Pradeep Kachhala will be recalling what made him fall in love with the wacky world of professional wrestling in this special series of articles. You can read part one here.
Your heroes always win. This is what Saturday morning cartoons, TV shows and movies taught you as a child in the 80s.
Back then, it is fair to say that our heroes like He-Man, BA Baracus and the Ninja Turtles were less nuanced, less conflicted than the modern age protagonist; we were years away from anti-heroes such as Tony Soprano, Walter White or Stone Cold Steve Austin.
In the 80s, the typical episodic journey for a hero would be; after some initial difficulty, emerging victorious over their foes before seeking their next challenge. As a child this is what was ingrained in my psyche, and these were my precise expectations heading into Wrestlemania 6, where Hulk Hogan would meet the Ultimate Warrior in a match dubbed “The Ultimate Challenge”. It was the first time in our memory that two babyfaces would challenge one another, and while this is rare today, it was even more uncommon in 80s/90s WWF.
As alluded to in my first article, I was a Hulkamaniac, whilst in contrast, my younger brother’s allegiances lay with the Ultimate Warrior.
I could never understand the appeal of the Ultimate Warrior as a babyface. From my point of view, Hogan was so much more relatable, in a kayfabe era he stood for values such as being faithful to God, his country and the rules of wrestling, (and yes we didn’t understand until later how the training and the “vitamins” were exactly linked).
On the surface at least Hogan’s opponent at Wrestlemania had all the hallmarks of what a babyface should be. He had an impressive physique as if chiselled out of granite, while his electrifying ring entrance and face paint made him stand out immediately from the roster of WWF Superstars of the era.
But below the surface what was the real appeal in the Ultimate Warrior? For example what exactly was he? Was he a Native American shaman? Was he an alien given his constant reference to spaceships? Where exactly was “parts unknown”? Why was he was always so angry and what on earth was he saying in his promos?
It was questions like these that made me doubt at the time whether the Warrior was on the same level as Hogan, and therefore I felt he had little chance of beating him at Wrestlemania. Hogan hardly lost, his previous televised defeat was in 1988 to Andre the Giant, and even then Million Dollar Man paid off the referee.
It was safe to say that from 1989 to 1990, fuelled by the emergence of satellite television, WWF was experiencing the start of a boom in the UK. WWF was everywhere from action figures to arcade games (WWF Superstars was available to play at the arcades at Drayton Manor Park, my elder brother and I spent many a 20p coin on this machine!) and magazines.
Every Saturday I would clean my dad’s cars, inside and out and receive £2, which I would then promptly spend at the local newsagents on the latest wrestling magazine, many of which I have kept to this day. So Wrestlemania 6 was the wrestling event of the period and there was a firm split across family and friends on who would be the victor.
Not only did Wrestlemania 6 have a great strapline in “The Ultimate Challenge” (has there been any better?) it had the venue and marketing to match. Big marquee stadium events didn’t happen often, and Wrestlemania 6 was the first large stadium event in three years, since the fabled 93,173 audience witnessed Wrestlemania 3 at the Silverdome in Detroit.
The event took place at the “Skydome” in Toronto, Canada. As a child I had no idea what a Skydome was, but it sounded pretty awesome. In my head I imagined a Roman amphitheatre in the clouds where 60,000 people would watch on in awe at the spectacle.
Ever since, I cannot help get a bit excited when a wrestling event is held at a “dome” venue. Sadly the Skydome was renamed “The Rogers Centre”, if anyone can think of a worse re-brand please let me know… (hey! I enjoyed my trip to the Rogers in 2016 – Ed)
While the venue was impressive, the poster was just incredible. One day Hooked on Wrestling should do a podcast of the top 10 Wrestlemania posters ever, and as a spoiler alert, this would be my number one by some distance.
What is so special about this poster? The lightning and intensity encapsulated in the poster along with the simple tagline. While Hogan and Warrior are depicted as two giants; titans ready to do battle amongst the mountains like the mythological Greek gods.
The build up to Wrestlemania 6 and the development of the feud began with a brief meeting at the 1990 Royal Rumble. The teaser introduced a previous unthought-of possibility at the time.
Warrior – who had consolidated his reign as the Intercontinental champion and was increasing in popularity – stood toe to toe with Hogan the WWF champion. It was a moment of fantasy booking in 1990 for fans: “What would happen if Hogan fought the Warrior?”
