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 411mania » Wrestling » Columns

The Magnificent Seven: Top 7 Oddities of Hulk Hogan's Legacy
Posted by Mike Chin on 08.16.2014

I'm a child of the 1980s. Thus, I won't for one second deny that I loved Hulk Hogan. I had his action figure. I had his Wrestling Buddy stuffed animal. I rooted for him against Andre the Giant, Ted Dibiase, Randy Savage, and Zeus. I made no bones about once considering him the greatest wrestler in the world.

I also won't deny that I still have a soft spot for the Hulkster. Even when I grew into a teenager and my illusions of his perfection fell away, I still felt an instinctive drive to cheer him on. And I loved his work with the NWO and his performance at Wrestlemania 18. When I drove a couple hours to see TNA Bound for Glory 2011 live it was, more than for any other purpose, for the prospect of seeing Hogan in the ring one last time in person. And I marked out a little more than I should have when I learned he would host Wrestlemania 30.

So I have been, am, and will likely continue to be a Hogan fan. While my all-time favorite wrestler is Bret Hart, I‘d now call Shawn Michaels the best all-around wrestling performer of my lifetime, and think that someone like John Cena is an objectively better role model for young people than Hogan, in my heart of hearts, I'm still a Hulkamaniac—and I think that's true for a millions of people.

In this column, I'm dissecting why I probably shouldn't be such a Hogan mark and why, despite what logic dictates, I still am. I'm counting down the top seven oddities in the legacy of Hulk Hogan.

#7. Limitations in the Ring

One of the great contradictions that wrestling historians will always have to contend with is the fact that Hulk Hogan—the most famous wrestler of all time, probably still considered by the general public to be the greatest pro wrestler of all time, actually wasn't all that remarkable in the ring.

Hogan focused on a basic move set that was limited to high impact brawling—punches to face, chest chops, kicks to the mid-section, and the big boot—and unspectacular power moves—primarily, just the bodyslam. And none of this offense was delivered particularly crisply or realistically. Comparably, on the defensive side, Hogan tended to vacillate between dramatically overselling his opponents' attacks, and completely no-selling as he hulked up and brushed off some of wrestling's otherwise most devastating maneuvers.

To put it frankly, watch Hogan in a vacuum and mute the crowd reaction, and he seems like a pretty bad professional wrestler.

But most of us don't watch wrestling on mute. We watch it live from the arena, or broadcasted into our television screens and with that context, Hogan's performances become legitimately legendary. And that's where the kernel of truth about Hogan as an in-ring performer becomes most evident. He wasn't highly technical or innovative, but he performed with an intangible brand of charisma that connected with the fans, maintained an arsenal of recognizable moves that made it easy for fans to know what was coming, chant along, and cheer accordingly—perfect for an era in which predictability was acceptable, and in the decades to follow, perfect for a nostalgia act that brought fans back to their youths.

#6. Limited Appearances

I became a mark for Bret Hart in 1993 amidst his first world title run. I wasn't overly upset when Hulk Hogan won the strap back at Wrestlemania 9, but my interest quickly flagged when, in addition to his in-ring limitations, I noticed Hogan wasn't appearing in the ring at all.

Whereas Hart worked his way into the hearts of wrestling fans by living up to his fighting champion gimmick, Hogan didn't wrestle on Monday Night Raw or Superstars. Nor did he even offer the shows the dignity of live interview appearances; instead, we only received Hogan via pre-recorded backstage promos.

Again, this demonstrates Hogan as a product of his time. In the 1980s, when all TV was pre-recorded aside from the occasional Saturday Night's Main Event, and there were only four PPVs on the calendar, it was perfectly acceptable to not see the WWF's biggest star for a period of months. As WWE progressed toward the modern era, Hogan's absences stuck out like a sore thumb. While Hogan adapted and appeared much more regularly for his WCW run, he still had his share of extended absences to be followed by dramatic returns—great for the nights when he did come back, but ultimately sending fans the clear message that The Hulkster was not a personality you could reliably expect to see on your television screen.

