ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 25 years ago, on February 5th, 1988, Andre "the Giant" won his one and onlyWWF Title in a match against then champion Hulk Hogan at the televised event known as The Main Event. With the success of the occasional Saturday Night's Main Event prime time wrestling shows on NBC, it appeared that NBC wanted more World Wrestling Federation (WWF) programming. Thus, the WWE gave them special Friday shows called "The Main Event". During the late 1980's with Hulkamania running wild and the major success of Wrestlemania 3 during 1987, the demand was there for more prime time WWE programming (no Monday Night RAW or Friday Night Smackdown to over-exploit the WWE as you see today).
For the first "The Main Event" show that aired live on Friday, February 5th, 1988, the rematch of the infamous Wrestlemania 3 main event occurred. Wrestlemania 3 is HUGE for one reason and one reason only. Sure, it had the innovative Randy "Macho Man" Savage vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat match, but the true draw of the show was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre "the Giant". After the success of his "Thunderlips" role in Rocky 3 and then joining the popular American Wrestling Association (AWA) in the Midwest, Hulk Hogan became a hot commodity in pro wrestling and he was the perfect superstar for Vince McMahon to acquire for Vince's newly purchased WWF promotion. Vince McMahon purchased the WWF from his father, Vince McMahon Sr. during 1982 and had his sights on converting the WWF to a national promotion. Before Vince Jr. revolutionized the pro wrestling industry forever, pro wrestling was more territory based and promoters honored thy territories.
Vince McMahon, however, took full advantage of significant advances in television, such as Cable, and put his WWF promotion on as many televisions as possible. He also began to raid territories of their top talent. The crown jewel of his raids was stealing Hogan from the AWA promotion. Funny thing was that Hogan actually worked for Vince McMahon Sr. during 1979-1980 and he worked mostly as a heel. Better yet, the heel Hulk Hogan worked regularly against the babyface Andre "the Giant" during this period of time. Little did wrestling fans know that Andre vs. Hogan would become a huge national draw just 7 years later for Wrestlemania 3. As the story reportedly goes, Hulk Hogan was offered a role in the 3rd Rocky movie as the "Thunderlips" character but Vince McMahon Sr. was very much opposed to Hogan's appearance or the time off to film the movie. Thus, Hogan left the WWF to film the movie role and then had successful stints in Japan and in AWA between 1981-1983.
Once Rocky 3 was released in theaters during May 1982, the popularity of Hulk surged and AWA was the beneficiary. His star kept growing and growing but yet it would seem that the promoters in AWA weren't quite willing to reward this expanding star with an AWA Title change (or so the story goes, although Hogan also reportedly turned down AWA title reigns offered to him). Regardless, Vince McMahon Jr., the new owner of the WWF, recognized Hogan's expanded starpower and brought him back to the WWF during December 1982. One month later, Hulk Hogan pinned WWF Champion The Iron Shiek to hold the WWF Title until THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY when Andre "the Giant" defeated Hogan on the televised Main Event show on 2/5/1988.
Andre "the Giant" was essentially the top WWF (or World Wide Wrestling Federation - WWWF) babyface star of the 1970's. Though he was not in the title scene, Andre's starpower didn't require that the WWE Title belt around his waste. The novelty of Andre was that he was simply a wrestler billed to be over 7 feet tall and over 400 pounds. Certainly, the WWWF or WWF Title was very important during the 1970's, as the likes of an older Bruno Sammartino, "Superstar" Billy Graham, and Bob Backlund fought over the titles and could pack Madison Square Garden easily by themselves... Andre the Giant, however, could travel all over the nation and all over the world and pack the houses everytime. Bobby "the Brain" Heenan, who managed Andre in the WWF during the 1980's, used to describe Andre as the greatest house draw of all time. Andre was not only big, but during the 1970's, he was actually agile for his size before the health problems escalated during the 1980's from excessive growth hormone was produced by his pituitary gland (condition called Acromegaly). Andre's body kept growing and it caused serious problems as he became older and continued working as a wrestler. His age and condition allowed for conditions to "give back" to the business to put over Hulk Hogan HUGE at Wrestlemania 3.
For 1987, WWF was set to host Wrestlemania 3 at the massive Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, MI which the WWF has claimed to draw over 90,000 people (estimates are about 10,000 less than that). For such a large facility in Detroit, the WWF needed a drawing match with absurd starpower. During the previous Wrestlemanias, the shows drew well but they weren't quite events that fully separated the WWF from the competition it was raiding and effectively trying to eliminate. With Vince McMahon Jr. working for his dad Vince Sr. during the 1970's and early 1980's, Vince was able to witness the drawing power of Hogan (heel) vs. Andre (face). By simply flipping the roles, this powerful match up could draw again. Thus, the WWF pushed a storyline during early 1987 where Andre would feel shortchanged by the WWF not honoring his undefeated streak as much as they were honoring Hulk Hogan's 3 year WWF Title reign between 1984-1987. The WWF booked a trophy presentation for Andre's undefeated streak and Hogan's 3 year reign. Hogan's trophy was larger and thus disgusted Andre. Shortly thereafter, noting Andre's disgust, Andre confronted Hulk Hogan on Piper's Pit where, with the assistance of new manager Bobby "the Brain" Heenan, challenged Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title and ripped off Hogan's necklace and shirt in the process. It was ON!
