Moments that Changed Wrestling History 10.14.12: Hulkamania
When Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik on the 23rd of January 1984 to become the WWF Champion few would have predicted just how much Hogan would go onto to change the face of wrestling and give the sport crossover appeal like it had never had before.
Born on 11th August 1953 to a construction worker Father and a dance teacher Mother, Terry Gene Bollea would go on to achieve unparalleled success in and out of the ring in a wrestling career that has stemmed over 30 years with little sign of ending any time soon.
A childhood wrestling fan, he grew up idolizing Dusty Rhodes, Hogan’s first real sporting achievement came in Little League Baseball as a pitcher. By the age of sixteen he had become a big wrestling fan and attended many events in the local area and sought to model his own appearance on the Superstar Billy Graham’s “inhuman” look.
A short spell at University followed before he dropped out to focus his attention on the rock band Ruckus he was part of that was beginning to make a name for themselves and cause quite a sensation in the local area.
In his spare time he spent a lot of time in a gym frequented by many superstars from the local promotion ‘Championship Wrestling from Florida’ which was promoted by Eddie Gilbert. At first Mike Graham, the promoter’s son, refused to put Hogan in the ring and he only relented when Hogan quit Ruckus to focus all his energy on becoming a wrestler.
A successful spell in Alabama as part of the Boulder Brothers with Ed Leslie, who later portrayed Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake and what seems like hundreds of other gimmicks, saw the team work a show for the Memphis promotion Continental Wrestling Association (CWA). This was enough for the organization’s promoter Jerry Jarrett to offer the two a deal earning more than four times what they were on previously.
After filming a part in Rocky III, Hogan debuted for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. Despite his incredible levels of popularity, Gagne refused to make Hogan his champion owing to Gagne favoring technical wrestlers.
In 1980’s, Vince was on massive talent hunt, and thus, he started acquiring stars of other promotions. In 1983 Hogan left the AWA and joined Vince, who wanted him at any cost. Vince had already realized the immense marketing potential of Hulk Hogan and his plan was to make him the number one star of the WWF.
In 1982, Vincent Kennedy McMahon purchased the then WWWF from his Father Vincent J McMahon and set about turning the promotion into a nationwide promotion. Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bolloa was handpicked by Vince McMahon Jr to be the company’s showpiece attraction owing to his size, charisma and name recognition – much of which was down to his part in Rocky 3.
On the 23rd of January 1984, now in his second run with the WWF after his brief flirtation with the company in 1979-80, Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden to win his first ever WWF Heavyweight Championship. The moment that Hogan’s arm was raised was the moment that the WWF had its new American hero and propelled Hogan and Vince’s WWF to worldwide fame.
On March 29, 1987 a widely disputed, but record breaking, crowd gathered at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan to witness Wrestlemania III, arguably the pinnacle event of the 1980s wrestling boom. An announced 93, 173 fans, although the figure is more accurately in and around the 80,000 mark, saw two of the biggest names in wrestling at the time Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant battle in the main event. The match itself featured the iconic moment when Hogan slammed Andre, dubbed “the bodyslam heard around the world”, then cleanly pinned him in what was to be the Giant’s swansong match.
Hogan remained champion for more than four years, 1474 days, until he dropped the title in front of 33million viewers on Saturday Night’s Main event. At the event he dropped the title to Andre the Giant following a referee double. This double-cross saw the title declared vacant which led to Wrestlemania IV featuring a tournament to declare the new champion, a tournament won by The Macho Man Randy Savage.
Hogan helped Savage by preventing Andre the Giant interfering in his match against the Million Dollar Man and soon the two formed the Mega Powers. This partnership would end in 1989 when Savage grew weary of the attention Hogan would pay his wife and turned on him setting up the main event of Wrestlemania V: When Mega Powers Explode.
At the event, the second consecutive Wrestlemania to air from Trump Plaza, Hogan bested Savage in the main event in just less than 20 minutes to win the title. The two would continue to feud including the memorable, but awful, angle involving Zeus the evil co-star of the equally awful ‘No Holds Barred’ film in which Hogan starred.
