The big urban legend says that a long-lasting fight between Muhammad Ali and virtual unknown Chuck Wepner inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the screenplay to Rocky. Some say that that isn’t true and that he was inspired by Rocky Graziano’s autobiography Somebody Up There Likes Me. Whichever is true is a pretty heavy incident as like a prime event in a butterfly effect, it had major ramifications on pop culture. I’m not even joking. The creation of Rocky led to the sequels. The third movie springboarded the career of a former bouncer trying to make his way into acting, as well as a lesser-known professional wrestler who would become a household name after a fairly small role in the opening minutes.
As much as I love Mr. T, I’ll concede that his budding career isn’t exactly the most important thing in the world. The rise of Hulk Hogan, on the other hand, is a pretty big deal that may not have happened had he not been given that role opposite Stallone. Mr. T’s fame would increase as part of the ever-so-popular A-Team and he’d have a major role in the World Wrestling Federation’s increasing prominence, including the first two Wrestlemanias. Such a major output was created, possibly because a man refused to go down so easily against the greatest boxer in the world. It’s crazy to think about.
In the mid-80’s there was a time when Hogan and Mr. T seemed inseparable. Mr. T joined Hogan in his war against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, but that was as his stage self. When Hogan would return the favor, he wouldn’t be teaming up with, “First name: Mr. Middle name: Period. Last name: T.” No, he and the world of the WWF would step into the reality of the A-Team.
The A-Team shouldn’t need an introduction, as the opening credits explains things so perfectly. It was probably the manliest of all shows, giving dudes four characters we wish we could be. The calculating genius, the suave ladies man, the lovable lunatic and the take-no-guff badass. All of them helping people while sticking it to a corrupt government. What’s not to love? Well, other than some of the first season and most of the fifth season? Luckily, when Hulk Hogan shows up, it’s during the fourth season when things are still going strong.
The first episode is Body Slam, which is an interesting coincidence as a couple years later, Face’s actor Dirk Benedict would star in a wrestling movie with the same name. Our story begins with Hulk Hogan wrestling Big John Studd on TV with Mean Gene Okerlund doing what sounds like commentary over the PA system. BA Baracus, Murdock and Face sit in the front row with the former two cheering the Hulkster on while Face acts like any non-wrestling fan friend you’ve ever brought to a show and just tries to eye any woman that’s halfway attractive instead of paying attention. Mean Gene doesn’t know who Baracus is, but figures that he and Hogan are good friends. Hannibal shows up in disguise and points out that being in the front row on national TV as a noted guest of the most popular wrestler in the world when the goddamn government is hunting you down is the stupidest of all ideas, but he’s ignored. Baracus makes things worse for their subtility when Bobby “the Brain” Heenan tries to help out Studd and Baracus pulls him back with a full nelson.
Check it out on the left side.
That would be a cooler sequence if they didn’t focus so much on Studd’s gnarly back. Hogan vs. Studd has enough going for it that I’m almost able to put aside the A-Team aspect and enjoy the actual match, but then the direction screws it up by making things slow motion out of nowhere and doing freeze frames just because. Even more confusing is the ending, where Hogan clotheslines Studd off his feet, the ref counts to three and Hogan wins. It seems after all these years, pinning was unnecessary. Wrestling is just a stricter version of boxing.
Hogan cuts a promo with Mean Gene in front of a big WWF logo about the upcoming show and how it’s for a charity of his choice. Hogan chooses NOT to ever mention what the charity even is, making me wonder if they filmed this part before they even had the episode written. Backstage, Hogan meets up with best buddy Baracus and the rest of the A-Team. Murdock is starstruck and brings up that Hogan is way better than Bruno Samartino and Bobo Brazil, causing Baracus to yell at him for being a crazy mark fool. As it turns out, Baracus and Hogan served together in Vietnam and have an ages-long argument over who saved who during an incident in the war. I tend to believe Baracus here because Hulk Hogan is to lying as that scumbag reporter from the Wire is to… lying… Okay, I didn’t think that one through.
