By Mike Mooneyham

March 17, 2002

It’s the biggest night of the year in professional wrestling as the WWF presents the 18th version of its showcase event this evening at the sold-out Toronto SkyDome in Toronto. Wrestlemania X8 will feature the past vs. the future – Hulk Hogan, the man who helped Vince McMahon transform the company into a national phenomenon in the mid-’80s, against The Rock, the WWF’s franchise player and its biggest mainstream celebrity.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Hogan, indeed, did more than any other performer to establish the WWF as wrestling’s premier organization, but that was a generation ago, a period that saw the company rocked by a sex and steroid scandal, only to survive and enjoy a booming rebirth during the late ’90s.

No small part of that renaissance was due to third-generation star Dwayne Johnson, whose characterization of The Rock helped propel the WWF to the kind of crossover popularity it first enjoyed when Hogan was the darling of the business nearly two decades ago. Hogan, like the WWF itself, has reinvented himself many times since then. But it’s painfully apparent that his days as an in-ring headliner are nearing an end.

Hogan, who turns 49 in August and looks to have aged considerably since his last stint with WCW two years ago, is now more than ever feeling the effects of nearly 25 years in the business and has reportedly been dealing with a number of physical ailments, including injured ribs suffered during his first match back with Rikishi at a house show two weeks ago in Tampa. He recently told Reuters news service that he was motivated to return by both a desire to be “the Babe Ruth of wrestling” and an admonition by his 88-year-old father, who passed away late last year, to go back to the profession.

“I was generating a ton of income and didn’t think I wanted to do something I’d already done,” Hogan said, admitting “there’s an ego thing” involved in his return.

So far, Hogan’s return and the resurrection of the NWO have done little to push ratings, which have remained fairly stagnant for the past month. A match last Monday night billed as “the biggest Raw main event in history” – Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash against The Rock and Steve Austin – did little to boost Raw’s numbers. The show, which reportedly drew a thumbs up from Vince McMahon, scored a disappointing 4.5 rating for the third straight week.

Hogan, who headlined all of the early Wrestlemanias, finds himself tonight in the same Toronto SkyDome ring where he “passed the torch” to The Ultimate Warrior (Jim Hellwig) 10 years earlier. This time, however, there’s no torch to pass; it’s long been in the firm grasp of New Millennium stars such as The Rock, Austin and Triple H.

With The Rock, 20 years Hogan’s junior, taking the tired legdrop and doing the job Monday night, look for the “People’s Champion” to finish off the Hulkster with his Rock Bottom at Mania and send the more than 60,000 SkyDome fans home happy.

• George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Wrestlemania pay-per-view tonight beginning at 7 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

• The WWF will be split into two promotions as part of its next big angle following Wrestlemania. One group will be led by Vince McMahon, the other by Ric Flair. The split is expected to begin on the March 25 Raw.

• Jim Ross told TSN’s “Off The Record” show last week that he was disappointed Bret Hart decided to pass up an offer to appear at Wrestlemania as a special ref. “I would have loved to have seen Bret at WrestleMania; I’d like to see Bret back in our locker room on a regular basis,” said Ross. “But I was a little disappointed that the discussions he had internally, that I am under the understanding were confidential discussions, were made public. He’s what (Wayne) Gretzky was to the Edmonton Oilers. He was the guy. He deserves all the accolades he’s earned, but it would be great if he were here to help us and get past Survivor Series 97.”

• UPN’s airing of the “WWF Divas: Sex on the Beach” tied for last place among all network programming Wednesday night with a 1.6 rating. The FOX celebrity boxing special that featured the Tonya Harding-Paula Jones debacle drew a 9.1 in the same time slot.


• Jerry Jarrett has joined the wrestling promotions sweepstakes with his plan to run weekly shows available only on pay-per-view for a reported $9.95 per event. The promotion would likely be built around Jarrett’s son, Jeff, who most recently appeared as the WWA heavyweight champion.

• The XWF last week canceled house show dates for March 28-30 in Toledo, Ohio; Port Huron, Mich.; and Battle Creek, Mich. The XWF was originally scheduled to hold the shows in January, but postponed the events until this month.

• Troy Graham, a main-event performer in Memphis during the early ’80s as the masked Dream Machine, died of heart failure at his home in Memphis on March 7. Graham, 47, whose real name was Troy Roland Thompson Jr., teamed with Bobby “Porkchop” Cash as the original Bruise Brothers tag team.

• Tony Gonzales, who appeared as one of the Mysterious Masked Medics during the ’60s and ’70s, died of heart failure at the age of 72 March 4 at his South Mobile, Ala., home.

Gonzales teamed with Don Lortie as the original Medics and later with Pierre DeGlane.

• Bob Holly was surprisingly candid in a recent interview when asked about the return of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Said Holly: “I wasn’t happy to see them come back, just because of the experiences before. It just wasn’t a good environment back then. And I hope it’s not like that again. I don’t think it will be, because I don’t think any of the boys are going to put up it – especially me. I’ve worked too long and too hard to get where I’m at.”

• Bret Hart called Triple H the biggest punk in wrestling during a phone interview with Much Music on Friday.

• Sometimes you do, indeed, have to leave your brain – or at least your suspension of disbelief – at the door while watching WWF programming. Last week on Raw viewers were treated to Ric Flair being scrutinized by the WWF “board of directors” for his recent actions. But for some reason that same august board failed to convene last year when Vince drugged his wife and kept her wheelchair-bound in a rest home prior to last year’s Wrestlemania.

• WWF writers may have gone a little overboard with last week’s depiction of dog Lucy getting run over by a limo on Raw, and then replaying the fictional violence on Smackdown.

• An independent show scheduled April 13 in Davie, Fla., has an interesting four-way main event: Terry Funk vs. Dusty Rhodes vs. Kevin Sullivan vs. Abdullah The Butcher. Can anyone say “bloodbath?”