…Earthquake won the WWF Championship?
Contributor: Jessie Pratt
John Tenta debuted in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as monster heel “Earthquake” in 1989. He was an immediate sensation and was quickly built up for a feud with Hulk Hogan, culminating in a match between the two at Summerslam 1990. Unfortunately, what was a rather hot feud fizzled out quickly, with Hogan winning the match via count-out. An argument could be made that the feud could have continued and culminated at Wrestlemania VII, with Earthquake as the defending champion, with very little change to the rest of the storylines. In addition, the questionable Iraq War angle with Sgt. Slaughter could also be totally bypassed. This post will make that argument.
The spring of 1990 saw Hulk Hogan at his potentially most vulnerable since first winning the WWF Championship in 1984. He had just suffered a clean loss to the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI and then shortly thereafter he made an appearance on the Brother Love Show, where he was viciously attacked by Earthquake. The confrontation sidelined Hogan with “injured ribs”. The ensuing letter writing campaign would go on as it did with thousands of little Hulksters sending in well wishes to their fallen hero. In the meantime, another hero returns to pledge his support to Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter.
As stated previously, the build to and subsequent match at Summerslam 1990 are consistent with history. The build continues through the spring and summer until Hogan defeats Earthquake by count-out at the big event. As Hogan celebrates, Earthquake recovers and attacks once again, giving Hogan another earthquake splash. As he prepares for yet another one, the Big Bossman and Sgt. Slaughter make the save with steel chairs and Earthquake escapes unscathed. Incensed at the embarrassment he suffered, Earthquake goes on an absolute rampage in the ensuing months, dispatching Bossman, Slaughter, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan in singles matches leading to the Survivor Series 1990 showdown of Hulk Hogan, Big Bossman, Sgt. Slaughter, and Tugboat vs. Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Haku, and the Barbarian. Earthquake and Tugboat go to a double count-out, and Hogan eventually wins the match as the sole survivor for his team. Later in December, Earthquake destroys Tugboat in a match to close the loop on their brawl at Survivor Series.
After the Tugboat match, WWF President Jack Tunney makes the announcement that due to Earthquake’s dominance, he has no choice but to make him the number 1 contender to reigning WWF champion the Ultimate Warrior and that the title defense would occur at the Royal Rumble. The match ends when Macho Man Randy Savage, still outraged at Warrior’s refusal to give him a title shot, interferes. As Earthquake chokes Warrior in the ropes, referee Earl Hebner pulls him away, giving Savage the opportunity to smash the scepter over the champion’s head. Earthquake then pulls Warrior to the middle of the ring, jumps on the mat signaling the earthquake splash, hits the ropes, and delivers the devastating maneuver. Hebner counts one, two, three and Howard Finkel announces, “The winner of this bout, and NEWWWW World Wrestling Federation Champion, Eaaaaarthquaaaaake!”
In February of 1991, on an episode of Superstars, the new champion is confronted in the ring by none other than the legendary Andre the Giant. The veteran warned Earthquake to not underestimate Hogan, as he made the mistake of doing roughly four years prior. Enraged by the feeling of being talked down to, the champion attacks Andre from behind as he turns to leave, clipping his leg, dropping an elbow, and delivering the earthquake splash. Hogan rushes out to try to make the save, but Earthquake bails and Andre leaves on a stretcher.
The main event of Wrestlemania VII is set, a rematch of the prior year’s Summerslam bout between Hulk Hogan and Earthquake, but with much higher stakes. This time, not only is Hogan’s revenge and reputation on the line, but also the World Wrestling Federation championship. Earthquake dominates the match early on, fully utilizing his weight advantage. Hogan makes a brief comeback, and the match goes to the outside. Hogan actually is able to deliver a bodyslam to the champion on the outside, similar to the match at Summerslam. Before the referee can count to 10, however, the challenger rolls back outside to break the count and rolls the champion back in for a two count. Hogan goes for another slam in the ring, but the champion’s weight is too much and he collapses. Earthquake rebounds, drops an elbow, and then starts jumping on the mat to signal for his devastating finisher. He hits the ropes, connects with the move, the referee counts one, two, and Hogan kicks out! The hulk-up begins, Hogan hits a big boot to stagger the champion, then lifts him up and performs another body slam, drops the leg, and a three-count later, Hulk Hogan is the new champion.
As an epilogue to the story, there is the tag team handicap match at Summerslam 1991 to consider. A very similar match could take place with Hogan and Warrior teaming up instead against The Undertaker, Earthquake, and Dino Bravo (to take the fall). After this, history could proceed as normal, unchanged. Hogan, as champion, would go on to feud with Ric Flair and The Undertaker later in the year, while Earthquake could still form The Natural Disasters with Typhoon (formerly Tugboat), and arguably one of the best big men of the era would have the accolade of being a former champion.