A brief history of Hulk Hogan claiming that The Undertaker maimed him
Since it seems like everyone loves talking about that ridiculous yarn of his these days...
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Hulk Hogan loves his tall tales. We all know that. One of those tales, though, has arguably taken more twists and turns than any other: Whatever the hell happened to him and his neck during the finish of his WWF Championship loss to The Undertaker at Survivor Series ‘91 in Detroit.
Here’s how it was covered by Dave Meltzer at the time in the December 9, 1991 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
]Ric] Flair then put a chair in the ring and Undertaker gave Hogan a tombstone piledriver on the chair for the pin. When watching the show, I thought the best work in the entire show was Hogan's selling the tombstone after the match was over, as it took him several minutes to get to his feet and he looked really groggy and his selling was completely realistic. As it turns out, he really was injured, apparently by the tombstone on the chair. After viewing it back several times, it does appear that Hogan's head never came near the chair, however Undertaker may have jammed Hogan's neck with his knee, since Hogan was hospitalized legit all night long with a jammed neck (which is why Sean Mooney had to do Hogan's interview for him later in the card). There were early fears he'd have to miss dates this week (which would have been a complete disaster with the PPV [s]how).
One thing is clear: Hulk Hogan was complaining that night about his neck being injured by the tombstone at the finish and went to the hospital. Not only is it what was reported at the time, but it’s the only way to explain Sean Mooney having to cut Hogan’s promo for him. After all, Hogan missing his hard sell promo for the experimental “emergency” pay-per-view that was coming less than a week later is the kind of thing that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The big question is if he was actually hurt and/or if it was The Undertaker’s fault.
On the surface, it’s easy to believe, if just because of what’s one of the most likely catalysts for the recently renewed interest in this story: Twitter user @GrappleKlips’ compilation of tombstone piledrivers from early in Mark Calaway’s run as The Undertaker. If you haven’t seen it, it’s brutal, as he clearly wasn’t protecting the job guys he was working with in a bunch of his early WWF TV matches:
Of course, the Survivor Series ‘91 tombstone just…doesn’t look like that (video is timestamped to jump to the finishing sequence):
While yes, there does appear to be a possibility that Hogan’s head “jammed” into Undertaker’s knees in a way that could have hurt Hogan’s neck, that hasn’t always been Hogan’s story. The best account of what Hogan’s claim was at the time appears to be Undertaker’s version that he gave to ESPN in May 2020: That the day of the show, Hogan said he already had a neck injury, was concerned about taking the tombstone, and constantly gestured towards his neck every time he saw ‘Taker that day. Then the match came, and, well…here’s what Calaway said (h/t to WrestleZone for the transcription):
We go into the finish, Flair comes down, slides the chair down, I pick [Hogan] up, and when I tell you I had the brother secure, he was secure. Boom, I give him the Tombstone. Soon as my knees hit, I hear, “Ow, you got me brother.” [..] I was 24, 25 years old, and I just crushed Hulk Hogan -- that's what's going through my head. They gave me this opportunity, they gave me the chance to run with the ball and I just hurt the golden goose. I'm just devastated. Mortified.
So I go backstage and I ask, “Where’s Hulk at?” Right? “Oh, he’s laying on Vince’s office floor.” So I go in there and he’s laid out on the floor “Ohhhh” and he’s carrying on. I’m going into check on him, but then here come the paramedics and stuff. So me here and “Kayfabe,” right? So I go behind a wall with Shane [McMahon]. Me and Shane are behind a wall. Then I hear, “Somebody get my wife and kids on the phone.” So you can only imagine, right,
Shane’s right there telling me, he’s like, “Mark,” he goes, “his head wasn’t anywhere close to touching that mat.” I’m like, “No, man.” I just couldn’t here it, I was like, “No, man. I hurt him.” I couldn’t put a thought together. I just thought I killed him.
The following Tuesday at the combined TV taping and live This Tuesday in Texas pay-per-view in San Antonio, ‘Taker and other wrestlers watched the tombstone back on the monitors that were set up for them, after which he confronted Hogan as softly as he felt he could.
I was like, “Terry, I watched it back — your head never hit.” He was like, “Well brother, what it was was you had me so tight that I had nowhere to move and that’s what jammed my neck cause I couldn’t move at all.” At that point, then I was like, “Okay.” Then I knew, you know, I was like, “Okay. I kinda realized I know what you’re all about and that’s all I needed.”
