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Ask 411 Wrestling: What Made Vince McMahon Choose Hulk Hogan As the Face Of WWF?

November 24, 2023 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Hulk Hogan Saturday Night's Main Event 5-27-1989 Image Credit: WWE

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.
If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Mladen is going back to basics:

What did Vince McMahon Jr. see in Hulk Hogan to have him go over Iron Shiek for the world championship (despite having no singles matches prior) and make him the face of the company for years to come?

A few weeks ago, some of the older readers of this column got up in arms in the comment section because a newer fan asked (and I addressed) a question that had an answer that was obvious to the older fans. I’m going to ask those same older fans to please hold off here because, legitimately, this is now a forty year old piece of information, and there are plenty of people who have been following wrestling for quite some time that might not necessarily know it, even if those of us who have been around for a while do.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s hit the question:

As most reading this will be aware, WWE regularly engages in revisionist history. I think we see some of this when it comes to Hulk Hogan showing up on that fateful night of January 23, 1984 to defeat the Iron Sheik.

If you were to accept WWE’s narrative, you would believe that win created Hulk Hogan and launched him into superstardom for the first time.

It didn’t.

Hulk Hogan was already a mega-star – and arguably the biggest star in all of pro wrestling – well before he set foot in to Madison Square Garden that night and won the WWF Championship for the first time. He was headlining shows for the AWA, which at that point as just as big a wrestling territory as the WWF. He was also a tippy top guy in New Japan Pro Wrestling, which wouldn’t necessarily be known to American fans of that era but proved to U.S. promoters that he could captivate an audience and serve as a drawing card a the box office. Plus, most importantly, he gained major mainstream exposure thanks to his role in the movie Rocky III. Heck, as part of the promotion for the film, Hogan was interviewed on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson at a time when being featured on that show got you significantly more press than just about any appearance on any TV show could today.

So, what did Vince McMahon see in Hulk Hogan?

He saw a bigger star than anybody who was wrestling for him at the time. This wasn’t the equivalent of a guy stepping off the indy scene in 2023 and immediately winning the WWE Universal Title. This was the rough equivalent of John Cena showing up on AEW Dynamite in 2023 and pinning MJF.

Of course, Hogan also had great physical attributes in terms of his look and an exciting promo style that translated well to the sort of wrestling that the younger McMahon wanted to promote. However, far and away his most value came from his name, which he had already built up elsewhere before his 1984 run started.

Also, a side note: It is true that Hogan didn’t have any televised singles matches for the WWF in 1983 or 1984 before beating the Shiek for the belt. That being said, he had wrestled for the WWF as recently as 1981, so it’s not as though he was an unknown quantity to the promotion’s fans, even if you put aside all the Rocky publicity.

Jonfw2, get the tables!

What is your Mt. Rushmore of table spots?

This question is pretty straightforward, so let’s go!

Randy Savage piledrives Ricky Morton through a table (1984): This is really where it all begins. Though it’s almost certainly not the first table spot in pro wrestling, it’s the first one that was widely distributed on videotape, and it inspired a later Terry Funk/Ric Flair table piledriver that introduced the maneuver to a national audience. Without his happening, one questions whether we would see anything else on this list.

Brian Lee and Tommy Dreamer – Ultimate Jeopardy (1996): Very few people remember the Tommy Dreamer/Brian Lee feud in ECW, but I’m sure you can picture this spot in your mind, because it was seemingly part of every version of the ECW TV opening from the time it happened until the end of the promotion. In it, Lee and Dreamer brawl atop a balcony in the ECW Arena, with Lee eventually chokeslamming his opponent off the side and through a stack of four tables. It became iconic through sheer repetition and is one of the few wrestling spots permanently seared in my brain.

As God as my witness, he is broken in half (1998): Speaking of seared into my brain, Mick Foley flying off the top of the Hell in a Cell structure at the 1998 King of the Ring pay per view and crashing through a table below is something that every wrestling fan who saw it will take to their graves. Fortunately, it did not lead to Foley going to his own grave, and probably the only reason it didn’t was the table he used to break his fall.

Jeff Hardy flies at MSG (2000): I knew that I had to include something from the feud between the Hardy Boys, the Dudley Boys, and Edge & Christian, but it took me a bit to decide on which one. Though it is not as extreme as other spots involving the teams would get, I ultimately settled on Jeff Hardy’s Swanton Bomb off of the entryway at the 2000 Royal Rumble pay per view during a Hardys/Dudleys tables match. I selected it because in my mind it is the first iconic table spot from their rivalry, laying the foundation for all the others, particularly those in the later TLC bouts.

