20 Years Later: The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Icon vs. Icon at WrestleMania X8

The Rock Hollywood Hulk Hogan WrestleMania X8
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When looking at the history of professional wrestling, the term “icon” is reserved for a select few. These are the names that not only saw incredible success in the squared circle but transcended the sport, becoming well-known the world over. Among the names in question are The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Often considered two of the biggest names wrestling has produced, there was a time when a one-on-one encounter seemed like a pipe dream. Twenty years ago today, however, this dream of “Icon vs. Icon” became a reality when The Rock battled Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8.

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Rock vs. Hogan, WrestleMania X8 – A Look Back

The New World Order: A Lethal Dose of Poison

Following the disintegration of The Alliance in November 2001, Vince McMahon believed that he had full control over the World Wrestling Federation and professional wrestling at large. That was, however, until Ric Flair returned to WWF programming, revealing himself as McMahon’s new business partner. This incensed the Chairman of the company, believing that he had no choice but to kill the WWF, his own creation. McMahon wouldn’t do it alone; to “inject the WWF with a lethal dose of poison,” in his own words, he would bring in the New World Order.

When it was announced that Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall were WWF-bound, the wrestling world was buzzing. Hogan hadn’t been with the company since 1993 while Nash and Hall departed in 1996. Given that these three men became synonymous with World Championship Wrestling since then, the news of them returning to the company that brought them to superstardom stunned many. WWF wouldn’t have to wait long, as Hogan, Nash, and Hall returned at No Way Out on February 17, 2002.

4 Life: The New World Order Arrives

The nWo opened No Way Out to address the WWF fans in attendance and at home. Despite McMahon bringing in the trio as his hired guns, they wished to dispel the notion that they were, in Nash’s words, “company-killing bastards.” While all three men received positive reception from the crowd, Hogan’s was perhaps the loudest; given his main event status across different organizations, this should have come as little surprise. Hogan reaffirmed his comrades’ words, saying that they weren’t set to kill the WWF. Instead, they simply wished for a chance to make it better.

The actions of the New World Order did little to ingratiate themselves into their new home, however. At the end of the night, Hogan, Hall, and Nash cost “Stone Cold” Steve Austin an Undisputed WWF Championship match against Chris Jericho. The nWo attacked “The Texas Rattlesnake,” laying him out before spraying their iconic initials on his back. However, it was their interaction with The Rock earlier in the night that had even greater WrestleMania implications.

The Rock Meets Hulk Hogan for the First Time

After his victory over The Undertaker, The Rock was being tended to backstage. As this was happening, he was approached by a seemingly friendly nWo. Hogan, who claimed that The Rock was his son’s favorite wrestler, asked for a picture, to which “The Great One” incredulously obliged. However, an off-color comment by Hogan prompted The Rock to verbally run down each member of the nWo in only the way “The Brahma Bull” knew how. It was here where the seeds for The Rock versus Hollywood Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 were planted.

Fast forward to the February 18, 2002 edition of Monday Night Raw. A lone Hollywood Hogan stood in the center of the ring. He reminisced on his time in the company, recalling such events as bodyslamming “700 pounds” of Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. However, the atmosphere soured when Hogan accused the fans of turning on him, believing they drove him away from the WWF. Hogan was irate, claiming that he not only put the company on the map but made professional wrestling as big as it became. To him, he was the biggest “icon” in wrestling.

The Challenge is Issued

Enter The Rock, who stood one-one-one in the ring with Hogan. The Rock took umbrage with Hogan’s comments regarding the fans driving him from the company. “The Great One” proclaimed that the fans loved and believed in “The Hulkster.” This led The Rock to officially challenge Hogan to headline one more WrestleMania, this time with him. On this night, it would be determined who would go down as “the absolute best ever.” Hogan accepted The Rock’s challenge, wishing him good luck and that he would need it. “Not as much as you… Brother,” replied The Rock before laying out his WrestleMania opponent with a Rock Bottom. At WrestleMania X8, The Rock would collide with Hogan.

This wasn’t the only collision that night, however. Shortly after, The Rock was attacked by Nash and Hall. Back in the ring, Hogan used his weight belt to whip The Rock over and over again. “The Great One” was also the recipient of Hall’s Outsider’s Edge, Nash’s Jackknife Powerbomb, and a hammer to the back of the head courtesy of Hogan. To add insult to injury, the nWo spraypainted their group’s initials across the fallen Rock’s back.

