On the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania V, let’s take a look back at the incredible feud between Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
So I’m feeling a little old today, folks. Thirty years. Seriously, has it really been 30 years since The Mega Powers exploded? To this day, the feud involving Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage that led to their World Wrestling Federation Championship Match at WrestleMania V remains my favorite professional wrestling storyline of all time and on the 30th anniversary of that match, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at what made this program so special.
April 2, 1989 may have been the official date of the match, but the build to this main event began all the way back on October 3, 1987. But let’s even hold off on that for just a moment. Even more than a year before that, Hogan and Savage toured the country at house shows putting on some great matches. The Hulkster was in the midst of becoming the most popular wrestler the business had ever seen (with all due to respect to Ric Flair, it’s true) but there was another man that was inching up the ladder rung by rung: Intercontinental Champion Randy Savage. Savage had won the Intercontinental title from Tito Santana at a house show in Boston in February 1986 and would go on to hold that prestigious title for more than a year. It was during that run that he and Hogan would battle often and it became clear that the chemistry between these two couldn’t be ignored.
Fast forward to March 29, 1987 and WrestleMania III as 93,173 people packed the Pontiac Silverdome to witness the greatest spectacle the wrestling business had ever seen. Savage had become one of the best heels in the business due to his vicious attack on Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat while Hogan had his hands full with Andre the Giant, leading to what would become one of the most important matches in history. But while fans packed in to see Hogan vs. Andre, it was Savage and Steamboat that would steal the show, putting on an epic contest that is still considered by many to be one of the best WrestleMania matches in history. Even in the loss, Savage had put the world on notice that he was a big star and wouldn’t play second fiddle to anyone, not even Hulk Hogan, who closed that night with the “slam heard around the world”, officially taking the torch from Andre as wrestling’s biggest draw.
It was a few months later that something started to happen. Savage began to get cheers. Fans were starting to respect what he could do in the ring and we certainly can’t forget about the X-factor surrounding the “Macho Man”, the lovely Miss Elizabeth, who I’ll openly admit was pretty much my first celebrity crush. As a kid, I could never understand how someone so classy and beautiful could stand by someone like Savage, who seemed so mean. Yes, that’s the thinking of a nine-year-old. So the slow turn of the “Macho Man” began, finally coming full circle on October 3, 1987 on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Savage was battling The Honky Tonk Man, who had defeated Steamboat for the Intercontinental Championship a few months earlier, and was suffering a vicious attack from Honky and The Hart Foundation, all of whom will actually be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Bret Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were holding Savage and Honky was about to blast him with the guitar. Then Liz threw herself in front of her man. In a shocking twist, the wanna-be Elvis shoved her to the ground, which was risky television at that time, and then she bolted to the back for help. Who did she bring down to help? That’s right, none other than Hulk Hogan. Hogan and Savage cleared the ring and then it happened: The Hulkster and the “Macho Man” ran into each other and were about to go to blows given their history but then the handshake to end all handshakes happened and The Mega Powers were born.
Seriously, if you’re an old-school wrestling fan and you haven’t shaken hands with one of your friends like that, you’re living life all wrong, friends. But I digress.
So I’m eight years old at this time and my mind is fully blown by all of this. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage? Together? This was the craziest thing in the world to me. Little did I know that this was the beginning to arguably the greatest build to a match in the company’s history. A few months go by and then the unthinkable happens. Hulk Hogan lost the World Wrestling Federation title.
On the February 5, 1988 episode of The Main Event, which to this day remains the most-watched event in professional wrestling history with 33 million viewers tuning in, Hogan lost the title in the highly-anticipated rematch with Andre the Giant. Granted, he didn’t really lose as he clearly had his shoulder up on the three-count, but he lost the title nonetheless in that crazy Hebner twin-referee angle. Andre would relinquish the title to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase about two minutes after winning it, but that didn’t hold up as WWF President Jack Tunney vacated the championship and set up a 16-man tournament for WrestleMania IV in Atlantic City. That day would become one of the biggest in Randy Savage’s career and further develop the story between he and Hogan.
