The next match in the countdown was a dream match for a lot of fans as Hulk Hogan returned to WWE in 2002 as part of the New World Order setting up a WrestleMania match against the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, The Rock. It’s a match that took place 15 years ago at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto.

If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Who: The Rock vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18

When: March 17, 2002

Where: Skydome in Toronto, Ontario

The Build

Hulk Hogan returned to WWE at their No Way Out 2002 PPV as part of the New World Order group with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. It was a big deal at the time because Hogan left WWE in 1993, was a key guy in WCW and this was his first time back on WWE TV since then.

During a Hogan heel promo on Raw, The Rock went into the ring to ask Hogan if he wanted to headline one more WrestleMania with The Rock. Hogan: “Yes.” Hogan told him good luck because he’s going to need it and Rock fired back with a Rock Bottom. It was a great segment.

The story continued with Hogan using a hammer to hit The Rock in the back of the head. Rock was put in an ambulance. With Rock in the ambulance, Hogan drove a truck into the side of the ambulance. It was vehicular assault done to try to make the story come off as more personal. Rock came back a few weeks later and didn’t really sell anything from the attack, which was disappointing.

On the Raw prior to WrestleMania 18, the NWO trio of Hogan, Nash and Hall beat Rock and Steve Austin in a 3 on 2 handicap match. The match ended with Hogan pinning Rock with a boot to the face followed by a leg drop. You can watch that match here.

The selling point by WWE was to present this as an “Icon vs. Icon” match. Hogan headlined eight of the first nine WrestleManias while Rock headlined the three years before this match, so it was a match that fit the billing.

What I Thought Back Then

I was excited about the match because it was a first time ever matchup on the biggest stage in the world in front of the great fans in Toronto. There was some concern about the match quality because Hogan was not a great in-ring performer, but he certainly knew all the tricks to build up a match.

I also remember that Hogan had a rib injury going to into the match, so there was some concern as to whether he would be able to get through it.

Going into the show, I thought this should have been the main event. I know that the WWE/World Title (or Undisputed Title in this case) match usually went on last, but this was the biggest match on the show for a lot of people. I get why WWE put on Triple H vs. Chris Jericho last since it was for the biggest title in the company. I think if they could do it again they would have went with Rock vs. Hogan on last.

I wasn’t that impressed by the card, which is why I didn’t go to the show even though it was two hours from me. It was a very average WrestleMania, but I wish I was there just to experience this match.

As for a prediction for the match, I expected The Rock to win. Hogan was 48 years old at the time of this match while The Rock was 29 years old. They had to put the younger guy over.

Here’s my full review of the match plus the analysis, which was written in 2012.

Hulk Hogan made his entrance to the NWO theme song. Even though he was a heel, you could tell the crowd was cheering him just because it was a big deal for him to make his WrestleMania return after nine years of being out of WWE. I think as soon as the fans were chanting “Hogan” in the ring, WWE probably realized that this match should have went on last. The Rock entered. He got an enormous babyface pop too. The Rock was in the main event during the previous three WrestleManias. He dropped down the card a bit here.

The Rock vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18

They had a classic staredown. First, they looked at eachother. Then they looked at the crowd. The crowd was chanting for both guys, but mostly Hogan. They locked up and Hogan shoved Rock down. The crowd cheered loudly. What a reaction. It was only the beginning. Hulk knocked him down with a shoulderblock followed by another thunderous ovation. Hulk hit a clothesline. Rock came back with an explosive leaping clothesline, which knocked off Hogan’s bandana. Rock hit his punch combo ending with the spit punch that knocked Hulk to the floor. I think Hulk wanted to bump over the top to the floor, but he couldn’t do it so he went under the bottom rope. Back in the ring, Rock hit a clothesline and Hulk countered a Rock Bottom with an elbow to the head. Hulk hit him with some more elbow drops followed by a foot rake to the face. Clothesline in the corner by Hogan. Rock took down Hogan and hit him with punches to the head. Hogan came back with a back suplex to a huge reaction. Abdominal stretch by Hogan. After an exchange, Rock hit a back elbow and Hulk came back with a chokeslam like maneuver that he didn’t use very often. Hulk choked him with his wrist tape. Rock came back with punches, then he charged in and Hulk threw him over the top to the floor. That was a nice counter by Hogan. They brawled on the floor a bit with Hogan in control as he cleared the announce table. Rock came back with a flurry of punches. Ref took away a chair and Hogan knocked Rock back down with a clothesline. They went back in the ring, Rock charged with a clothesline and Hogan sidestepped him so Rock took the ref out.