Given the need to protect both Superstars as babyfaces, the likes of Dino Bravo, Earthquake and Jimmy Hart were brought into the mix to develop the feud which was based on a series of misunderstandings and mistrust. Neither of the two were really at fault and the motive for the Ultimate Challenge really boiled down to either Superstar needing to know who the better man was.
The match and the day leading up to it was memorable even to this day. Wrestlemania 6 took place on 1/4/90 – and in accordance with the day, Sky pulled off an impressive April fool’s day joke. I cannot find this on the web, but in short Sky, announced that Wrestlemania 6 had been cancelled in place of The Flower Show!
Even more worrying for the Kachhala household was the fact that the cable aerial was broken and held together with copious amounts of sticky tape, it was a delicate situation. In addition, a few times during the event, which was shown live on Sky Movies, the sound cut off due to “technical difficulties”. This actually happened during the finish of the main event. It was only years later I had the opportunity to hear Gorilla Monsoon’s and Jesse Ventura’s entire commentary of the match.
Something my elder brother reminds me from time to time is the sense of foreboding in Hogan’s pre-match promo with Gene Okerlund. Hogan famously (in my brother’s opinion) stated
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or whether you lose”…the expectation had been subliminally set.
Certainly the Warrior’s promo was noted for its infamy (parodied on the WWE’s “Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior”), where he grunted and spoke incoherently about spaceships and whether Hogan wanted to live forever.
I did like the additional chest paint that the Warrior put on for his special day though. The Warrior was always good at changing his look at one of the highlights of his title reigns were the different coloured belts on display. It was the first time we had seen any sort of customisation of WWF titles.
Often main events, like major sports finals, can fail to live up to expectations. I would argue there have been better wrestlers pitted against one another at various Wrestlemanias over time who have not performed, or told the story that Warrior and Hogan did that night.
There were no high spots, tables crashing or catch-as-catch can style wrestling. However it told a great story, a true back and forth match where the result was due to very fine margins.
The finish was a major upset, as Hogan, hulked up like he had done so many times before, and went for his signature leg drop finish. The Warrior moved out of the way and landed a big splash of his own to win the WWF title as well as retaining his Intercontinental championship.
Hogan, ever the sportsman, tearfully handed over the WWF title, and the proverbial torch to the Warrior as the fireworks erupted. It was a symbolic attempt to launch a new era in the WWF.
While the match and event left a long lasting legacy, the follow on from the event can, in retrospect can be seen as a failure. Warrior never really reached Hogan level popularity, and within nine months his reign was cut short.
Amazingly despite numerous comebacks and false starts, Warrior never won a title or main evented at a Wrestlemania again. Unfulfilled potential or proof that he never had the relatability of Hogan? 8 years later they would face each other again at Halloween Havoc 1998, it was a poor imitation of their 1990 epic.
Many years before the Rock conquered both the ring and the silver screen, Hogan attempted to become the next Hollywood action hero. He took some time off after Wrestlemania to film Suburban Commando. When the Warrior experiment and Hogan’s attempt to oust Schwarzenegger and Stallone failed, Hogan would reclaim his WWF title at Wrestlemania.
Once again he adopted the role of the patriotic babyface against the controversial Iraqi sympathiser in Sergeant Slaughter. Arguably though, despite numerous comebacks, Hulkamania peaked at Wrestlemania 6 and the symbol of 80s WWF wrestling was beginning to win down. It would be six years until the formation of the NWO that Hogan would reinvent himself as a dastardly heel.
I was fortunate enough to attend Wrestlemania 24, where during his pre-match interview, Edge, was speaking about facing the Undertaker and attempting to break his streak. Edge mentioned how as an avid Hulkamaniac in live attendance at the Skydome his heart broke that night as Hogan was defeated. It was a comment which resonated with me too.
Predictably, within moments my elder brother texted me while I was in the stadium, once again expressing his schadenfreude about that night in Toronto, 28 years prior, when Hulkamania was conquered. It is examples of these, that even as grown adults, we can still refer to wrestling moments that shaped our childhood, and still bring them up as topics of humour.
Without doubt though, Wrestlemania 6 was one of the first huge wrestling moments in my lifetime. From the magic of the opening promo when Vince McMahon talks about stars, galaxies and powerful forces in the universe (if you have never seen it, please look it up!), to the shocking ending. The innocence of youth began to fade, harsh lessons were learnt and sometimes your heroes don’t always win.