I can’t help but think about the then-recent history of the WWF in lew of this relationship. If Baracus is Hogan’s buddy, does that mean that Mr. T still fought alongside Hogan and helped pave the way by main eventing the first Wrestlemania? In this reality, did it simply not happen or did Hogan team up with Lou Ferrigno or Chuck Norris or some other replacement icon?
The story of the episode is that Hogan gets the A-Team to help with his charity. Dicki Gordon runs a youth center that’s under fire by yacht salesman and secret mobster Sonny Carter. If Dicki fails to pay her rent, Carter gets the land and the secret gold buried underneath it that Dicki doesn’t know about. Hogan’s big upcoming show will definitely raise the money to keep the youth center, making Carter nervous, so he’s acting more strongarmed. This means that Hogan and the A-Team get to kick some mobster ass. Even though Dicki is extremely short on money, nobody seems to bat an eye that Hogan needlessly throws a goon through one of her windows.
All the action leads to a funny moment where Baracus and Hogan are chasing Carter down in the A-Team’s custom GMC van. Usually, the stunt drivers aren’t so noticeable, but not when someone as unique-looking as Hulk Hogan is behind the windshield.
Wait. Is that just a dummy with a wig and fake mustache?
Hogan and Baracus fail to catch him and have an amusing conversation with Hannibal over what to do about it.
Hogan: Hey, I say we go down there, kick this dude’s door in and let him know that we’re in town, man!
Baracus: That ain’t the way we do things here! We may have to go in there and run a con, drop a bug, do the smooth talkin’.
Hogan: Okay, BA. You come with me, you do the smooth talking. Let’s go, man!
Baracus: No, we can’t just go there and kick down the guy’s door! You need a plan!
Hogan: Well, who makes the plan?
Hogan: Hannibal, what’s the plan?
Hannibal: You guys both go down there, kick this guy’s door in and let him know that you’re in town.
Baracus: Hannibal, he’s always thinking.
Hogan and Baracus get onto Carter’s boat and make him look like a fool by publicly getting him to sign a check towards Hogan’s charity. Carter is annoyed, but figures it’s okay because he’ll simply have them killed and take the check back. Hogan and Baracus drive to a gym and are followed by some armed men. They calmly stick them up at the entrance and walk them into the building. They get down into the basement and turn on the lights.
Yes, waiting in the dark all this time are Ricky Steamboat, Corporal Kirchner, Davey Boy Smith and some other guys. Dynamite Kid’s in there, but I can’t recognize anyone else. As a tune plays that is most definitely Rocky 3 theme “Eye of the Tiger” despite being changed just enough for fair use, the WWF dudes kick the shit out of the armed goons and leave them in a heap. Man, I wish I had the patience to figure out how to gif Hulu videos because this action sequence is ripe for it.
The Hulkster takes a backseat for the rest of the episode as most of it deals with Hannibal and Face pretending to be FBI agents and getting momentarily caught by Colonel Decker. Strangely, their being caught has NOTHING to do with 3/4 of the team showing up on TV a day or so earlier. Hogan has to defend his title against Greg “the Hammer” Valentine at the big show and is distracted by his friends’ predicament. The match against Valentine appears to be an actual match that they simply used for the show, as it’s filmed differently than the Studd bout from earlier. Again, I can almost get into it until things start going in slow motion. Hogan wins with a legdrop and an actual pin this time.
Carter has stolen the charity money and Hogan and the recently-freed A-Team give chase. They proceed to beat the hell out of them and throw them into the popcorn stands. Once they’re done, Hannibal – who has done absolutely nothing during this sequence – walks out with cigar in hand and asks Hogan, “Is there such a thing as a five-man tag-team?”
Yes. Yes there is such thing as a—Oh, you were just being clever. Sorry.
