Now That’s What I Call Wrestling: The Ultimate WrestleMania Challenge

Tonight’s the night and in keeping with annual tradition I am looking forward to sitting back, drinking some Real Ales and watching WrestleMania. As we gear up for what has traditionally been WWE’s biggest show of the year, I can’t help but be reminded that we are approaching the Twentieth Anniversary of one of the most memorable matches in (W)WWF/E history.

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“I’ve got to prove one thing to all my Hulkamaniacs out there. It’s not whether ya win or whether ya lose. The only thing that matters is what kind of winner you are or what kind of loser you are, and Ultimate Warrior, I sure hope you’re a good loser, brother! Whatcha gonna do… at Skydome, when the Largest Arms in the World and Hulkamania destroys you?”

(Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Challenge, 1st April, 1990)

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Since Draven Cage has a detailed series of articles looking at The Top 25 Greatest WWE WrestleMania Matches elsewhere on the site, I thought I’d look at one of my own…

On April Fools Day, 1990 WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior met in a match appropriately dubbed ‘The Ultimate Challenge’.

A Clash Of The Titans

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“It has been written, it has been said, that it shall be done at WrestleMania VI and if I find out that you’re The One that has to walk for Eternity in my shoes, brother, let it be. But ya gotta prove to me by beating me and all of my Hulkamaniacs that you are The Ultimate Hulkamaniac and if you’re not whatcha gonna do when the Largest Arms in the World run wild on you?”

(Hulk Hogan, TV promo pre-WrestleMania VI)

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Unless you were a fan at the time it is difficult to understand how big this thing was. The WWF Champion versus The Intercontinental Champion. BOTH men had everything to lose with their respective titles on the line. Make no mistake about it: this was an epic collision between the top two babyfaces in the company. The most famous wrestler in the world, Hogan had held the WWF Title since recapturing it from ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage in the memorable main event of WrestleMania V one year earlier (another of my favourite matches from the period) becoming only the second man to hold the WWF Title twice (following the legendary Bruno Sammartino). Warrior was in the midst of his second reign as Intercontinental Champion and had amassed a level of popularity few had ever achieved.

In the promos shown on the weekly TV shows building up to the match, ‘The Hulkster’ claimed it would be “more intense than all five WrestleManias put together”. Going against someone as popular as Warrior certainly created a different atmosphere from the traditional big WrestleMania match which until now had Hogan as the out and out crowd favourite taking on a hated villain. But who would emerge victorious in the WWF’s version of Clash Of The Titans?

Speculation was running rampant. I remember this as a time when the WWF was becoming really popular over here (in England). Thanks to the spread of Sky TV and the two dates in the UK in late 1989 “American Wrestling” (a phrase used mainly used to denote the WWF) was starting to get some mainstream press over here. As a schoolboy who had already been following wrestling for around three years, it seemed that at some point between WrestleManias V and VI the WWF went from being very popular amongst those cool enough to form a dedicated group of wrestling fans (circa 1984-88) to something that was being discussed by everyone. On the playground, in the shops, in the streets – barely a day went by without someone (adult or child) mentioning the biggest match in wrestling. To this day I can’t think of a single match I’ve heard more people give their opinions on. I may have heard more opinions on actual events (SummerSlam ’92), but never on one match.

“Who’s going to win?” and “Who do you think will win?” were the questions on everyone’s lips. As the event drew closer, apart from one or two staunch Hogan supporters (such as my younger brother), it seemed the majority were siding with The Warrior. In terms of who they thought would win it seemed much more even – maybe even leaning to Hogan because those same fans claimed he “never lost” (not technically true, but I can see where they were coming from). I’ve no idea what the prediction was amongst the ‘smark community’ but the general feeling amongst the older (or more cynical) fans I knew was that it was going to be a ‘draw’ and thus that the belts would stay with both men. Whatever the case this was a real challenge for ‘The Hulkster’ and by far The Warrior’s biggest mountain to climb.

Party Time

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“You know somethin’, Mean Gene? You don’t have to remind me and my Hulkamaniacs that at SkyDome, we’re gonna face ‘The Ultimate Challenge’, brother! When we crossed the border from the United States of America to Canada, I was hovering over SkyDome, brother! I saw what was beneath me, man! I saw the Greatest Arena of All Time where ‘The Ultimate Challenge’ will take place. And as we landed, brother, nothing but STARK RAVING HULKAMANIACS were there to greet me at the airport! Nothing but positive vibes, man! Hulkamania is running wild like it’s never ran before but The Ultimate Warrior you must realize that when you step in the SkyDome, when you feel the energy that’s gonna RUN WILD through out the arena: those are MY PEOPLE, that’s MY ENERGY, brother!”

(Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Challenge, 1st April, 1990)

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For fans in the UK WrestleMania VI was also memorable for a different reason. The event itself was the first one to be shown live on Sky Movies, instead of Sky One (and prior to that Sky Channel). I believe it was the second WrestleMania to be shown live after WrestleMania III way back in 1987.

I remember reading in the newspapers about the big WrestleMania fancy dress party being held in a London nightclub. Obviously, I was too young at the time but did any of you readers go it (or anything similar)? I would be interested to hear from you.

The live show lasted four hours. I know because I used to have a copy of it spread over two tapes as the three hour tape I’d left for it to be recorded on ran out and my Dad (who was still a fan at this point and thus watching) changed tapes and recorded the main event (and the video package showing highlights of its build up going back to the Royal Rumble) on my one hour tape… which I’ve still got and still says Chock-A-Block on the label! Do they even make 60 minute videotapes anymore?

In the years since it happened, the card has often been described as nothing more than a ‘One Match Show’ and whilst I don’t think that is quite fair (Demolition winning the Tag Team Titles for a third time by beating The Colossal Connection and André’s subsequent babyface turn amongst other happenings were big talking points at the time) it is clear what was the match *everyone* was waiting for. Everything from how it is presented on the night to the crowd reaction lets people know this was the match they had paid to see: ‘The Ultimate Challenge’. Nothing wrong with making the main event stand out as a, you know, Main Event. In fact I think it is partly because it was such a happening that a lot of the rest of the card is seemingly forgotten. That match remains one of the most memorable of the era.

The Ultimate Build-Up?

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“Twenty eight of those normal men, stacked one on top of another can’t come close to the feelings and the destinations from Parts Unknown. You realize as I do that the twenty ninth man… YOU, HULK HOGAN, walk with a different force field around you. Walk on horizons that are close to where I’ve been.”

(The Ultimate Warrior, Royal Rumble 1990, 21st January, 1990)

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Although often overlooked, the build-up to this was excellent first with the in-ring confrontation during the Royal Rumble and then with a series of misunderstandings between the two. I liked it because they did just enough to create some animosity without having to turn either one heel.

The final build-up on the night was perfect. The opening credits were excellent and I love the way it showed legitimate star signs, before building up to the ones of Hogan and Warrior in their trademark poses. Some nice simple animation and an exaggerated voice-over from Vince really got across the almost ’supernatural’ nature of this collision.

Over the years, Warrior has gained a reputation amongst the IWC for his “unintelligible” promos. I disagree. One of the reasons current fans might find them strange is that they are used to a different style. At the time both Hogan and Warrior’s interviews were heavily metaphorical, relying on mythological imagery to describe wrestling events in a way that differentiates them from the more mundane approach of just directly talking  about the actual events (“I want your belt”, “I will beat you”) or the witty catchphrases and toilet humour that would become the norm in later years.

The on night interviews from both men were classics in their own way. Hogan claims he’s going to force Warrior to “get him down on his knees” so he can look him in the eye and ask him “Are you a Hulkamaniac?” When he answers “Yes” he’ll breathe new life into him and allow him to follow Hulkamania forever. Meanwhile, Warrior shoves Sean Mooney out of the room due to him being “nothing but a normal”, reminding him that a “mere mortal” like him doesn’t “deserve to breathe the same air as Hulk Hogan and myself”, before asking Hogan if he wanted his “ideals to live forever” implying (in his own trademark way) that when the Two Most Powerful Forces in the Universe collide they will merge into one Supreme Being allowing Hulkamania to live on through him as he (Warrior) takes “what we both believe in to places it shall never have been!” I understood that just fine.

As a theologian, it isn’t hard to see that their battle was as much spiritual as it was physical. Prior to the bout Warrior paces the ring, shakes the ropes, and looks to his gods for guidance. Hogan makes the Sign of the Cross and blesses himself.

Other than ‘The Ultimate Challenge’, the main thing I remember is the mini-rings that were used to transport the wrestlers to the (actual) ring, as seen previously at WrestleMania III. Not only did those look cool, but they were a good idea of making sure noone got ‘blown up’ before the match starts! It’s a shame we haven’t seen that more often, but you need a stadium-type setting with a long aisle for it to work. Maybe we’ll see their return tonight (unlikely)?

