The number one way to make money in pro wrestling is with a great feud. Nothing draws bigger at the box office than a rivalry pitting good vs. evil. Today I spotlight one of professional wrestling’s greatest feuds.
Over 25 years later all you have to do is mention Hulk Hogan vs. Paul Orndorff to the fans that lived it and you will get smiles and memories. Paul Orndorff vs. Hogan even decades later remains one of the most memorable rivalries of arguably the biggest period in pro wrestling. That is why it will always go down as one of pro wrestling’s greatest feuds.
Most fans think of the Hogan vs. Orndorff series as the great 86-87 run. Yet there was a prelude to this great rivalry that actually traces back two years earlier. Paul Orndorff was red hot as a heel when Hogan returned to the WWF. Hogan immediately beat the Iron Sheik and Hulkamania was born. But as most wrestling fans know, every babyface needs a great heel. Orndorff was that heel and became Hogan’s first challenger in Madison Square Garden, the equivalent of headlining a pay per view.
The rivalry would peak at first WrestleMania as both men opposed each other in a tag team main-event. Yes the main storyline here was Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper, but I could argue that the event would not have been as successful with someone else. Orndorff was more than just a “partner” during the feud. He was tremendous in all of the promos leading up to the match. Orndorff took the fall in the match that led to a babyface turn and subsequent feud against Roddy Piper and Ace Orton.
Paul Orndorff was never able to breakthrough as a babyface the same he did as a heel. His natural cockiness and persona just didn’t play well as a hero. Plus, with Hulk Hogan at the top of the cards there was only so much room for Orndorff to grow as a babyface. Vince McMahon realized that and made the call turn Paul Orndorff and start one of the most successful feuds in pro wrestling history.
It all started with Adrian Adonis. Adonis began taunting Orndorff in his Flower Shop segments calling him “Hulk Junior.” For weeks Orndorff went from being Hogan’s tag team partner to a paranoid and at times jealous friend. The seed was planted and the angle kicked into a gear during a “televised phone call” between Orndorff and Hogan. Hogan was “too busy to come to the phone” which infuriated Orndorff. The two then agreed to team up against the Moondogs. Orndorff practically wrestled the match himself, refusing to tag in Hogan, thus sucking up most of the spotlight. The angle peaked the next week during a tag team match against the Bobby Heenan managed team of Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy.
What was most impressive here is that everyone saw this one coming yet it still made a major impact. During the match Hogan and Orndorff collided. Orndorff favored his eye and refused to help Hogan out during double teams. Orndorff finally rescued Hogan and cleared the ring. In one of the most memorable moments in pro wrestling, Orndorff raised Hogan’s and then clotheslined him. Orndorff proceeded to pick up Hogan and deliver his signature the move the piledriver. Hogan vs. Orndorff Version 2.0 was on!
In retrospect I think what made this angle so great was that it was the first time since returning to the WWF and beating the Iron Sheik that Hulk Hogan was laid out and vulnerable. Finally after running through the competition for two years, fans saw someone as a serious threat to Hogan. To add fuel to the fire, Orndorff aligned himself with Bobby Heenan. The Orndorff and Heenan duo cut some of the greatest promos in wrestling history during this run and became one of the most hated pairings in WWF history.
Hogan vs. Orndorff sold out almost everywhere. The two drew record houses. Orndorff and Hogan headlined the “Big Event” on April 28, 1986 in Toronto and drew over 60,000 fans on top. This wasn’t even a pay per view nor was it promoted on national television. Roddy Piper would also find himself back in this mix but on the other side. After a babyface turn, Piper and Hogan would team up against Orndorff and a variety of partners across the country. Unlike other feuds which had great angles and lousy matches, the two had magic and delivered some of the most exciting matches of the period.
The feud peaked on a Saturday Night’s Main Event NBC special in January 1987 (although taped in December 1986). Hogan vs. Orndorff headlined the show in one of the most controversial Steel Cage Matches in WWF or WWE history. Orndorff and Hogan exited the cage at the same time with referee Danny Davis declaring Orndorff the winner and referee Joey Marella declaring Hogan the winner. The exits were replayed with various angles with both men shown touching the floor at the same time. The match was restarted with Hogan winning and thus ending the feud.
Paul Orndorff would officially end his run as a babyface by firing Bobby Heenan on television. Once again Orndorff was never able to fully retain that same momentum as a babyface. Part of this is because Orndorff was severely injured in a match against Roddy Piper during the heel run and had to work a reduced schedule. Even casual fans at the time could see that Paul Orndorff was never the same in the ring in later years due to the injury. It was almost as if Paul Orndorff went from being one of the hottest stars in the pro wrestling business to just another face in the crowd overnight.
There are so many reasons that Hulk Hogan vs. Paul Orndorff goes down as one of the most memorable rivalries of the 80s. The obvious would be the money the feud drew. Another reason would be angle that kicked it off which while predictable, hit a home run. The chemistry between the two in the ring was undeniable. But I think most impressive of all is that the second version was better than the first. Many great feuds are often repeated in pro wrestling, yet rarely do they ever come close to the success of the first. Hogan vs. Orndorff was the exception to the rule which makes this one of wrestling’s greatest feuds.
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