I haven’t been able to find a source that made it clear if Hogan was claiming the night of Survivor Series that his head hit the chair. However, he’s absolutely claimed that before, albeit as one of several different versions of what happened. So let’s examine some of them, shall we?
In his first memoir, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, written and published in 2002 and described by Dave Meltzer in his contemporaneous review as making Hogan come off well “[a]s long as you don’t know much about wrestling history,” this was the “Hulkster’s” version of how he hurt his neck:
The first time I wrestled Undertaker was at Survivor Series 1991. The match ended when Ric Flair, a newcomer who had been the champion of both the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling, slipped a chair into the ring. Undertaker hit me with a piledriver on the top of the chair and took away my title.
He also screwed up my neck something fierce. It wasn’t his fault; he took care of me and made sure my head didn’t hit the mat. But the jolt of my neck being stretched like that sent me right to the hospital.
I was in there for a couple of days. Everybody wanted to fuse the disks of my neck together, but I decided against it. It would be years before I got all the feeling back in my arms. But six days later, I was wrestling Undertaker again in a special Pay-Per-View rematch called Tuesday in Texas, because Ric Flair’s interference had made the title null and void.
Here, Hogan appears to be blaming…gravity? Maybe? But not The Undertaker. And at least he didn’t claim his head hit the chair. He does, however, in claiming that he suffered long-term damage, say that “[i]t would be years before I got all the feeling back in my arms.” This part will become important later. (Also: It was not the first time that Hogan had ever wrestled The Undertaker. According to their “encounters” page on WrestlingData.com, they had at least two singles bouts as dark matches at TV tapings earlier in 1991, and the first of those two matches was released on the Hulkamania 6 home video.)
The absolute strangest version of the story came in “Hogans on the High Seas,” the second episode of the third season of his “soft-scripted” Hogan Knows Best “reality” show, which first aired on October 29, 2006:
There, while putting on a life vest during a safety briefing on a cruise, Hulk Hogan/Terry Bollea remarks that:
I feel like I got the neck brace on after The Undertaker spiked me on the concrete in Detroit in ’74.
Yes, not only has the story turned into The Undertaker not just not protecting him, but “spik[ing] me on the concrete” (they were in the ring), but despite remembering where it happened, he somehow played the match as taking place in 1974, which was 17+ years before it actually happened. Though Hogan does appear to have a genuinely bad memory for even approximate dates, it’s hard to swallow the idea that he actually made a mistake here and wasn’t just attempting some bizarre free-association form of spinning a yarn. Hogan didn’t even start training to be a pro wrestler until 1977, after all, and his genuine stabs in the dark at what year an event took place never miss the mark close to that much.
Just short of three years after that episode of Hogan Knows Best premiered, on October 27, 2009, Hogan would release a second memoir: My Life Outside the Ring, which was theoretically blended a more personal version of his story with the “mask off” version of his first memoir. And yes, he talked about that tombstone piledriver again. From the book:
The thing that made the Tombstone work was that the Undertaker stopped your head about a half inch above the canvas. There wasn’t much room for error, but that was true of a lot of the moves we performed in the ring.
As the match progressed, suddenly Ric Flair walked down to ringside. I saw him out there and I taunted him, and when I wasn’t looking—and the ref wasn’t looking—Ric pushed a folding metal chair out onto the canvas.
The Undertaker grabbed me again, and flipped me over, and dropped my head on the metal chair in the nastiest Tombstone of all Tombstones.
That was all part of the plan.
What wasn’t part of the plan was how hot it was in the arena that night. By that point, I was sweating like a pig. So whether my body was too slippery to hold, or I didn’t hang on tight enough, or we both just miscalculated, I’m not sure, but when he dropped that Tombstone on me, my skull made contact with the chair. The jolt of the whole move threw my neck out.
OK, let’s stop here for a moment since this version is the longest one: Though Hogan is back to kind of trying not to blame Mark Calaway for what happened, he’s claiming that his head hit the chair, which very obviously did not happen. Anyway, he continues:
My neck, calves, shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms—everything went numb. Instantly. My trap muscles went up around my ears. It’s like my body knew I was getting hurt, and responded to protect me.
It took a few minutes of lying there before I could even get my wits about me. Then, with help from some of the officials, I stood up and walked out of the arena—don’t ask me how. It was probably an extremely dangerous thing to do. I wound up in the hospital for days, pressing the morphine button as many times as I could once the numbness subsided and the pain set in. It just ate away at me.
