"Unreleased" Hogan DVD great if not exactly true
MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
In the new three-disc set Hulk Hogan's Unreleased Collector's Series, the narration declares: "For the past three decades, the vast majority of Hulk Hogan's recorded history remained locked in the vaults of the WWE ... until now." That's not entirely true, as several of these matches have been seen by WWE Classics on Demand subscribers over the past five years.
In addition, several of these so-called "never-before-released gems" can be found on various commercially released WCW videos from the '90s -- pay-per-views like Slamboree, Bash at the Beach, and Souled Out. What can be said though, is none of these matches have been previously released on WWF Coliseum Videos from the '80s, or available on any previously released WWE DVDs.
Having said that, even the most die-hard Hulk Hogan marks will likely appreciate the careful consideration given to the selection of matches and venues, along with some alternate commentary from Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler. From Hogan's earliest matches in 1979 against jobbers like Harry Valdez, Steve King and Angelo Gomez to a riveting see-saw battle with Kurt Angle from Smackdown! in 2002, this third and latest WWE-produced Hulk Hogan DVD set is packed with 27 matches, along with archival interviews and promos from Hogan's illustrious career.
The segments that set up each match are especially thorough, as clips of Hogan -- then known as Sterling Golden -- wrestling in Georgia Championship Wrestling tell the story of his first years in the business, before some of his earliest WWF televised matches, with his manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie by his side on programs like Championship Wrestling and All Star Wrestling.
The first disc of the set offers nine solid matches, with my favourite being a 1980 bout at the Philadelphia Spectrum, as "The Fabulous" Hulk Hogan challenged WWWF World Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund for the title. Old-school fans of Hogan's early-'80s matches will especially enjoy the new commentary delivered by Ross and Lawler as they narrate this, "David & Goliath story between the bigger, more arrogant antagonist and the smaller, courageous, fan favourite."
Indeed, this one is a classic as old-school fans will appreciate the abilities of Hogan and Backlund, along with the opportunities they have to really tell a story in the ring -- a dying art. Ross agrees, "I enjoy the strategies and how they unfold, and how the strategies are utilized. This is a different style and pace then what fans today are familiar with." While Backlund applies a side headlock for the majority of the contest, Ross shares some insight on the effectiveness of the maneuver and delivers a history lesson on Ed "The Strangler" Lewis.
Lawler, on the other hand, makes observations on Hogan's personal grooming, during the 10-minute duration of Backlund's side headlock on Hogan: "Hulk Hogan was one of the first wrestlers I ever saw shave his back hair," said Lawler. "Hogan would take a long shoe horn and tape a razor to it to shave his back, and when I saw that, I thought it was pretty ingenious and did that myself for years!" JR responded, "Hogan once told me that his body hair was reminiscent of George 'The Animal' Steele, and how later that was not the look he wanted to achieve as a 'superhero.'"
Once Hogan finds his way out of Backlund's side headlock, Hogan counters with a wristlock, a drop toe hold, followed by a series of short arm scissors (for those naysayers who claim Hogan could never wrestle, check out this match, or any of his early-'80s matches against Antonio Inoki in Japan). "Matches like this were invaluable to Hogan as he his truly going to school and learning while wrestling Backlund," says Lawler, who spoke of wrestling "a very wet behind the ears" Hogan in Memphis. As Hogan applies a bear hug (his finishing maneuver at the time), JR and Lawler speak at length about Backlund's cardiovascular conditioning and work out regimen, now legendary within the business.
As the match really picks up, it's interesting to see Hogan deliver his leg drop, as JR points out, "would become more modified, more pronounced, and certainly more famous," in the years to come. But the highlight, for me, would be the display of Backlund's "freakish strength," as JR and Lawler agreed was remarkable. Clearly, Backlund handled the 330-pound Hogan with ease, using vertical suplexes, a piledriver, and later an airplane spin (out on the floor!). "Backlund may be nearly as strong as (Hogan)," said Lawler.
In addition, it was fascinating to see the crowd beginning to cheer Hogan 20 minutes into the match while booing Backlund -- foreshadowing what lay ahead for Hogan in the years to come. And though the match ended without a pin or submission, the Philadelphia fans were on their feet -- as I nearly was just sitting in my living room, watching the event 30 years later.
My second-favourite rarity on the three-disc set followed, with an epic confrontation between Hogan and Andre the Giant, once again a foreshadowing of things to come as the two legends would meet at Wrestlemania III, seven years later. Once again, JR and Lawler offer fresh commentary looking back on this historic piece of footage from September 22, 1980 in Madison Square Garden (just six weeks after their classic 1980 "Showdown at Shea" match).
