Welcome to WrestleMania Memories, where we look back at the moments in WrestleMania history, good or bad, that have stayed with us for over three decades.
One of the most iconic memories for anyone who grew up through the entire 80s Rock N’ Wrestling Era, one of the defining moments was the final minutes of Wrestlemania VI, as Hulk Hogan lost 1-2-3 to the Ultimate Warrior to lose his WWF World Heavyweight title to the company’s number two face. A man so diametrically opposite from the public perception of Hulk Hogan, that it seemed like a long shot to be considered a possibility. But it happened. And it changed the WWF landscape forever.
Wrestlemania Memories: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior
THE CONQUERING GOLDEN BOY
Going into Wrestlemania VI in Toronto, Hulk Hogan was still the undeniable top of the WWF heap, still firmly entrenched in the massive global phenomenon of Hulkamania. Apart from his Wrestlemania III classic versus Andre the Giant, there was never any inclination that the Hulkster would actually lose his title. He had some good adversaries – Rowdy Roddy Piper, King Kong Bundy, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. But let’s be honest. We all knew Hogan was going to retain in the end. The MegaPowers may have given the illusion that Hogan and Savage were equal, but once they split and faced off, it was obvious Savage was just the Robin to Hulk Hogan’s Batman.
But the Ultimate Warrior offered something different. He became the first true voice of the New Generation fans, who were joining the WWF Universe as young early teens. Hogan was big with the older crowd and he was big with the young under 12 crowd, but to that tweener/teenage demographic, there was something lacking. To us, he was your dad’s goofy buddy. He thought his long hair was cool, but it looked like a guy who probably listened to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company in the 1970’s and acted like a tough guy. He wasn’t the “cool” we were after. We wanted Iron Maiden not The Guess Who. And that’s where the Ultimate Warrior came in. He had the 80’s hair metal do, the KISS-like face paint, and the body that seemingly inspired Rob Leifield and Todd MacFarlane‘s comic book creations. And he looked younger. While Hogan was your dad’s has-been cool guy from the 70’s, Warrior was your brother’s bad-ass friend who gave you noogies and your first listen of “Appetite for Destruction” when your parents had banned it. We didn’t care about work rate when he defeated Honky Tonk Man in minutes for the Intercontinental title. We relished it. It was the “Youth Gone Wild” in the WWE and our heavy metal hero was leading it.
THE YOUTH GONE WILD
When the company’s two top faces finally collided in Ontario’s capital city in April of 1990, it was literally a house divided in Wrestlemania for perhaps the first time ever. Savage and Andre had their fans, but even they played along with the kayfabe boos for their favourites. But this time, the crowd cheered for their gladiator. To us 16 year olds, it was the not just Hogan vs. Warrior. It was us vs. our parents. It was our cool vs. their cool. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We were terrified.
Hogan was still the undisputed face of the company to the mainstream world. He still had a track record of sheer domination and he didn’t lose easily. Keep in mind, that going in to his Title vs. Title match, Hogan had only been pinned once since winning his first title in 1984. And that was to Andre the Giant in 1988 at The Main Event I. That’s six years with one legitimate defeat. Ultimate Warrior was a wild wrecking machine, but he still saw the lights once in awhile. While we bravely pronounced to our friends that Warrior would destroy Hogan, in our little beating hearts we weren’t quite as confident.
Before we chose spots over storytelling, where a Leg Drop was as effective as a hurricanrana, this match was a classic. It may seem clumsy back then, but the electricity going into the match was a powderkeg waiting to blow. The WWF Universe was a house divided, and everyone was talking about it. In the immortal words of Gorilla Monsoon, it was “the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.”
THE WARRIOR HEART
With the match winding down, Warrior – face paint now completely gone from sweat and forearms – seemed to power up. “He seems to be getting stronger,” Monsoon squealed. A quick flurry and his Warrior slam. And Hogan kicked out. And went immediately into the Hulk Up.
It’s over, we thought. We’d seen it too many times. The adversary within breaths of pinning Hulk Hogan 1-2-3 only to see him rise up like a sun tanned Phoenix, huff and puff tilll he blew the house down, stood up and defiantly wagged his finger like a disappointed mother. It was the beginning of the end. And against our guy, it felt like the ultimate “I told you so”. See, our parents seemed to say through Hogan’s wagging digit, we’re still cooler than you. Our Warrior hearts hung heavy.
And then it happened. Warrior, playing possum at the end of the Hulk Up sequence, rolled out of the way of Hogan’s infamous Leg Drop, responding with a Warrior splash and a tight three count. He’d done it. He’d beaten Hulk Hogan. The 80s were over my friend. You and your goddamn Eagles were now the losers in the garage. Tonight, it was Motley Crue and the kids in the streets.
LONG LIVE THE WARRIOR! HULKAMANIA IS DEAD!
While it’s never really acknowledged, that night was the beginning of the end of the first reign of Hulkamania in the WWF. His armour was cracked. For nearly a decade, the idea of another Superstar ever approaching Hogan’s league was laughable. Now it was a reality. And it was one of our guys, not one of our parents. With that win, we turned out backs on the Junkyard Dogs and the Roddy Pipers, and began to cheer for the Shawn Michaels and the Bret Hart‘s. We wanted the young cool guys, not the 40 somethings with the beer bellies. We wanted superheroes not the neighbourhood watch. We wanted rockstars who played clubs, not casinos. Funny to think about the importance Toronto has played in Hulkamania. It began its demise in Toronto in 1990 at Wrestlemania VI, yet its second reign would be kick started twelve years later in the very same building, at Wrestlemania X8 versus the Icon of the very Attitude Era that had consumed all traces of Hogan’s Era, The Rock.
And while the Ultimate Warrior fell into the history books bad graces (for a time at least) and wrestling purists and internet soapboxers lauded his limited ring skills, we often forget that Ultimate Warrior represented more than just whether he knew a wrist watch from a wrist lock. He represented a tidal change in the next generation of wrestlers, and slingshot that late 80’s youthful exuberance into the 90’s love for the cooler and hipper. And though his longevity was short, his impact was immortal. He finally earned his well-deserved spot in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, shortly before his tragic passing a few days after, nearly 25 years to the day that his legacy changed forever.
And it all started in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Wrestlemania VI. When a young man from Parts Unknown beat the Immortal One to become the painted face of the WWF.