I am not a big fan of “what ifs” but a recent podcast discussion got me thinking. What would have happened in 1984 if Hulk Hogan wasn’t available to the WWF? Who could Vince McMahon Jr. pick to beat the Iron Sheik and lead his quest to take over the world of pro wrestling?
A recent podcast at drew my attention to this topic. The guys had a fascinating discussion about the best choice to become WWWF champion in 1978 if Bob Backlund wasn’t available? The podcast immediately prompted me to think about the same question but in regards to a Hogan-alternative. Thus it didn’t take long to stop the podcast and start typing this blog.
I looked back at the era and quite frankly it was very difficult to find more than a handful of guys that could have even came close to filling Hogan’s shoes. That said let me be clear. I don’t think any of these guys would have had the impact on the business that Hogan had. Like him or not he was truly one of a kind and irreplaceable. So what I had to do was look at the next best alternative and who was available.
This list is certainly open for argument. It’s completely subjective to my opinion and I’d love to hear from you in the comments area if you feel different or agree with the choices. So let’s slip into Vinnie Mac’s shoes, evaluate the lay of the land, and take a look at his ten best options to captain the WWF ship.
Dusty Rhodes – In Dusty’s autobiography he claims that Vince McMahon Sr. asked him to be his top guy during national expansion. Nobody will ever be able to confirm that so take it what it is worth, especially since Vince Sr. wound up selling to his son anyway. Yet even with that questionable story I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Dusty would have been the best alternative if Hogan wasn’t available.
Dusty already had national exposure as he traveled around the country headlining for every territory. Dusty had charisma right on par with Hogan and was a better promo. Dusty could have reached that blue collar/common man that Hogan couldn’t. Dusty could also work his behind off and would have given fans the same show Hogan did minus the flexing.
Could Dusty have sustained the run that Hogan did? I don’t know about that. Dusty’s act was wearing thin in WCW/JCP when he left. Dusty was booked just like Hogan and fans didn’t get tired of Hogan for several years. If you look at Dusty’s run in JCP/WCW I’d say right at about mid-1988 he started losing some of his appeal. That would have given Dusty a four-year run on top. It would have been tough to keep him going after that but I can’t think of anyone better than the Dream for this top job.
Kerry Von Erich – Now the chances of getting Kerry would have been slim to none since Fritz was still in business but you really never know. What if Vince cut Fritz in on a deal that Fritz couldn’t refuse? I have to think that Vince and Fritz could have come up with some common interests to make a deal. In 1984 I don’t know if there was a more marketable guy on top than Kerry. Take his personal issues out of the equation and I could argue that he may have had just as much if not more success on top than Hogan. He had a phenomenal look, he had youth going for him, he could certainly work on par with Hogan, he had some of the best charisma in the business, yet the only thing missing was his promos. I think he could have captured that teenage girl audience on a national level that even Hogan couldn’t do.
Now could Kerry have had a five-year run on top like Hogan did? He could have but I don’t know if he would have been able to sustain the popularity that Hogan had. The promos would have really hurt after a few years. It also has to be noted that his personal issues would have caught up with him and it wouldn’t have been pretty for Vince. I love the thought of Kerry as the Hogan-guy but there was a ton of risk to go with that potential reward.
Jimmy Snuka – Here is where we dip a bit from our 1-As. I don’t think Snuka would have had anywhere near the success of Dusty or Kerry. Snuka was unquestionably the most popular guy in the WWF before Hogan arrived. Fans were clamoring to see Snuka take a title, a title he was never able to win in the WWF. The biggest problem with Snuka was his outside of the ring issues, the same issues that precluded him from an intercontinental title run.
I think he would have been fine as an interim champion for a few months, but he would have had a really short shelf life. His act was pretty one-dimensional and I don’t know if he would have been able to mesh with the new talent coming in. I certainly couldn’t see him appealing to the Rock and Wrestling crowd that Dusty or Kerry could have. He could have been an emergency choice if Hogan no-showed but he wasn’t the answer.
Andre the Giant – Andre is an interesting name as he was even brought up in the podcast as a potential Backlund-alternative in 1978. I thought of Andre immediately as you’d have a guy that was truly the unbeatable champion on top. I think like Snuka, he would have been a great emergency choice but would have had a very short shelf-life in that spot.
