2014 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: Hulk Hogan
Apr 6, 2014 - 1:00:00 AM
Class of 2014
If professional wrestling, as a whole, went out of business tomorrow, there are only a small handful of names that you could discuss as carrying an entire era and/or changing the game, so to speak.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
"The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels.
There aren't many more names that can realistically be added to that list, but one name stands above the rest. One name changed everything for pro wrestling. One name then defied all logic and changed everything for pro wrestling a second time.
When you look back at the history of the business, Hulk Hogan certainly wasn't the first major superstar to come along. Names like Sammartino, Gorgeous George, Verne Gagne and Lou Thesz were legends before Hogan ever decided to lace up a pair of wrestling boots. Those men all drew a lot of money for the territories they worked in, won numerous World Titles, and were looked at as Gods among mere men. None of them could take the business to the absurd levels that Hogan would go on to take it, though.
Thanks to Vince McMahon's ballsy strategy to forego the traditional territorial system that wrestling had been using for decades, Hulk Hogan was able to take the business to national success. As big a name as Bruno Sammartino was in the American northeast, you could go to other places in the country, and wrestling fans wouldn't have even heard of him. You couldn't say that with Hogan, and that has helped to forever sculpt the industry, with WWE continuing to expand on their imprint, taking their product to nearly every continent on the planet, both with live shows, television distribution and internet reach.
Appearing in the box office smash Rocky III, Hulk's name was growing in the national scene in mid-1982, before he even re-signed with the World Wrestling Federation, but when you combine that growing popularity with the aforementioned strategy by Vince McMahon to get rid of the territorial system, the WWF was able to take itself to levels that nobody thought possible in 1984 when Hogan won the WWF World Title from The Iron Sheik. WrestleMania, working with MTV (back when that was a huge deal, and back when MTV was the top name in music and pop culture), record television ratings, record pay-per-view numbers, his own Saturday morning cartoon, magazine covers (he's still the only pro wrestler to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated).. Hogan was a megastar.
Every star begins to dim at some point, and that's no different with Hogan. In late-1991 and early-1992, Hogan's crowd reactions, while still stronger than 99% of the business, began to diminish a bit. His younger fans were growing up a bit, and he wasn't as "cool" in the eyes of many as, say, Sid Justice or "The Macho Man" Randy Savage were at the time. Hogan probably saw the writing on the wall, and in late-1993, he left the WWF to try and succeed in Hollywood. His time away from North American wrestling barely lasted a half-year, as he would sign with the WWF's main rival, World Championship Wrestling, in mid-1994.
Wrestling fans were assuming they were stuck in a time warp with Hogan's early days in WCW. He was the same Red-and-Yellow face superstar that he was in WWF, and was still having a level of success (albeit far smaller) in Hollywood, while the fans loved him. He was relatively fresh to the fans of WCW, as he would be performing in areas of the country that the WWF didn't always focus on. However, that time warp continued as wrestling fans began to tire of his shtick. Wrestling was getting edgier, and there were "cooler" people to cheer for. Hogan was nearly 43 years old in the summer of 1996, and people began to wonder if his career was coming to an end.
That's when WCW changed everything by pulling off the single greatest heel turn in the history of the business, aligning Hogan with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the nWo. It was the shot in the arm that Hogan's career needed. Overnight, he was "cool" again. He was "relevant" again. He showed everyone that he wasn't just a one-note player, and he was able to go out on television every week and be one of the most dastardly men in wrestling history.
Think about that very carefully. Hulk Hogan was the single-greatest face in the history of wrestling, able to be clean cut and go out there as a positive role model for children all over the globe for over a dozen years as the biggest star in the business. Hulk Hogan also has a claim as being the single-greatest heel in the history of wrestling, able to instantly change on a dime and have people want to hop the guardrail and smack the taste out of his mouth just by smirking at them. Steve Austin couldn't do that, as his heel turn was essentially botched from the beginning and would quickly be turned into a comedy character. The Rock couldn't do that, as he was pretty much the exact same character as a face and as a heel. The same goes for Ric Flair. People compare Hogan's career to John Cena, but until Cena turns heel again, we can't say, for certain, that the comparisons are entirely accurate.
Hulk Hogan changed the business. Hulk Hogan made it possible for guys like Austin, Rock, Michaels, Cena, and so forth to do what they do. Without Hogan (and without Vince McMahon), there's a possibility that wrestling would still be in a territorial model in 2014, which is crazy to think about. Forget the negative things people have said about him, from his rumored backstage antics to his run with TNA that many people would like to forget about.. Hulk Hogan is professional wrestling.
It is my honor and my pleasure to induct The Hulkster into the LoP Hall Of Fame, Class of 2014. Now, if you'll indulge me for a moment, I just have one final thing to say..
Whatcha gonna do, LoP-maniacs, when Hulk Hogan and the immortal power of Hulkamania runs *flexes* wild *flexes again* on *flexes again* YOU?!?!? *flexes again and snarls like a wild animal*