It’s been an interesting 24 hours or so. Early yesterday morning, I came across a tweet that caught my eye:
This caught my attention as I looked at replies and saw some laughable names like Bret Hart, Goldberg, and others. More notably was how many people were willing to omit Hulk Hogan from the list. Hogan has become a pariah in recent years, notably for racially insensitive comments made on camera that emerged during the discovery phase of his lawsuit against Gawker.
The events of recent years seem to be clouding the perception of many regarding Hogan’s standing in the industry’s history. This is in no way a defense of Hogan’s in-ring workability, as nobody can reasonably say he is one of the top “workers” that the industry has ever seen. However, the dynamic character he portrayed more than enough to make up for technical shortcomings.
Hogan has also drawn criticism, rightfully so, over the years for things behind the curtain. He famously utilized his “Creative Control” clause in his contract with WCW to keep himself in the main event, even when it was time for him to begin moving aside. This was one of a litany of reasons for the promotion’s eventual demise, but it can’t be understated. He was famous for saying “that doesn’t work for me, brother” when he didn’t want to “put over” younger talent. Presumably, this is also part of the angst towards him we see today and it is a valid critique.
The WWF Years
Face the facts, Hogan is the man that took what was then professional wrestling, from a regional territory structure in areas like Minneapolis, Florida, Northeast, and Texas to a national entertainment frenzy. Hulk Hogan was the man that the annual spectacle, Wrestlemania, was built around when it started in 1985. In fact, he headlined the first 8 events. Hogan’s popularity in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in pro wrestling once again being able to gain network TV access, something it hadn’t enjoyed since the 1950s.
The willingness of so many people to forget these facts is astonishing to me. Despite what many people want to believe, in-ring technical prowess isn’t a sure-fire way to stardom. The late Curt Hennig is widely revered as being one of the greatest in-ring “workers” ever, yet could anyone justify Hennig being the face of a promotion, let alone the industry for close to 20 years? The answer is unequivocally, no.
Again, I saw people wanting to put Bret Hart on this list and I couldn’t help but laugh. Hart, while a masterful technical wrestler, was about as exciting a character as Milton from Office Space. No matter how much he wants to pump up his image as a Canadian hero (if that’s the requirement to be a national hero, another discussion needs to be had), he did little to move the needle. In fact, Hart was the face of the WWF when it underwent its greatest decline in company history. Now, there were factors outside his control at the time, but the undeniable truth is he couldn’t carry the flag.
The WCW Years
Once Hogan’s time in the WWF ran its course in 1994, he jumped ship to fledgling WCW. For two years, he went through the same red-and-yellow hero act that propelled him to stardom for well over a decade. But on July 7, 1996, he once again changed the industry. It was on this date he turned “heel” and partnered with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the New World Order, the greatest faction in the industry’s history.
This move was the jumping-off point for the most successful period in the history of the industry. With Hogan at the helm of the nWo, the WCW did the unthinkable and surpassed the WWF (led by Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker), as the leading promotion on the planet. This last statement was unthinkable to anyone when he came to the Turner run organization in 1994.
Despite what people want to admit, Hogan’s heel turn changed the industry forever. This singular move led to the WCW’s dominance over the WWF for 83 consecutive weeks in the Monday Night rating war. In turn, that led to Vince McMahon launching the “Attitude Era.” The notion that Hogan couldn’t live up to guys like Austin and The Rock, is preposterous because these characters emerged as a direct response to “Hollywood” Hogan and the nWo.
Whether you call it professional wrestling or sports entertainment, your character matters. Hogan was unbelievably limited with the matches and opponents he could work, but his character and charisma allowed him to overcome those flaws. He wasn’t the total package like Austin, The Rock, or the gimmick stealing Ric Flair but he didn’t need to be.
Hulk Hogan was the face of the industry when it transformed from a regional territory network of promotions to a national entertainment force. He was the foundational building block for the annual spectacle that is, Wrestlemania. Hogan was the top player in the industry for close to two decades. He helped propel the WCW from laughing stock to the premier industry promotion with a heel turn. All the while forming the nWo and leading to the greatest peak in the industry. But sure, tell me he isn’t one of the greatest characters the industry has ever seen, brother.