But what makes this bout especially fun is special referee, Gorilla Monsoon, who seven years later, as JR points out, would be doing commentary for the Hogan/Andre main event at the Pontiac Silverdome in front of 93,000 fans, delivering the famous line, "It is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." With Blassie at ringside, JR points out that this match involves four future WWE Hall of Famers. And it doesn't disappoint as both combatants go toe-to-toe for the majority of the match, trading blows, as Monsoon does a great job officiating while keeping Blassie in check at ringside.
For those who have never seen a Hogan versus Andre match from 1980, or the classic confrontations they had in Japan earlier that same year, this is truly a classic as the veteran, Andre the Giant at 34 years of age could deliver a great match with some impressive maneuvers he could no longer perform in the years to come.
The Hogan versus Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan in a Handicap Match from the AWA in 1981 is entertaining, as one might expect from a match involving Heenan and his efforts to stay out of the action unless he can have the upper hand. Oddly, there are no bouts from Hogan's first two years as WWF Heavyweight Champion, as they jump to Hogan defending his title against Randy "Macho Man" Savage at a Detroit house show in 1986.
As someone who saw Hogan wrestle live several times throughout 1984-85, I would have loved to have seen Hogan's title match against The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) from St. Louis (2/10/84), or the infamous "Minnesota Massacre" bloodbath against "Dr. D" David Shults, available on the WWF Coliseum Video, Hulkamania. Or how about a rematch versus The Iron Sheik from the Philadelphia Spectrum? The previous Hulk Hogan WWE DVD releases, Hulk Still Rules (2002) and The Ultimate Anthology (2006) offered little from Hogan's early run as champion as well, with the exception of an outdoor stadium match against Big John Studd in Puerto Rico, where it poured rain. Clearly, there must have been some classics in the vaults as Hogan defended the title during this time against Cowboy Bob Orton, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and Brutus Beefcake. As a long-time fan of the Moondogs, I would have especially enjoyed seeing the one-time televised bout where Hogan defended the WWF title against Moondog Rex (now that's what you call a rare gem!).
Regardless, the matches that follow are still top notch and oozing with nostalgia as Hogan and Junkyard Dog take on the team of Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy at Maple Leaf Gardens from May 4, 1986. Not only was I reminded of how revered Hogan and JYD were at this time, but also how unique the lighting and camera angles were when house shows were filmed in "the Mecca of professional wrestling," Maple Leaf Gardens, as Gorilla Monsoon would say. As a fan who attended numerous WWF shows at Maple Leaf Gardens during this era, it's a blast from the past to see wrestlers walking down that huge ramp that led from the dressing room to the ring.
Ross and Lawler return with new commentary for the 1987 match between Hulk Hogan and Kamala. I enjoyed hearing insightful stories from Lawler talking about how Kamala had his very first match in the United States against "The King." During this fairly short but action-packed match, JR makes mention of the late Paul Boesch, and his years as a wrestling promoter in Houston. The bout that follows, and concludes disc one, is Hogan defending the title that same year at the historic Boston Garden against Killer Khan. This one features commentary from Gorilla Monsoon and the "Duke of Dorchester" Pete Doherty (whose voice can be a bit grating). Like all the other bouts on disc one, it's a solid match as Hogan overcomes the nefarious Killer Khan along with his manager, Mr. Fuji.
For me, the content on disc one overshadows everything to come on discs two and three -- and understandably so, as I believe Hogan's best matches took place during the first half of the '80s, wrestling for the WWF, AWA, and in Japan. If WWE wanted to truly deliver something unreleased and unexpected, it would have been great to offer some of Hogan's matches from New Japan, as they did with the Coliseum Home Video release, Hulkamania 6, where Hogan and Stan "The Lariat" Hansen beat each other to a bloody pulp as the match spilled into the Japanese audience. Or how about Hogan versus Abdullah the Butcher in 1982? To illustrate how Hogan could adapt to the Japanese style of wrestling from that era, it would have been a treat to see some of his early-'80s matches against Japanese superstars, Riki Choshu or Akira Maeda, if WWE has access to the footage.
But what they deliver is nothing to complain about, as disc two illustrates how Hogan personified a courageous hero, taking on the likes of the One Man Gang (Philadephia '87), Big Bossman (Los Angeles '88), and a rare title defence against "Ravishing" Rick Rude from the Boston Garden. As stated earlier, though, some of these matches have been seen on WWE Classics on Demand, even in recent months, like Hogan's title defence against Earthquake from Madison Square Garden '90, or his bout with Haku (where Hogan comes to the ring wearing that ridiculous red-and-yellow war bonnet with the fist on top), from Los Angeles in '88.