It’s crazy to think how all of this came about behind the scenes, as Savage was originally supposed to win back the Intercontinental Championship from the Honky Tonk Man. However, Honky refused to drop the title and Savage was put in line for the world championship instead. What a bummer, right? It worked out for all involved as Hogan was taking some time off to film No Holds Barred, and with Randy becoming nearly just as big of a draw as Hulk, he was given the spotlight.
Savage fought through four men at WrestleMania IV, with Liz wearing a different dress for each match, and with the help of Hogan in the final match against Dibiase, the “Macho Man” won his first World Wrestling Federation Championship in dramatic fashion. It was truly one of the great WrestleMania moments when Savage lifted his real-life wife onto his shoulders. Naturally, Hogan was right there with them during the celebration, making the moment that much bigger in the eyes of the fans. If Savage wasn’t over before, that day certainly pushed him over the edge into superstardom.
Photo credit: WWE.com
We move ahead a few months to the inaugural edition of SummerSlam. The main event featured The Mega Powers and The Mega Bucks, a team comprised of Andre and Dibiase. Jesse “The Body” Ventura was the special guest referee for this affair, which at that time meant that the advantage was with the heel team given Ventura’s disdain for all things Hogan. The match went off as expected with Hogan and Savage fighting through the adversity, with a little help from Liz ripping off her skirt (my nine-year-old jaw must have dropped all the way to the floor when that happened) to pull out the victory with the classic finish on Dibiase. It was the big “Macho Man” elbow drop followed by the Hogan leg drop for the 1-2-3, even if Ventura needed a little help from Savage to finish the count. While the outcome of the match was great, the importance as it pertains to what we’re talking about here was the celebration. Obviously elated with the win, Hogan picked up Miss Elizabeth with his 24-inch pythons and Savage shot him a look that could cut through glass.
Now, here’s where reality becomes part of the story. It’s been documented over and over again about how jealous Savage could be when it came to Elizabeth. The two had been married for a number of years and he didn’t like anyone talking to her backstage, much less anyone picking her up and embracing her as it played out on television. So that look that he gave Hogan came from a real place. The soap opera was only beginning.
Photo credit: WWE.com
We now arrive at Survivor Series in November of 1988. The Mega Powers are still running strong and they team with Koko B. Ware, Hillbilly Jim and Hercules to take on the team of The Big Boss Man, Akeem, Dibiase, The Red Rooster and Haku in a traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Match. Naturally, the lower-tier players were taken out of the equation first and Hogan and Savage were left in a two-on-three situation against The Twin Towers and Haku. The Hulkster would eventually be handcuffed to the ropes by Boss Man while Savage took a massive beating in the ring, which would become a theme as this story progressed.
The Big Boss Man would get himself counted out as he beat Hogan on the outside and Akeem would get disqualified for contact with the referee. Miss Elizabeth would eventually get her hands on the keys to the cuffs and Hogan was freed. He jumped back on the apron as Haku was taking it to the “Macho Man”, pleading for a tag and was granted that wish when Haku kicked Savage right into him. Hogan finished things off to pick up the win for his team but once again, it was the celebration that became the focal point.
With Savage still reeling from the abuse he’d taken in the ring, Hogan would celebrate the victory with Elizabeth and he wasn’t just on the receiving end of a look from Savage this time around. He started pointing fingers at Hogan and things were getting chippy. But to a little naive nine-year-old, things were going to be okay. Best friends wouldn’t let a woman come between them, right?
Photo credit: WWE.com
The year turned and The Mega Powers were now fully into a program with The Twin Towers. By this time, Savage wasn’t the only one using Liz as a valet as Hogan had started bringing her to the ring for his singles matches as well, which didn’t sit well with the champion though he seemed to be trying to let it go. On an early-January edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Hogan was taking on Akeem in a one-on-one contest (which was actually a rematch of the first Hogan match I ever saw in person as a kid when Akeem was One Man Gang) and following the match, it was Hogan who was taking the beating from both big men. Savage was reluctant to help as he knew Hogan could fight back on his own, but after some coaxing from Liz he came and cleared the ring with a steel chair. Everything is roses again, right? Not even close.