As The Rock was being transported to a local medical facility due to injuries sustained, the nWo intercepted the ambulance, attacking the vehicle. Hogan took it upon himself to step behind the wheel of a semi-truck, ready to deliver what could have been the killing blow. With The Rock still in the ambulance, Hogan ran into the ambulance multiple times. While this left The Rock inactive for the next three weeks, the aforementioned showdown at WrestleMania X8 was on.

Rock vs. Hogan – The WrestleMania Contest Between Icons

WrestleMania X8 took place on March 17, 2002, live from the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. There were several eagerly anticipated matches on this show, including a No Disqualification contest between The Undertaker and Ric Flair, in addition to Chris Jericho defending the Undisputed WWF Championship against Triple H, the latter of whom won the Royal Rumble the January prior. However, it was The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan that many fans saw as the headliner of WrestleMania. In this “Icon vs. Icon” encounter, would the present defeat the past, or would the once conquering hero turned nefarious invader defeat one of the company’s most popular stars?

The Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan at WrestleMania X8 began not with fists being thrown or grapples being executed. Rather, it was with both men soaking in the dueling chants from the Toronto crowd. Despite Hogan and the nWo’s villainous antics in the preceding weeks, he was treated as if he were a valiant hero by the raucous crowd. “Dream match” is a term often used in wrestling when describing bouts between wrestlers fans would love to see, no matter how improbable they seem. If any contest was emblematic of said term, especially based on this opening, it would be The Rock versus Hogan.

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The Villain Becomes the Hero

As mentioned earlier, a sizable portion of the Toronto crowd was pro-Hogan. When the two wrestlers locked up for the first time, Hogan shoved The Rock across the ring before flexing, the fan support for the former red and yellow-wearing legend undeniable. The Rock appeared stunned but recomposed himself, getting back into the match. Later on, The Rock regained momentum, motioning for Hogan to “just bring it.” The more that this contest rolled on, the more that fan support seemingly shifted in favor of Hogan. Despite being a charismatic fan favorite, one would argue “The People’s Champion” became this match’s defacto antagonist.

The match soon spilled the outside as Hogan readied the announce desk to deliver further punishment onto The Rock. During this melee, the referee was caught in the crossfire, being knocked unconscious. This would be to The Rock’s detriment as he cinched in the Sharpshooter, Hogan tapping out in the move. However, due to the official being incapacitated, the submission victory couldn’t be called. Hogan took advantage, executing a Rock Bottom on his opponent. Not one to be defeated by his own move, The Rock kicked out of Hogan’s pinfall attempt.

Despite Hogan’s nefarious antics, including several weight belt shots, The Rock shifted the momentum back in his favor. The Rock executed a Rock Bottom but Hogan kicked out at 2. As Hogan did this, however, he began to “Hulk Up” like the “Hulkster” of yesteryear. A stunned Rock attempted to fight back but was met with several punches, a big boot, and two Atomic Leg Drops. Even still, The Rock stayed in the match. Ultimately, it would be two more Rock Bottoms followed by a People’s Elbow that secured The Rock the pinfall victory. Finally, this “Icon vs. Icon” encounter saw a clear winner.

Following the Match

A weary, defeated Hogan stood up, extending his hand to The Rock. With some hesitation, The Rock accepted his opponent’s handshake, mutual respect being shared in the middle of the ring. As The Rock made his way up the ramp, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall confronted Hogan. Not long after, Nash and Hall attacked their now-former nWo comrade, The Rock sprinting down the ramp to make the save. After warding off Nash and Hall, Hogan remained in the ring to pose for the fans in attendance, The Rock watching with a smile on his face. The two would then make their way back up the ramp together. The Rock may have won the match proper, but neither man left the SkyDome without victory.

The end result of The Rock vs Hollywood Hogan at WrestleMania X8 saw the latter take a different path. To be more specific, Hogan officially denounced the New World Order, kickstarting a singles career as a fan favorite once more. He would also don the red and yellow he became famous for, coming out to Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by Jimi Hendrix, a song that fans of Hogan during his WCW will be familiar with. This was no mere nostalgia act to cater to fans of “Hulkamania’s” prime, however, as Hogan not only captured tag team gold but one final world title in WWE in 2002. While WWE’s version of the nWo greatly paled in comparison to the WCW original, Hogan became the beneficiary of the former, whether intentionally or otherwise.

The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania X8 – In Closing

“Dream matches” are still discussed to this day, albeit with different players. Those that watch wrestling at length may often imagine stars from WWE colliding with those from All Elite Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and elsewhere, imagining cards that pit the very best of different companies together. Not all of those matches come to fruition and if they do, it’s not guaranteed that they will live up to expectations. The Rock versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 was a prime example of a dream match being realized and delivered at the highest level.

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