wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Does Marvel Comics Own Hulk Hogan’s Name?

July 13, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Hulk Hogan Marvel Comics

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Big Daddy‘s secret is that he’s always angry:

What was the deal with Marvel comics and Hulk Hogan? I can recall their being a fine print on WWF merchandise with a disclaimer regarding Marvel. I also remember somebody saying that the main reason for the “Hollywood Hogan” name was so that they didn’t have to pay the licensing fee anymore.

When Hogan started using his “Hulk” name, it was not uncommon for announcers to refer to him as “The Incredible Hulk Hogan.” Though this flew under the radar for a bit, in either 1984 or 1985 Marvel Comics caught wind of it and felt that the WWF was infringing on their existing trademark for comic book hero the Incredible Hulk.

Rather than suing Vince McMahon into oblivion or demanding that the WWF completely cease and desist in using the name, Marvel was actually pretty cool about it and instead allowed Hulk Hogan to continue being Hulk Hogan as long as certain payments were made to them. You can read the full, original agreement between the two entertainment companies here, but the short version is that the WWF and Hogan could continue to use the name from 1985 through 2005, so long as Marvel was paid $100.00 per Hulk Hogan match as well as a cut of his merchandise.

There were also some additional, non-monetary conditions on the deal, including that “Incredible” could no longer be used in conjunction with Hogan’s name, the WWF was not allowed to produce a Hulk Hogan comic book, and any logo designed for Hogan could not be similar to the Incredible Hulk’s logo or incorporate a green and purple color scheme.

When the original license deal came to an end, Hogan himself managed to purchase the name and has been its sole owner ever since, to the best of my knowledge.

Uzoma don’t mean a thing if he ain’t got that swing:

Ever since joining RAW and SmackDown in 2012, Cesaro has had several tag teams over the years yet, except for one time, WWE never had him and Kassius Ohno fully re-team both times the latter was in the promotion. How come they didn’t have them reunite as a tag team?

Honestly, it seems like WWE has never really had a place for Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno outside of developmental. Word on the street is that he was originally pitched to be part of the Shield, but Roman Reigns received his spot at the last minute, and, from there, it became apparent that he was mainly around for the sake of working with young talent and teaching them the ropes outside of mainline WWE. Meanwhile, Cesaro has a look and a charisma that is farm better suited for a broader professional wrestling audience, so he’s spent the vast majority of his WWE career on Raw or Smackdown. The two have only teamed once because the promotion has had markedly different plans for them.

Night Wolf the Wise is the last remaining member of the Nightmare Collective:

Notwithstanding the fact that she’s 41 and had some issues she had to deal with, how do you think Kharma would have done had she shown up to WWE a couple years later then what she did?

Honestly, I think that the issue with Kharma was that she showed up in WWE too late, not too early. Her career started incredibly hot with her run in Japan for five years before working a handful of U.S. indy dates that were quickly parlayed into her career in TNA. She continued to have critically acclaimed matches there and started to make connections, with Steve Austin and Jim Ross rumored to be the individuals who lobbied for her to be given a WWE contract. However, her pregnancy derailed what was a promising run, and she has really never been the same since, due to issues with weight gain and back pain. Since she left WWE in 2012, she has never wrestled what most would consider a full-time schedule, and, at this point in her life, it seems unlikely that she ever will again. Thus, I don’t see her being any better if her signing with WWE were delayed, as she would’ve already been in the phase of her life where wrestling had become more difficult for her. However, had WWE been interested in talent of her type when she was initially transitioning from Japan to the United States (which they were almost certainly not), she could have had her best days in the largest promotion in the world instead of burning them in TNA, a promotion that at the time had less than a quarter of its larger competitor’s audience.

Ronald is big in Japan:

What North American wrestler had the most success in Japan without ever being a major star in the US?

Immediately coming to mind is Dr. Luther, Furnas and LaFon, Corporal Kirschner (Leatherface), and Rocky Romero.