Photo credit: WWE.com
Just a few weeks later, it was Royal Rumble time in Houston and both Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were scheduled to compete in the Rumble match itself. This was a few years before the stipulation was added about the winner receiving a title match at WrestleMania so the champion competing wasn’t a big deal. Right in the middle of the match, it was Hogan, Savage and Bad News Brown, with whom Savage had a good program the year before, and The Hulkster inadvertently eliminated the “Macho Man” while also eliminating Brown. Savage quickly jumped back into the ring and things actually got physical this time as he rushed Hogan and shoved him and then got right in his face for a heated discussion. Elizabeth then hit the ring to keep the peace and once again, all seemed well. “Thank God,” thought my younger self. These guys keep getting mad at each other but they always seem to work it out. Well, just a few weeks later, it couldn’t be worked out any longer.
Photo credit: WWE.com
Every man has a breaking point and for Savage, that came on February 3, 1989 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee during an episode of The Main Event. The Mega Powers were taking on The Twin Towers in tag team action and midway through the match, Akeem hurled Savage through the ropes and he crashed right into Elizabeth. She took a solid bump; if you go back and look closely, she took the full force of Savage’s weight and smacked her head on the concrete. Now think of nine-year-old me watching this unfold. The Mega Powers were losing and now Liz is hurt? What else could go wrong? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Photo credit: WWE.com
Hogan immediately rushed over to help, and that infuriated the “Macho Man”. It seemed as if he was less concerned with the health of Elizabeth and more concerned that it was Hogan who was trying to help her. He was dragged back into the ring to take yet another beating as The Hulkster picked Liz up and carried her to the back. At the time, it was the most chivalrous thing in the world to me. Now I’m just curious on why absolutely zero EMTs came to her aid at ringside. But let’s not get wrapped up in details like that.
Medical attention does finally arrive in the backstage area, while Hogan prays that Liz is okay at her bedside. She finally comes to and tells him to get back out there to help Savage, who meanwhile has been taking a lot of punishment in the ring. So Hogan makes his way back to the ring and jumps back up on the apron, much like he had done at Survivor Series. Savage finally does fight his way out of trouble and is able to make the tag. But it wasn’t just any tag. He grabs Hogan’s left hand for the official tag and then brutally slaps Hogan with his right. What is happening? Randy Savage just struck Hulk Hogan. And I don’t think I’ve mentioned thus far, but I was always a Hulkamaniac first and foremost so at this point, I’m just so angry at what’s happening.
What’s even better is how my sister came into play while this was happening. She’s not even a year older than me and she would only watch on occasion, but even she couldn’t help but notice what was happening. She was staying over at a friend’s house and she actually called me to make sure I was watching all of this play out on NBC. I remember that so vividly because we were just both so emotional about it. “How could he do that?” See, don’t tell me wrestling can’t bring family together. But again, I digress.
Savage leaves the ring area to head to the back and immediately begins to berate Liz. Unsurprisingly, Hogan would fight back to win the match and then made a beeline for Savage, yelling the entire time he was walking back. He makes his way into the room and then the emotions get amped up in one of the best segments I’ve ever seen. Here’s how the main portion played out with Savage doing the majority of the talking. It’s so freaking good:
Photo credit: WWE.com
“You got jealous eyes right there. You’re looking at me with jealous eyes. Because you’re a former champion. Hulkamania is just into the wind. I was carrying you! I’m not number three in The Mega Powers, I’m number one. You guys got me in the backseat.”
Hogan tells him to slow down, but Macho Man is starting to get really upset at this point and simply turns around just so he doesn’t have to look at the Hulkster.
“Man to man, you never asked me for a title shot. You know why? [Looks at Liz] You know why, Elizabeth? Because you can’t beat me. You know you can’t beat me. [Shoves Hogan’s face] You can’t beat me. No, you didn’t come at me like a man. You’re jealous because I’m the World Wrestling Federation Champion now and I’m gonna be a long time from now … I’m gonna tell you what you’re wrong about more than anything else. I can take anything. But I’m gonna tell you something right now.