Rock hit a spinebuster. I remember watching this live thinking that Chioda might stay down for 11 minutes like he did the year earlier during the Undertaker/Triple H match. Rock put Hogan in the Sharpshooter. Hulk fought out of it, getting to the ropes. Rock didn’t let go. He pulled him back to the center. Hogan tapped out. Ref didn’t tap out. Hogan hit a low blow as some fans chanted “Rocky Sucks” because of how much they liked Rock. Hogan hit a Rock Bottom. Ref woke up and counted one…two…Rock got the shoulder up. Hogan took off his belt and hit Rock in the back with it a number of times. Rock hit a DDT. Ref was still not to his feet, so Rock hit Hogan with the belt about six times. Would that count as a DQ? I’m not even sure. Rock Bottom. Rock covered. Ref counted the pin, but Hulk kicked out at two. He’s HULKING UP! The crowd went wild! Wow! What an ovation! Hogan waved the finger in the face, hit the punches and the dreaded big boot. Leg Drop by Hogan for one…two…no! Huge reaction for that nearfall. JR: “My God The Rock kicked out!” Rock hit another big boot. Leg Drop missed this time. Rock Bottom. No cover. Another Rock Bottom. Kip up. People’s Elbow to a thunderous ovation. It connected. One…two…three. Rock wins at 16:23.

Winner: The Rock

Analysis: **** It’s hard to rate it as a match, but I’m going four stars out of five. In terms of reaction and emotion it was as good as pro wrestling gets, really. I guess if you watched it on mute you’d have a different feeling regarding the match. That’s not realistic, though. The crowd played such a big part in the match. In terms of crowd reaction, emotion and drama it’s one of the better matches you will ever see. The plan for the match was to have Hogan turn face by the end of it. It worked even before the attack of Nash & Hall. I think if they could do it again they would put this match on last. It would have ended the show on a great note. It was also tough for anything to follow this match. I have a huge amount of respect for Hogan in this match because he had a cracked rib and was grabbing it at the end of it because it was hurting so much. Despite being 49 years old at the time of the match, he worked hard and won the crowd over with his performance. Rock was tremendous too. He had become such a good big match performer at this point in his career.

After the match, Hogan extended his hand. Rock shook it. Rock’s music played as Hogan told him to pose for the fans. Rock left. Hall & Nash came out. Hall threw a toothpick in Hogan’s face and then Nash hit him with a sucker punch. They double teamed Hogan. Rock came back. He clotheslined Nash out of the ring and Hogan threw Hall out of the ring. Hall & Nash retreated. They played Rock’s music again. I would have loved it if they played Hogan’s “Real American” music there. Hogan was going to leave, but Rock told him to stay to do his poses. Hogan did his ear cupping and his other poses. Rock encouraged more poses. This is where his music should have played, but the response was still huge. Ross and Lawler did a great job of putting this over as an iconic moment.

Analysis: Amazing post match interaction there. The Hall & Nash appearance where they attacked Hogan was part of the plan before the match to build up the mutual respect angle where Rock came to the aid of Hogan after the attack.

You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 18 right here.

What They Said

The Rock to WWE.com (then WWF.com) after the match took place. I found it here.

“This is, by far, the greatest night in the history of my career. In this industry, my main objective was to be the absolute best, period. And what Hogan did for me tonight – I can’t thank him enough. It’s the greatest feeling, period. I dare say it will never be duplicated. You think about 70,000 people, non-stop screaming for almost 40 minutes. It’s a testament to their passion.”

“I love the fact that the fans are so passionate. They show me their passion when they cheer me – and they show their passion when they boo me. What I love about it is I had the confidence in my relationship with the fans that I can turn to them and say, ‘Continue to boo me, because I’m going to continue to entertain you.’ And for that, I’m so thankful for them. I’d like to end this interview just by saying I can’t thank Hulk Hogan enough for what he did for me.”

Hulk Hogan to Fighting Spirit Magazine in 2013 talking about preparing for the match with The Rock in Miami and the adjustments they made during the match.

“Out of respect, I go down there, and there’s me and The Rock and his dad Rocky Johnson, and Pat Patterson. The Rock starts telling me that we’re gonna lock up, and do this and do that, then start getting some heat on me, and so on. So he talked through the whole match, and I was listening. I respect him, and it kinda made sense, but I’d never done that before. Then they go, ‘Okay, let’s have the match here.’ I said, ‘Whoa! You’re talking about me taking bumps in this ring, with no people? I’ll get hurt, and if I fall wrong one time, then my career is over.’ I’ve got to have the energy of the crowd, so that when I go down, I go down to the mat hard. So instead, we just walked through the match.”