First off, in the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t say that either Dr. Luther or Corporal Kirchner had all that much success in Japan. Luther only went back and forth between Japan and Canadian indies for for or five years. The biggest promotion he worked for there was FMW, which, though I certainly enjoyed it, was a b-level company at best in terms of the business that it did. You could make similar comments regarding Kirchner/Leatherface, though he at least had a couple of of tours of New Japan under his real name coming off of his WWF run (before he was Leatherface, which was mostly in deathmatch promotions).

As to the actual answer of the question, it’s somewhat malleable depending on your definition of “major star,” but there was one name that immediately sprang to the top of my mind:

Johnny Ace

The man known best to WWE fans as John Laurinaitis barely had a professional wrestling career in the United States. In the late 1980s, he was a glorified valet for the Sheepherders before they jumped ship to the WWF, and then he had his infamous run as one of the Dynamic Dudes. In between those two gimmicks, he did his first tour of All Japan Pro Wrestling, and ultimately he decided to make that promotion the focus of his career when the Dudes fizzled out. Ace was part of the company from 1988 through his retirement in 2000, and, in that time, he held six different tag team championships, four of which were with the legendary Kenta Kobashi. He never broke out and became a top flight singles star, but he was always in the mix with AJPW’s main eventers and held his own in the ring against the men who were, at the time, arguably the best professional wrestlers in the word.

I suppose that, if you wanted to split hairs, you could argue that Ace became a “major star” in wrestling when he had a run as a WWE heel authority figure in 2012, but I would posit that is different than serving as a full-time professional wrestler.

Another guy with a similar career to Ace is Gary Albright, who never had a run with a major U.S. promotion but worked for New Japan, the UWF, and All Japan (mostly AJPW) beginning in 1990 and continuing through his untimely death on January 7, 2000. In All Japan, Albright was a tag partner of “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Stan Hansen and held championships with each of them. He also teamed with Sabu and the fake Kamala at various points, but, the less said about that, the better.

You could also argue that Tiger Jeet Singh falls into this category. Granted, he was born in India, but he immigrated to Canada and began his professional wrestling training there, so I am willing to consider him a North American wrestler despite his technical country of origin. Singh became one of the biggest heels in Japanese wrestling history when he destroyed Antonio Inoki in his debut, and he had long runs in both New Japan and All Japan beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing through the early 1990s. Even after that, he did pretty well in puroresu’s independent scene, headlining for groups like FMW and IWA Japan. He was a major star in some U.S. territories, perhaps most notably Detroit where he did battle with the original Sheik, but he was never a name in a national promotion.

Do you consider Scott Norton to have been a major star in the United States based on his run in WCW? Granted, it lasted several years and he was part of the nWo, but he never really main evented and also never held a championship at a time when it seemed like belts were being handed out to wrestlers like candy (or somas). Regardless of whether you would classify him as “major” in his home country, he was a much bigger deal in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he held the IWGP Heavyweight Title twice, the IWGP Tag Team Titles twice, and won two different tag league tournaments. We arguably wouldn’t see gaijin dominance like that in NJPW again until the formation of the Bullet Club.

Though they rose to prominence in Japanese MMA, you could argue that Bob Sapp and Akebono belong as part of the answer to this question, in part because Japanese MMA in the early 2000s had much more in common with professional wrestling than it did what we think of as mixed marital arts in America and in part because both men parlayed their legitimate fighting fame in to runs with more traditional pro wrestling companies. Sapp is a former IWPG Heavyweight Champion, while Akebono has held AJPW’s Triple Crown. In any event, despite ‘Bono’s one-off appearance at a Wrestlemania, neither one of them really did much in wrestling in the States.

That does it for my thoughts. If you can think of somebody else who better fits the bill as an answer to Ronald’s question, feel free to drop their name in the comments.

Tyler from Winnipeg wants some brawn to go with the brains:

What’s a good Bobby Hennan, as he performs as a wrestler match, I can find on YouTube?

There really isn’t one, as far as I know. That’s because Heenan, though he had many matches as a wrestler, made the transition to manager pretty quickly in his career and stuck with what worked for him. This means that, even if he was a capable wrestler, most of the matches that you can find him in these days are matches in which he was playing the heel manager role, which involves a lot of running, hiding, choking, and eye gouging as opposed to going out there and trying to put on a five star classic full of armbars and reversals.