1990 and Wrestlemania VI brought a new challenge, dubbed ‘the Ultimate Challenge’ which pitted the WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and the Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior. In uncharted territory, the first ‘mania to be headlined by a face v face main event, the two giants, the irresistible force and the immovable object to paraphrase Gorilla Monsoon, squared off against each other in what was meant to be the passing of the torch as the Ultimate Warrior was propelled to the top of the WWF tree.
Unfortunately for the Ultimate Warrior, as well as Vince and the WWF, his run with the title wasn’t the success many had hoped for. While his physique more than rivaled that of the man he defeated for the title, Warrior, like so many others, lacked the charisma and connection with the fans that Hogan had and it was little surprise that a year later, in the main event of Wrestlemania 7, it was Hogan that ended the evening with the WWF title.
Late 1991 saw Ric Flair leave WCW and join the WWF and the stage was set for the dream match, as far as many wrestling fans were concerned, between Flair and Hogan. The much hyped match at Wrestlemania 8, which was initially all set to take place, never became reality after rumored poor crowd reaction at house shows and in the end the WWF Champion Flair fought Randy Savage while Hogan locked horns with Sid Justice in the second part of the double main event.
The steroid scandal that engulfed professional wrestling at the start of the 90s, a topic I will later revisit in much greater detail, forced Vince to look at smaller superstars and led to Bret Hart, and at a later date Shawn Michaels, receiving a run with the WWF title.
Few wrestling fans have much in the way of positive remarks to make about the early 90s post Hogan era of the WWF. Gone was the biggest draw in wrestling at the time and in his place were superstars some 80 or so pounds lighter with, for want of a better phrase, normal builds.
Vince and the WWF tried to create and build new stars but vastly reduced attendances forced Vince to do what many saw as unthinkable after the steroid scandal; bring back the Hulkster. So, ahead of Wrestlemania 9 Hogan returned to rescue his real life best friend Brutus Beefcake from a beat down at the hands of Money Inc (The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Mike ‘I.R.S’ Rotunda). The two teams would meet at Wrestlemania 9 where Hogan’s team would win via a DQ but it is his other involvement at the event that is better remembered; defeating Yokozuna seconds after he had won the WWF Championship from Bret Hart in the card’s main event.
Hogan’s fifth run with the belt – and last for nearly a decade – was far from the success that McMahon hoped and perhaps needed. Hogan had felt that a run with the tag team titles was beneath him so he and McMahon and concocted a way to get the belt back to Hogan at ‘mania. The plan was originally meant to involve Hogan dropping the title to Hart at Summerslam in a big money main event but Hogan refused, owing to Hart’s size and Hogan’s doubts over the Hitman’s drawing power.
Instead, in a pitifully poor title match at King of the Ring 1993 – which also featured a stellar performance from Bret Hart who won 3 matches to win the inaugural PPV King of the Ring event – Hogan dropped the title to Yokozuna. This match, which Yokozuna didn’t even win cleanly, was Hogan’s last WWF PPV appearance until 2002 as he sat out the rest of his contract with the company.
After leaving the WWF in 1993, Hogan split his time between family, films and Japan. In 1994, though, he joined Ted Turner’s WCW and began appearing on their television programming in July of that year winning the WCW title in his debut match against Ric Flair at Bash on the Beach.
Despite a bright debut, by 1996 the amount of time he spent on TV for the promotion dwindled but this was soon to change. By this point a new force was developing in the company. Two recent defectors from the WWF, Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash and Scott ‘Razor Ramon’ Hall began appearing in the WCW appearing to outside to be infiltrators from the WWF.
At Bash at the Beach in 1996, during a six man tag team match pitting The Outsiders (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) against WCW loyalists, Hogan interfered on behalf of Nash and Hall, attacking Randy Savage, thereby turning heel for the first time in over ten years
After the match, Hogan delivered a promo, accosting the fans and WCW for under appreciating his talent and drawing power, and announcing the formation of the New World Order (nWo) of Wrestling. This new stable gained prominence over the coming weeks and months and went on to play a pivotal war in the WCW gaining the imitative in the ‘Monday Night Wars’ that had emerged at the time between WWF’s Monday Night Raw and WCW’s Nitro – another topic I will later revisit in greater detail.
