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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Prime Time Profiles: Hulk Hogan

    I find it hard to explain, sometimes, just how big a deal Hulk Hogan was during his first run. With his recent return and this new format, this seems like an ample opportunity.

    There’s no doubt that the reach of WWE is greater now than it has ever been before. There is no doubt that Dwayne Johnson and John Cena have had more success in Hollywood. Hey, Roddy Piper even managed that at the time. And when you look at merchandise sellers, improvements in the business model mean that Steve Austin does completely blow him away, as has been reported numerous times.

    But at some level all of that is immaterial. None of those individuals have come close to the cultural resonance that Hulk Hogan had at that point in time.

    If you’re under thirty there is no way that you’re going to fully understand this, so in a sense, this column is doomed to failure. But nonetheless, Hogan’s star power at the time transcended the number of tickets and PPV’s that he sold, or the amount of merchandise that he shifted. Whether or not he was able to successfully transition into Hollywood is, frankly, beside the point.

    The best way I can explain this is that when Hulk Hogan turned in WCW and said ‘Hulk Hogan is bigger than the sport of professional wrestling’, he wasn’t entirely wrong. That wouldn’t last much longer as the popular explosion of wrestling following that angle increased its profile hugely. But the reason that statement invoked so much ire is that whether you liked it or not, for the ten years or so previously there is some truth to that.

    Hogan is the only wrestler I’ve ever known to reach a level of recognition where his name is synonymous with the form itself. He was a cultural reference point or touchstone, and his image was a metonym for a pro wrestler – especially amongst those who did not watch wrestling. Hogan was part of the cultural background noise and the zeitgeist in a way that no one else has managed to reach. People who never watched wrestling knew the name, Hulk Hogan, even if they knew no others. He was not only far and away the most recognised wrestler on the planet, but with that distinct look, was one of the most recognisable celebrities.

    It is a misnomer to say that he got there by himself. Every wrestler needs someone to put them over, and Hogan had the cream of the 1970s to do it, working with Piper, Orton, Volkoff, Orndorff, Andre to name just a few. And while Hogan’s star was already set by the time he was brought back to the WWF, he’d likely have never reached those heights without the promotional brain of Vince McMahon.

    But while you can’t say he did it alone, there is no doubt that when he got there he was alone in a way that no one who followed him has been. If you knew Austin, you not only knew Rocky and Vince McMahon, but the odds were you also still knew Hogan. The ability to buy all different kinds of merchandise came in large part because of the successes in that area in the Hogan boom. Anyone who has surpassed these landmarks in purely numerical terms is standing on the man’s immortal shoulders.

    More than that, I think I’m more impressed by the other, less tangible factors – those two simple facts that 1) Hogan was the only American wrestler any other member of my family could have picked out of a line-up, and 2) that Hogan literally did stand for wrestling in the popular imagination of many. That might well grate on those fans who watched Ric Flair during that period but the truth remains that their’s was a minority position. When WCW was first broadcast on British television in the early 1990s, the main knock against it did not relate to our own recently-departed World of Sport, but that they did not have Hulk Hogan and were, therefore, the minor leagues. After a short time, WCW was gone and would not return to our screens until 1996 – coincidentally, almost to the day that Scott Hall jumped the barricade on Nitro. It was the news that Hogan had turned that alerted many of the British WCW crowd to the fact that Nitro was available here in the first place.

    It is that kind of dominance, that scale of his importance to his time, which gives the Hogan story such a tragic dimension. That he did not always act with the utmost integrity during his wrestling career is true, although one might easily point out that he is far from alone in that in this strange business. His skills are woefully underappreciated nowadays by people who, frankly, do not fully understand what made wrestling successful in the first place. Hogan was a versatile performer whose style was dominated by a desire to give people what they wanted at the time.

    His greatest in-ring transgressions are from staying on past his time – as Jim Cornette famously said on RAW, ‘you may be a household name, but so is garbage, and that stinks when it gets old too’. And I think that applies to his out of the ring transgressions too. I can’t help but wonder how his reputation would be different if he had been born earlier, to have been the man in the place of Sammartino or Billy Graham, so that his later years predated the smark crowd, the internet, and the interest in steroids and private lives. In that case, his inability to be the hero he portrayed would never have become the same issue.

