By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Here on WrestleMania Recall, I will be ranking my top 31 favorite matches in WWE WrestleMania history. A new installment will be posted every day in the month of March, culminating with my No. 1 favorite match on Thursday, March 31st, mere days before WrestleMania 32. Each article will offer an in-depth look at each match and an analysis of why it is among my favorites.
At the time I'm writing this, it was just under two weeks ago that I was at RJ Marceau's place rewatching the February 18, 2002 edition of Raw, which is available on the WWE Network. It was an enjoyable episode through and through, mostly dominated by the Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock feud that kicked off the night prior at No Way Out when nWo confronted Rock backstage (in a hilarious segment might I add). On that Raw, Hogan appeared before the crowd and accused them of turning on him during his previous run with the company a decade earlier.
Rock called him out on that and challenged him to one last marquee match at WrestleMania against him, to which Hogan accepted. It was a moment for the highlight reel, as I'm sure you've seen at least part of their face-to-face encounter. The match was even more magical, taking place before an exhilarating audience in Toronto at WrestleMania 18. Hogan went in as the dastardly heel, going so far as to smash Rock in an ambulance with a massive truck, but you would never know that based off the reception he received from those rabid fans.
It's funny that I'm following yesterday's installment of Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar with this match because they are absolute polar opposites. That was a pure mat classic, whereas this matchup was nothing short of a spectacle. It was essentially the modern day equivalent of John Cena vs. The Rock, if not bigger. These were and still are two of of wrestling's most recognizable names of all-time, so it was unquestionably worthy of a top billing at WrestleMania 18.
I recently watched Rock's 2012 documentary on the WWE Network and of course there is plenty of talk about this bout. One line I remember specifically came from Cena, who said that if you watched the match on mute, it would have been awful. Now, I have yet to try that little experiment, but I can't imagine he's wrong. As noted, this was the farthest thing from a technical wrestling masterpiece, but that was never the intent. It was the electric atmosphere that made it so special with Toronto eating up everything Hogan did and Rock receiving a mixed reaction. And he was supposed to be the babyface!
Jim Ross has discussed in depth before about how the story that was being told by the two icons completely changed once they realized the tide had turned and Hogan was the real fan favorite. Hogan ended up putting over Rock as he should have, but it was the show of respect for Rock afterward that cemented The Hulkster as a babyface once again. Hulkamania was back, baby! And he wasn't faking it, either; he solidified his split from the nWo by brawling with them alongside Rock once the contest concluded.
That's the power a rowdy crowd can have: changing the story of a match on the spot. Hogan would wrestle several singles in the years that followed, but the run he had coming out of this clash was his hottest. No one in that company was more popular than The Immortal One, including the newly turned Triple H. His sensational showing on the grand stage led him to his sixth WWE Championship that following month at Backlash and another entertaining affair at WrestleMania 19 versus Mr. McMahon himself.
Although this monumental match was the true 'Mania main event and the best bout on the entire show, it didn't go on last. Rather, that was reserved for Triple H vs. Chris Jericho for the Undisputed WWE Championship. I'm a firm believer in the title match always going on last, but this match was the obvious exception. The Toronto crowd going bonkers for these two meant they would be dead for HHH vs. Y2J. They produced a solid match, but WM18 is largely remember for Hogan vs. Rock, not their in-ring encounter. Thankfully, WWE didn't make that same mistake a decade later at WrestleMania 28, but that's another story for later in the series.
SEE ALSO: "WrestleMania Recall, Match #29: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania 19"
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