This question will piss some people off. It’s from Tyler from Winnipeg:

How many times did Bret Hart and Macho Man wrestle against each other?

They only ever had four singles matches, and there are only two of those that you probably have a realistic chance of seeing.

The first was on the thirteenth episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, taped on November 11, 1987 in Seattle, Washington and aired on November 28. The second match that you’re likely able to see is from over a decade later in WCW, when Hart faced Savage at the 1998 Slamboree pay per view with Roddy Piper as the special guest referee.

In between those matches, Hart beat Savage by count out at a WWF house show in South Bend, Indiana on March 23, 1990, and then-WWF Champion Bret Hart successfully defended his title against the Macho Man on the first night of a Japanese tour on May 7, 1994 in Yokohama.

For the sake of completeness, in 1987 the WWF ran a series of house show matches pitting Savage and the British Bulldogs against the Hart Foundation and the Honky Tonk Man in six man tag team action, though on the December 6, 1987 show, the Bulldogs were for some reason absent and Macho instead teamed with Ricky Steamboat and Brutus Beefcake. In 1988, the Mega Powers faced the Hart Foundation in a dark match main event of a WWF Superstars taping in Huntsville, Alabama, which was followed by an extended house show run of the Harts & Honky facing Savage & Strike Force in six mans, many of which were inside a steel cage.

Also in tag team action, Kevin Nash and Randy Savage faced Bret Hart and Sting on the April 16, 1998 episode of WCW Thunder, followed by Savage & Piper against Hart & Hulk Hogan in a dark match following the May 18, 1998 Monday Nitro, and finally Hart & Hogan defeating Savage & Piper on the 1998 Great American Bash pay per view.

Bruce has a spinoff question:

You recently answered Brad’s question about the “list of former WCW talent that are still active?” I’m going further back. How about the list of former AWA talent that are still active? I’m afraid I know that answer so I ask a off-shoot. Who were the last 20 active former AWA wrestlers? I know that Jerry Lawler was one of them!

In case you missed it, the question Brad asked about former WCW talent is here, and it’s actually been somewhat of an annual tradition.

Bruce is right that we’re not going to have quite the same number of AWA alumni active today, so I’ve taken him up on his offer to find the last twenty active AWA wrestlers.

There are actually seven different former AWA stars who have had matches thusfar in 2023. The first is, as Bruce predicted, former AWA World Heavyweight Champion Jerry “The King” Lawler, who managed to get one match in this year before having the stroke that he’s been recovering from for these past many months.

Also wrestling this year are the Rock n’ Roll Express of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, who eagle-eyed readers will recall were also on our recent WCW alumni list. Though the RnRs aren’t closely affiliated with the AWA, they did appear in the company for a series of matches in 1988, including a couple of tag title shots against Bad Company.

Here’s another name that was on the WCW alumni list as well: Bob Orton, Jr. The Cowboy has had a couple of independent matches near his home in St. Louis this year, while his last match in the AWA was in 1988 – over thirty-five years ago.

Speaking of guys from Missouri, Mr. Hughes hails from Kansas City, and he’s been in the ring this year after working for the AWA during its Team Challenge Series era in 1990.

One of the shows Mr. Hughes wrestled on this year was “The Gathering 4,” run by T-Mart Promotions in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 5, 2023. AWA alumnus and former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Tommy Rich was also on that card, which means he qualifies for this list.

Rounding out the list of former AWA wrestlers who also wrestled in the year 2023 is Jackie Fulton, also known as George Hines, who did not appear in the AWA frequently but had a couple of matches there as half of the Fantastics with his brother Bobby Fulton.

Moving from AWA wrestlers who last worked in 2023 to AWA wrestlers who last worked in 2022, there are exactly two of them. The first is Ric Flair, who infamously had what is supposed to have been his final match last year, while the second is Scott Norton, who after a few years away from the ring took part in an NJPW twelve-man tag in 2022.

There are also two former AWA stars who had their final matches in 2021. Former AWA World Tag Team Champion Pat Tanaka had two independent matches in ’21, while Tully Blanchard showed up on a larger scale, wrestling in a six man on AEW television that year. Previously, Blanchard appeared in the AWA shortly after leaving the WWF.

One and only one former AWA wrestler had his final match in 2020, and that’s Jimmy Golden, better known as Bunkhouse Buck to WCW fans. As with many people on this list, Golden had a relatively small number of AWA matches and they came near the end of the promotion’s life, but he still had them.

