Hulk Hogan vs Harley Race
Date: July 19, 1984
Location: Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO
Source: Awesome Wrestling Interviews, Ric Flair’s “Wooo Nation” podcast, Armpit reader Brian Cooper at BigVanVader.com
Harley Race’s reputation as pro wrestling’s toughest man in the 1970s was every bit as strong as Hulk Hogan’s reputation as pro wrestling’s biggest draw in the 1980s. As the War of ’84 began to take off, it was only inevitable the two men would meet at some point.
To understand the pro wrestling landscape in 1984, it’s imperative to comprehend just how hated Vince McMahon was by the other promoters in the country. Until 1984, all the promoters ran their own separate territories, and they rarely competed against each other and almost always respected each other’s space. That was fine in the days before cable, but technology was going to change all that and Vince knew it. When Vince purchased the WWF from his father in late 1983, he had plans to go national, and Hogan was going to lead the charge as his biggest star.
The territories Vince expanded into wanted to literally kill Vince, and yes, there talks of hit jobs. Vince had begun national exposure on NBC and MTV in 1984, and he had the biggest stars and superior production values. So when the WWF came to places they had never been before, fans mostly (but not completely) flocked to them instead of the local promotions that had dominated their markets for decades.
One such territory was Central States Wrestling, which Harley Race had just partly purchased along with the St. Louis territory. Now that Vince was expanding into both territories and outdrawing them, he had lost around $750,000 of his own money. And he was furious at both Vince and Hogan about it.
Race was nearing the end of his legendary career by then, and because of the financial hit he had taken, was forced to wrestle longer than he wanted to. On July 19, 1984, he was to face Ric Flair in the main event at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City. Across town, the red hot WWF was running the bigger Municipal Auditorium. Flair said the crowd at Race’s show was 3,000, which if true, would’ve either been a sellout or close to it.
Still, Race was pissed they weren’t just coming into his town, but on the very same night he had a show. The more he thought about it, the more it pissed him off. While backstage at his show that afternoon in the Memorial Hall, he finally pulled out a gun and told Flair in that distinct Race voice, “I’ll be back.” He then threw out his cigarette and left.
Race drove all the way to the Municipal Auditorium. Because of how well known he was in the city, he was able to get into the building without a problem. He stormed to the backstage area, where Hogan was sitting with Dory and Terry Funk. When he walked in, there was dead silence. The Funks looked over with a look on their face that said, “What in the Hell is he here for?”
Hogan had his back turned to Race, not knowing he was there. Race delivered a very hard open hand slap to Hogan in the rib cage area, from behind. Race knew how bad it stings when you’re hit in the rib cage, as it can knock the wind out of you. Hogan said a couple words, spun around to see who it was, and fell back in his chair. By that point, Gorilla Monsoon and a few others had run in, as it was known that Race was in the building.
Hogan knew of Race’s reputation and wanted no part of him. He said, “Harley, I thought the first time I saw you in Kansas City, you’d have a great big gun.” Race replied, “I don’t have a great big gun,” and then pulled out a .380 caliber handgun.
When Hogan was on Flair’s podcast in 2015, he either remembered it very differently or was lying. He said he had heard from the ring crew that Race was already in the building and had already tried to set fire to the ring. To avoid a confrontation, Hogan went across the street to drink two bottles of wine, and came back right before the main event, hoping Race had already left. While Hogan was on the toilet, Davey Boy Smith ran in and screamed, “Harley’s here! Harley’s here!” Hulk pulled up his pants without even wiping, came out, and Race was standing there with a gun saying he came to blow his kneecaps off, but would rather work with him instead. It scared the Hell out of Hulk, and they shook hands before Hogan hooked him up with Vince.
The two stories are awfully different, and history has shown Hogan’s stories to often be fabricated, or at best, badly stretching the truth. It is possible what Hogan described is true, but that it happened at a different time. The Funks would know for sure, since they were there, but there’s no record of them discussing the incident anywhere. Monsoon would also know, as would Davey Boy, and neither are alive anymore.
If Race’s version is true, it could’ve ended very badly, on many different levels. Fortunately it never got that far, and credit goes to Hogan for diffusing the situation that he knew could’ve ended ugly for him and his employer.