A series of medical consultants came in from the Mayo Clinic on down, and every doctor thought the danger of further paralysis was severe. They wanted to slice me open, but I wouldn’t let them.
I still had that old mentality that getting cut on was the absolute last resort. So Linda finally helped get me out of there and down to see the head of the Florida Chiropractic Association, Doug Price, back in Tampa. Doug set me up with a deep-tissue massage therapist, and even then my shoulders stayed pressed up toward my neck for nearly three months. After about six months of hard work, I finally got back to some sense of normalcy.
The repercussions of that move have never gone away. The backs of my triceps are still a little numb, and I still can’t feel anything in the tips of my fingers. I have trouble tying my bandanas on every day. I have trouble buttoning shirts.
…didn’t he say in 2002, though, that he regained all of the feeling in his arms? But wait, there’s more:
Whenever I have X-rays taken, the doctors recommend that I get my neck fused. The wrestler John Cena had two fingers go numb after an injury and immediately went under the knife to get his neck fused. He’s recommended it to me wholeheartedly. But to me, it’s like, “My fingers are numb. Why on earth would I now want to go and willingly get my neck cut open?” Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m just one step closer to the old barbaric style of wrestling than all of these guys who’ve become superstars in recent years.
Or maybe I’m just too stubborn to listen. After all, I had a family to support, and any significant break from wrestling meant a significant break from the steady stream of income my wife had become accustomed to.
Though Cena’s 2008 neck surgery was classified as a “fusion” in a contemporaneous video released by WWE, it seems like it was, at worst, not what everyone reading this would automatically think of when they hear the term “spinal fusion.” Triple H is, curiously, the one who says it was some kind of spinal fusion surgery in the video (“He had neck surgery; had a fusion with a titanium plate put in his neck.”), not the surgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, who was also interviewed. And when Triple H says that the procedure involved inserting a steel plate in Cena’s neck, an illustration from what appears to be a medical textbook is shown onscreen, not anything specific to Cena’s case. Either way, the same video notes that Cena showed up at that day’s house show, as Triple H put it, “with a Band-Aid on his neck.” (Or, as Candice Michelle said in the same video, Cena “had a couple Band-Aids on there.”)
Dave Meltzer, in the September 8, 2008 issue of the Observer, would add that “[o]ne of the reasons he was able to have minimally invasive surgery is because Cena went to the doctor immediately as he noticed he was losing strength, so they nipped the problem in the bud.” WWE.com, though, quoted Cena as joking that “the fusion surgery was so successful, because we used a Gillette Fusion razor.” But it’s hard to tell if that’s simply a pun about Cena’s role endorsing Gillette Fusion razors, a way of saying that he did not get fusion surgery, or a combination of the two. Regardless, whatever Cena might have been recommending to Hogan, it doesn’t seem like it was a multi-level spinal fusion surgery as we all normally think of “spinal fusion” as referring to.
Why I even bothered with that when Hogan had already claimed in 2002 that he had long since regained the feeling in his arms and hands, I have no idea. Anyway, Hogan would next tell the Undertaker story as a guest on Michael Schiavello’s interview series on HDNet (now AXS TV), The Voice Versus. Early in the interview, Schiavello specifically asks him what exactly happened the night of Survivor Series ‘91.
Just…listen to this:
I can’t remember exactly how it ended up. I don’t remember if we were on the floor…or the ring…or a chair on the concrete floor or the ring—I don’t really remember. But I looked the tape back, and my head never hit. Y’know? I just remember it was just the jerk of my neck, and umm…my taps went up like this [shrugs shoulders as high as possibly can] for like a month and they wouldn’t come down. And they had me in the hospital, and several doctors flew in. Everyone wanted to cut in me and my wife, Linda, pulled me out of there. And I came back to Florida, I had a chiropractor, some neuro-massage guy working on me, and…I still, uh, don’t have any feeling in my shoulders or my triceps or my hands are numb. I can’t feel anything in my hands, but I got everything else back. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just for some reason, whatever was wrong with my neck from all those years, just that little ‘jerk’…’cause my head didn’t hit. It wasn’t like he dropped me, or I slipped, it wasn’t anything like that. It was just the jerk of my neck not being strong enough.
