On this day in 1984, Hulk Hogan becomes the first wrestler to escape the “camel clutch”–the signature move of reigning World Wrestling Federation (WWF) champion Iron Sheik–as he defeats Sheik to win his first WWF title, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Only one month earlier, the Iron Sheik–born Hossein Khosrow Vaziri in Tehran, Iran–had defeated the celebrated Bob Backlund in a controversial match, ending Backlund’s WWF-championship reign of almost six years. A rematch was scheduled, but Backlund was injured, and Hulk Hogan–born Terry Gene Bollea in Augusta, Georgia–was given his spot. Six-foot-eight and around 300 pounds, with long blond hair and bronzed skin, Hogan entered the ring to his theme song, Survivor’s hit “Eye of the Tiger,” electrifying the Garden crowd. After the Sheik took an early advantage, Hogan turned the match around. He landed a kick to the Sheik’s face and followed up with a leg drop–jumping in the air and landing his leg on his fallen opponent. The bout was over in five minutes and 40 seconds, and Hogan was the new WWF champion.
The victory began what became known as “Hulkamania,” as Hogan’s phenomenal popularity led to a golden age for professional wrestling. A Southern, working-class hero in the eyes of his fans, Hogan advised young “Hulkamaniacs” to say their prayers and take their vitamins, and to believe in themselves. His championship reign lasted four straight years, and his enduring popularity brought unprecedented mainstream attention to the sport. He lost the WWF title in 1988 to Andre the Giant but regained it the following year with a win over Randy “Macho Man” Savage; he would hold it four times between 1989 and 1993.
The WWF and owner Vince McMahon launched the first wrestling pay-per-view event, WrestleMania, in 1985, and Hogan headlined eight of the first nine WrestleMania fights. After taking a year off to concentrate on television and movie roles, Hogan signed with a rival league, Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW), helping to foster what was known as a “New World Order.” He won the WCW championship title six times between 1994 and 1999, before returning to McMahon’s league–now known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Plagued by knee injuries, he left wrestling in 2003, but returned two years later amid hoopla over his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Since 2005, Hogan has made a limited number of appearances in the WWE arena.