It's easy to blast Hogan as lazy or selfish for his limited appearances, but the funny thing is that he may well have stumbled on a winning formula before it became in vogue. Before The Undertaker limited himself to WrestleMania appearances, guys like Chris Jericho and RVD began taking sabbaticals, and The Rock became the part-timiest of part-timers, Hulk Hogan was the star who felt special for under exposure—a personality fans waited to see again, and for whom they exploded when they did catch sight of him.

#5. Heelish Antics

I realize I'm not exactly breaking new ground when I write this, but long after his initial heel run and long before the NWO it's remarkable to watch old footage of Hogan see just how high a proportion of his offense is unadulterated cheating—often unprovoked by his adversary. Sure, there are the closed-fist punches that are technically illegal but that most everyone gets away with; beyond that, though, Hogan openly embraced gouging his opponents' eyes, dragging their eyes across the ring ropes, choking them with wrist tape, and whipping them with belts.

And there's one of Hogan's most transparent heel moments—the first instance when I remember consciously questioning his heroism—when Sid Justice eliminated him from the 1992 Royal Rumble, and rather than accept defeat graciously, Hogan manipulated the big man into a handshake, then held onto him and pulled, facilitating the only actual heel in the situation, Ric Flair, dumping Justice from behind. Not very sportsmanlike.

As Gorilla Monsoon tended to rationalize on commentary, Hogan's heelish moves were often a demonstration of how heated his rivalries had become or the actions were alternately retributive or preemptory to the heel's own illegal activities. For better or worse, I can't escape the sense that the gestalt of this style of wrestling was to communicate Hogan and his matches were above the conventional pro wrestling rulebook, not dissimilar from the way in which no DQ matches came into vogue in the decades to follow Hogan's heyday, with the implicit message that wrestling's highest stakes encounters couldn't be bound by traditional rules, but rather demanded that the main event players involved be permitted to fight.

#4. Disloyalty to WWE

From 1985 to 1992, Hulk Hogan was more or less synonymous with the WWF. But then things changed. Hogan tried to go Hollywood, to less than stellar results. He testified in the steroid trial, not as against the WWF as he could have (he denied that he was ever pressured to take steroids or that Vince McMahon had, directly, given them to him), but also copping to steroids being a part of his fitness regimen at the time. From there, he moved on to WCW where his name power and backstage influence contributed to the company nearly putting the WWF out of business. And while Hogan did come back home for a year and a half in the early 2000s and made scattered appearances thereafter, he rounded out that decade as an authority figure, on and off camera, for TNA, including the brief spell when the company tried to go head to head with WWE on Monday night television programming.

So why does WWE keep welcoming back Hogan with open arms? There's an inescapable nostalgia factor for the man who was arguably most key to building and preserving WWE over the Vince McMahon Jr. years. A desire to make bank on the Hogan persona, because, let's face it, people will still pay to see The Hulkster. But above all that, I think there's a very real sense that Hulk Hogan is an inextricable part of the WWE family. WWE could more or less whitewash Chris Benoit from its history; it could spend the better part of a decade forgetting Bret Hart existed; it could blackball Vince Russo from ever setting foot in a WWE writers' room again; heck, Randy Savage is still somehow missing from the Hall of Fame. But both in front of and behind the cameras, Hogan is a part of the fabric of WWE, existing in the very same rarefied air as Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, and McMahon himself as figures that will always have a home in the E.

#3. Dubious Claims

The word is out—Hulk Hogan is full of shit.

Take the most iconic moment of his storied career: bodyslamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3.
A cool moment? No doubt. But much the mystique around that moment is up for debate.

Brother, I slammed him in front of 100,000 people at the Silverdome. The high end estimates had the crowd at 93,173, with conflicting reports estimating the attendance closer to 72,000.

He weighed 700 pounds, jack! Andre was billed at 520 at the time, which may, itself have been an overestimate.

I pressed the Giant over my head. It was a bodyslam—to his credit, a fully realized slam, but certainly not a press slam.

No one thought it could be done, brother, brother, brother. Actually, Hogan himself had slammed Andre at least twice on record in 1980.

