Editor’s note: This is posted in honor of Paul Orndorff who passed away July 12, 2021. Taken and edited from ‘Bigger! Better! Badder! – The Road to WrestleMania III’, this article explores one of Paul Orndorff’s biggest angles – his 1986 turn on Hulk Hogan. Not only was this turn the catalyst for a huge run against the Hulkster, but it was also the archetype for many of Hogan’s feuds going forward. Arguably, its success paved the way for a very similar feud, Hogan versus Andre, mere months later. RIP Paul Orndorff.
Having positioned King Kong Bundy, Big John Studd, Don Muraco, Randy Savage and others opposite Hulk Hogan on numerous occasions, the WWF was looking for its next big program for the Hulkster. What followed over the summer months was more significant than just that. Though their booking of Hogan, the title and the feud that followed would lead to many lucrative paydays as 1986 rumbled on, the promotion also created what became the stock Hogan feud.
When in doubt, have a friend turn on Hogan.
With the three show block tapings for Championship Wrestling, it took two nights to destroy everything that Orndorff and Hogan had established together. The first three episodes gave meaning and cause; the next three saw that the turn completed.
The Flower Shop, and Adrian Adonis, in particular, played a significant role in the fracturing of the Hogan and Orndoff alliance. Up until now, the interview segment had used as a means to promote talent on the show and give gentle nudges to ongoing feuds. The upcoming turn was the first time it would be utilized to present an overarching narrative, one that was central to the promotion over the coming months,
On the June 14 episode of Championship Wrestling, Orndorff joined Adrian Adonis on The Flower Shop. Considering how the Hulkster and Mr. Wonderful were presented to the fans as larger-than-life personalities, no hint or sign of dissension had existed before. A seed, a reason, an excuse for Orndorff to begin to doubt the situation was necessary. In the two and a half years that Orndorff was in the WWF, babyface or heel, he’d been presented as a fan of one person in particular: himself.
This natural narcissism was played on by Adonis, talking about how Hogan was cheered more, sold more figures and posters, and took all the accolades off of the back of Orndorff’s hard work in the ring. Orndorff brushed off every attempt by Adonis to get into his head, stating that he got a lot of cheers and sold a lot of merchandise—who cared if it wasn’t quite as much as Hogan did? Adonis eventually handed the microphone to Orndorff before flouncing off, his plan seemingly in vain. However, the idea was planted, not just for Orndorff the wrestler, but the fans in attendance and watching at home.
The use of The Flower Shop as the backdrop for this to all take place managed to kill two birds with one stone. Hogan still required new challengers, so while the Orndorff issue continued to burn slowly, Adonis’ decision to meddle in the champion’s business put him in the firing line as well.
The fires of possible discord might have been stoked by the ‘Adorable’ one, but the WWF Champion was in his face seven days later to deny any jealousy between himself and Mr. Wonderful. The crowd went wild as Hogan stormed The Flower Shop (Bobby Heenan being the original guest), labeling Adonis a “boy or girl or whatever” before proclaiming that—among other things—Orndorff’s mum had said Hogan was like a number one son to her. The segment ended with a warning that Adonis was powdering his nose in the wrong place—a threat that looked to quell any heat with Orndorff, and positioning Adonis as a viable contender for Hogan as the champion might look to shut his mouth in the future.
Up until this point, both men seemed to be on the same page. Orndorff was content with Hogan’s popularity; the Hulkster had no qualms with Mr. Wonderful or his family. However, the last episode to be taped that evening lit the spark that caused, several weeks down the line, the whole house of cards that was their relationship to collapse.
Just like when Hogan stormed the show the previous week, Bobby Heenan was the planned guest for Adonis, yet it was Orndorff this time who interrupted any attempts at an actual interview.
Ever the opportunist, Heenan decided to test the foundations of the friendship between the two faces and challenged Orndorff to a match on behalf of Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. Just in case Mr. Wonderful was unsure as to who to choose, Heenan made sure to namedrop Hulk Hogan after telling Orndorff to get himself a partner.
This challenge—it seemed—was not a concern for Orndorff. Even with the schedule of a WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Hogan was always going to pick up the phone and respond to a request for help from his best friend. Or, that was Orndorff’s belief as he wandered off the set of the Flower Shop to make the call.
It soon became clear to the fans watching at home that it wasn’t going to be as simple as that. In a British Bulldogs squash, an increasingly frantic Orndorff was on the phone, yet unable to talk to Hogan. The excuse? Hogan was too busy working out. By the end of the show, Orndorff joined Vince McMahon and Bruno Sammartino to declare that there wasn’t going to be a match as Hogan didn’t come to the phone and answer his call for help.
A simple slight lit the blue touch paper. Combined with the arrogance that Orndorff had showcased throughout his time in the WWF and the goading from Adonis on the Flower Shop, the inability get Hogan on the phone was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It had crossed over into a case of when, rather than if, Orndorff would turn on Hogan.
With the missed phone call still hanging over Hogan and Orndorff from the previous week, Adonis opened the following week’s episode of The Flower Shop by calling the World Champion a chicken, claiming that one of the requirements of being a champ was the ability to answer the phone. As had become standard practice in recent time, Adonis was interrupted by both Hogan and Orndorff, with a further request from Hogan to keep his nose out of their business.
Orndorff’s response to Hogan’s acceptance of a challenge to meet King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd showed that they weren’t singing from the same hymn sheet anymore. Immediately and vociferously, Orndorff refuted Hogan’s claim, stating that they would meet Bundy and Studd in two week’s time instead. At the same time, he announced that he had accepted a warm-up match against the Moondogs for the next week’s show.