“Those eyes right there. Those eyes lust Elizabeth, you understand that? You got lust for Elizabeth right there. And I’m gonna tell you what makes me sick, I can’t even stand to look at you. You turn my guts in two. If you wanted to come at me man-to-man for the belt, I would beat you 1-2-3 and that would be okay. But you lust for Elizabeth.”
Hogan turns to Liz and asks her to please try and talk some sense into Savage, who then turns around and comes right at Hogan with the belt and sends him and some medical supplies crashing to the floor and pounces on him with right hand after right hand to the skull. I may have been in tears by this point. Who knows?
“Come on, champion. You wanna feel what the Madness is all about?”
Photo credit: WWE.com
Elizabeth jumped in and tried to cover Hogan up but Savage grabbed her by the arm and literally threw her across the room. Things are getting real and it’s crazy that NBC allowed that to happen. It all felt so real, and even going back and looking at it now, it still gives me goosebumps. You know there had to be truth in what Savage was saying to Hogan about being in the backseat, and it all played out so beautifully. It was just absolutely wonderful storytelling.
The match was on for WrestleMania V, once again in Atlantic City at Trump Plaza (yes, that Trump). The tagline couldn’t have been more perfect: “The Mega Powers Explode!” I don’t think there would be any better word for it. It was as good of a wrestling story that could have been told. Enemies-turned-friends-turned-partners-turned-enemies (once again), with a beautiful woman right in the center of it all.
With Elizabeth in a neutral corner (at least for a while, until she was escorted from the ringside area after Savage threatened her), Hogan and Savage battled for nearly 18 minutes in what was a good match. No, it was never going to be the most technical of matches, but it played out exactly like it should have. It was beautiful.
Photo credit: WWE.com
Hogan took the advantage early, but Savage would use his speed and agility to gain the advantage and even had Hogan grabbing at his legs at one point, which Savage played up to the crowd beautifully. As things went back then, Hogan had to dig down deep to come back and win. Macho Man hit the big elbow, but Hogan “hulked up”, hit the big boot and the big leg to get the 1-2-3, winning back the World Wrestling Federation title that he had really never lost in the first place.
Photo credit: WWE.com
The two would somewhat continue their feud into the summer of 1989 with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake and Zeus getting involved for a tag match at SummerSlam and would then meet again for the title that next February on another edition of The Main Event, which Hogan would also win. Both men would eventually end up in WCW, where they would frequently cross paths. They teamed up again in the mid-90s as The Monster Maniacs (yeah, like Vince McMahon was going to let WCW use The Mega Powers name) and would take on some of WCW’s biggest heels. But who do you think it was that Hogan betrayed when he risked his career for the biggest heel turn in history? Yep. Randy Savage. Savage would later join Hogan in the New World Order but as the faction split, Hogan and Savage once again found themselves on opposite sides. It’s almost impossible to think about one without thinking of the other. When Savage was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015, it was Hogan who inducted him.
You may be wondering why I haven’t brought up all of the real-life animosity that existed between these two men. For one, there are so many things to discuss that it would probably necessitate an article on its own. Secondly, the wrestling fan in me that was impacted so much by these two just doesn’t want to acknowledge it sometimes. These were two of the biggest stars of a generation, stars who helped bring professional wrestling into the mainstream and took the art form to a new level. For a year and a half leading into one of the biggest main events in WrestleMania history, Hogan, Savage and Elizabeth told one of the greatest stories in wrestling history. It was a build that had to be perfect. The timing had to be right with every single thing that they did. And they pulled it off. They pulled emotions out of a nine-year-old kid that I didn’t even know existed. They made people care about what was happening while also bringing in an entirely new audience. It was can’t-miss television, and it was riveting.
As I said to open, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since we witnessed The Mega Powers explode, but it also says something that I’m sitting here writing about it all these years later. It’s always great to be able to witness one of the best things to happen in something that you care so much about, whether it’s sports or sports entertainment or movies or television or anything. But I was able to grow up watching two of the best to ever step foot in the ring do what they do best, and I’ll always be thankful to Hogan and Savage for giving that to me.
What’s your favorite pro wrestling storyline of all time? Join in the conversation in the comments section below.
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