October 11, 2006
Sheldon Kane III
Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology
WWE Home Video
THE IMMORTAL ICON
I begin this review by taking you back to, of all years, 2003. No, it's not because I am feeling misty-eyed over Mr. America nostalgia. It's because of a certain DVD release from WWE, called The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection. This DVD came a little over a year after the legendary Hulk Still Rules DVD was issued, and let me tell you, I found it highly insulting that Hulk's original DVD set was so haphazardly put together, and Flair's was so well-organized.
The first Hogan collection, while full of great nostalgic moments and matches, was put together in a slapdash manner, with matches appearing out of order and apparently, little thought put into the actual match selections. They hit a lot of key matches - Hogan-Andre at Showdown At Shea, the birth of Hulkamania, and others - but so many other classics were ignored in favor of some rather curious choices. Did we really need the Survivor Series 1988 main event preserved on DVD, ahead of something like Hulk Hogan vs.The Rock? No, I didn't think so, either. Yet, here's this Flair DVD sitting there, beautifully packaged, so detailed, and more "love in every stitch" than the sweater Spongebob's grandmother made for him. I was thinking, "Damn, why is Hulk's set so smallish compared to Flair's monster set? If Flair gets three DVDs, why, Hulk should get FOUR!"
All I wanted was a DVD set which did the Hulk Hogan legend justice, one not only on par with Flair's, but one which would blow his out of the water and into the stratusphere (not Trish).
Ladies and gentlemen, the fine folks in Stamford, CT, have answered the call.
Now, there is a DVD collection that does more than pay tribute to the most famous wrestler of all time: it serves as a perfect introduction to the new fan who may not have seen any of Hulk's work (if that's possible!), and a trip down memory lane for the longtime Hulkamaniac. It serves up Hulk's most famous battles for the newbie who may not have ever seen them or ever owned them, and some selections that will satisfy the needs of the hardcore collector.
It's called Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology, and it's the finest professional wrestling DVD ever released. Not because I founded HoganResults.com and he was one of my idols growing up: even if I idolized Pez Whatley growing up, I'd still say this was the best wrestling DVD ever created.
Let's get into why.
This DVD starts off with some brief comments about the Hulkster from many wrestling luminaries, including Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon Jr., Ric Flair, Eric Bischoff, and John Cena. Already this DVD set has leaped far ahead of Hulk Still Rules, which had comments from no one outside of Hulk himself, Pat Patterson, Gene Okerlund, Fred Blassie, and Gerald Brisco. Not exactly a wide array of opinions.
WWE chose the perfect team to host this production. Announcer Mean Gene Okerlund and manager Jimmy Hart - both fellow WWE Hall of Famers - are longtime confidants of Hulk's going back to his earlier days in the sport. Mean Gene first met Hulk in the AWA days, and Jimmy Hart first came across Hulk during his days in the South. Hart would go on to become Hulk's real-life business manager. The two are as knowledgable as anyone about the Hulkster's career, and their insight is invaluable to the fan who doesn't know this icon's career history.
The first disc covers 1980-1987. Our opening match is a surprising choice: a rare televised match from All-Star Wrestling, pitting "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan against his longtime rival and friend, Andre the Giant. Hulk, of course, is under the tutelage of Fred Blassie at this point of his career. For those who have never seen this match, it can almost be considered a "cliff notes" version of their famous match at Showdown At Shea: think all the big spots minus the long restholds. Hulk slams Andre, Andre slams Hulk, Andre hits the big boot, but misses the Giant splash. Fred Blassie loads up Hulk's elbowpad, he re-enters the ring, and after ducking Andre's size-22 boot, wallops Andre in the forehead with a clothesline using his loaded pad (said clothesline was named the "Hogan Hammer" back then). Strangely, the match then ends without any official decision rendered: Hulk and Blassie gloat, and leave the ring area. Vince McMahon - complete with yellow mustard blazer, green pants, and sneakers - attempts to interview the bloodied Giant, who yells for Hogan to come back in his thick French accent. The interview which served as the catalyst for this match - Hogan and Blassie confronting Andre during a TV interview - is not shown here. I'm a little surprised Showdown At Shea was not used here, considering Hulk Still Rules is out of production. Still, it's a nice inclusion, a surprising one considering what WWE has at their disposal.
We jump into the AWA years from here, into the infamous Super Sunday encounter between Hulk and Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Championship, from April 24, 1983. This was one of two times Hulk won the AWA title from Bockwinkel after a thrilling battle, only to have it stripped due to a technicality. The fans in St. Paul, MN are close to rioting once they realize Hulk would not be leaving as champion. Hulk calms the crowd by holding onto the belt itself anyway and proclaiming "This is YOUR belt!" on his way out of the arena. The AWA would finally recognize Hulk's two AWA title wins as official in 2005. Prior to this match, Greg Gagne reveals in an interview how Hulk's tearing the T-shirt deal first started.
