How I Stopped Worrying And Learnt To Love Hulk Hogan

Like many, there was a period when I couldn’t stand Hulk Hogan.

Prior to the internet being a part of our everyday lives and telling us who and what we should and shouldn’t like, people had to make their own minds up about such things. It was as exciting as it sounds.

From a pretty young age, I quickly got tired of Hogan’s act. From 1987 onwards, the formula seemed pretty similar for all his feuds. Following his successful ascent of Mount Andre, and despite the rise of Randy Savage and the challenge of the Ultimate Warrior, Hogan remained ‘The Man’ in terms of the then-WWF.

It was on his sizeable back that Vince McMahon was able to push his expansion ideas – from Wrestlemania, to huge stadium shows all over the country, and eventually, a worldwide dominance of the industry. However, the younger version of myself disliked that Hogan always had the spotlight. To me, there appeared to be several others who were better wrestlers and more entertaining than the bloke telling me to train, say my prayers, and eat my vitamins.

Sadly, most of those guys are gone.

Hogan is still here.

Perhaps they should have listened.

When he got stale, his run in WCW and as part of the NWO breathed new life into his character, however, the more Hogan won, cheated, and attacked, the more fans railed against him. Only, this was not your regular type of heat, though there was plenty of that – no, there was a genuine resentment for Hogan building. After all, it was obvious that he had been holding down all this burgeoning talent to feather his own boa, right?

By around 1998, that feeling was palpable.

The mob mentality of the internet that was becoming so prevalent by the mid-to-late-nineties fed the idea that Hogan represented everything that was wrong with the industry. The no-selling, the refusal to lose cleanly, the insistence on carrying the world title at the expense of others who would have greatly benefited from runs at the top… it was all due to Hogan and his nefarious behind-the-scenes politicking!

Yep, it had to be.

I bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

Man… I was an idiot!

As are most of the people who are still clutching onto that narrative years after his departure from the business.

It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I realised that without Hogan’s presence, I may not have been a wrestling fan in the first place. It was his face plastered over the posters for Wrestlemania 1. It was his image the WWF attached to every conceivable piece of merchandise they could think of, to create awareness of the company and the brand. And it was his damn off-the-charts charisma that sold Pay-Per-View events and tickets to the masses.

Yet, it didn’t take long for me to find myself wanting something different. The image of Hogan cupping his hand to his ear and gesturing to the crowd lost its appeal. As a matter of fact, it happened quite early in the piece – there were just no ways for me to talk about it. Nobody I knew was a wrestling fan as I was growing up. No one in my family was, either. It was me, my traded VHS tapes, and a brooding dislike for the man who drew me in as a fan in the first place. It made no sense.

Upon reflection, I actually think the problem was more with me –  I was growing up a bit and I was no longer in the target demographic.

In the eighties, Hogan was marketed to kids. Marketed brilliantly, too. Irrespective of the way you feel about him, personally, his image through the late eighties was about as bankable as you could get. He was a flag-waving, patriotic, standard-bearer for the company, taking it to heights never before imaginable. He had a cartoon series, for crying out loud! And because he was so successful and the box office responded to him, it made sense to keep the belt on him and have him as the figurehead.

Sure, I would have loved Mr Wonderful to get a brief run with the strap. But how would that have factored into the Andre the Giant storyline brewing in the background in late 1986 and early 87? Yes, I would have liked Randy Savage to have picked up one win… just one damn win over Hogan, but it was not to be. I completely ignored the fact that Savage was the one agreeing to do all those jobs both in the WWF and WCW, so how can you blame Hogan for it when Savage could have shook his head and gave Hogan a bit of the “doesn’t work for me, brother”, himself? And whilst it would have benefitted Curt Hennig to knock over the Hulkster, the WWF were serving up Hogan a line of heels to feast on and Hennig was just plate as part of the buffet.

Like it or not, your favourites and my favourites didn’t get a run with the title because Hogan was the one drawing money with them and for them. Many wrestlers from this period talk about how much they loved working the A-Shows… the Hogan shows. That’s because they made the most money when placed on those cards. Not because they were better wrestlers than those on the B-Shows, but because they were sucking at the teat of the money machine Hogan was at the time.

After his run in WCW ended abruptly with the Bash at the Beach walkout, Hogan’s return to the now-WWE in 2002 was a huge success. The confrontation with The Rock was followed by matches against Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Triple H – dream matches that fans clamoured to witness

And was he opposed to doing the right thing in these dream matches?

