Building an Empire: Episode 5

We return for another episode of the column that looks at the development of the WWF as they looked to take over the world on the shoulders of Hulk Hogan. When we last left off, Hogan had been involved in a couple of battles with The Masked Superstar, but two bigger challenges stood on the horizon for the champion: ‘Mr Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff and Big John Studd.

Vince McMahon is initially joined by Hulk Hogan before what would arguably be the biggest defense of Hogan’s WWF Heavyweight Championship tenure against Paul Orndorff. Hogan is on fire for this short promo, talking about how he has been ‘hanging and banging’ in preparation for the match, and that MSG is his place and Orndorff isn’t ready to take him on.

I’m looking forward to seeing more Hogan vs Orndorff matches across this project, as I feel that they have really good chemistry – not only from this match, but from other (higher profile) matches I’ve seen the two have. It helps because the WWF position Orndorff almost as Hogan’s equal. Whilst the matches against The Masked Superstar never had a clean finish, Hogan never seemed in danger of being defeated. Against Orndorff, that threat seems all too real. He has the physicality to match up against Hogan, coupled with a sounder technical game which makes him a real threat. For a ten minute match that doesn’t do anything above and beyond what you’d expect, it just feels bigger than anything Hogan has been involved in so far. When Orndorff drops him with the piledriver, fans in attendance worry that Hogan will be defeated and lose the title. Though I’d normally hate the idea of a man kicking out of a piledriver, Orndorff’s cocky nature before the pin adds some kayfabe understanding to why the piledriver doesn’t put Hogan away. A second attempted piledriver is reversed, the back body drop sending Orndorff outside to the concrete floor. A ten count later, Hogan has retained his title – but nothing is truly settled. A return match has me excited, and this happened almost thirty years ago!

A bloodied and bitter Orndorff with Vince McMahon claiming a conspiracy and a slow count on the pinfall after the piledriver. The blood coming from the mouth adds to the promo, and we know that we haven’t seen the last of this feud.

Almost a month without any action, we get an update on Hulk Hogan’s popularity. Vince McMahon tells the fans that ‘Hulkamania is running wild’, and it is hard to argue, as we see video footage of the crowd reaction when Hogan comes down to the ring to fight The Iron Sheik for the WWF Title.

Meanwhile…

Whilst this column has mostly looked at Hulk Hogan, we begin to see the segue into the build for Wrestlemania 1, even this far in advance. Naturally, Hogan eventually becomes a huge part of the build for the event. However, the wheels are set in motion by one of the most famous angles in wrestling history.

I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever watched it in full. What makes this angle work, a subtle little thing, is the dropping of the coconuts on the table by Piper. I’ve always assumed that they coconut must have been doctored in some way, but this little act adds that suspension of disbelief that wrestling angles always need. He drills him with the coconut, and the fall through the backdrop always looks arguably more painful. The racial element of the promo is uncomfortable, but is understandable during the time period, and we are left hoping that Snuka gets his hands on Piper sooner rather than later.

Heading back to Hogan, and we see a clearly irate champion talking to Mean Gene Okerlund. It isn’t quite clear as to what he is referring to, but he promises Okerlund and the fans watching that he could beat Studd. During the interview, mention is made of a match between Hogan and Studd that will be set in a fifteen foot high steel cage. Hogan also addresses a lot of his vitriol at ‘Rodney’ Piper, seemingly Roddy’s evil twin brother. The first potential chink in the armour of the champion?

Whether it is the first major chink in the armour of the champion or not, we do see his first loss in highlight form. Having hit Studd with a big legdrop (using the ‘wrong’ leg, which makes it look more painful if anything), Hogan follows him out to ringside after Piper pulls his charge to the floor. Not content with posting Studd, Hogan begins to beat on Piper, allowing Studd to roll back in the ring and pick up the victory by countout. Hogan eventually runs Piper and Studd away from ringside, and is outraged when he realises that he has lost. An interesting finish to the match, although it is hard to gauge the quality of the match from such a short cross section. I do feel that Studd doesn’t look as impressive in size and stature when he stands next to Hogan, which fairly negates the idea of him as a giant. However, I also believe that a more mobile Studd (considering I’d only seen him a couple of years after this) is much more entertaining prospect.

Following the announcement of the cage match, there are two ways an interview with the heel could go: they could be happy or scared. Piper and Studd going the scared route is funny, neither man happy that Studd might end up falling off of the top of a 15 foot high steel cage. Piper’s high pitched squeal perfectly gets across how put out he feels by this, though they finish the promo promising to defeat Hogan and take the title.

Another match where we only see highlights, which is a bit of a shame as I would like to have seen more. What we do get is sections of what looks like a heated, engaging brawl. Unsurprisingly, it is the race for the door rather than a race to exit over the top rope that becomes the order of the day, Studd consistently being stopped from making his way outside of the ring by a Hogan that was clawing onto his title by his fingernails. Both men bleed heavily, adding to the drama. The ending comes a bit out of nowhere, as Hogan drops Studd with a clothesline, nails the big legdrop and heads out of the door. It feels like his finishing sequence is still yet to be fine tuned in the same way it was in a few years time. Studd isn’t completely out of it, and grabs at Hogan’s feet, only to eat a couple of vicious boots to the face. Hogan exits the cage and wins the match, only for the brawl to continue outside of the ring. As far as booking goes, I liked this – it keeps Studd still a viable contender, yet gives Hogan a big victory. Believe me, we’ll be seeing a lot more Hogan vs Studd as this column progresses.

That’s it for this week – Hogan’s two big feuds are simmering away nicely, but there are yet more names on the horizon waiting to take him on. Who will be able to stop The Immortal One?

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