The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8, 2002)
This was a dream match that fans never thought would happen, as sports entertainment’s two biggest crossover celebrities faced off. After appearing in the first nine WrestleManias – and headlining almost all of those – Hogan was returning to the extravaganza for the first time in nine years. It also marked the first time that Hogan was a heel at WrestleMania.
The atmosphere at the SkyDome in Toronto was unlike anything I have ever witnessed, as the crowd was buzzing and flashbulbs were popping during the pre-match stare-down between the two iconic figures. Once they locked up, it was clear that the crowd of nearly 70,000 was overwhelmingly behind Hogan even though he was a heel entering this match. The fans cheered wildly when Hogan was on offense, and booed vociferously when Rock was on offense.
Like most of Hogan’s matches, it wasn’t a technical wrestling classic, but “The Hulkster” and “The Great One” took the fans on a thrilling ride, highlighted by a sensational finishing sequence. After both men kicked out of the other’s finisher, Hogan missed a second legdrop, and Rock hit two Rock Bottoms and the People’s Elbow to score the pinfall.
After the match, Hogan, who was clutching his injured ribs and had a sad puppy dog look on his face, offered to shake Rock’s hand, and Rock accepted the gesture of sportsmanship. Just like Hogan’s match with The Ultimate Warrior 12 years earlier – coincidentally, a match that also was at SkyDome – his humility in losing overshadowed his opponent’s victory.
Rock then began walking back up the ramp, when, suddenly, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, Hogan’s partners in crime in the nWo, hit the ring and attacked Hogan. Rock came back and made the save. Then, when Hogan started to leave the ring, Rock stopped him and encouraged him to do his pose-down routine for the fans, who ate it up. Rock and Hogan then headed back to the dressing room together. From the ring entrances to the post-match activities, Rock versus Hogan was truly something special.