Hogan would return later in the season in an episode called the Trouble with Harry. That one’s a bit of a mess, as there’s simply too much going on to keep track of. It’s about a former boxer who went missing years ago after he killed a mobster in self defense with his bare hands. I will say that the black-and-white opening flashback sequence to how this happened in the 50’s is surprisingly well-directed compared to the usual stuff we see on the show. Harry (played by the Principal from Breakfast Club) and his son Jeffrey get by through running numbers for another mobster and Jeffrey happens to go to a youth center watched over by Baracus. Not even the same youth center from the other episode.
A while back I talked those old Mr. T vs. Everything comics, which almost always created conflict from having a youth center threatened by the villain. I’m no longer seeing that as such an exaggeration because Baracus appears to have his hand in every single youth center in that hemisphere.
Hulk Hogan shows up to do a big speech to all the children, but he, Baracus and Hannibal get distracted by Jeffrey’s problems. All they know is that his bike got busted up, his face is in rough shape and he’s obviously lying about it. They decide to go check up on him and they tell all the waiting kids that Hogan will be back in a few minutes. Elsewhere, there’s a comedy subplot about Face getting Murdock all dressed up to accompany him on a double date with two identical twins. Their names are Rikki and Vikki, which goes along well with Face’s previous Hogan episode love interest Dicki. They too get called away to help investigate this troubled youth situation.
Now, the whole episode is filled with repeated scenes of Face and Murdock constantly calling up the twins to tell them that they’re on their way, only to be kidnapped and roughed up by various different goons. They escape, rinse, repeat. By the end, it’s been a day and a half and naturally, the women have found new boyfriends. This is supposed to be the big laugh, but it makes me realize that while we’re paying attention to this part, THOSE YOUTH CENTER KIDS ARE STILL WAITING FOR HULK HOGAN TO DO HIS SPEECH! You know what? Their skeletons are probably still sitting there to this day. For shame, Hulkster. For shame.
Hogan has very little to do in this episode and it’s almost like the writer was told last minute that Hogan was going to be there, so give him a couple lines. The episode is really a piece of WWF hype as a week after airing, Wrestlemania 2 was set to take place, featuring Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and William “the Refrigerator” Perry. Yes, he’s in this episode and for absolutely no reason. The most he does is stumble upon Face and Murdock tied up in the closet and later give Harry and Jeffrey Chicago Bears caps, garnering the ire of Hogan and Baracus, who want their own free caps.
I just want to reiterate that we have an A-Team episode featuring Hulk Hogan, the Fridge, Principal Vernon and there’s a subplot about trying to score a date with twins. This episode is 80’s as fuck.
Hogan only has two moments of note. One of which is when Hannibal needs Hogan to distract some cops. He tells him to go “entertain” them for a second. Hogan gets all huffy and says, “Hey, man, forget it. I’m a wrestler, not an entertainer!”
A minor, meaningless line then, but considering the boner Vince McMahon has for his employees being “entertainers” and not “wrestlers”, it’s pretty funny in today’s context. Somewhere, CM Punk nods in approval. Right before backhanding a fan.
The other part worth mentioning is towards the end, when they’re taking on the bad guys (and as I mentioned, there are two separate groups of mafia bad guys in this one). Hannibal figures out that having hand grenades and a really strong guy make for a great combination as it leads to some long distance explosions. I guess he could have figured this out years ago, considering he already has a really strong guy nearby to throw hand grenades, but that’s moot because Hogan and Hannibal look like they’re having so much fun.
TNA should dedicate five minutes a week to Hogan happily throwing grenades at stuff. Especially Garrett Bischoff!
The episode gets wrapped up with Harry learning a valuable lesson, which is how life is just like boxing and something. I don’t know, he didn’t actually do anything. You’d think that an episode about an over-the-hill boxer would have a scene where he punches out one of the many bad guys, but he really doesn’t do anything. Plus his so-called freedom of having both mob bosses arrested is questionable at best due to it being established earlier in the episode that these guys are able to post bail within minutes. But whatever, he got a free Bears cap. He can maybe trade that for booze.
