The Greatest Wrestlemania Matches of All Time
WrestleMania X8: Icon vs. Icon
68,237 fans packed into the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario to watch WrestleMania X8— and I was one of those lucky fans. It was my first trip to the annual WWE PPV, and it was my first time seeing the Hulkster live.
It took place on March 17, 2002; it was the second WrestleMania at that venue (following WrestleMania VI in 1990) and it was the final WrestleMania event under the WWF name, as the company re-branded to WWE later that year.
The record-breaking attendance for the SkyDome grossed approximately $6.1 million CAD and despite not wrestling in the main event, Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Rock were the number one reason why we were all there. It’s why they made it on the poster. It’s the match that everyone was waiting to see. It was a once in a lifetime event, and it was something fans didn’t think would ever be possible.
WrestleMania X8 marked the ninth time Hogan appeared in Wrestlemania (his first time in ten years) and it was arguably his most memorable appearance on the PPV. Don’t get me wrong, his match against The Ultimate Warrior and his battle with Andre the Giant will surely be something I will soon write about and include in this ongoing series, but the match between The Rock and Hogan was something nobody— and I mean nobody— expected. Yes, it was Hollywood Hulk Hogan, and no he wasn’t wearing his old-school red and yellow gear, but it was Hogan nonetheless— and the world was about to bear witness to two all-time greats come together for the ultimate dream match.
It was an icon vs. an icon.
Leading up to the match, everyone I had spoken to throughout the week at WWF Fan Axxess had all told me that they were all hoping Hogan would win, despite Hulk being a heel and a member of the recently revived nWo. I wasn’t really sure at the time if I believed the fans but it did make sense, and not just because Hogan was one of the biggest reasons for WWE’s initial success— and not just because he headlined eight of the first ten WrestleMania events— but really because the last time Wrestlemania rolled into town, Hogan lost in the main event to the Ultimate Warrior.
The Rock was no slouch either. The People’s Champ played a major role in leading the company through the Attitude Era and was on his way to becoming one of the biggest entertainers on the planet. Like Hogan, his resume was thick with Wrestlemania appearances, headlining five main events, but for whatever reason, the fans in Toronto didn’t want to see Hulk Hogan lose again. And despite donning the nWo colors, the fans were more than thrilled to have him back in the
The magnitude of the match was not lost on the fans and by the time the two men walked into the ring and stood face-to-face, the crowd erupted— and I do mean erupted! I’ve been to many sporting events in my lifetime, but I’ve never attended an event as loud as this. The hairs in the back of my neck were standing; there were shivers running down my spine, and the fans were so loud, I couldn’t hear what my friends and family standing by my side, were saying. It was electric, to say the least.
It was also one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history, maybe the best. It was hands-down the loudest.
The reception Hogan received that night brought a legend back to life and pretty much foreshadowed what would happen the next night on Monday Night Raw. That night, one of the greatest wrestling factions died and it was all because of the surprise reaction from the nearly 70 000 rabid fans shouting Hogan’s name.
By the time the two men locked up for the first time, it was clear, The Rock was no longer the fan-favorite. The match, needless to say, did not go according to plan.
Their epic encounter didn’t feature any high-risk aerial assaults or dazzling in-ring choreography. Let’s face it, Hogan was way past his prime and in a fair match, there is no way he would ever be a legitimate threat to The Rock who was one of the most physically gifted athletes on the planet. But what the match lacked in athleticism, it made up for in story and crowd participation. With the entire
WWF WWE universe seemingly behind him, the Hulkster summoned up enough courage to stand toe-to-toe with wrestling’s most electrifying man.
The crowd was so full of nostalgia they couldn’t help but cheer for Hogan, forcing both men to have to adapt to the crowd’s reaction on the fly— and despite doing everything in his power to play the heel (including whipping The Rock with his belt, trash-talking and hitting a low-blow), the crowd was firmly behind the immortal one throughout the entirety of the match.
During the match, The Rock applied the Sharpshooter but because the referee was knocked down, he was unable to acknowledge a submission. The Rock released the hold and tried to revive the referee, but Hogan hit a low blow and a Rock Bottom for a near-fall. Both men attempted their respective finishers once again, but each kicked out. After two more Rock Bottoms and a People’s Elbow, The Rock was finally able to pin Hogan and get the win. Despite losing, it was still one of the most impressive matches in Hogan’s career considering he was nearing 50 years-old and wrestling with a broken rib.
After the match, the two shook hands showing their respect for one another. As The Rock left the ring, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall came out to deliver a beating on their former leader, only The Rock ran back to help his childhood idol. After throwing Nash and Hall out of the ring and forcing them backstage, The Rock asked Hogan to pose for the crowd, further helping to turn Hogan into a babyface for the first time in years.
That night, fans were treated to a match that will live forever in the annals of WWE. This dream confrontation was the equivalent of Babe Ruth vs. Barry Bonds or Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James or Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson. Icons clashed, the torch was passed and history was made.
To say that the clash between The Rock and Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 is great would be an understatement. It’s a masterclass in storytelling from two world-class superstars who has to improvise every step of the way. It’s also a rare example of the fans being able to decide the outcome of a match and as someone who was there cheering for Hogan, I felt it was the one and only time I played a part in writing a WWE story arc.
Hogan vs. The Rock is one of those matches that perfectly captures the spirit of WrestleMania. It’s something I’ll never forget and to this day, I still get teary-eyed just watching it again.
The next day, my friends, family and I returned to Montreal and attended the live recording of Monday Night Raw. That night, Hulk Hogan received a 17-minute standing ovation. By the end of the opening promo, he ripped off his nWo colors, once and for all. Hulkamania was back. Hogan was saying his prayers and taking his vitamins, and within a month, he would defeat Triple H and capture the WWE Championship one more time.
- Ricky D
This article is part of an ongoing series looking back at the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history.