Rock’s popularity by moulding the crowd in the palm of his hand (while ostensibly playing the heel). Let’s be honest: this match doesn’t belong in the Best 100…List. Hogan, while still possessing an impressive physique, could not perform to the standard required in the modern era of professional wrestling. The Rock carried him adequately, but obviously struggled to carry Hogan that far. But, alas, that didn’t matter to the crowd. They loved the nostalgia surrounding Hulk Hogan. It’s the crowd, more than the wrestlers in the ring that make this match memorable. Inside the ring, it’s far from it.
The Rock was not even supposed to be Hogan’s opponent that night. The dream match that we’ve always wanted was Stone Cold Steve Austin against Hulk Hogan. They are the two titans of the WWE world in terms of popularity. They were the powerhouses of their respective eras, the two eras that gave WWE global popularity. However, Austin refused to fight Hogan in the belief that Hogan would go into business for himself. Austin ended up facing Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X-8; Hogan fought The Rock in the marquee match. Yes, it may have been HHH and Chris Jericho that main evented ‘Mania X-8. But the ‘Icon vs Icon’ match was the real main event. It should have gone on last, especially as HHH and Y2J but on an interminable match. But that’s beside the point.
The Rock came out to a shower of boos; Hogan, to a shower of love and adoration. The Rock looks concerned; Hogan looks gratified. No fan would accept Hogan as a heel (even though he came back to the WWE as part of the NOW, a heel faction hired by Vince McMahon to destroy the WWE. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds!). Hogan wouldn’t accept Hogan as heel, either. Even though he goes through some heelish motions throughout the match, it’s pain to see that he seeks the approval of the crowd at every available opportunity. Even as he chides Rocky, spitting out “you ain’t nothin’, meatball!”, he says it with a sly smirk, a subtle nod to the crowd. His performance made me roll my eyes when I watched it live. It did so again when I rewatched it for the Best 100…List.
Hogan’s in-ring performance stretches from OTT to laughable. At the beginning of the match, The Rock punches Hogan over the top rope. However, Hogan almost botches a simple sequence by that by failing to jump. He has to jump twice to get himself over the rope. He whips out the old back rack to rapturous applause, a move that looked shoddy in the 1980s. Sometimes he no-sells The Rock’s offence, sometimes he oversells it (for example, after The Rock hits his spinebuster late on in the match, Hogan gets up first!). There’s little psychology or story to the match, as far as I can see. Hogan can’t be solely to blame for that, of course. But The Rock is clearly fighting an uphill battle to drag a watchable match out of Hogan. Not that Hogan seems to care; as long as the crowd are cheering him, he couldn’t care less about the quality of the match.
It’s the crowd reaction, rather than the match, that you’ll remember after watching The Rock vs Hulk Hogan. From the entrances, where the babyface Rock is booed and the heel Hogan is cheered, to the finish, the crowd roar like no other crowd before in favour of one of the most populars WWE wrestlers of all time. It was always Hogan’s charisma, rather than his wrestling ability, that drew the crowds. Yes, the match could have been a lot worse (after ‘Mania X-8, Hogan had plenty of dire matches. One against The Undertaker was positively awful…). But that’s not a compliment. The crowd infect you, almost making you believe you are witnessing a five star classic at times. But you are not. It’s a thoroughly mediocre battle built on hype and the aura of Hulk Hogan. And even though he’s been branded a racist in recent times, I’d bet my two front teeth that we’ll see Hogan again in a WWE ring!
VERDICT: 5/10. It may be an ‘Icon vs Icon’ clash, but this ‘Mania match is yet another average match from Hogan. He knows he doesn’t have to put much effort into proceedings; the crowd will love him regardless. And the crowd make this match special. Without the deafening roars, this would be quickly forgotten.
Does this match belong in the WWE Network’s ‘ 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die’ List? Leave your thoughts/comments below!
Click here for my review of #41 Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome (ECW Heatwave 1998)