He tapped out to Angle, was beaten clean by Rock, was also beaten by Taker, and was completely destroyed by Brock Lesnar on a run-of-the-mill Smackdown episode.

Very selfish, indeed.

People gravitate to Hogan not wanting to do the honours for Shawn Michaels at Summerslam 2005, but watching that match, it is not Hogan that is making a mockery of the business – it’s Michaels acting like a petulant child to teach Hogan whatever lesson HBK believed he needed to learn. People seemingly forget about Michaels’ own penchant for avoiding doing the right thing for his opponents. Ditto for Steve Austin, as a matter of fact, who somehow manages to get canonised as a Saint in the WWE, despite walking out of the company when asked to do exactly what Hogan actually went out and did for Lesnar.

Yeah, but Hogan is the bad guy… he used the n-word at one point, didn’t you know?

Look, it’s pretty difficult to defend that and he copped his right whack for it. It may make me a terrible person, but I didn’t feel compelled to boo him when that came to light. I didn’t want him cancelled – he’d given me so much. I allowed the error in judgement.

Hulk Hogan is now 69 years old with a back injury that caused him to have recent surgery. It is being reported that this surgery has left him with limited feeling in his legs. He has forgotten more about the wrestling business than most will ever know. Contrary to popular belief, he has not always had his own way, with Verne Gagne teaching Hogan the hard way about politics in wrestling, and the Hulkster taking those lessons to heart.

He did the hard yards under Hiro Matsuda, worked his backside off in the AWA and the WWWF before scoring his breakthrough role in Rocky 3, and after returning to the AWA, where Gagne refused to put the title on him, he jumped ship to Vince McMahon’s WWF.

And you know the rest of the story well

Bashing Hogan now seems like a team sport – a team sport where everyone joins one team and targets one person. It’s called a pile-on. All one has to do is mention his name and people who were just a twinkle in their father’s eye at the time have the audacity to shoot down everything he accomplished in wrestling. They call him selfish, they claim he is egotistical, and they denounce him at every turn.

And the strange thing is, they don’t even realise that without Hogan, there would be no WWE as we know it. They would probably have to find something else to do with their copious amounts of spare time.

There’d be no Wrestlemanias, no Summerslams, and no Survivor Series supercards. Wrestling could very well still be a localised product – a glorified carnival show with rival promotions vying for control of some backwater town at the border of two territories.

Hogan opened doors that were previously painted shut. He stood as the face of an industry that had never been taken seriously and took it to network TV, the cover of Sports Illustrated, and into the mainstream news.

Yes, I liked Randy Savage more. Yes, I was a Paul Orndorff fan. And yes, I got sucked into the mob mentality of hating what Hogan was doing without ever really actually knowing what Hogan was doing. Like most, I just thought I knew.

But it seems so long ago, now. And I know I was wrong.

Now, I can see the trail he blazed and how it has benefitted me and those like me. Now, people can discuss Raw, Smackdown, or Premium Live Events as they happen, with WWE a massive worldwide force. Now, the world is smaller and wrestling fans can congregate together watching their favourites be larger than life both in person and on the screen, any time they like.

Without Hogan, this may not be the case at all.

I was told once by someone that had Hogan not been available for Vince’s nationwide, and worldwide push, McMahon would have just got someone else in the role. It made me smile.

Sure… put someone else in the role and see how they go. I can guarantee you, if Vince really sank all his money into Wrestlemania with Hogan as his draw, doing the same without Hogan would have him labelled much less of a genius and much more as a failed promoter.

There is only one Hulk Hogan. No one can take his place. No one can replicate what he achieved. You don’t just get someone else to do what he did.

Simply put, no one else was capable of doing it. Without him, I probably don’t find wrestling. Without him, many people would have gone about their business and never witnessed the War to Settle the Score, or Wrestlemania. And without him, the guys you idolise right now may very well be doing something else. Maybe something productive.

He revolutionised the business – not once, but twice; once in the golden age, and once again when he formed the NWO, which led to the WWF having to completely overhaul their own product to keep up. Many of the other big draws were able to do it once – Hogan has them covered, quite easily, too. Finally coming to terms with that knowledge and making peace with the fact that I got to witness someone reshape the entire business twice is how I learnt to stop worrying about what I think Hogan may have done, and start loving him for what I know he did do.

Maybe if you sit back and think about it rationally, you could as well.

Go well, Hulkster.


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