Yes, less than two years after the release of Hogan’s second memoir, where he claimed that his head hit the chair because he had gotten too slippery, he stumbled his way through a version that was closer to his first memoir from almost a decade earlier where his head never hit…but added that the was no such slippage. Uh…OK, then?
Well, on the bright side, I do have what, in theory, should be Hogan’s definitive version of the story: The one he told under oath—as in under penalty of perjury—on July 31, 2014 in a deposition as part of his medical malpractice lawsuit against the Laser Spine Institute. Naturally, the defense asked Hogan about his past neck and back injuries, as they were incredibly relevant to the lawsuit. And very quickly, things got weird:
Q. Along the course of your very successful career, you had had some specific instances where you your back in matches?
A. Specific? Yeah. I don't remember specific ones.
Q. Okay. Let me give you an example. Have you written that the Tombstone move by the Undertaker which was performed on you in 1991 may have been "the straw that slaughtered the camel's back"?
A. Did I write that?
A. I don't recall writing it.
Q. In 1991 — or you have written that in November 1991 the Undertaker nearly put you in the grave by dropping your head on a metal chair in the nastiest Tombstone of a ll Tombstones. And that your neck, calves, shoulder, biceps, triceps, forearms. everything went numb?
A. Did I write that, you're asking?
Q. Yes, sir.
A. I don't recall writing. I could have.
Q. Is that a true statement of what happened in 1991?
A. Not completely.
Q. What's inaccurate about it?
A. My trap muscles went numb. And my shoulders went numb. That's the best of my recollection now. I don't remember calves and everything else going numb. I just remember my traps went numb, because my neck was hurt.
Q. Did you write that the repercussions for you physically of the Undertaker's Tombstone in 1991 have never gone away, and you s till can't feel anything — as of 2009 — in the tips of your fingers; you have trouble tying your bandannas, and you have trouble buttoning shirts?
A. A lot of that has changed. I got my hands burned very severely by a radiator. And for whatever reason, the scars on my hands from the burns, a lo t of the feeling came back in my fingertips. I don't know if it's new nerves or whatever. But that has changed, thank God, as of recently; because of getting my hands burned.
Q. When did that occur?
A. About a year ago.
Q. And you attribute that to this incident with the burning of the radiator?
Q. Until that time when the radiator incident occurred, was it accurate to say that you had numbness in the tips of your fingers, you had trouble tying your bandannas, and you had trouble buttoning shirts?
A. I've had numbness in my tips of my fingers. That's accurate. I adapted, figured out how to tie bandannas and button shirts without having the feeling in my fingers. So that wasn't accurate anymore. It took me a while to figure out the move, but I can do it without feeling anything.
Yes, while Hogan did not give testimony as to what went wrong, he stuck with the claim that he lost feeling in his hands for decades…only to then claim that he somehow got the feeling back when an exploding radiator burnt his “hands” (actually just his left hand) a year earlier. As if burning one hand somehow fixed the numbeness in both hands by reversing the nerve damage that was in his spine in the first place. And he was able to hold a microphone with his right hand before the radiator accident, regardless. Chart notes from a visit by his longtime doctor, Jeffrey Unger, on October 5, 2010, which were filed as an exhibit to the first part of Hogan’s deposition, do note that “both hands are completely numb,” and I’m sure that’s genuine. However, Hogan had three spinal surgeries performed on him between that visit and the deposition, which seem like a much more likely cause for his hands returning to normal.
That said, the next portion of the deposition, which deals with a different “injury,” probably gives us a better idea of how seriously to take Hogan in this setting:
Q. Okay. Have you written in your book that you tore all the muscles in your back at WrestleMania III and then wrestled for 29 straight days?
A. I don't recall, but I could have.
Q. Does that sound like an accurate description of what happened at WrestleMania III?
A. What happened at WrestleMania III is I tore the lat muscle, the back muscle away from the insertion of my tricep. And then I continued wrestling in Japan.
Q. So did you tear all of the muscles in your back? Or was that an exaggeration for entertainment purposes in your book?
A. It had to be. Because I didn't tear all of the muscles in my back.
Not only has there never been a single non-Hogan source for him tearing any muscles in his back while slamming Andre the Giant, but he didn’t return to Japan for over three years after WrestleMania III.
Is it possible that Hogan hurt his neck taking The Undertaker’s tombstone piledriver at Survivor Series ‘91? Sure. But he’s such an unreliable narrator when it comes to this story alone that it’s impossible to take anything he’s ever said about it at anywhere close to face value.
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