Hitting the Ropes: Bring Back Hulkamania!

HTR_3Hitting the Ropes: Bring Back Hulkamania!

WWE announced this past Monday that The Animal, Dave Batista, is returning to the company in January.  Honestly I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m not a huge Batista fan but this should shake things up a little bit.  I feel WWE has been a little stale lately, which is usually how I feel before Wrestlemania season.

So I’m looking forward to Batista’s arrival on January.  But I don’t think Vince should stop there.

The time has come to bring Hulk Hogan back to World Wrestling Entertainment.

It is time for Vince McMahon to bring back one of his biggest stars and it is definitely time for Hulk himself to return to the promotion that made him an international superstar.

And let’s face it, where else would he go?  Hulk can’t turn around a promotion as we’ve painfully seen with TNA.  He can only help WWE at this point.  How much he would help is debatable, but if used correctly this could be the final chapter in Hogan’s brilliant, and sometimes bizarre, career.  As a lifelong fan of WWE I would welcome the return of the yellow and red.

I didn’t always feel this way.  I was ready for Hulk Hogan to leave WWE in 1993.  It wasn’t just that his act had gotten stale (it had), the entire WWF product at the time was terrible.  Known as the “Hasbro Age” the WWE had gotten too “cartoonish”, almost ridiculous at times.  And for a passionate fan to feel that way about professional wrestling, well, that’s not good.  All you had to do was look at Ricky Steamboat walking to the ring dressed as a Disney World dragon to know the company was headed in the wrong direction.

And at that point, Hulk Hogan wasn’t going to bail out Vince McMahon.

In the past Hogan was able to elevate the entire company because of his immense popularity.  People always went home happy as long as the show ended with a big leg drop.  And they were usually carrying a new yellow t-shirt or bandana as a souvenir.  Since the birth of Hulkamania in 1984, Hogan was a gold mine at the ticket counter.

In many ways Hulk Hogan gave the WWF structure during the 80’s.  With Hogan as his world champion Vince McMahon could do whatever he wanted with the rest of the card.  As long as Hogan was booked strong Vince would use the undercard to build other stars, especially heels such as Randy Savage, the Hart Foundation, and even the Honky Tonk Man.  All of them became hated champions.  Even the mistakes that Vince made weren’t that damaging because Hulk Hogan was the true face of the WWE (something we didn’t have to be reminded of on television…we just “knew”).

I totally bought into it at the time.  Hulk Hogan wasn’t my favorite wrestler, but I admit I loved Hogan’s promos, which are still entertaining today to watch on YouTube:

I still think Hulk Hogan has the greatest theme song ever, “Real American” (with apologies to Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham) which was very important at the time as music was becoming a bigger part of the pro wrestling experience:

Some of my favorite moments as a wrestling fan, especially as a child, were watching Hulk Hogan.  The very first show I ever attended was headlined by Hulk and Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy taped for Saturday Night’s Main Event.   Not bad!  His other matches on Saturday Night’s Main Event with Hercules, Paul Orndorff, and Terry Funk, among others, were also exciting title defenses.  His run with Randy Savage as the Mega-Powers is still my favorite storyline of all time:

And that doesn’t even take into account WrestleMania III vs. Andre the Giant.  Good God!  “What’s he saying to him Gorilla?!  What could he POSSIBLY be saying to him?!”  Hulk slamming Andre was one of the true “where were you” moments in professional wrestling history.

Hulk Hogan was Vince McMahon’s insurance policy.  Not everything in the WWE was entertaining and well-done, but Hulk Hogan carried that company unlike any star I’ve ever seen.  Consider that Hulk Hogan was in or around the main event of the first 9 Wrestlemanias!  NINE!

We all know Hulk Hogan built WrestleMania into the biggest pro wrestling event of the year, which is still true today as we approach number 30.  (I know Roddy Piper likes to say he sold that first main event.  Yet the very next year he was “boxing” Mr. T while Hogan was defending his world title…that’s not so great).