From here, it's off to the most important match in wrestling history, the one which changed the sport forever: January 23, 1984, Madison Square Garden. The night Hulk Hogan won the World Wrestling Federation Championship from the Iron Sheik. The postmatch celebration involving Andre the Giant, Ivan Putski, and Rocky Johsnon is seen, but not the interview featuring Hulk with his parents. Not sure why it wasn't seen. Apparently they found John Cena's memoirs of this match more important. Still, no Hogan collection is complete without this monumental moment in sports history. The night the sport forever changed, the beginning of the evolution into what we see today.
Our next match is a bittersweet memory for me, and an interesting selection: Hulk Hogan vs. Big John Studd, 9/22/84, from MSG. Bittersweet because the finish had me crying as a kid. I recall the finish so vividly, and I was surprised that my memory of it was preserved so well: the sight of Studd winning by countout and taking off with the championship belt as a bloody Hulk Hogan looked on was like the end of the world to me at seven years old. I didn't know back then that titles could not change hands on a countout. I was shocked that WWE remembered this match enough to include it.
The "War to Settle the Score" from MTV 2/18/85 - Hogan vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper - follows. After some rememberance from Piper, we head into the marching bagpipe band leading Piper and bodyguard Cowboy Bob Orton (whose arm was injured during a match with Jimmy Snuka earlier in the evening, leaving his arm in a sling). This match served as one of the catalstys behind the main event of WrestleMania I, with everyone from Mr. T to Cyndi Lauper to Paul Orndorff to the NYPD getting involved. This match is truly ahead of its time, pure chaos that would become commonplace during the days of ECW and the Attitude era.
The rest of disc one covers matches that many of you have seen before on countless other compilations: the main event of WrestleMania I (Hogan/T vs. Piper/Orndorff), WrestleMania 2 (Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy in a steel cage), the Big Event from Toronto (Hogan vs. Orndorff, also seen on Hulk Still Rules and the original Big Event VHS), and of course, the most famous match of all time, Hulk vs. Andre from WrestleMania III. Along the way, you will see interviews with Paul Orndorff ("He made me, I made him"), Mr. McMahon from the "WrestleMania All Day Long" special from 2000 discussing his talks with Andre prior to WMIII, and of all people, Rob Van Dam, who discusses seeing Hulk bodyslam Andre at WMIII live in person.
Disc One also features the only two DVD extras in the collection: Hulk discussing his early days in the sport (most of which is already heard on the Hulk Still Rules DVD), and the Iron Sheik telling the famous story about his former coach Verne Gagne offering him $100,000 to break Hulk's leg and take the WWE title to the AWA, a story Greg Gagne has denied in print. Considering the sources here, I tend to believe the crazy old Iranian's version of the story.
This disc is filled with many of the Immortal Icon's most famous matches, which have been seen many times before in many forms of media. Starting things off are three matches from WrestleMania: V (vs. Randy Savage), VI (vs. Ultimate Warrior), and VII (vs. Sgt. Slaughter). As you move along for the ride, you'll be treated to a 2000 interview with Edge and Christian Cage discussing their attendance at WrestleMania VI, with footage of a young Adam Copeland in the 11th row. You'll also see an interview with Sgt. Slaughter in which he talks about refusing to burn the United States flag during an interview leading up to WrestleMania VII, instead opting to burn a Hulk Rules shirt.
Up next is the Tuesday In Texas confrontation from 12/3/91, featuring a World Wrestling Federation Championship rematch between Undertaker and Hulk, from six days prior at Survivor Series. This match is also seen on the Hulk Still Rules DVD, but if you don't own that set, you're in for a hell of a treat. This is by far the best match these two ever had together, with a lot of action and drama, and a convoluted finish which lead to the title being declared vacant by then-President Jack Tunney three days later. If you see only one Hulk Hogan-Undertaker showdown in your lifetime, make it this one.
From here, it's off to Hulk Hogan's run in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which takes up the rest of Disc Two. Jim Ross discusses Hulk's transition from WWE to WCW in the early-1990's, and Ric Flair offers some candid comments, stating that not everyone in the world knows who Ric Flair is, but everyone knows the name Hulk Hogan. Considering the manner in which Flair ripped Hulk to shreds in his book, I'm surprised to hear such praise coming from his mouth.
This leads into the WCW Bash at the Beach match from 7/17/94, Hulk's WCW debut match from which he emerges WCW Champion after pinning Flair. This was the first pay-per-view to ever see Hulk and Flair main event one-on-one against each other. It almost happened at WrestleMania VIII two years earlier, but in typical WWE fashion, they dropped the ball. Too bad, considering this Bash at the Beach match is a real thriller, one that could have benefitted from a packed Hoosier Dome crowd. Oh, well. Orlando Arena turned out to be a great backdrop anyway, with a hot crowd into both men's every move.