The A-Team and the WWF drifted apart after that. A year later, A-Team was cancelled and Mr. T gradually stopped involving himself in wrestling, though he showed up in WCW a couple times. The A-Team and WWF would remain separate for 24 years. After all that time, we’d finally get another crossover in June of 2010. It’s a night known for the debut of the Nexus, who proceeded to demolish John Cena in one of the decade’s most mind-blowing segments, but that’s not what I want to talk about.
By this time, of course, WWF had become WWE. In Vince McMahon’s fevered mind, the company needed more celebrity involvement, like in the glory days of the 80’s. It’s decided that every episode of Raw would feature a guest host. Sometimes it would be a retired wrestler, but most of the time it would be a very random celebrity. We got guys like Ozzy, Jon Lovitz, Jewel, Buzz Aldrin, Wayne Brady and others. Sometimes the episodes were beyond terrible (ZZ Top, Verne Troyer). Sometimes the episodes were beyond amazing (Bob Barker, William Shatner). The one with the A-Team cast… is somehow both.
Naturally, it’s not the original A-Team. This is the new A-Team, there to promote the 2010 movie, which I very much enjoyed. Liam Neeson isn’t there because he has a million better things to do. Bradley Cooper is there, but only for one segment, where he talks up the movie and wonders where his co-stars Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Sharlto Copley are. Sadly, we never do find out what became of Rampage and Copley.
Another mystery comes in the form of commentator Jerry “the King” Lawler wondering where his crown went. He wanders backstage, where two mustachioed stagehands drag him into an empty room. Is it Rampage and Copley? No, it’s not.
(gifs by Jerusalem)
It’s Howling Mad Murdock and BA Baracus from the A-Team!
For the entire show, the two insist that they aren’t the actors, but the characters, thereby turning this into an official crossover. Though Murdock does note that he heard that District 9 was a wonderful movie and that Copley fellow was cheated out of an Oscar. Our heroes take the case and know exactly where to start. They confront Ted Dibiase Jr., who is obsessed with spending money on priceless objects. For a second, Dibiase’s bodyguard Virgil gets in Baracus’ face and we have ourselves an intense staredown. BA Baracus vs. Virgil. It’s like having the Incredible Hulk staredown with a Foot soldier.
The A-Team are on the right track as the crown is indeed in this room. Dibiase’s “Uncle Irwin” steps in, wearing the crowd. Irwin R. Schyster, the wrestling tax collector, claims that Lawler forgot to pay his back taxes and so he repossessed his little accessory. But the plot is more complex than just that! Before Baracus and Murdock can react, knockout gas is piped into the room and our group of heels escape in gas masks.
Murdock wakes up later and finds Mean Gene standing there, the only guy here who has any connection to the WWF A-Team episodes. Mean Gene gives Murdock a pep talk and inspires him to come up with a way to save his buddy.
If this sounds incredibly stupid, that’s because it was. Thankfully, the final segment saves it by becoming so ridiculous that it flips back around to being awesome. Baracus is in the ring, handcuffed to the top rope and surrounded by Dibiase Jr., Virgil and IRS. Out comes the man who put this plot together: none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper!
Why? Because in Roddy’s alcohol-eroded brain, he thinks that Rampage IS Mr. T and wants to get his final revenge!
Suddenly, everything’s redeemed.
Things get crazier when Murdock and Dusty Rhodes ride down to the ring in a production cart and it’s just the distraction needed for Baracus to break free and tear ass.
Dusty unleashes some elbows to IRS and Piper makes his escape by shoving Virgil into the milk-loving, plane-hating, mohawked man of bad attitude!
Baracus, Murdock, Dusty and Mean Gene all celebrate together in the middle of the ring in one of the stranger segments in the company’s history. And you know what? This may not have happened had it not been for a no-name boxer standing up against Muhammad Ali.
Join me next time as I discuss the Proto-Samson.