Rock of Ages

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March 29, 2007

One ring. Two icons. Three little words: "‘Yes'…or ‘No'?"

It was February 18, 2002, less than 24 hours after "Hollywood" Hogan and the poisonous New World Order officially invaded World Wrestling Entertainment—and turned it upside-down—at No Way Out. In Chicago's Allstate Arena for Raw that night, Hollywood fondly reminisced about his days as the immortal Hulkster…then told his fair-weather fans to kiss the ass of the biggest icon in sports-entertainment.

Out came the seething Brahma Bull, who angrily reminded the icon how he and the fans had loved and believed in him. However, with "years after years after years" of Hogan eating the vitamins, saying the prayers and having the T-shirt-ripping Hulkamania "run wild" on everybody, "people ran right to the toilet, pulled their pants down and took one big Hulka-crap every time you opened your mouth!" Giving Hollywood his due as a main-eventer at so many unforgettable WrestleManias, that's when he posed the question: "How do you feel about headlining one more WrestleMania with The Rock?"

Counting the "People's Champion" among the "flavor-of-the-month" challengers he faced throughout his career, Hollywood wouldn't dignify him with an answer. Rock, goading the nWo leader into a fantasy matchup that could determine who would go down in WWE history as "the absolute best, ever," gave him no choice and asked: "‘Yes'…or ‘No'?"

"Yes," Hogan finally answered, adding, "It'll be a pleasure to kick your ass at WrestleMania." The Raw crowd exploded into a frenzy as the two shook hands, with Hollywood pulling Rock close and saying, "Good luck, 'cause you're gonna need it." Before he could break the handshake and leave, however, Rock drew him back, replied, "Not as much as you…‘brother,'" and drilled the Black-and-White leader to the canvas with a crushing Rock Bottom.

Then everything went to hell.

Like a rabid wolf pack, the nWo's Hall and Nash ambushed the "Great One" around the Raw stage entrance. Unable to fend off Hollywood's vicious weight belt-lashing, or a hammer to the back of his skull, Rock would be stretchered from the building and into an ambulance. That's when the New World Order's leader really took matters too far. Commandeering a diesel truck, Hogan repeatedly drove the rig into (and over) the ambulance. He'd leave the emergency vehicle an unrecognizable wreck…and cause fans to wonder if an "Icon vs. Icon" Match at WrestleMania X8 would have to remain a fantasy matchup.

Threatened with severe legal action over the incident, the nWo "4-Lifers" would grudgingly issue a public apology to the hospitalized Rock on Raw the following week. After reading written "repentant" statements with no remorse whatsoever—and noting that Rock had attacked first—Hollywood issued a warning to his so-called fellow icon: "I'm not going to be sorry for what I do to you at WrestleMania." Later confronting the Brahma Bull in the locker room (actually, it was a life-sized standee), he'd also state that legends like himself don't grow on trees, and at WrestleMania X8, "you're going to find out the difference between a wannabe and the real thing, brother."

Two weeks after Hogan's horrific hit-and-run, the real Rock finally came back to Raw and dared the "jaded, self-centered son of a bitch" to try and finish him off that night. Hollywood declined, explaining that he didn't want to hear any excuses when he beat the People's Champ, so he offered Hall as a substitute opponent. Fighting through the pain of heavily taped ribs, Rock proved up to the challenge, until Hall and his teammates ganged up on him once again. It seemed the Brahma Bull was destined for another trip to the emergency room when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin—who'd been having his own problems with the nWo—raced down and opened a can of Black-and-White whoop-ass.

Out onto the stage walked an annoyed Mr. McMahon, who originally hired the "4-Life" faction to destroy a WWE that had been "diseased" by then-company co-owner Ric Flair. He ordered Rock and Austin to face the trio in a Handicap Match the following week, describing the main event as a pre-WrestleMania X8 "celebration." But it was far more than that to everyone involved, especially Hollywood Hogan. As he had done so many times before in his illustrious WWE career, Hogan shocked the world by catching The Rock with the famous big boot and legdrop, then picking up a clean win.

With the momentum on Hollywood's side, the two WWE Superstars met one last time on SmackDown, three days before March 17's epic "Icon vs. Icon" Match in Toronto's Skydome. Surprisingly, Hogan acknowledged that The Rock was better than any "next big thing" who threatened to kill Hulkamania before; like them, though, he'd fail at WrestleMania, and when he did, "you're going to realize that you're ordinary…common…just like everyone else."

The People's Champ, comparing the fantasy of Hulkamania to the reality of WrestleMania, had only one response for his iconic adversary: "The Rock is going to put an end to your legend, and go down in history as being the best ever. Until then, The Rock will take his vitamins. But if I were you, I would say my prayers. If you smell…what The Rock…is cooking."

More than 68,000 strong would be on hand for "Icon vs. Icon," a match that lived every bit up to its hype. After a hard-fought contest, The Rock would emerge triumphant, though Hollywood Hogan would achieve a different kind of victory. He'd learn that the fans he thought had turned and driven him out of WWE had never abandoned him; in fact, their numbers were stronger than ever. As a result, the Black-and-White garb soon returned to the traditional yellow and red, and Hollywood Hogan gave way to Hulk Hogan once more. And at the final stop of WWE.com's No. 2 Road to WrestleMania, Hulkamania was alive and well.

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