Hulk Hogan carried WWE for nearly a decade. The Stamford-based promotion, with the Hulkster at the top, became mainstream and created what fans fondly remember as the “Golden Era” of professional wrestling. As big of a draw as he was during the eighties, Hogan wouldn’t have been able to turn millions into Hulkamaniacs if it wasn’t for his epic rivalry against the likes of Andre the Giant and “Macho Man” Randy Savage to name a few.
These men, hyped as larger-than-life characters by Gorilla Monson and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, were the proverbial “bad guys” to Hogan’s prayer-saying, vitamin-eating, guitar-playing, and flag-raising American hero. It is safe to say that the Hulkster owes some of his mammoth success to his opponents.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at five of his biggest rivalries.
André the Giant
Towering at over 7ft, André the Giant was a spectacle in every sense of the word. The Frenchman was one of Hulk Hogan’s earliest rivals while the latter was making inroads into the world of professional wrestling in the early eighties. During the first few showdowns they had with each other, Hogan played the heel to André’s fan-favorite gimmick; though the roles would be reversed years later.
In WWE, their epic rivalry played into the David versus Goliath tandem. Vince McMahon Jr., who purchased the company from his father Vincent J. McMahon, saw a wonderful opportunity in the Hogan-Andre feud and decided to market WrestleMania III, WWE’s biggest event of the year, around it. McMahon’s gamble worked as more than 90,000 fans (per WWE) jam-packed the Silverdome to witness the “slam heard around the world” in person.
Moreover, their Saturday Night’s Main Event rematch for the WWE Championship set a new record for televised wrestling in America, pulling in 33 million viewers and a 15.2 Nielsen rating. The February 1, 1988 showdown saw the Eighth Wonder of the World pull off an upset victory over the Hulkster; only to forfeit the title to the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage
Considered by many to be one of the greatest stars of wrestling’s golden era, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage oozed charisma and incredible wrestling psychology. Savage initially played the bitter heel to Hogan’s babyface, unsuccessfully challenging him for the WWE Championship on multiple occasions between 1985 and 1987, before forming an alliance with him.
The formation of this alliance, dubbed the Mega Powers, turned Savage into a fan favorite; which had been slowly building for weeks prior to the Macho Man’s feud with the Honky Tonk Man over the WWE Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship. After several months of dominating WWE’s tag team division, the Mega Powers exploded over Savage’s jealousy of Hogan and his possessive attitude toward Miss Elizabeth.
A match between the two over the WWE Championship was booked for WrestleMania V. Miss Elizabeth, who was stationed at a “neutral corner” during the match was sent backstage because she tried to assist both men multiple times. In the end, Hogan prevailed over his former tag team partner with a leg drop. He also won the rematch between the two at the Main Event III on February 23, 1990.
Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were the two biggest draws of their industry in the eighties. The Hulkster ruled mainstream professional wrestling with his inexhaustible charisma. The Nature Boy was the man (no pun intended) of the territories. A feud between the two seemed more like a dream than reality until Flair decided to jump ship to WWE in 1992.
It wasn’t just Flair’s arrival that got the wrestling world talking. It was the manner in which he burst on the WWE scene. The Dirtiest Player in the Game brought with him the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (that big gold belt fans love to this day). After winning the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble 1992, Flair put himself in the main event of WrestleMania 8 against the face of WWE.
The match fans had been dreaming of for so long was about to become a reality until it wasn’t. WWE initially tested the waters by pitting two men against each other at house shows. They soon found out that Hogan versus Flair wasn’t the big money match that had originally anticipated. Ticket sales were okay, but the fan reception wasn’t. In the end, Vince McMahon went with Flair vs. Savage for the WWE Championship.
Hogan would end up facing Sid Justice in a ‘retirement’ match at the Grandest Stage of them All.
The Rock was WWE’s biggest star when Vince McMahon decided to “inject WWE with a lethal dose of poison.” The promo paved the way for the return of nWO (Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash) to WWE after nearly eight years in WCW. The nWO promised to give back to the locker room only to target The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
A blockbuster two-on-three handicap match saw The Great One and the Texas Rattlesnake lose to the nWO on the March 11, 2002 episode of Raw. The Rock and Hogan would finally meet one-on-one at WrestleMania X8 in front of a red-hot Toronto crowd. The match itself is considered to be one of the best in both men’s careers.
It is worth mentioning that both men diverted with the original spots due to fan reaction. The thunderous reception to Hogan prompted Vince McMahon to book a face turn for the Hulkster. The Rock and Hogan would meet one more time with their roles reversed at No Way Out 2003.
Sting was the heart and soul of WCW at the height of the company’s popularity. The wrestlers considered him a locker-room leader. The fans wanted him to get rid of the outsiders that were the nWo. Ironically, the faction’s formation came at the Stinger’s expense in their six-man tag team match at Bash the Beach 1996.
The epic rivalry between the nWO and WCW resulted in an 18-month feud between Hollywood Hogan and Sting. The conclusion to this rivalry, however, was underwhelming to say the least. Sting won the feud at Starrcade 97, but the controversial ending to the match opened many eyes to backstage disagreements and politicking that was so very prevalent in the Monday Night Wars-era WCW.
These were five of Hulk Hogan’s greatest rivals in the business. Without these men, Hogan may not have been the top draw in the business for a bigger part of the eighties and, to some extent, the nineties.