Wrestlemania 3 was a MAJOR success and was the separator that the WWF needed in its race to become a national promotion. The numbers, given the year 1987 and the Cable/Pay Per View market requiring more years to grow and develop, are absurd. A reported 93,000 fans were in attendance ("reported"), while millions either watched the event via closed circuit or the early Pay Per View availabilities at the time. You have to keep in mind that during 1987, access to premium or Pay Per View channels was extremely limited. The WWF reportedly made around $10 million in Pay Per View revenues for Wrestlemania 3, which was off the charts back then. Hulk Hogan won the match cleanly and the "moment" most remember is Hogan bodyslamming Andre. Fans were HOOKED and for the next 3 years through Wrestlemania 6 during 1990, the WWF expanded considerably through its peak.
Andre vs. Hulk Hogan had major drawing power. Top babyface for the 1970's vs. top babyface of the 1980's was the draw, especially with roles reversed from previous match-ups. Fans were hooked on Hulkamania and grew to love the many other cast of characters that the WWF had to offer. WWF continued the Hogan vs. Andre feud through the very first edition of Survivor Series during 1987 when Hogan and Andre led teams against each other in the main event. Andre's team won and continued their feud through the very first edition of the Royal Rumble which aired as a television special on USA Network for January 24th, 1988. On that very show, Andre and Hulk Hogan officially signed a contract to have their Wrestlemania 3 rematch at "The Main Event" scheduled for February 5th, 1988, on this day in pro wrestling history!
For their rematch 25 years ago at the Main Event on 2/5/88, controversy erupted for a match result that saw Andre "the Giant win his very first WWF Title against Hulk Hogan. Andre was such a draw on his own that he never required the WWF Title to bump his popularity. He was already popular... But 25 years ago, Vince gave Andre a brief reign. Lucky for the WWE, they had access to twins in the wrestling business named Dave and Earl Hebner. Dave Hebner worked for the WWE during the 1980's while his brother Earl worked for the NWA Crocket promotion (which would later become World Championship Wrestling). Earl, also known for Survivor Series 1997's Montreal Screwjob, would debut for the WWE during the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre "the Giant" rematch at "The Main Event", which was officiated by Dave Hebner. The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase arranged for a lookalike version of Dave Hebner to assist in Andre winning the title only for Dibiase to then attempt to purchase the WWF Title from Andre. The controversy of the 2 referees and Dibiase's investment in the entire process and title caused figure head WWF President Jack Tunney to declare the WWF Title as vacant and put the title up for grabs in a WWF Title tournament held at Wrestlemania 4.
At the very least, this controversial title change that occurred 25 years ago on this day in pro wrestling history served several purposes. (1) Gave Andre a WWF Title reign. Certainly, the reign was extremely short and controversial, but he's in the WWF record books. (2) Removed the title from Hulk Hogan. Hogan was red hot as a wrestler through 1988 and WWF wanted to be careful with his losses. This cheap win continued the heat between Andre and Hulk Hogan as they did in fact wrestle again within the WWE Title tournament at Wrestlemania 4 (double DQ). Getting the belt off of Hogan and crowning a new champion and main event star in Randy "Macho Man" Savage only expanded the business as the MEGA POWERS were created for a HUGE box office day at inaugural SummerSlam 1988 (Savage/Hogan vs. Andre/Dibiase) and then collided at Wrestlemania 5. The controversial loss for Hogan stirred up his fanbase and they were anxious to see Hogan get his revenge at Wrestlemania 4... Lots of money being made!
Unfortunately for Andre, his health from his condition continued to worsen... But, Vince McMahon and the WWF tried to use him effectively when they could. Andre teamed with Haku (Meng in WCW) and actually won the WWF Tag Titles by defeating Demolition during late 1989 (losing the titles back to them at Wrestlemania 6 in 1990). WWF used him less and less in the ring after Wrestlemania 6 but Andre actually performed for All Japan Pro Wrestling, reportedly wrestling his last match during late 1992. Andre would pass away shortly thereafter during January 1993.
BUT, on this day in pro wrestling history, Andre the Giant was WWF Champion! 25 years ago...
THANK YOU to Michael J. Smith for the column idea!