Hogan again returned to the WWF in 2002 and became the very last WWF Champion as very soon the company was forced to change its name to the WWE. At Wrestlemania 18, Hogan faced The Rock in an icon v icon match.
Despite the portrayals by Rock as a face and Hogan a heel in the match, the Canadian crowd chose to cheer Hulk Hogan over The Rock instead. After the match, the two shook hands in respect. As The Rock left the ring, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall came and attacked Hogan, therefore ending Hogan’s involvement in the nWo. The Rock returned and saved Hogan from further attack. As a sign of respect, The Rock stopped Hulk from leaving the ring and asked him to pose for the crowd, turning Hogan face again.
The following year, at Wrestlemania 19, Hogan defeated Vince McMahon in a street fight match dubbed twenty years in the making. A brief spell as Mr. America soon followed before he left the WWF again in 2003.
Hogan returned once again in the lead up to Wrestlemania 21 where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Sylvester Stallone. This run was shorter lived and Hogan left blaming the smaller pay levels that he was getting.
Since 2009, Hogan has been involved with TNA as Dixie Carter’s business partner and more recently as General Manager of the organization.
It is very difficult to think of a superstar that has impacted the world of professional wrestling more than Hulk Hogan. In fact, throughout this series of articles on ‘Moments that changed wrestling history’ Hogan will crop up time and time again. His role in the initial success of Wrestlemania cannot be underestimated nor can the part he played in the WCW winning the ratings war when he was part of the NWO.
In terms of crossover appeal, only Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson comes close to rivaling Hogan and even he has a long way to go. As Vince McMahon’s promotion went first nationwide then worldwide, Hulk Hogan was the face of the organization and his importance grew as McMahon pushed the company into pop culture. This culminated in Wrestlemania I and Hogan was the centerpiece of that event, teaming up with Mr. T against Bob Orton and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Hogan’s name recognition, look and charisma made him an obvious choice to be the face of the WWF as Vince McMahon turned the promotion from one of the many Wrestling territories operating in America to the biggest promotion in the world. Hogan became a name that reached virtually every doorstep in the western world and a cultural icon.
In 1987 there were very few men that could have been enough of a draw to fill the Pontiac Silverdome but Hogan was one of them, Andre the other, and it is difficult to imagine there ever being a bigger, or more significant, Wrestlemania main event.
So, in what way did Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bolloa change wrestling history? Quite simply, he was the face of WWF and wrestling as it boomed in the 80s. Of course, some could argue that to be in that position it was all about being in the right place at the right time but Hogan had everything that was required to occupy that role.
No one would argue that Hogan’s in-ring skills were extra-ordinary, in fact the only other wrestler who achieved a lot with such a limited set of moves was Kevin Nash, but Hogan had something more than a depth of wrestling talent.
Put simply, in the late 80s and early 90s Vince McMahon and the WWF needed and relied on Hulk Hogan. Hogan drew like no other superstar and was one of the main contributory factors in the WWF achieving the success that it did.
It was therefore little wonder that without Hogan the promotion struggled and why Vince often tried, but never succeeded, in emulating Hogan’s success. The initial attempt at replacing Hogan, with the Ultimate Warrior after Wrestlemania VI, was not the box office success Vince had hoped for and in 93 despite much fanfare and push after push; it became abundantly clear that Lex Lugar lacked the charisma to become the new Hogan.
As a 28 year old, my earliest memories of wrestling involve Hogan and his pleas to say your prayers and eat your vitamins – although what vitamins he was referring to remain in doubt. It took until 1994 for there to be a Wrestlemania that didn’t feature Hogan and had it not been for the steroid scandal there’s every chance that Hogan would have featured on that event and beyond.
Hogan was the very embodiment of everything that Vince McMahon wanted in his main star. He had the superhero physique, unrivalled levels of charisma and owing initially to his role in Rocky III name recognition out with traditional wrestling circles. Could the WWF have expanded without Hogan as its main man? Almost certainly but I sincerely doubt to the same level that it did.
Feel free to suggest future ‘Moments that changed the face of wrestling’ in the comments section below or better still tweet them to me Ringthedamnbel1