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January 23, 1984 is a date that many wrestling fans still remember over thirty years later. It's the night where The Iron Sheik -- only one month into his reign as WWF World Champion -- dropped the belt in Madison Square Garden to Hulk Hogan. The moment propelled Hogan, the WWF and wrestling as a whole to previously unseen heights of mainstream popularity.
But what if it didn't quite go down like that? What The Iron Sheik humbled The Hulkster and retained the championship? What impact would that have had on the industry?
The Back Story
Long before The Iron Sheik was toppled in Madison Square Garden, Vince McMahon anointed Hulk Hogan as his chosen one, the man who would help transform the wrestling industry and make it a marketing juggernaut. McMahon saw what Hogan accomplished in the AWA, saw his appearance in Rocky III and personally recruited The Hulkster to jump ship.
McMahon even ordered Bob Backlund to drop the championship to The Sheik because Backlund refused to lose to the "phonier" Hogan, so even before that title switch, McMahon knew he was preparing to insert his promotion with a king-sized dose of Hulkamania.
McMahon decides that Hulkamania will be even more successful without hotshotting the title change. The Iron Sheik continues as the company's lead villian, angering xenophobic wrestling fans and making his championship run that much more impressive for the eventual Hogan match.
For the next year, McMahon plans to build The Hulkster as well, pittting him against villains such as Rowdy Roddy Piper, Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff and Dr. D David Shultz. Meanwhile, The Sheik will successfully defend against some of the WWF's biggest babyfaces, including Junkyard Dog, Ivan Putski and Superfly Jimmy Snuka. A huge match with Hulk Hogan at MSG ends with The Sheik getting a foreign object-inspired pinfall to barely retain the championship.
All roads lead to Hogan defeating The Sheik -- not in January 1984, but on March 31, 1985 in McMahon's attempt at building wrestling's first true super card, WrestleMania. McMahon confidants such as Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson agree that the closed-circuit event could draw millions, playing on America's anger at growing tensions in the middle east. As the conquering patriotic hero, Hulk Hogan will become bigger than anything ever seen in professional wrestling before.
What if something happened in the past that changed wrestling history forever? Putting on our fantasy booking hats and using educated guesses, Canadian Bulldog's World will look at different "What If" scenarios each month to give you a blow-by-blow analysis of how one change could have drastically altered the wrestling landscape.
The Iron Sheik Defeats Hulk Hogan
By Canadian Bulldog
Meanwhile, down South....
Jim Crockett Promotions takes advantage of McMahon's political gaffe by picking up wrestlers on the cheap. Rowdy Roddy Piper has said many times that McMahon bullied him into signing a contract in order to main event WrestleMania. With the main event slot taken away, Piper returns to the NWA and becomes one of the company's top heels.
Hot Rod isn't the only defector. With McMahon bleeding cash after WrestleMania, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine and Ken Patera begin competing in Atlanta. Combined with Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, The Road Warriors and others, the NWA's Great American Bash show in the summer of 1985 actually outdraws the WWF's WrestleMania in terms of closet-circuit and live event revenue.
Without the shot in the arm that mainstream celebrities gave WrestleMania, and combined with the fact that his chief competitor is now financially viable, McMahon needs to consider some other options if he wants to be in business in time for WrestleMania II.
Desperate, McMahon holds a series of talks with Jim Crockett. Instead of continuing to take over various territories, McMahon decides to partner up with his closest competition, giving fans a true Super Bowl of professional wrestling and putting together some of the industry's biggest names in an outdoor show that will be held in Shea Stadium that summer.
Sure, he won't be wrestling's wealthiest man immediately, but at least he'll still be in the game.
The combined event looks something like this...
(Yes, we're aware the poster says "Rick Flair". Trying to be era accurate...)
A record 45,000 fans pack into Shea Stadium for the first-ever WWF and NWA joint supercard, headlined by the dream match to end all dream matches - Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair. In 1985! Other key matches include Andre The Giant and Superfly Jimmy Snuka against The Road Warriors; Junkyard Dog vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper; The British Bulldogs vs. The Midnight Express; Dusty Rhodes vs. Greg The Hammer Valentine; Barry Windham vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage; and a 22-man battle royal featuring many of the era's top stars.
Strangely absent from the show is The Iron Sheik, without whom any of this scenario would even be possible. Because of his increased profile at the first WrestleMania, public sentiment forces the former bodyguard to the Shah of Iran into hiding in the months following the first WrestleMania.
Vince McMahon indeed gets his WrestleMania II and the mainstream celebrity acceptance he'd hoped for during his first supercard.
So the main thing that changes in this alternate reality is that McMahon's conquering of the wrestling industry came about a year later.