Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels are two of the biggest names in WWE history and their feud in 2005 was one where generations and major egos collided.
Hogan was the megastar who brought wrestling and WWE onto a national and then global stage in the 1980s. Shawn Michaels replaced him in the early 1990s as the No.1 guy in the company as Hogan left for WCW and WWE shifted towards a more athletic focused product.
At the start of the Monday Night Wars, both were leaders of the two biggest and best factions of the era, Hogan with the New World Order and Michaels with D Generation-X.
Their paths had never crossed in WWE and the prospect of a genuine dream match diminished with the two on opposing sides of the war and then seemingly fully extinguished when “The Heartbreak Kid” was forced into an injury-induced retirement in 1998.
The wrestling world changed forever with the fall of WCW in 2001, and subsequently Hogan returned to WWE in early 2002 with his NWO brothers Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Nash and Hall of course were two of Michaels best friends and fellow members of the Kliq, a backstage group during the mid ’90s.
When Hogan turned babyface following WrestleMania 18, the NWO’s wheels were left spinning until a new member was introduced – none other than HBK Shawn Michaels. This only lasted a brief time but the two’s careers had now interlinked many times.
Michaels’ in-ring return in late-2002 raised hopes of a showdown at last but he was on Raw and Hogan remained on the Smackdown roster until he left the company once more in the summer of 2003.
Like ships in the night, the two seemed destined to pass one another but never meet in the ring, especially now with Hogan into his 50s.
This was until “The Hulkster” returned at WrestleMania 21 in 2005 following his Hall of Fame induction the night before, laying down the foundations of a dream team and eventual rivalry with “The Showstopper.”
Hogan had interrupted Muhammed Hassan and Daivari’s beatdown of Eugene (a serious throwback) at Mania and the very next night, Hassan and Daivari did a similar job on HBK. It was clear that a tag team of sorts would soon form.
Michaels demanded a 2-on-1 handicap match with the heels but General Manager Eric Bischoff informed him he had to find a partner. Michaels called on Hogan to come back for one more match, which of course he did after saving HBK on the April 18th episode of Raw.
The crowd lapped up the iconic union and Michaels even did the classic Hulkster pose. The two then defeated Hassan and Daivari at Backlash before Hogan disappeared for a few months.
His return came on July 4th as a guest on Carlito’s Cabana, which eventually led to a tag match with Hogan and Michaels being pitted against Carlito and Kurt Angle, who was feuding on-off with Michaels for most of 2005.
Another victory came their way and all seemed right in the world of professional wrestling. That was until HBK blindsided Hogan to the tune of Sweet Chin Music. Michaels stood over Hulk’s lifeless body as Raw went off the air to a stunned audience.
In this time, it seemed shocking that HBK could turn heel such was his transformation both as a performer and a man upon his return. Allegedly Hogan pushed for this heel turn as he feared who the fans would cheer for if it was good guy vs good guy.
Michaels stated the following week on Piper’s Pit that he was giving the fans what they wanted – one more match for Hogan, but this match would be against him. He then rubberstamped his villain status by denouncing Hulkamania and superkicking Roddy Piper.
The two now-rivals later confronted each other, with Hogan accepting the match and going through his “Whatcha gonna do” routine to which Michaels was seen mouthing “same old stuff.” Quite simply, he did not buy the myth of Hulk Hogan and he was going to put him down.
HBK largely sold the match himself with Hogan not on weekly television and went to town on Hulk in a series of controversial segments namely Michaels impersonating and mocking Hogan on a Larry King segment on the August 1st episode of Raw.
Two known politickers (Hogan throughout his career, Michaels in the 1990s), the rivalry incorporated many of their infamous behind the scenes shenanigans, such as Hogan refusing to lose matches and the Montreal Screwjob.
The Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels feud was heavily alluded to on the Montreal episode of Raw prior to Summerslam. The fans booed HBK mercilessly and he memorably trolled them by playing Bret Hart’s music to which the Hitman did not appear.
To close off the show and the build-up to the match, Michaels interrupted Hogan’s match with Kurt Angle and placed him the sharpshooter, Bret Hart’s finisher and the one which he used in the Screwjob.
Summerslam’s main event match hyped as “first time ever” and “Legend vs Icon” turned into a largely unprofessional but comedic and entertaining bout.
The reasons for this were rumoured classic Hogan angling backstage, where he changed the three-match series into a one and done, which of course he won. Hogan denied this, claiming it was Vince McMahon’s call.
Michaels oversold all of Hogan’s offensive throughout the match with hilarious bumping and the pretending to dig with a shovel, a nod at Hogan’s burial of so many wrestlers down the years.
The match ended in classic Hogan fashion with the patented big boot and leg drop for the win. The two men then shook hands with Michaels claiming “he just needed to know.”
And that was that. Hogan departed once again while Michaels quickly reverted to babyface after a memorable heel run which was reminiscent of his 1990s heyday. He ended the feud with a final few barbs sent in Hulk’s direction. Fiction or reality?
Hogan’s claims of non-politicking were debunked further a year later when he defeated “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton, 27 years his junior, in a scarcely believable result, even for professional wrestling.
The possible real-life drama behind the on-screen battles of Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels will be debated for years to come but it is undeniable that it made for a great feud and television.