    Of course, the timing was crucial for Hogan to become the megastar that he was, and therein lays the tragedy. Becoming Hulk Hogan inevitably puts Terry Bollea on the collision course with the modern era; that is the Shakespearean dimension of this story. Yet I cannot help feeling that for all his achievements and for all his importance in my own fandom, it’s ultimately hard to sympathise when so many of the wounds to his reputation are self-inflicted. That I no longer want to see the biggest wrestling star of my lifetime is, in the final reckoning, no one’s fault but his own.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Hogan is without a doubt the biggest wrestling specific name ever.

    Austin may have made more money, Cena may have had a longer run, but very few of my non-wrestling-fan friends have heard of either. Obviously the Rock has become an exception, everyone knows him, and most know he used to be a wrestler, but they don't know him because he's a wrestler. They know him from Hollywood. Flair, Sammartino etc? Not even in the conversation. In my experience, even the McMahons are unheard of. Lesnar is obviously known by UFC fans too, but to be honest I know less UFC fans than I know wrestling fans so that barely counts.

    In terms of recognition as a wrestler, only one man comes close to Hogan, and that's The Undertaker. Whether it's due to longevity or just the memorable face on posters etc, people who don't follow wrestling seem to be aware of him.

    Don't know if that matches your experience too?

  3. #3
    The Brain
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    In my experience Undertaker doesn't come close to Hogan at all, he's quite significant but he's at the very least trailing behind Rock and Austin, and possibly a couple others.

    Pete, I'm 30 this year and didn't start watching until Hogan was all but done (thought curiously he's still one of the first guys I ever saw wrestle, as Mr American no less!), but I think your point comes across quite well. The simple fact that Hogan is synonymous with wrestling, even now, speaks for itself. If someone, a comedian for example, wants to reference pro wrestling, Hulk Hogan is their go to name every single time.

    But I do think it takes a special perspective to understand just HOW BIG Hogan was, how important his role was in changing the landscape. Going back to watch his work through the 80s, through AWA and then the very early Wrestlemania era, was an eye-opener in many ways. It's really hard to explain the feeling of Eye of the Tiger blasting through the arena and watching every fan, man, woman, and child, lose their minds, cheering to hard the cameras shake and nothing else can be heard. It's amazing as well to go back and look at the history books, how the WWF knocked over the country, city by city, territory by territory, with Hogan at the helm.

    I even have to agree with your assessment of Hogan in the ring. I always like to talk about "Hogan in White" and how when he was truly making his name, say from '83 to '87, Hogan was still forming his formulas and patterns, and experimented plenty with his wrestling. Even his best matches will likely not appear "great" to modern eyes, but the more you look the easier it is to understand the appeal during the years he won himself millions of life long followers. I'd say the downturn doesn't happen until '91, when the formula becomes truly, well, formulaic, and Hogan's promos start to get stranger and more desperate.

    Mixed feelings on whether Hogan's story has an aspect of Shakespearean tragedy... true, if he had lived earlier he likely never would have been called out for the things he's said and done, but he still would said and done the things. It's not a tragedy to be caught, you know? I don't know if he had to be the hero he portrayed himself as onscreen, but he went pretty far afield of that at times. But perhaps I haven't understood you thoroughly on your meaning there.

    Another really good profile, Pete. Eager to see more of these!

  4. #4
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Nice write up PT, I'm enjoying this series.

    Hogsn is a very fitting addition to it because he is very much the man that brought wrestling to the masses, as you said he was wrestling at one point and he will always be a figure that looms large over its history. I agree with Dyno that the only guy that holds a candle to him recognition wise is The Rock and that isnt die to The Rock's wrestling.

    With the personal stuff, I find it hard to give him any sympathy because of the way he actively courted that sick kind of 'reslity' celebrity profile in the late 00s and early 10s. Hell, he signed up for a reality show. Now is that an excuse for someone to leak further private moments in your life? No really however when something that is so contrary to the image you present is discovered it is hard for it not to be somewhat newsworthy.

  5. #5
    I don't have the experience of watching Hogan in his prime. But the first time I saw him on in 2002 I knew he was a big deal. The way the commentators spoke about him ensured that even younger fans knew what he meant to the wrestling business.