Rather than an easily forgettable title defence against Haku (which felt just as random as Hogan versus Sika, or Hogan versus Dino Bravo), it would have been great if they dug deeper into the vault for the one-and-only time Hogan and Andre battled inside a steel cage, from July 31, 1988 at the outdoor Wrestlefest held in the Milwaukee County Stadium. Another rare treasure would have been one of Hogan's few title defences against Jake "The Snake" Roberts (where Roberts claims on the WWE DVD release, Pick Your Poison that the fans were cheering for him, and booing Hogan -- resulting in the WWF pulling the plug on future matches between the two).
But once again, there's plenty here to enjoy, as I especially appreciated seeing a rare 1988 tag team match between Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Ted "The Million Dollar Man" DiBiase and Virgil, from Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, ON. And it's these carefully considered matches from small house shows that really bring charm to the DVD set, that take me back to that classic era in WWF history when events would come to my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, several times a year.
Disc two concludes with a match I had never seen before between Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter, in London, England, just weeks after their historic battle at Wrestlemania VII. It's a rematch for the WWF title, and while it's a solid match with lots of interference from General Adnan Al-Kassie, it unfolds virtually the same as their Wrestlemania bout. The last match is the much anticipated, Hogan vs. "Nature Boy" Ric Flair from '91, at Madison Square Garden. The segment that sets it up is well done, as they show the cover of a Wrestling Superstars magazine from years earlier, with the headline, "Superstars Dream Match: Flair vs. Hogan!" Once again, this match was recently aired on WWE Classics on Demand, but it's a historical piece of history to own on DVD nonetheless.
Disc three kicks off with a segment on Hogan joining WCW, and from there we get a number of mid-'90s encounters featuring Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting, The Giant, and Bret "Hitman" Hart. The highlight amidst the WCW-era bouts offered is the outdoor steel cage match at Bash at the Beach '95, between Hogan and Vader. The fun really gets going when Hogan gets his hands on that big, futuristic elephant-like mask that Vader wears to the ring, and starts head butting Vader with his own mask as Dennis Rodman, at ringside, cheers on Hogan. As someone who appreciates alternative venues to the standard indoor arena, I found this match to be fascinating with the beach and ocean as the backdrop to the steel cage.
As I make my way towards the end of the three-disc set, I'm aware of the vast number of announcers who have called Hogan's matches over the years, as the voices heard on the DVD set include everyone from Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel to Tony Schiavone, Ron Trongard, Craig DeGeorge, Ken Resnick, and Lord Alfred Hayes. As well, like so many WWE-produced releases, the segments created to bridge the matches and tell the back story are so well done -- illustrating Hogan's turn from loathsome villain with the NWO back to a beloved hero in the WWE in 2002.
Quite fitting, the final matches on the three-disc set include some solid bouts on RAW and Smackdown! against Ric Flair and Triple H, along with a tag team match between WWE Tag Team Champions, Hogan and Edge against the flamboyant team of Billy and Chuck.
And where WWE especially got it right was concluding with the memorable Hogan versus Kurt Angle match from August 1, 2002 on Smackdown! Watching this back-and-forth classic, it's evident that this was the very best Hogan could offer at this point in his career. And it doesn't disappoint, as Hogan not only delivers some great offense, but takes a beating from Angle as well with a series of back suplexes, along with the Angle Slam -- all executed with perfection. After the match, Hogan takes a perfectly executed F-5 from Brock Lesnar, setting up their match on the following week's Smackdown!
There are a few extras as well, featuring some more rare archival footage of locker room interviews with Gorilla Monsoon, a TNT segment, along with some memorable promos spanning the last three decades.
The segment that concludes the entire set speaks of Hulk Hogan's immortality, as an enduring name in sports entertainment, and one who continues to influence generations of Hulkamaniacs. Clips of Hogan's WWE Hall of Fame speech are included, as Hogan graciously credits the fans for the reason the wrestling business still exists today.
And though I can think of so many "unreleased" great matches that could have been included on Hulk Hogan's Unreleased Collector's Series, I recommend this three-disc set as possibly my favourite DVD release yet, honouring the career of Hulk Hogan -- and that includes the extensive Hulkamania series on Coliseum Video.
I can only hope that someday soon, WWE opens its vaults for a second edition of the Unreleased Collector's Series. Because in case you haven't heard, Hulkamania will live forever.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Hulk Hogan's Unreleased Collector's Series is officially released Tuesday, November 17th.
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Marshall Ward is a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle. Email is welcome at email@example.com.