Yes, it's easy to call Hogan a liar, and wrap it up at that. But in listening to him recount his greatest moments, it's more fun to listen to him not like he's a historian, but rather a crazy grandfather telling you about how he walked ten miles to school, uphill both ways in the snow when he was a kid. You know there's a lot of hyperbole and bending of the truth, but you also don't care because you know it makes a better story the way he's telling it, and besides, he's a harmless old man.

#2. Reality Woes

When VH1 rolled out the Hogan Knows Best reality series, I thought we were getting as close to a real look at Hulk Hogan's life as we'd ever get. Uninspired and sanitized, the show still offered a handful of memorable peeks behind the scenes and insights into who Terry Bollea and his family really were. Just the same, in the aftermath of the show, the gloves came off. His son, Nick, got in a car wreck for which he was held responsible for drinking and driving and reckless driving. Hogan and his wife, Linda, underwent an ugly divorce. And then there was the Hulk Hogan sex tape which, to be frank,I did not and have no interest in watching, and won't write about any further.

The sum of these incidents could easily be enough to destroy Hogan's legacy and, indeed, mass media seems to view Hogan as more of a punchline than an A-list celebrity at this point. Just the same, in a case of life imitating art, Terry Bollea has hulked up, opening a new club, returning to WWE TV, and generally re-establishing his name to the point that, if by no other means than absence making the heart grow fonder, by the time he made his return for WrestleMania 30, the snarky IWC fans who had always hated Hogan seemed to be the only ones really decrying his comeback—the rest of us were happy to see him back on our TVs (in the appropriate doses).

#1. Bad for Business

The most unsettling and ugly revelation of Hogan's TNA run was that he might actually not be good for business. Consider the facts: he became an on-air character, and he failed to move the needle on TNA ratings. He and Eric Bischoff teamed up to reshape the creative direction of the product. Not only did business not pick up, but temporarily moving Impact to Monday nights and scheduling more shows on the road seemed to actively hurt the company's financial status.

So what good, exactly, did Hogan do for TNA?

Taking matters a step further, despite his very successful run as a heel champion with the NWO, Hogan's time in WCW was bookended by disappointment—first a face run that felt like a retread of his already-tired WWF schtick, then extending the NWO well past the point of fans getting tired of it before settling into forgettable programs with Kidman and Mike Awesome that did nothing to benefit anyone involved.

Then let's look at Hogan's work with WWE. For seven or eight years, he was the single biggest star wrestling has ever seen and ushered in a level of success the company and wrestling in general had never seen before and has hardly flirted with since (aside from the Attitude Era). But what about the coda to his first WWF run—when he stole the spotlight from Bret Hart and Yokozuna for a forgettable run that derailed what little momentum the new generation had gathered and set the company back in 1993. And yes, Hogan put on an enjoyable program with Shawn Michaels leading up to SummerSlam 2005. But what about his follow up performance opposite Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2006? Reportedly, Hogan dickered over not wanting to put over Orton and about money and about dubious injuries, all of which utterly sabotaged the booking of the angle.

The lesson to be derived from all of this is that Hogan, like most of us, is human, and his body of work is not immaculate or one hundred percent consistent. His politicking, tendency to rely on the same old tricks, and limitations as a creative mind mean that he's not someone to trust with absolute power over a wrestling company.

Thus we arrive at the perfect pairing of Hulk Hogan with Vince McMahon. McMahon, who recognized when it was time to pull the plug on Hulk Hogan as the top face in 1993, and then found a way to get the most of him again in 2002, again in 2005, and yet again in 2013. Hogan, left to his own devices, is not so different from Vince Russo as a creative force—potentially brilliant, but in need of a driver with two hands on the steering wheel and a foot hovering over the brake to keep the car on the road, and to know when it's time to pull over for a rest stop. Hogan isn't, objectively, to be blamed for that—it's just part of his legacy that he's only as good as a master facilitator like McMahon sets him up to be.

What parts of Hulk Hogan's legacy interest you? What do you feel his legacy is? Let us know in the comments section. See you in seven.

Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.


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