Probably my favorite Heenan match of what I was about to find on YouTube is this January 13, 1980 match from Minneapolis for the AWA, which sees Heenan in the ring against Lord Alfred Hayes, who himself was primarily working as a manager at the time after a long career as a wrestler dating back to the 1950s. Though it’s not an athletic classic, they get a good reaction from the crowd and tell a simple yet effective story, which is that Hayes, though he was a face at the time, spent much of his career as a dastardly heel and as a result was able to counter all of Heenan’s cheating with plenty of his own.

So, here’s the match:

Also, though it’s not a great match by any standard and the video quality, camera work, and commentary are all pretty atrocious, I had some fun watching this clip of Heenan versus Pepper Gomez from Chicago on June 1, 1974, in part because the pre-match angle is the kind of believable scuffle that you never see in today’s overproduced professional wrestling and in part because Bobby winds up blading a gusher:

Keith is setting off fireworks on indigenous people’s lands:

I would like to know your Mount Rushmore for greatest rivalries.

First off, a reminder for anybody who wants to ask me a “Mount Rushmore” question – I interpret the exercise a bit differently than some people do. Most people use “Mount Rushmore” as a shorthand for, “These are my four favorite [blank]” or “These are the four greatest [blank] of all time,” but, in my opinion, you have to give strong weight to historical significance when deciding whether to put something on a faux Mount Rushmore. After all, the presidents on the mountain are there because of what they meant to the country’s history, not just because they were the ones who the sculptor thought was the coolest.

That said, here are the pro wrestling feuds that I would chisel into granite:

1. Frank Gotch vs. George Hackenschmidt: Over one hundred years ago, Iowan Frank Gotch and Russian George Hackenschmidt (from what would now be considered Estonia) had a series of matches that captured international attention and helped put professional wrestling as we know it on the map in the United states. There were two significant matches between the two, with Gotch first defeating Hackenschmidt for a version of the World Heavyweight Championship on April 3, 1908 and Gotch then besting his opponent again in a controversial rematch on September 4, 1911. That second match drew over 30,000 fans to Comiskey Park in Chicago and raked in $87,000 at the gate. To put that in perspective, 30,000 fans beats out several Wrestlemania attendances during WWE’s lean years in the 1990s, and, adjusted for inflation, $87,000 in the early 20th Century equates to over $2.2 million today.

2. Lou Thesz vs. Rikidozan: Much like Gotch and Hackenschmidt helped cement pro wrestling’s palce in American popular culture, Thesz and Rikidozan laid the foundation upon which modern puroresu is built. Though pro wrestling had been in Japan for a couple of years before these two locked up, it was World Champion Thesz giving Rikidozan the rub by wrestling him to a series of draws in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Sendai in 1957, as well as Riki defeating Thesz for the NWA International Heavyweight Title in 1958, that given the Korean-Japanese grappler the credibility. Without this rivalry, we wouldn’t have an Antonio Inoki, Great Muta, or Kazuchika Okada, and the world would be a sadder place for it.

3. El Santo vs. Blue Demon: I’ve mentioned a foundational feud for U.S. wrestling and a foundational feud for Japanese wrestling, so I would be remiss if I didn’t also include a foundational feud for the third major hotbed of our favorite pseudo-sport: Mexico. Most people reading this will likely know that Santo is the biggest star in the history of luca libre, but a few might not know that his greatest opponent is universally considered to be Blue Demon, with the hottest period of their rivalry coming in 1952 and 1953. Demon was one of the few people who could directly defeat Santo, and their association occurred not just in the ring but also in the popular b-movies that Santo was known for pumping out.

4. Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon: Filling my fourth slot for this exercise was probably the most difficult, as finding another feud that matches up to the first three in terms of historical significance is no small task. Ultimately, I settled upon Austin and McMahon because it was the hottest rivalry during the hottest period for business in the U.S. modern era and because it was the the bullet in the WWF’s gun that allowed them to shoot down their last major competition and transform into a publicly traded company that has dominated the wresting industry on a global level. Whether you think that outcome is a positive or a negative, you can’t deny that it has changed wrestling in a manner that will be near-impossible to reverse.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].