“It’s the irresistible force meeting the immovable object!”
Thirty years ago today, the most memorable stare-down in the history of professional wrestling took place in the middle of the Pontiac Silverdome, before some eighty thousand fans. At WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s flag-bearer throughout its global expansion of the eighties, was pitted against André the Giant, the icon and star of the seventies.
As the current legacy of WrestleMania behoves a generous amount of nostalgia, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, while obviously hugely important, I and II were not much to write home about, feeling more like glorified house shows with Mr. T and Ozzy Osbourne shoe-horned in. WrestleMania III, from the opening shot, feels different, progressive and special, not least for the iconic venue and raucous crowd. There were other touches, too; I particularly like how the wrestlers don’t walk the long aisle, but travel via a cart dressed as a miniature ring. High above and almost floating over the sea of humanity, the performers come off looking like bona fide stars.
André had been considering retirement the year prior; complications of acromegaly were contributing to a steady decline in his mobility. A huge star in overseas promotions, he actually worked retirement matches in Mexico and Japan, before the question of North America came up, where he hadn’t wrestled in months. It was during his time in England shooting The Princess Bride that he was tempted into the match by Federation boss, Vince McMahon – but not before surgery on his back in an effort to relieve his pain.
The Giant would return to WWF television in January 1987, turning evil, aligning himself with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan – right-hand man of countless Hogan rivals – and challenging for the title. Prior to the big match, they would only meet on one occasion, during a twenty-man battle royal, where the nasty Giant ejected Hulk with considerable ease. Coupled with claims that André had gone undefeated for fifteen years, Hulkamaniacs were probably quaking in their boots more than ever before. They cared. Looking back now, the storyline was executed so simply, but therein is its beauty; overdoing it was not necessary with such awesome characters. The buzz was off the scale.
Of course, with Hogan a limited wrestler at best, and André clearly in poor condition, the WrestleMania III match is not a five-star classic, to say the least. But, from the two locking eyes as the bell rings, to the moment Hogan lifts Andre up and slams him en route to victory, there is no clearer an example of how little that matters. For sheer spectacle, I can’t think of another match that really comes close; I first saw it at the age of twelve, seventeen years after the event – I’ve watched it countless times since, and it still has that special feeling. Testament to the moment’s totemic importance is the sheer number of times such a stand-off has been referenced, if not outright emulated – but never has it had quite the same impact as Hogan versus André, where The Giant generously passed the torch to the new ‘number one’, and the wrestling boom reached its apex, thirty years ago today.