Hulk Hogan is one of the most recognizable wrestlers of all time. It can even be said that it was him who brought wrestling to the global phenomenon it is today. I would contend that he was the centerpiece that brought it all together.
In his more than 30 years of wrestling, Hogan has created countless memories through his great matches as the WWF started to gain a national foothold in the 1980s. From Wrestlemania I and all throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, Hogan was always THE main event.
But the best match of his career came at a time no one was expecting. It was the night that Hulkamania, and wrestling as we know it today, was born.
January 23rd, 1984: The Incredible Hulk Hogan vs. The Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship.
The Night Hulkamania was Born
What makes a career-defining match? Is it the star power? The moments that make history? What about the atmosphere or the technical wrestling ability?
The truth is that all of the aforementioned aspects of a match have some sort of impact, but what turns a good match to the best of a wrestler’s career is all of them coming together in one setting, on one night.
The star power of this match was obvious. The Incredible Hulk Hogan was just starting to come into his own as a superstar. The Iron Sheik was one of the most hated heels at the time, having just ended the nearly six-year reign of Bob Backlund four weeks prior.
In Sheik’s corner was “Classy” Freddie Blassie, one of the big time heel managers of the Golden Era. Famous enough to earn a spot in the old WWE intro proclaiming him as “The Maker of Champions.”
Every great match needs a build-up with their star power, even if a certain superstar shined bright than the other in a match. This match certainly had enough star power, and then some.
Now, any match can have star power and still not even be good. The matches all have to have at least one moment that is iconic, and leaves people talking about the match for ages.
Some of the best matches in history will only have one memorable moment, if that. Stone Cold vs. Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XXIII, for instance, had the moment of Stone Cold passing out rather than give in to the pain of the Sharpshooter. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXV had the spectacular catch and tombstone combination to end the match.
Iron Sheik vs. Hulk Hogan actually had two of these moments, which is another reason why the match is the best of Hogan’s career.
The first of these moments was an unprecedented event. Before Hulk Hogan, no one had ever been able to escape Sheik’s dreaded Camel Clutch. It was the one move that not even the best of the best could beat.
That is, until Sheik locked Hulk Hogan into the submission move midway through the match.
In an incredible feat of strength, Hulk Hogan became the first man to break free of the Camel Clutch. He lifted Sheik, then forced him into the turnbuckle, leading Sheik to drop in the middle of the ring, setting up our second iconic moment.
Hogan took the opportunity and executed his lethal Leg Drop on the Iranian to win his first ever WWF Heavyweight Championship. The crowd went absolutely nuts for the perfect moment, Hogan’s first championship. This would become day one of a legendary 1,474 day reign for Hogan.
It was the beginning of Hulk Hogan as a Superstar, the face of wrestling for the next decade. As Gorilla Monsoon famously put it: “Hulkamania is here!”
Crowd and Atmosphere
As mentioned earlier, Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik brought some significant star power to the show, but that’s not all they brought. Sheik brought hatred that only a master heel can bring. The political animosity between the United States and Iran at the time lead to every single person wanting Iron Sheik to lose the title to a patriot.
Hulk Hogan filled that role perfectly. He was “A Real American” that represented the crowd’s hopes for the United States to come out on top. Inspiring patriotism in people will always lead to some of the best crowds.
Now, add that to the location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, the most famous wrestling arena of all. The atmosphere was absolutely perfect for the best match of Hulk Hogan’s career.
Technical Wrestling Ability
It’s no secret that Hulk Hogan was never the master ring technician. Some would even say that his wrestling was subpar. In this match, however, there was never a reason to doubt Hogan’s wrestling abilities.
The way that Hogan sold breaking the Camel Clutch was superb, and the way he took Sheik’s ring gear and clotheslined him with it was innovative, as well as brutal. Hulk Hogan was in top form technically in this match.
Not many matches back then were as technically sound as they are today, but this match stood out from the others because it was so well executed. If you look at the way both wrestlers sold the various moments in the match, especially the Camel Clutch, there should be no doubt in your mind that this match is the best of Hogan’s career.
You want to know the real reason why this match is the best of Hulk Hogan’s long, illustrious career? It does not exclude the four different categories aforementioned, but rather exemplifies them.
Before the match started the focus was all on the surprise entry of Hulk Hogan into this title match with the Iron Sheik. Sure Hogan was over with the fans, but he wasn’t yet at the place where he would one day be. This was just thought to be an exciting main event, but not much more.
It was through the birth of Hulkamania during the bout that made this match what it was. About halfway through the match, it became less about the feud and the title and more about Hulk Hogan himself. A legend was being born before the crowd’s very eyes.
Hulk Hogan made this match what it is, just by being himself. Other matches of his, including bouts against Randy Savage, Andre the Giant and the Rock cannot say that. They required some major contributions from the other superstar. This match became Hulk Hogan’s match as he won his first WWF Heavyweight Championship.
This match was the beginning of wrestling as it is today. It became Hogan’s turning point, and the start of a national phenomenon. It was the birth of Hulkamania, and the best match of his career.
If you don’t believe me, watch for yourself below. Tell me with the moments, the nostalgia and the crowd’s exuberant reaction that this match was not the best of Hogan’s career. Don’t worry, I got goosebumps as well.