“The whole issue I had was what if we got to Toronto, and this doesn’t work? So sure enough, when we go to Toronto, I give The Rock one big push, and the place explodes. Then I pushed him again, as we planned, and the place explodes again. [WWE] thought I was gonna get booed. Then I start chopping meat on him, and with every hit the place is going crazy. Then I did what was planned, blocking a punch, and as soon as he started hitting me came the boos.”

“I went down, and looked up and said, ‘You want me to fix this?’ And The Rock says, ‘Yeah, let’s fix it.’ I went, ‘OK, then listen to me.’ But it took him no time to get it right, because he is just so good in the ring. It took us three minutes to get it right, but if we’d done what we had practiced, they’d have booed us out of the [expletive] building. I’m not saying I could do it in every instance, but The Rock is so good, we could do that. The Rock doesn’t usually talk about planning his matches, so somebody must have made him worry that I was too old and too slow, and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work-rate. But once he got in the ring with me, he knew I had a feel for it, and we got it right. That’s what I wanted to do with ‘Stone Cold’, and Bret Hart, too.”

Back in 2012, The Rock tweeted about his match with Hogan.

It’s definitely an arguable point, that’s for sure.

What I Think Now

I haven’t watched the match in a while, probably since I wrote that review in 2012 five years ago. Since I haven’t watched it in five years, I had forgotten just how loud the crowd was. They went wild for everything that Hogan did. There were even points in the match where The Rock was booed even though he was arguably the most popular wrestler in WWE at the time.

They built up the nearfalls well, they had the crowd in the palm of their hands and even the ref bump made sense because it led to the use of weapons that were used by both men.

That pop when Hogan did his Hulk Up routine was insane. Wow. Once again, that was something I had forgotten about it, but it was so impressive to hear the people fire up for Hogan. Then when Rock kicked out they were so mad. It wasn’t about the fans hating Rock. They just loved seeing Hogan back “home” in a WWE ring again.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were fantastic on commentary. This was one of the biggest matches they ever called and I thought they nailed it in terms of putting over memorable moments as a big deal.

The match is a lot of fun. It’s probably my favorite Hogan match ever. If you have read my stuff for a long time you would know that I’m not a huge Hogan fan because of the way his matches were, but also some of the things he’s said and done in his life. With that said, I have no problem recognizing him as perhaps the most important wrestler in WWE history. In addition to that, I respect him a lot for what he did in his career. I grew up in the Hulkamania era, I understand why people love him and if I ever met him I would thank him for helping make me a fan of the business over 30 years ago. Sure, I loved Randy Savage more, but I can never deny what Hogan did in WWE.

What Happened Next

The crowd response to the return of Hulkamania was so strong that Vince McMahon decided to put the Undisputed (WWE) Title on Hulk Hogan again. Hogan beat Triple H for the Undisputed Title at Backlash one month after this. I was shocked by that because it meant only a one month title reign by Triple H. That was a big surprise because the guy that wins the WWE Title in the main event usually gets a longer title reign than the one month that Triple H got. It was a smart move, though, because of how hot Hogan was at the time.

The Rock’s movie career started to take off around this point. He was off TV for a couple of months, won the WWE Title at Vengeance 2002 in a great match with Kurt Angle and The Undertaker. One month later at SummerSlam 2002, Rock dropped the title to Brock Lesnar. Rock turned heel for his next run in 2003.

They did the match again at No Way Out 2003 in Montreal with The Rock in the heel role. It wasn’t nearly as good or as memorable as this match, but it was smart to do the match at least once more.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if you, the reader, is going to think that I underrated or overrated this match by putting it at #29 on this list. Some people might put it in the top 10 because it meant a lot to them. I don’t think the in-ring work is good enough to warrant that spot, but I still think it’s a four star match (out of five) that I enjoy a lot every time I watch. Some people may not think it should be in the top 30 because of flaws in the match such as Hogan being too old to bump over the top to the floor, so he just went under the rope at one point. It’s all up to you and your personal choice. I enjoyed it as a competitive match with a great story as well as one of the best crowd reactions I’ve ever seen. 

If you’ve seen the match then you’ll never forget it. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? It’s must see for any wrestling fan.

Rankings So Far

  1. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18
  2. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
  3. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
  4. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper @ WrestleMania 8
  5. Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 6

WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Thanks for reading. My contact info is below.

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John Canton – mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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