The rest of Hulk's red-and-yellow run in WCW is cast aside from here, heading straight into the formation of the most influential heel clique in wrestling history: the New World Order (nWo). Jimmy Hart explains away Hulk's final days as a babyface in WCW by saying times change, that it was a different world at the time Hulk was still portraying his hero persona of yore. Basically, this is a very nice way of saying the WCW fans were getting sick of the act and were booing him like John Cena at an ECW event. The complete promo Hogan cut after turning on WCW and shaking hands with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash is shown, but part of the attack Hulk unleashed on Randy Savage is edited out, as well as Hall and Nash stomping a fan trying to enter the ring.
The final two matches seen on this disc sum up the "Hollywood Hogan" era very well. First, is his WCW title win over The Giant from Hog Wild 8/10/96 (strangely, the famous postmatch moment in which Hollywood spray-paints the nWo letters on the belt's centerpiece is not shown), and his heavily hyped match with Sting for the title from Starrcade '97. The match itself is not the greatest in terms of action, but in terms of sheer history, its inclusion was mandatory. Blame referee Nick Patrick for botching the finish, by not issuing the pre-planned fast count. This leads into a confusing mess, which some say touched off the chain of events which lead to fan interest slowly declining and, ultimately, WCW's demise. The disc closes with Big Show giving Hulk Hogan props for launching his career in the sport.
This disc covers the last few years of the Hulkster's career, from 2001 to 2005. We begin with the rare XWF match Hulk had with the late Curt Hennig from 11/14/01, a match I like to call "Hogan For Dummies". Why? If you've never seen a Hulk Hogan match, this is the one to see, considering it is very much the atypical Hogan performance. This match is followed with a promo Hulk cuts in which he declares his intentions to challenge for XWF World title, a title which, as far as I know, never even materialized. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that one. Before this match, Hulk discusses how the match came about. Interesting to note, Hulk wasn't even planning to wrestle that day in Florida, and was only there with his gear to take photos and shoot a commercial for the Legends of Wrestling video game.
We then head into the famous WrestleMania X8 match between the nWo's Hollywood Hogan and The Rock, from 3/17/02. This is the match which set Hulk on the path in WWE he continues to follow today, and the match most fans consider to be the true WrestleMania X8 main event, no matter how much Triple H and Chris Jericho cry about it. Hulk gives some insight into the atmosphere in the locker room prior to the match, noting The Rock's father, Rocky Johnson, was there to give his son some sound advice.
The next match, Hulk Hogan challenging Triple H for the WWE title at Backlash 4/21/02, brings back a fond memory for me. I watched that match at the Goodtime Emporium in Somerville, MA, live on closed circuit TV. I walked into this PPV convinced Hulk was about to do the job to HHH, knowing HHH never liked Hogan, and had a position of power in the company. You would not believe how emotional I got when Hulk put "The Game" down for the count and won the championship. The whole place blew the roof off (I don't think it's landed yet), and I ran around the place in tears embracing everyone I saw. Moments like this one are the type of stuff I live for in the business, readers.
The remainder of the disc contains several oft-seen matches: Hulk teaming with Edge to win the World Tag Team Championship from Billy & Chuck on SmackDown, Hulk's "Street Fight" with Mr. McMahon from WrestleMania XIX, and his amazing match with Shawn Michaels from SummerSlam 2005. We also see his 2005 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in its entirety. The main feature closes with some final testimonials from our hosts, Jimmy Hart and Gene Okerlund, capping off an incredible career journey.
If you pick up your DVD set from the local Wal-Mart, you will receive a bonus disc of matches, including: Hulk Hogan vs. Tito Santana from Madison Square Garden (3/24/80), an AWA squash featuring Hulk trouncing Sonny Rogers and Chuck Greenlee from August 1981, Hulk defending the title against a not-as-old Terry Funk from Saturday Night's Main Event, Hulk facing King Harley Race in an SNME match from 1988 (the match which ended Race's full-time wrestling career thanks to a botched table spot), Hulk seeking revenge against Earthquake at SummerSlam 8/27/90, Hulk winning the 1990 Royal Rumble (starting with Hulk's entrance at #25, also seen on the Hulk Still Rules DVD), and we end with Hulk's interview from RAW Homecoming, in which he challenges Stone Cold Steve Austin. The world still awaits Austin's answer...if he ever staggers out of the local watering hole, that is.
All in all, this DVD truly lives up to its lofty billing. "The Ultimate Anthology" and then some! This set is essential to any fan's collection, one you will not regret purchasing. It will please the longtime Hulkamaniac, newer fans, and even "smart marks" who could use a good heavy dose of Hulkamania. This is truly the greatest wrestling DVD ever made, bar none.
Oh, and once again, Hulk Hogan has trumped the "Nature Boy."