Having Warrior run to the ring and then Hogan walk there, rather than ride in the mini-rings like everyone else on the card is one of those little touches that makes the match stand out even more. Oh yeah, there was the match as well…

The Ultimate Challenge

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“YOU HAVE LIVED, HULK HOGAN, FOR THE LAST FIVE WRESTLEMANIAS… FOR THIS ONE BELIEF! Now, Hulk Hogan,  I come to take what you believe in FURTHER THAN YOU EVER COULD!”

(The Ultimate Warrior, WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Challenge: The Ultimate Challenge, 1st April, 1990)

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Over the last decade, I’ve heard some argue that this match was nothing but a hot crowd and good finish. If that is you, hopefully this article might make you realise why this was considered such a big deal at the time. Whilst it’s the red-hot crowd that make the match so exciting it’s a bit unfair to say that’s *all* that’s there. I mean if Warrior was as bad as some people make out and Hogan was someone who they claim “needed to be carried” (not true) then giving them twenty plus minutes to wrestle each other would easily have produced a stinker even with the crowd reactions. As it is they both put the effort into making it work.

Sure the bout itself is basic, but anyone who expected complex chain-wrestling and springboard-moonsaults is an idiot. They play to their strengths, the crowd laps it up and the end result is it pays off. That’s called working to your strengths. In fact, what works best is the VERY basics. I always mark out for the shoving match at the beginning and then the ‘Test of Strength’ as the crowd reaction makes this ‘feeling out process’ seem really important so it means a lot when the action picks up and they start hitting their big impact moves.

There are a number of things that made ‘The Ultimate Challenge’ interesting as a match. For a start you get to see the “two goody-two shoes” (as Jesse Ventura put it) get down and dirty as they end up brawling outside the ring (where Hogan ‘injures’ his leg early on and later bumps into the ring post). There’s also the aspect where both men try to wear each other down: Hogan with the reverse chin-lock, Warrior with the bearhug only for them to both make ‘Superman’ comebacks out of the moves. And there’s the fact you have the top two stars doing seemingly every power-based move in their repertoires to try and win.

The cleverest spot, in context of the time, is referee Earl Hebner’s ten count, following a double-clothesline spot which works really well here as for once you feel that the match could feasibly end this way with both men being counted down thus making it a draw. So there’s a big pop when it doesn’t.

Of course there’s also the ref bump which had yet to be overexposed the way it would be in the Attitude Era (much less common at this point), where Warrior runs into Hebner and then Hogan scores a visible pin after he avoids the flying shoulder-block. Okay so Warrior then ‘pins’ Hogan as well… Then Hogan pins Warrior again as he gets another phantom fall with roll-up whilst Warrior’s waking up the ref. Hogan 2-Warrior 1?

Of course all this made it seem more likely we were going to get some kind of non-decision which makes it really work when we get the clean finish.

Whilst there have been better actual matches within WWF/E alone, the finish is one of the best and most memorable I’ve seen. At the time I was shocked to see Warrior get a big guy like Hogan up in the Gorrila Press (credit to Hogan for taking it) and then the audience reaction as if they honestly think it’s over when he hits the splash only for Hogan to kick-out and ‘Hulk-Up’ is superb. As far as I remember, noone had ever kicked out of Warrior’s finish before and when Hogan did and went into his finishing sequence I thought for certain another ‘Mania was about to end with Hulk posing with the Winged Eagle Belt. Then there is the reaction when he hits TheBigBoot but misses the Legdrop and Warrior pins him after a second splash – a combination of shock and applause all round. Say what you will about either man, but the atmosphere in those last few moments was amazing.

Post-match a tearful ‘Hulkster’ hands Warrior the WWF Title thus fulfilling the prophecy of his promo earlier in the night that (see top of article) and leaves on one of those ultra-cool miniature-ring as fireworks go off around the new Champion who proudly displays both belts.

TheBigBoot’s Final Word

Held in front of a massive audience of 67,678 at the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario Canada (later the site of Hogan’s classic WrestleMania return against The Rock) this was the first WrestleMania to be held outside the United States and the lively audience guarantees it feels like a big event. In terms of bell-to-bell action I have seen better matches. In terms of creating that WrestleMania ‘buzz’ this event achieves it as well as any other. In its own way it is a classic and deserving of the praise it gets. The most important thing is that the match lives up to its hype delivering a bout (and a clean finish) that is really the best anyone could have hoped for. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling!

Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson

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