Heading to 2019, four AWA alums wrapped up their careers here. Two of them are part of a tag team, Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags of The Nasty Boys, who interestingly had three of their last four matches on a tour of the U.K., which I assume was done to get an English vacation. Also calling it quits in ’19 were former Killer Bee B. Brian Blair and Bobby Fulton, the real-life brother of the previously mentioned Jackie Fulton/George Hines.

And, finally, we land in 2018, where the last four AWA veterans of our twenty had their final matches. Interestingly, both Rockers (or Midnight Rockers as the AWA called them), Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, wrestled for the last time in 2018, though the matches had nothing to do with each other. The same can be said for former WWWF Champion Bob Backlund, whose last match was a legends six-man tag in Osaka, Japan, also involving Masakatsu Funaki, Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiro Saito, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Last but certainly not least is the only woman on our list, Madusa who wrestled in the AWA and concluded her in-ring career in a battle royale at the WWE Women’s Evolution pay per view.

There you have it – the last twenty AWA alumni to set foot into a pro wrestling ring. I’m guessing this list won’t change much if at all going forward, so we probably won’t have an annual tradition here as we do with Brad’s WCW question.

In what may be a first in the history of the column, Mike of Da F’n Jungle is writing in for . . . career advice?

Hey I have a different one for you! Interested to hear what the comments might have to say as well.

I have recently decided that I want to pursue my dream job of being an on screen personality in WWE, notably a manager. I am trying to figure out the best way to go about this.

Some background: I have worked for years as an MC and event host, and as such am well versed in talking, live crowds (rowdy ones at that), mic control, thinking on my feet, etc. Performing is my passion and I have been lucky enough to be on stage, interacting with crowds at a reasonably high level. So I do truly believe that this is something I can accomplish.

As best as I can assume, I feel like what I need to do is go get involved with a wrestling school/fed that also does live shows to get some experience. After gaining experience I would think that the next course of action would be putting together a press/media package on myself and send that along to WWE (and other notable companies, but obviously WWE is the goal).

Is this the most effective way to get on their radar? Also I am in Canada, so I’m wondering if you know any schools/companies that are notable and have more exposure.

I know it’s a million to one shot, especially already being 39 years of age. However I believe in myself and my abilities and can 100% see myself managing a heel world champ going into WrestleMania.

We only get one life, gotta follow those dreams!

You’re right, the odds of making it are slim, particularly because the role of managers in wrestling has been significantly reduced from what it was thirty to forty years ago. However, you’re equally right that you’ve only got one life, so, if you’re serious about this, you may as well take a shot at it.

Of course, I should note up front that you’re primarily asking this question of somebody who has never been part of the wrestling industry as any sort of performer, just as a columnist on this very website. So, take what I have to say with a massive grain of salt, and perhaps there is somebody down in the comments with more relevant experience.

That being said, enrolling in a wrestling school in order to receive formal training related to the industry is probably your best bet. Even if you feel like you won’t learn much from a training facility because you’ve already got experience working with live crowds, paying your money and getting through the door at at a school if nothing else will buy you an opportunity to make connections who people that can get you booked on shows to build your resume and do the networking that you would need in order to have a better shot at the big time. (Also, don’t go into it with the mentality that there’s not much for you to learn, regardless of what your prior life experience is, because that’s a surefire way to fail at any endeavor.)

Regarding schools to contact, you mention that you’re in Canada without providing more specifics, so I presume you are willing to travel anywhere in the Great White North to pursue your dream. If that’s the case, my first suggestion would be that you get in touch with Can-Am Wrestling. This is Scott D’Amore’s training facility. It has been around since 1993 and has produced many standout talents over the years, so it has a track record and isn’t just a fly-by-night outfit that will cash your checks and leave you high and dry.

Plus, it obviously has a link to Impact Wrestling, which, though I have taken my shots at the company over the years, has television and a crew of legitimate professionals working behind the scenes. It may not be a straight line from Can-Am to Impact, but a big part of succeeding in any profession is making connections, and this would seem to maximize the odds of knowing some people who would be helpful to know.

Once you’ve built up a body of work, yes, there are avenues of submitting materials directly to WWE. Again, given everything I’ve heard over the years, whether they would even look at you let alone contact you is a total crap shoot, particularly as a manager which they seem to have little use for. However, if you’re dead set on trying, that is the path.

Or you could just corner Vince McMahon in an elevator and start freestyling at him. That’s how Oscar from Men on a Mission got his job.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.