After nearly a year of build-up, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant got back in the ring for a WWF Title rematch 30 years ago today in one of the most-watched wrestling matches ever!
This was huge. Friday night, February 5, 1988, the WWF had a special airing of The Main Event on NBC. At 8 years old, I spent the whole day at school looking forward to the show. With three title matches advertised for the hour-long special, the thing everyone was most looking forward to was the Hogan-Andre rematch from WRESTLEMANIA III, when Hogan slammed the Giant and pinned him to retain the title. There was some controversy, though. In the opening moments of the match, Hogan tried to slam Andre and failed, falling backwards and giving Andre a two-count that many – including manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and announcer Jesse “The Body” Ventura – thought was a three-count that would have given Andre the title.
The rematch would be even MORE controversial, though. HOGAN and Andre – now under the ownership of “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase – battled back and forth, but Andre caught the champion with a suplex and pinned him. Referee Dave Hebner’s hand came down for one… two… Hogan’s shoulder popped up, but Hebner slammed the mat one more time to give Andre the Giant the WWF Title, ending Hogan’s four-year run as champion.
Almost immediately after, Andre would cede the title to DiBiase, who had vowed to “buy – lock, stock and barrel” the WWF Title. DiBiase left with the belt. Hogan remained in the ring, wondering what had happened. Soon, it would all be revealed – it wasn’t DAVE Hebner who referred the match. It was his twin brother EARL! He took the Million Dollar Man’s money!
Of course, the big rematch was only a set-up for WrestleMania IV, set for the end of March from Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. DiBiase would be stripped of the title and a tournament would crown the next champion. But the rematch was a big enough draw to get 33 million viewers, an almost unheard-of number for professional wrestling on network TV!
The WWF Title match was backed up by an Intercontinental Title match, with the Honky Tonk Man defending against “Macho Man” Randy Savage, with the champ keeping his title via countout. The third match on the card – Tag Team champs Strike Force defending against the Hart Foundation – didn’t actually get to air on the show, and the very quick match was only released when the WWE Network put the show on its archives back in 2015.