The Big One

The Big One

Once upon a time, there was a giant—a seven-foot-four, 550-pound giant named Andre. Inside the squared circle, countless opponents fell before this Eighth Wonder of the World's size-24 boot, or the massive 16-inch span of his hand. Though unbeaten in WWE more than 15 years, Andre the Giant had never used his astonishing size to conquer or dominate. His soul was that of a gentle giant, a larger-than-life personality beloved by millions of fans around the world, fellow Superstars in the locker room and best friend Hulk Hogan, the WWE Champion who held him above all others.

But in January 1987, something happened to Andre. Inside, the giant turned mean, nasty…small.

Perhaps the Hulkster was so elated at being presented a large trophy to commemorate his third year as WWE Champion, that he simply shrugged off Andre's strange demeanor (and rough handshake) on Piper's Pit. But he couldn't so easily dismiss what happened a week later, when the giant accepted his own trophy (a smaller one) for going 15 years undefeated. As Hogan congratulated him and thanked the fans for acknowledging "the real champion of Superstars all over the world," Andre surprised everyone by setting down the award, then walking away before Hogan even finished talking.

WWE announcer Jesse "The Body" Ventura knew immediately that something was wrong; this wasn't the same giant who three years earlier playfully poured champagne over the head of a newly crowned champion and friend. By early February, Ventura's very publicly stated opinion would prompt Hogan to go on Piper's Pit and meet with Andre…who was joined by the very reason for their suddenly strained friendship:

A snake in the grass had coerced the giant to crave the fruits of holding WWE gold. No, not a snake—a weasel named Bobby Heenan.

Seeing his friend wrapped around the crooked pinky of "The Brain," a devastated Hogan, unable to even look him in the eye, begged Andre to think about whom he was siding with. The sullen behemoth's oversized hand forced Hogan's head northward to tell him face-to-face, "I'm here for one reason: to challenge you to a [WWE] Championship at WrestleMania." Seeing that the Hulkster still wouldn't process the giant's words, Heenan said, "You can't believe it? Maybe you'll believe this, Hogan!" then directed Andre to tear the champion's "Hulkamania" shirt and chained gold cross from his chest. As giant and weasel exited the set, a distraught Hogan dropped to his knees, futilely holding onto the remains of a tattered shirt, an unlinked chain and a broken bond.

Ironically, the man who'd help pick Hogan up was the Scotsman who spent years trying to take him down—"Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Inviting the Hulkster back to the Pit, "Hot Rod" forced him to accept what the Eighth Wonder of the World, the best friend whom Hogan credited for getting him into sports-entertainment, had become. He then asked if the WWE Champion would accept Andre's WrestleMania III challenge, to which Hogan emphatically cried, "Yeeessss!", sending Hulkamaniacs around the world into a frenzy.

At their WrestleMania III contract signing in late February, Heenan and Andre sat at a WWE boardroom table, across from a very different Hulk Hogan. Before signing the contract, "The Brain" demanded that WWE President Jack Tunney have a new, larger WWE Championship designed to fit "a giant of a man," not a human being like Hogan. ("And I use that term very, very loosely," he added.) As the champion signed on the dotted line, he told Andre that he would have granted him a title opportunity if he had simply asked for one. Instead, "you tore the heart and soul out of all the little Hulksters, man, not just me."

Brimming with confidence, the mammoth challenger warned that he hadn't taught Hogan everything he knew in the ring, "and believe me, WrestleMania III will be your last lesson." Two weeks before the biggest main event in WWE history, Andre provided the Hulkster with a sample teaching: During a 20-Man Battle Royal at Saturday Night's Main Event, he'd deliver a crushing head butt to the base of Hogan's skull, then eject the WWE Champion over the ropes like one would discard a piece of garbage. A joint eight-Superstar effort prevented Andre from winning the contest, but his one mission was successful. He made the Hulkamaniacs doubt—doubt in Hogan's ability to squash the giant at WrestleMania III, and doubt that he would leave Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome with the WWE Title.

On March 29, 1987, Hulk Hogan was the only one among the Silverdome's record indoor attendance of 93,173 who didn't doubt his chances; in fact, he was more concerned about the thousands of WWE fans hanging around outside the stadium. "When I get my hands on that big, nasty giant," he asked interviewer Vince McMahon, "what are they gonna think when the giant hits the ground, he feels the wrath of Hulkamania, and the whole world shakes at my feet?!"

"Hulkamania is over. Hulkamania is dead," proclaimed Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, who then pointed to the seven-foot-four Superstar who hadn't lost a WWE match in 15 years. "Nobody can defeat this man. Nobody can even come close to defeating this man…. Hogan, you had three good years. You got nothin' to look back on. But it's all over. Andre the Giant—the new [WWE] Champion."

As the saying goes, "Pride goeth before a fall." Well, at WrestleMania III, Andre the Giant must have been a very proud man, because a victorious Hulk Hogan would deliver the hardest of falls—the now-legendary "Slam Heard 'Round the World." More important than how Andre crashed down to the canvas that evening, however, was how by doing so, he elevated Hulkamania—and WrestleMania—to heights that cannot be measured by human means. By that and that alone, it forever represents the driving point that is sports-entertainment, and's No. 1 Most Rugged Road to WrestleMania.

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