Hogan, Hulk (1953—)

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Hogan, Hulk (1953—)

While limited in his talent as an in-ring performer, Hulk Hogan's physique, interviews, and incredible personal charisma made him the undisputed star of a professional wrestling boom that began in 1984 and remains, with the exception of a few years, stronger than ever in the late 1990s. Throughout this time, Hogan has been the most recognizable personality to nonprofessional wrestling fans. To promoters, Hogan has been a marketable presence, headlining live events, selling merchandise, performing on television, and appearing in the main event for the majority of Pay-per-View (PPV) shows. Hogan has parlayed his wrestling fame into roles in movies, television, and commercials. Simply, he is the greatest drawing card in the history of professional wrestling.

Born Terry Bollea, Hogan began weightlifting as a teenager while living in Tampa, Florida. After studying business administration and music at the University of South Florida, he was discovered by two professional wrestlers when he was playing bass in a rock band. Hogan started wrestling in the southern United States under names such as Terry "the Hulk" Boulder and Sterling Golden. Hogan first hit the big time with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the early 1980s. With "heel" manager Classie Freddie Blassie at his side, Hogan played the muscular, egotistical blond villain. As was then a common occurrence, Hogan left one wrestling territory and moved to the next: the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association (AWA).

Though Hogan had appeared in both the WWF and AWA, it was his trips to Japan which created the phenomenon known as "Hulkamania." Japanese wrestling fans immediately took to Hogan, and he became a superstar. Upon his returned to the United States, he was booked back in the AWA as a "heel." But the fans rejected that role for Hogan and, instead, cheered him. He was turned "baby face" and quickly set attendance records across the Midwest. Hogan extended his success in the ring with a small but very noticeable part in Rocky II ; playing "Thunder Lips" he was paired with Rocky in a charity boxer vs. wrestler match. By 1983, Hulk Hogan was the biggest name in professional wrestling, but this was only the beginning.

Vince McMahon, Jr. lured Hogan from the AWA and made him the star of his nationally expanding WWF promotion. In 1984, Hogan defeated the evil Iron Sheik in less than ten-minutes at New York's Madison Square Garden to become the WWF champion. Hogan began starring in wrestling shows across the country as the WWF became nationally syndicated and featured on cable programs. Hogan's feud with Roddy Piper in 1984 led first to the "brawl to settle it all" broadcast live on MTV, and then a few months later to "Wrestlemania," the first wrestling event broadcast on closed-circuit TV nationally. Hogan teamed with TV actor Mr. T in the main event. Taking advantage of a late cancellation, Hogan and Mr. T were able to host Saturday Night Live the evening before "WrestleMania." The success of "WrestleMania" soon won it a monthly show on NBC, and Hogan bolstered the show's popularity. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in Time. Hogan's image was everywhere: on T-shirts, on the cover of a record album, in wrestling videos and TV guest appearances. After a hugely successful match against Andre the Giant at the Pontiac Silverdome—which drew over 80,000 people plus another million or so watching on closed circuit TV and the very young PPV industry—NBC moved wrestling to prime time in February 1988.

But by the early 1990s, Hogan encountered his most serious challenge in wrestling, when a doctor affiliated with the WWF was arrested for dealing illegal steroids. The case expanded to include WWF owner Vince McMahon, with Hogan as a witness for the government. Hogan went on the Arsenio Hall Show and denied being a steroid user or abuser, confessing only to a limited use of steroids for medical purposes. Although at the trial he confessed to more use. The prosecutor mocked Hogan's catch phrase extolling children to "say your prayers and eat your vitamins" while "all the while [the WWF was] pumping him with steroids." After Hogan won the main event at "WrestleMania XIII," he disappeared from wrestling as the steroid scandal intensified. A short comeback proved to be a flop as Hogan's physique had shrunk, and with it, seemingly, his popularity. After losing the WWF title in June 1993, which he had won again at "WrestleMania XIV," Hogan severed his relationship with the WWF.

After some movie and television work, including a short-lived show called Thunder in Paradise, Hogan returned to the U.S. wrestling scene in the summer of 1994 just as the verdict of "not guilty" came down in the WWF steroid case. Hogan went to work for Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and had an immediate impact, as ratings and PPV revenue increased. But Hogan's act had played too long. Even though he was still a "good guy," Hogan was booed at arenas.

After failing to toughen up his image, Hogan finally "turned" on the fans in 1996 and adopted the persona of Hollywood Hogan, forming, along with other wrestlers, a group called the New World Order (NWO). The NWO soon became the hottest gimmick in wrestling and Hogan was the focus of the promotion: always in the main event, always in the key part of the television programs. Behind the scenes, Hogan was acting as the de facto "head booker" deciding which wrestlers got TV time, wins, and championship belts. Hogan also demonstrated his star power, drawing celebrities such as NBA players Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone into the ring. One of the most memorable of these celebrity fights was between Hogan and Tonight Show host Jay Leno in the "Hog Wild" PPV in August 1998. Hulk Hogan's flamboyance and theatrics has come to epitomize the appeal of professional wrestling.

—Patrick Jones

Further Reading:

Corliss, Richard. "Hype! Hell Raising! Hulk Hogan!" Time. April 15, 1985, 104.

Lentz, Harris M. Biographical Dictionary of Professional Wrestling. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 1997.

Morton, Gerald, and George M. O'Brien. Wrestling to Rasslin': Ancient Sport to American Spectacle. Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University Press, 1985.

Newman, Bruce. "Who's Kidding Whom?" Sports Illustrated. April 29, 1985, 28-34.