“HOW MUCH MONEY DID THEY SPEND ON THE PLASTIC SURGERY??!”
Those infamous words were uttered by Hulk Hogan on national television 25 years ago today. And astonishingly, Hulk wasn’t referring to his (now ex) wife and her friend when he said that. No, you see, he was referring to the evil trio of Ted DiBiase, Andre the Giant and… EARL HEBNER! What? Earl Hebner, evil? Bret Hart would find out years later exactly how evil Dave Hebner’s baby brother really could be, but let it be known that Hulk Hogan was the original Screwjob victim way back in 1988 when INXS had the #1 hit single in America and the Road Warriors made it cool to wear Zubaz pants.
So, why then was the Hulkster ranting and raving like a mental patient about plastic surgery? Let’s set the stage. The date was February 5th. The WWF had been airing taped “Saturday Night’s Main Event” specials on NBC for a few years by this point. As a young wrasslin’ fan, I have fond memories of those shows. The sight of Andre the Giant sneaking up behind an unsuspecting Hogan, following his victory over King Kong Bundy, and wrapping his massive hands around Hogan’s throat, squeezing the life out of him, gave me nightmares. But this show was different. This show, dubbed simply “The Main Event”, aired live on Friday night (back when Friday was perhaps the best night for television) and would feature the first singles meeting between Andre and the champion since their epic encounter at WrestleMania III the previous year.
WWF and NBC hit a homerun that night. The show would do a 15.2 rating, good for 33 million viewers (that number is a bit skewed and likely also includes international viewers, so figure half that number were watching in the U.S. – still impressive), making the Hogan vs. Andre sequel the most watched wrestling match in history, a record that still stands today. Hulk Hogan had headlined as WWF champion for four consecutive years and was arguably at his peak of popularity. Andre, on the other hand, was clearly in physical decline and had long past his peak. In fact, he was barely mobile. One memorable spot from their match saw Andre simply fall face down in what the announcers could only describe as an attempted headbutt (he missed). And maybe it was, but it looked terrible. In fact, as a wrestling match, this pretty much sucked. But with these two guys in the ring, it was never about workrate. That’s what guys like Savage and Steamboat and Santana were there for.
As the match drew to a close, Andre grabbed Hogan and flung him around in the worst excuse for a hip toss I’ve ever seen in my life. As he covered the champion and the referee began to count, Hogan got his shoulder up off the mat, but Hebner kept counting. Just like that, Hogan’s run came to a screeching halt at 1,474 days and Andre was awarded the title.
I guess in hindsight, CM Punk’s 14-month reign ending on a People’s Elbow doesn’t seem nearly as ludicrous.
After the match, Gene Okerlund interviewed Andre, who inexplicably talked about winning the World tag team championship (?!!) and proceeded to surrender the tag team title (don’t look at me, that’s what he said) to Ted DiBiase. And I must say, the title looked awfully good around DiBiase’s waist. I believe he got to defend the title at some house shows in the days that followed before Jack Tunney officially declared the title vacant, but it really is a shame he never had a run on top.
As Hogan stood flabbergasted by what had just taken place, THE GOOD HEBNER emerged to confront his evil twin. It’s funny because, while Dave and Earl do look very much alike, I never had much trouble discerning one from the other, even as a kid. Dave was always the pudgier one. Maybe he was simply big-boned. Whatever the case, when Hogan turned around, he could not believe his eyes, nor could he tell one from the other. He figured it out when Earl knocked his brother to the mat and caved in his ribcage with a wicked kick (supposedly breaking a rib legit). Now, Hogan figured it out. He hoisted Earl high above his head, got a running head start, and proceeded to overshoot his target by a country mile, sending Earl SOARING into the aisleway over everyone’s head (including Andre, and he was a giant!). They were supposed to catch him, but hey, shit happens.
Backstage with Mean Gene, Hogan was a wreck. He was so distraught, he was literally in tears over this grave injustice that had just been committed. It’s too bad The Shield came 20 years too late. Maybe they could have helped prevent all of this. As Hogan whined and cried about plastic surgery, he talked about seeing both Hebners for the first time, exclaiming, “When I turned around, they were identical. IDENTICUUUUULLLL!!!!” Moments later, as they showed a replay in slow-mo of the finish, Hogan desperately tried pointing out to us all the hundred dollar bills falling out of the referee’s pocket. Okerlund didn’t have the heart to tell the big guy that, in fact, there were no hundred dollar bills. As hilarious as this all was, Hogan was a pathetic mess here. Between this and his temper tantrum at the 1992 Royal Rumble when he helped Flair eliminate Sid (who did nothing wrong!), I’m not sure how I was ever a fan of this man.
By the way, there’s a little “easter egg” of sorts to watch for on this show. Prior to his title defense, WWF shot to a pre-taped Hulk Hogan interview backstage. In it, he can be seen wearing what has since been dubbed as the “Hogan ‘87” belt. Yet moments later, when he emerges from the curtain, he’s wearing the Winged Eagle belt that would become synonymous with the company over the next decade. Not sure if the ’87 belt held out for more money before Hogan walked out or mouthed off to the wrong person, but it was never seen again.
A quarter century ago on this date, history was made. Hogan lost his smile. The plastic surgery was bought and paid for. And Andre won the tag team title. A memorable night, indeed.