Although Hogan voiced his belief that it was a nice surprise, how Orndorff spoke about both matches foreshadowed events to come. Against Bundy and Studd, they were going to show what they were capable of as a team; the Moondogs was a chance for Mr Wonderful to showcase what he was all about.
The ‘warm-up’ for Paul Orndorff and Hulk Hogan against the Moondogs signaled a rare television appearance in-ring for the WWF World Heavyweight Champion. Since his title win, this was only the seventh time in close to two and a half years that he competed on Championship Wrestling, though interviews, angles and other segments meant that he wasn’t a stranger to the show. Moondog Spot must have been sick of the sight of him though; Hogan’s only other in-ring appearance that year had been a squash victory over the Moondog.
Not that Spot had to worry about too much contact with Hogan this time. Having started off the match against each other, Hogan’s only involvement in the contest was a slam and a hiptoss for Spot and another slam for Rex. As soon as he tagged into Orndorff, it was as if Mr. Wonderful wore blinkers. Running forearms, armdrags and a double noggin knocker had Orndorff in complete control, though much of it played out across a backdrop of fans chanting ‘We want Hogan’. Hogan offered the tag at points during the match; Orndorff waved it off every single time.
There was a brief moment—a knee by Spot after Orndorff had leapfrogged Rex—that things looked like they might become too much for Orndorff, but a Moondog collision moments later assuaged all fears. Orndorff nailed the piledriver on Rex, earning the three count almost single-handedly.
Hogan didn’t seem overly concerned by the manner of the victory—a win was a win, after all—but the post-match celebration only served to highlight that things were still not entirely resolved amongst the duo. Several times, Hogan tapped Orndorff on the back to celebrate the victory, yet got no response as Mr Wonderful’s focus was entirely on showing off his musculature to the fans in attendance. Eventually, the two men did enjoy some stereo posing, though a sterner test in Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy was set to challenge the foundation of their friendship.
From the first Flower Shop in which Adonis questioned how Orndorff felt about being in the shadow of Hogan, the storyline that eventually saw Mr Wonderful turn on Hogan was executed to perfection. Having spent weeks building the animosity between Hogan and Orndorff, the 19th of July episode of Championship Wrestling finally saw the trigger pulled, with every little touch along the way just building beautifully to the big turn.
As was often the way with Hogan during his prime, his behavior didn’t always come across as the actions of a ‘good guy’. While not on the scale of Hogan’s closeness to Elizabeth that caused the Mega Powers to explode a couple of years later, the fact that Hogan chose working out over answering a call for help from his close friend didn’t exactly paint him in the best of lights. In the locker room pre-match, Hogan told Orndorff to forget about the phone call—one made while he was under the squat rack—and that they’d play tonight be Orndorff’s rules. His partner’s response was simple: Mr. Wonderful was ready.
With the slight of the missed phone call, the words from Adonis ringing in his ear, the chants and cheers of the crowd that little bit more for Hogan than for him, it must have galled Orndorff to walk out to Hogan’s music and have the world champion stride past him into the limelight as they walked through the curtain. Within moments of the match beginning, Orndorff had taken the fight to Studd and Bundy, yet couldn’t slam Big John. To watch on as Hogan completed the feat mere moments later must have finally cemented what Orndorff felt like he had to do. The rage Mr Wonderful felt was clear from the tantrum he threw on the apron; there was no support for his tag team partner, just a case of perceived one-upmanship.
As the match continued, Orndorff went through the motions of being a partner, waving his hand in the general vicinity of Hogan for a tag as the two behemoths brutalized the world champion, openly flouting rules in the process. A collision between the partners following a Hogan headbutt on Studd saw Orndorff milk the contact, ‘struggling’ to see the flagrant cheating of their opponents as he suffered on the sidelines. Studd dispatched the ref as all pretense of this being a match was thrown out of the window. Beaten down, Hogan could only wait for the save from his partner that felt like it took an age to come.
It did come, eventually. Having shaken off whatever injury the earlier collision had caused, Orndorff got into the ring and managed to save Hogan from the onslaught of Bundy and Studd. However he had acted up until this point, Orndorff had done the right thing when it was needed.
Or so it seemed.
Hogan’s body was limp as he was lifted to his feet, unable to hold his head up fully. He probably couldn’t see what the fans in attendance and the millions watching at home saw as Orndorff swung his right arm and clotheslined Hogan hard to the canvas. A trademark piledriver followed, after which Orndorff threatened to make things even worse as he invited Bundy and Studd to pick the bones of the fallen champion. It was bad enough that Mr. Wonderful had turned on Hogan; the invitation to violence pushed the whole altercation to the next level.
Luckily for Hogan, the Islanders (Haku and Tama), Mike Rotundo and Dan Spivey hit the ring before any further damage could be done. There was insult added to injury for all those watching as Adonis joined the group backstage to celebrate the downfall of Hogan. Bobby Heenan broke out into a ‘Wonderful’ chant as the heels gloated in a manner that could only leave the audience at home either seething or heartbroken.
It was a masterful sequence of television that immediately positioned Orndorff as the top heel in the promotion. Having spent the last two years on the right side of the tracks, long enough had passed to make him a viable next contender to Hogan. With potential challengers who were overused (Bundy, Studd), needed some distance to rebuild (Savage) or weren’t ready just yet (Roberts), the elevation of Orndorff was a necessity to inject some interest into the top of the card.
The Orndorff turn was the first time that a friend had betrayed Hogan. The success that followed didn’t only impact upon the immediate future of the promotion, but it created the archetype for Hogan’s feuds to follow. It would only be less than half a year before they were utilizing the same storyline to a much more significant effect. They eventually dined out on it for the best part of a decade, so important was this feud.
The turn of Orndorff planted the seeds that Hogan and Andre were able to reap by the time they clashed in the main event at WrestleMania III.