August 19, 2004
Sheldon Kane III

World Wrestling Federation Championship
Hulk Hogan (Champion) vs. Terry Funk (Challenger)
Saturday Night's Main Event
Airdate: January 4, 1986

January 23, 1984, will forever stand as the most important date in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. On that cold winter's night in Madison Square Garden, the hated Iranian known to the wrestling community as the Iron Sheik stepped into the ring to defend his Championship, less than a month after capturing the gold in the same building, under controversial circumstances. The Iron Sheik, and his manager the "Ayatollah" Fred Blassie, had threatened to take the Championship back to Iran, never to return. Needless to say, fans across the United States were in a state of outrage over this proclamation. Originally, the match scheduled for this night was the Iron Sheik defending the title against the man he defeated for it, the great Bob Backlund. In the weeks prior to the match, however, Backlund bowed out of the match, and was replaced by a man who Backlund re-introduced to World Wrestling Federation fans on the January 7, 1984 broadcast of Championship Wrestling: a man who would go on to become the greatest professional wrestler of all time, "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan was no stranger to WWE. He had spent close to two years working for Vincent J. McMahon from 1979 to 1981, as a hated heel managed by, ironically, "Classy" Fred Blassie. After this run, Hogan appeared in the film Rocky III as a wrestler named "Thunderlips", and soon gained himself a measure of notoriety. After competing for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Hogan was brought back to WWE by Vincent K. McMahon, who had purchased the company from his father. With close to 20,000 fans solidly behind him, Hulk Hogan stormed into Madison Square Garden on January 23, 1984, and soundly defeated the Iron Sheik to win the World Wrestling Federation Championship. A cultural movement called Hulkamania was born, and the world would never be the same.

After winning the Championship and staking his claim as the top man in the sport, Hulk Hogan soon faced a variety of different challengers, all wanting to knock him off the top of the mountain. Capable athletes like Big John Studd, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage all tried valiantly to wrest the title away from the Hulkster. Despite their most diligent efforts, none were able to do it, and the millions of Hulkamaniacs around the world had a new reason to celebrate their hero each time. However, on January 4, 1986, the Hulkamaniacs watching NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event that evening almost saw the end of their hero's title reign take place right before their very eyes, at the hands of one of professional wrestling's most legendary names. A former NWA World Champion from one of wrestling's greatest families, and a man who would go on to join Mick Foley in popularizing "hardcore" wrestling in the 1990s; none other than Terry Funk.

Interestingly, Hulk Hogan credits Terry Funk as the man who reignited his desire to be a professional wrestler. In 1979, after making his wrestling debut the previous year and competing for several months in the deep South, Terry Bollea decided he wasn't making enough money working in the wrestling business, and grew increasingly frustrated with what he percieved as a lack of progression in his ring career. Despite all of the hard work he put in training under Hiro Matsuda, Bollea decided he wanted to quit and took a job working on a loading dock. It was during this time when Jack & Gerry Brisco, who are credited with discovering Bollea, sent Terry Funk to do a job; getting this young 6'8", 295-pound titan back into the ring. The Brisco brothers knew this young athlete would someday achieve a level of stardom in the sport, and didn't want to see him throw this opportunity away. After talking extensively with Bollea, Funk was able to convince him to give wrestling another try, and make a call to Vincent J. McMahon in New York. And as they say, the rest is history.

Six years later, Hulk Hogan and Terry Funk again found themselves face-to-face in beautiful Florida. Only this time, they were competing against one another, for the richest prize in sports; the World Wrestling Federation Championship. The match took place on December 19, 1985, and aired on NBC January 4, 1986, on Saturday Night's Main Event. The setting: the Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida. Fans watching that night saw a rare meeting between two wrestling legends; and nearly saw the end of Hulk Hogan's storied first title reign.

At the time of this contest, Terry Funk was embroiled in a feud with the late Hall of Famer, the Junkyard Dog. As a result, JYD appeared in Hogan's corner, to ward off interference from Funk's manager, "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart (who would later become a close confidant of Hogan's). After the opening bell sounded, the two legends locked up in a collar and elbow tieup to start things off. Funk muscled Hogan into a corner of the ring, and attempted to Irish whip Hogan into the opposing corner. Hogan reversed the move, but Funk managed to reverse it back into his favor, only to be reversed again by the Hulkster. Hogan then gripped Funk and threw him back into the previous corner, and floored the challenger with a jarring clothesline in the corner. Funk slumped to the outside of the ring, and the champion drank in the cheers of the Hulkamaniacs in attendance at the Sun Dome. Funk eventually made it back into the ring after taking a moment to regroup, and soon locked up again with Hogan. Funk pushed Hogan against the ropes, and tore into the champion with three open handed chops to the chest. Funk threw Hogan to the opposite ropes, but Hogan turned the tables and dropped down to the mat. Funk then ran the ropes, but came at them with such force he nearly fell over them. The challenger was able to balance himself and stay inside the ring, but the Hulkster decided to send him on a trip to the outside anyway, violently clotheslining Funk over the top rope to the arena floor. As Funk lay on the floor in a bewildered state, Jimmy Hart attempted to get out of his seat and help his charge back inside, only to be scared off by an incoming Junkyard Dog. "The Funker" slowly made his way back inside, and the match resumed.