There was a reason you didn’t see Andre in your town every month. He didn’t have that kind of appeal. He would have burnt out quickly coming back monthly and let’s be honest. His health was already deteriorating at this point. There is no chance he would have physically been able to endure a lengthy run at the top. The one intangible I do think Andre could have brought that the others could not is that the guy who beat Andre for the belt was going to be an instant legend. You can’t say that about anyone else here. Andre would have made a great champion to transition a new guy like Paul Orndorff or Randy Savage into a credible top star. Other than that and some great houses for the first few months I don’t see it working over the long haul.
Barry Windham – To me Barry Windham would have been a great investment. Barry wasn’t a guy that was going to fill that spot immediately like a Dusty, Kerry, or even Snuka. But, you could have brought Barry in, introduced him, given Sheik a few more months with the title, and had B.W. pull off a major upset on his way to the races.
By 1984 Barry was one of the best workers in the country. He was already on his way to the WWF in a few months. Barry had the size, look, skill, charisma, and could cut some great babyface promos at this stage in his career. I don’t know if he could have related to the Rock and Wrestling crowd like some others, but I think he would have been passable. Unfortunately Barry always seemed to have his personal issues which prevented him from ever getting “the run” anywhere. I can’t help but think he would have imploded here as well.
Sgt Slaughter – If you lived this era of wrestling like I did, you know that Slaughter gave Hogan a hell of a run for his money for that top babyface spot. Now keep in mind that Slaughter had not turned babyface yet at this point so nobody would have truly known his potential. Yet with the hindsight of history I think we can all agree he would have made a great alternative.
Think about it. Vince could have booked that same Sheik-Slaughter angle yet now the storyline would have the WWF world championship in the balance. The feud as hot as it was would have been even hotter. Slaughter was a great worker and there is no doubt he connected with fans. I do think his act would have been very short lived as WWF champion. I just don’t see Slaughter sustaining that same level of popularity for five years. Slaughter’s run while hot, was incredibly brief so we’ll never truly know. I do know that he never connected after he left the WWF the same way he did in the WWF. He would have been a fantastic choice but only for about a year.
Roddy Piper – Roddy Piper would have been the most intriguing choice on this list. Roddy was still new to the company and was immediately one of the hottest heels in the business. So for this to work he would have either had to go babyface sooner than he should have or beaten another transition guy (who beat Sheik, maybe Snuka or even Andre?). There are a lot of moving parts here but I think Roddy could have done some big things in that spot.
Roddy was a successful babyface in several territories throughout his career. There is no denying that his promos would have compensated any deficiencies in Piper’s game. Unlike most of these guys, I think Piper could have had just as long of a run as Hogan, not as successful, but successful nonetheless on top. Again, his promos would have made any championship match interesting. Unfortunately there are a lot of segments Piper would have had difficulties connecting with which would have capped his impact.
Paul Orndorff – Like Roddy, Orndorff was still new to the WWF at the time and was on his way to becoming a very hot heel. For this to work Orndorff would have had to turn babyface and while he got over tremendously as a face, this would have been a little too soon. I am also not so sure he would have clicked with the many segments of fans that some of the others on this list would have. Still, he had the body, the skills, the charisma, and the promo to give you a viable alternative to the Hulkster in the interim.
Tito Santana – Hear me out before you laugh. Tito was one of the best workers in the United States in 1984. He was arguably the best worker in the WWF at this time. I dare you to watch his matches with Don Muraco and Greg Valentine and come away thinking anything less. If you wanted a workhorse in that top spot, Tito would have been your guy.
Bob Backlund – What about staying with Backlund? He stuck around for a little while and fans were already accustomed to seeing him in that spot. He was still drawing big crowds although he was certainly struggling in some cities. Staying with Backlund would have been an easy choice if Hogan didn’t show up on that January night in Garden but he wasn’t a Vince Jr. guy. He wouldn’t have been the guy to take the company national that Vince wanted on top. As a transition champion, he’d probably be your best choice. I wouldn’t count on him for anything more and this comes from one of the bigger Backlund fans you’ll find.
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