    No matter how he was in real life, nobody can take away his contribution to the wrestling business. Let's not forget he turned the wrestling business on its head twice. First in the original boom period and then with his turn. If not for Hogan would wrestling even be popular at all? I mean he was the one that was the catalyst of the first boom period in wrestling. And when his popularity died out, so did wrestlings.

    But when he turned and formed the NWO wrestling became popular again. And because of Hogans NWO running roughshod over the wrestling business Vince was forced to create a superstar to rival Hogan. And thus Stone Cold Steve Austin was born. So it can definitely be argued that Hogan was the cause of both boom periods in WWE.

    Great work here, Pete.

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mizfan View Post
    In my experience Undertaker doesn't come close to Hogan at all, he's quite significant but he's at the very least trailing behind Rock and Austin, and possibly a couple others.
    Close is subjective, but I guess I really meant second place (discounting The Rock of course, but that's because people don't know him from wrestling, they know him from movies).

    Thing is, I've had to explain who Austin is to the majority of non-fans I've talked to when it's come up in the conversation. I've only had to do one or twice that with the Undertaker.

    Hogan is definitely in a league of his own in terms of recognition though.

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Billington – glad you agree! The issue with Sammartino is essentially timing and the fact that it’s a territory game. Older names were just as big in their respective markets, but they had a far smaller canvas to work on. But that’s why that works. I think Vince McMahon has a far bigger footprint than the others combined, because of his rivalry with Austin and how important that was in the 1990s, but agreed, none of them touch Hogan. As for Lesnar, he’d be a footnote at best without his UFC run.

    Mizfan – I think 1991 is a good point at which his better matches, at those in the US, are a thing of the past. You can pick up a couple from his return to the WWF in 2002 that might be considered an exception, but from his first run all my favourites are in the bank by the end of 1990. He’s still doing things I enjoy in that year but there’s very little in 1991.

    I wasn’t really trying to suggest that it was a tragedy to be caught, so much as there is something tragic in the fate that you reach a level of stardom that keeps you in the spotlight in such a way that people now care about what you’ve been caught for, if that makes any sense. I’m sort of pulling in those tragic dimensions of fatal flaws, but also of forces bigger than ourselves. I do find something quite striking about the fact that Hogan is quite clearly a product of his generation, pulled by his starpower into another time, and just in doing so tarnishes what kept him in the public imagination in the first place.

    Just to quickly address the point you’re both making, I think it’s an interesting question as to who is next. I’ve always had the feeling that individual names were bigger in the early and mid-1990s than they were subsequently, even when you factor in Attitude outdrawing the past. Essentially the impression I always got was that a lot of people, later on, knew that wrestling was popular, but I don’t know how many of them even knew Austin particularly, let alone the other names. I have the feeling that specific names were less of a thing.

    With that said, Undertaker becomes a good candidate, because he was definitely around in that time, has the gimmick that makes him standout, and has longevity on his side. There was a point in the 1990s where there were a bunch of guys in the running for second place, including Randy Savage, Jake Roberts (even if people just knew him as ‘Jake the Snake’, ‘Taker, and, weirdly enough, Yokozuna. I’d suggest that given the past twenty years or so Undertaker could maybe claim to head up that list?


    Sam – Can’t really say Hogan brought wrestling to the masses. If anything the reverse is actually true, as wrestling was always a popular, very working class entertainment and the rise of the WWF is actually tied to some kind of ‘gentrification’ of wrestling. But Hogan definitely was responsible for the regional promotion having the legs to go global. And yeah, as I say in the column I don’t really feel sorry for him because it’s all of his own creation. If anything I suppose I sort of feel sorry for the fans.

    Don – It’s funny, I don’t have the experience of watching Hogan in his commercial prime. That was over even before I started watching, and was really done and dusted by 1988. But it’s funny, because even after that for five years or all those things I was saying about his being synonymous with wrestling were essentially still true. I don’t think we can really say that he was responsible for the first wrestling boom, but it can look that way because it’s the first time you’ve had a boom in a truly international promotion. Would wrestling be popular without Hogan? Probably, but if you don’t have that 1980s boom, only god knows what wrestling would even look like today. I do think you can make a case that Hogan inadvertently kickstarted the Attitude boom, too; personally I think WCW were going to do OK regardless of whether or not he turned, but that’s what made it necessary for the WWF to respond.


    Thanks to all who have read and responded.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

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