Today is July 7. And for the 24th time, wrestling fans look back fondly at the moment that changed the wrestling landscape forever.
It was in Daytona Beach, Florida that World Championship Wrestling held Bash at the Beach on that date in 1996. And in the dying embers of the main event – a tag team war pitting WCW representatives Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger against the menacing Outsiders – Hulk Hogan showed up and did the unthinkable.
Each year on July 7, every diehard fondly recalls the moment Hulk dropped the leg on so-called friend the Macho Man. Each year, they flash back to the debris filling the ring during THAT post-match interview. Each year, Tony Schiavone’s “straight to hell” echos in their minds.
And, unfortunately, each year, a reasonably-sized pocket of them make some kind of remark about how Bobby Heenan nearly ruined it all.
I’ll briefly set the scene, for those readers who aren’t as familiar with BATB ‘96 (and if you aren’t, go and watch it right now – seriously!): Kevin Nash and Scott Hall had promised a ‘third man’ for a six-man showdown, but started the bout as a twosome.
Luger was taken out injured, and as Hall, Nash, Sting and Savage lay in the ring selling the toll of this high-stakes battle, out walked Hogan, unadvertised, to a huge pop.
Schiavone and Dusty Rhodes were overjoyed on commentary. Hulk’s arrival would single-handedly end this invasion, in their eyes.
“Yeah, but whose side is he on?”, remarked Heenan, who did not share their enthusiasm for the Immortal One’s walkout.
This suggestion offended both Tony and the American Dream, who scolded Bobby for a moment before… you know.
It is the belief of some who watched this happen live in ‘96, who’ve watched it over and over again ever since, that Heenan spoiled the big moment.
And you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s those people who really should go click my above link and watch the damn show, despite apparently being well-versed in wrestling history.
Anyone who has watched just five minutes of Hulk Hogan while Heenan provided commentary will know the on-air backstory there. This is one of the Hulkster’s enduring arch-enemies, whether it be WCW, WWF or AWA. For as long as a camera was rolling and a mic was live, The Brain was anti-Hulkamania.
It ran deeper than a simple bone to pick, too. Whether it be pointing out to the Paul Orndorffs and Andre The Giants that Hogan was not a very good friend, or telling anyone who’d listen via his headset that Hulk was off filming movies while Ric Flair actually showed up to wrestle like a ‘real world’s champion’, Bobby’s character was convinced that this poser in yellow and red was no hero.
To be completely fair, those who do criticise this one line seldom do so because it was unbecoming of ‘The Weasel’. But then, the common rationale used doesn’t make a lick of sense, either.
In Daytona that night, Heenan used his famed brain. Aware that a third man had been promised, his kayfabe alarm bells were going off. And he raised a very valid point, in character.
You see, there is an unwritten law in the production of professional wrestling content that states you must not predict or foreshadow something that is going to happen. Doing so will give it away, apparently.
For something that desperately tries to present itself as a legitimate sporting event, this makes about as much sense as banning pundits from predicting Manchester City would beat Watford in last year’s FA Cup final, despite it being a foregone conclusion.
Not only that, but even by the mid-90s wrestling’s reliance on this hackneyed ‘rule’ created a side effect where you could indeed see something coming a mile off, when everyone on the show was adamant that the exact opposite would happen.
But despite Tony and Dusty fitting that bill a little, they weren’t spoiling anything. And neither was Bobby. All three reacted to the unexpected sight of Hogan exactly how you’d imagine their characters would. At the end of the day, a natural reaction is the only one that won’t trigger a red flag for the viewer.
And if you put a magnifying glass to any other aspect of the heel turn, you’ll notice similar refreshing touches of realism.
For instance, Hulk didn’t help Randy up and pantomime some act of friendship before striking him from behind. He entered the ring, took a beat and then dropped the hammer.
Likewise, Hall and Nash would have been instructed to return to their feet and pretend to cower at Hogan’s feet until the turn was completed and the ruse was revealed, per Wrestling Cliches 101. Instead, they immediately rolled out and let the soon-to-be ‘Hollywood’ do his thing before rolling in to celebrate the success of their master plan.
This moment in the timeline was the symbolic rejection of such over-the-top cartoons as the Dungeon of Doom, Sparky Plugg and Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese. It was the gritty, believable blueprint for what made the Attitude Era so successful for WCW’s bitter rivals soon after. It was what made ECW the cool thing to watch, and it was what wrestling needed going forward.
Hogan himself dropped his ‘good guy’ avatar in favour of the real him. It was fitting that Heenan was being true to himself. And while Schiavone wished a place even hotter than midsummer Florida upon the man he regarded for two years as WCW’s saviour, The Brain’s silence after the legdrop was as perfect as his polarising line moments beforehand.
He was right. He was right all along. But at what cost?
Every transparent wrestling crutch was left backstage when it came to this, regarded by some as the greatest heel turn ever produced. And if you back its claim to the throne for all-time grappling betrayals yet attempt to discredit the stance taken by Raymond Heenan’s on-screen character, you really haven’t appreciated its greatness in its entirety at all.