Hogan and Funk locked up once again, and the champion ensnared the challenger in a side headlock. Funk pushed Hogan off and dropped down to the canvas as Hogan started to run the ropes. In a rather bizarre moment, Hogan started to run to the opposite ropes and back several times around, stepping on Funk's back each time he ran across the ring. A confused Terry Funk slid outside the ring once again to collect himself, but found himself landing on top of a row of ringside chairs, to the amusement of Hogan and the fans. Growing increasingly frustrated, Funk grabbed one of the chairs and hurled it into the ring, which Hogan promptly sat down upon to mock his opponent. It was clear the Hulkster was able to gain a psychological edge on Funk, and Funk knew it all too well. Reluctantly, Funk stepped into the ring once again, and he engaged in yet another lockup with Hogan. Funk pushed Hogan into a corner of the ring, and started to work over the champion with several open handed chops. Again, Hogan was able to turn the tide, grabbing Funk and turning him around in the corner, and pounding him with several hard shots to the head. Hogan threw Funk into the opposing corner, and sent him careening upside down over the ropes. Before Funk could hit the floor again, Hogan snapmared his foe back into the squared circle, and then scored with a back suplex. Hogan went for a cover, but was only able to get a two-count. Hogan then smashed Funk with a forearm blow, and attempted a headbutt, which seemed to hurt the champion more than it did the challenger. Funk then countered with two headbutts of his own, and floored the Hulkster with a kick to the groin, which left Hogan in a good deal of pain on the canvas. Terry Funk was finally able to gain an advantage. With Jimmy Hart shouting instructions through his megaphone, Funk kicked away at the prone champion, and started to scale the ropes. In what seemed to be a desperate attempt to gain the edge once again, Hogan shook the ring ropes, and Funk fell crotch-first on the top rope and into the ring. With the advantage once again, Hogan administered an atomic drop on Funk, followed by a headbutt. Hogan then threw Funk to the opposite ropes, and nearly took the Amarillo, TX resident with a vicious clothesline. Hogan dropped an elbow on Funk, and started to look to the fans to see if he should put his challenger away. The champion clamped a side headlock on Funk, who pushed Hogan off into the ropes. As Hogan rebounded off the ropes, Jimmy Hart managed to grab the leg of the champion, who immediately spotted the wrongdoing. The "Mouth" attempted to run, but found himself surrounded by Hogan and Junkyard Dog, with seemingly nowhere to go. Hart sought to find refuge underneath the ring, but JYD was hot on his heels in pursuit of catching him.

As referee Dave Hebner turned his attention to JYD, Funk soon trapped the champion inside the ring, choking him with the tape from his wrist. Soon the official returned to the action, but was unable to see Funk's blatant cheating, thanks to concealing the wrist tape with his right arm. To the naked eye, it seemed Funk was simply wearing down the Hulkster with a reverse chinlock, but the Hulkamaniacs watching inside the Sun Dome and the millions more watching at home on NBC knew better. When Hebner turned his back again, Funk disposed of the wrist tape, having already done the damage, and applied a legal chinlock on Hogan. With the champion significantly weakened, Funk lifted him into the air for a piledriver, a move Funk used four years later in the NWA to put Ric Flair on the disabled list. Funk successfully completed the piledriver, and covered Hogan for what seemed certain to be the title-winning pinfall. Hogan, however, managed to lift his shoulder just as the three-count was coming down. Color commentator Jesse "The Body" Ventura complained of a slow count, as did manager Jimmy Hart. Even play-by-play announcer Vince McMahon remarked, "That's the closest I've ever seen Hulk Hogan to being pinned." Funk punched away at the Hulkster's head, and raked his eyes with his boot. It seemed Funk had Hogan at his mercy, kicking away at the champion's limp body. But Terry Funk soon realized what kind of power the Hulkamaniacs had, as they started to feed their hero the energy he needed to continue. As their cheers grew louder, Hogan became stronger, and soon, the champion was "Hulking up", with Funk unable to bring him down even when delivering his hardest punches. Reinvigorated, Hogan countered with three right handed shots of his own, Irish whipped the challenger to the ropes, and hitting a running elbow to the chest. But Hogan would not let Funk go down so easily. Hogan threw Funk to the ropes again, this time scoring with the big boot to the face, which sent Funk outside the ring to the floor. Jimmy Hart leaped onto the ring apron to momentarily distract Hogan, but was unsuccessful. What Hogan did not realize, was Hart was holding onto Terry Funk's infamous branding iron. As Hogan attempted to suplex Funk back into the ring, Hart smashed Hogan in the midsection with said branding iron, and Funk went for a pin. Again, it seemed "The Funker" was about to join Buddy Rogers as one of two men to hold both the NWA and World Wrestling Federation Championships, but after the two count, Hogan draped his leg across the bottom rope. Junkyard Dog soon made Hart pay for his cheating ways, headbutting the manager into the middle of next week. Funk was under the impression he won the title, but Dave Hebner soon informed him he, in fact, had not. An enraged Terry Funk grabbed the referee by his shirt and shook him repeatedly, screaming threats at Hebner. As Funk was distracted, Hogan regrouped, and waited for Funk to turn his attention back to him. The second Funk turned around, the champion floored him with a clothesline he calls "The Ax-Bomber". Hogan quickly covered, and scored the three-count at 8:30. As Hogan celebrated his triumph, Funk roughed up the referee outside the ring, and started throwing a number of chairs into the ring, missing Hogan each time. None of Funk's postmatch antics mattered; nothing could change the fact that Hulk Hogan had once again successfully defended the World Wrestling Federation Championship...though he did come very close to losing the title on this occasion.

Terry Funk would recieve a few rematches against Hulk Hogan in the winter of 1986, but was unable to win the title. 11 years later, Funk again tasted world championship success, winning the ECW World Championship from Raven. Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan continued to add more triumphs to his record, as his legend grew to mythical proportions. It's certain neither man has forgotten the clash they had on Saturday Night's Main Event. For Terry Funk, it would have been a historic triumph. For Hulk Hogan, it would have been a crushing irony; the man who convinced him to return to wrestling, could have been the very same man who ended the greatest run of his career.

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