But for all the good of Hulkamania, there had been no true character growth since 1984.  Hogan performed the same routine, the very same matches, over and over again.  The only thing that changed was the challenger: Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, Killer Kahn, Kamala, Hercules, Andre the Giant, Big Boss Man, Akeem, Paul Orndorff, and on and on…

Eventually even Hulk’s diehard fans started to tire of the entire Hogan experience.  I think you can point to Hogan’s failed (massively failed?!) program with Ric Flair as proof that Hogan wasn’t the attraction he used to be.  How did Hulk-Flair not headline a Wrestlemania?  There was a time I would have blacked out if they were booked to face each other.  But that was 1987, not 1993.

Vince couldn’t rely on Hogan to cover his mistakes anymore.  In addition, the steroid scandal hurt Hulk’s popularity as well as his credibility.  He really needed a change of scenery, even if at the time I thought his career might be finished.  I was young and not really aware of the business side of pro wrestling at the time, so I didn’t know all of his other options.

When Hulk Hogan signed with WCW I was curious to see how he would help that company.  His run on top with the “generic” yellow and red ring gear was fine and a nice career resurgence.  Of course Hogan really hit it big when he joined forces with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to form the New World Order.

Even Hogan detractors have to admit the NWO was a great storyline, the Monday Night Wars were compelling, and WCW was a real threat to WWF’s long-standing place at the top.  Hogan was definitely a big part of the whole thing (and some would argue a big part of its eventual demise).

After WCW was bought by Vince, Hulk Hogan found himself in occasional WWE storylines.  During this time he had some high spots, especially his Wrestlemania 18 match vs. the Rock.  It was the first indication that some sense of nostalgia existed between Hogan and the WWE fans.

When Hulk went to TNA he tried to recreate the same magic he and Eric Bischoff had brought to WCW.  In my opinion Hulk was never a good fit with TNA.  Hogan and Bischoff brought in a lot of “their” guys (the Nasty Boys, Scott Steiner, etc.) to fill out the roster.  He even brought his daughter Brooke into the company!  Really?!?  Eventually the young rising stars in TNA were flushed to the bottom of the card.

I think it was worth a try for TNA, to see if Hogan could spike ratings or make a legitimate impact on the product, but do you honestly think that has happened?  I blame all involved for thinking they could just recreate the past.

So now Hulk Hogan is gone from TNA, and in the long run this will allow TNA to grow and create their own new stars.  Maybe they will never be more than “the #2 promotion in the United States”, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive for a unique, exciting, dynamic product.

As for Hulk Hogan?  I still love him.  I always will because of how important he was to me growing up.  I would put him #1 or #2 on the all-time list of greatest professional wrestlers because of how popular he was around the world.  He was never a great technical wrestler, I know.  But he carried a burden unlike many, if any, other wrestlers did.  He was the focal point in the most dramatic change this industry ever experienced.

For this reason I feel Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan should work out a deal for him to return to World Wrestling Entertainment.  And we’ve seen this before with WWE.  If Vince can bring back Rock, Brock Lesnar, Ric Flair, Bob Backlund, and even the legendary Bruno Sammartino, then he can work something out with Hogan.

A word of warning though: PLEASE don’t bring Hogan back and use him like they did Bret “Hitman” Hart.  Seeing Hart slog around the ring in WM26 was a disaster (I wrote about this here).

In general I don’t know Hogan’s true physical condition but Vince could use him effectively: in-ring promos, managing, whatever. Sign him to a Legends contract and let him appear in some capacity at Wrestlemania 30.  People will enjoy giving Hogan one last send-off.

As much as I feel the fans would like it, bringing Hogan back to McMahon’s promotion would also heal some of the damage Hulk’s done to his own legacy: the divorce, the sex tape, the troubled kids, even his relationship with Vince (#23 on the Top 50 WWE superstars list, really?!?).  It would be nice for this influential wrestler to have one last “moment”.  One last performance that reminded us how wonderful it was to cheer – or jeer – for Hulkamania!

It’s time for Hulk Hogan to stop trying to help struggling promotions.  It’s time for a promotion to help him…and only the WWE can do that.  Maybe it will never be as good as it was that night in the Pontiac Silverdome…or maybe he’ll never work someone like Randy Savage again…but there is a place in the WWE for this talented performer.

I hope to see him this April in New Orleans.

— David is the editor-in-chief and radio host for OWW.  Follow him on Twitter @dlb19338.