As the calendar turned to 1990, Hulk Hogan was the reigning world champion of the then-WWF. In spite of his insane popularity however, a rising tide was brewing that couldn’t be ignored. A young lion was angling to take the baton from Hogan, whether he wanted to relinquish it or not.
As World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior signed the paperwork to compete in The Ultimate Challenge, the WWF was at a crossroads. Hogan had been its standard bearer for over six years. Warrior was the new kid on the block, whose fan base was beginning to grow louder and louder, to the point it couldn’t be ignored any longer.
The two were set to face off in what many would call one of the most anticipated matches in Wrestlemania history, in front of 67,000 fans at Toronto’s Skydome. WWF President Jack Tunney announced that both titles would be on the line- something that had never taken place before. Anticipation rose to previously unseen heights, as fans couldn’t wait to see who would win The Ultimate Challenge.
When the bell finally rang, Hogan showed his experience, carrying Warrior through the early stages of the match. Warrior looked pretty blown up by the seven-minute mark, and they engaged in several ‘rest holds’. While neither Hogan nor Warrior were considered great mat technicians by any stretch, the two put on an emotional classic, with both men’s fan bases getting the opportunity to root on their respective hero.
Eventually, The Hulkster went into his usual superman comeback routine, warning Warrior that no longer would he take any punishment from him. He hit his signature three punches, the big boot, and then bounced off the ropes for the legdrop- only Warrior moved out of the way. Warrior then hit the ropes, landed his big splash, and covered Hogan for what was barely a three-count. The crowd popped, and the unthinkable had occurred- Hulk Hogan had just suffered his first clean pinfall loss as a babyface.
What’s interesting is that while Hogan may have lost the match, he won over the fans in the Skydome that night, and as Jesse “The Body” Ventura would say over commentary, ‘Hulkamania just took one giant step toward immortality’. Hogan was somehow even more over than when he walked into the building, and a good portion of the crowd’s eyes were on him, as opposed to the Warrior, as he exited the arena.
The Ultimate Warrior would go on to hold the title for nine months, and would be out of the company altogether just 16 months later. Hogan would regain the title exactly a year later, and would go on to be recognized by many as the biggest star in the history of the business.
Babyface vs babyface matches have become more common since the Attitude Era, but back in these times, this match was completely cutting-edge, and unlike anything we’d seen up until this point. This truly was, as Gorilla Monsoon would say, the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.