While Hulk Hogan nowadays is known as that guy from Hogan Knows Best or that host fella from American Gladiators (in their current form) or even as the father of not-so-safe driver, Nick Hogan or not-so-great singer, Brooke Hogan…he will always be synonymous with Professional Wrestling…for better or worse.
3. HULK HOGAN
Real Name – Terry Bollea
Aliases – Sterling Golden; Super Destroyer; Terry “The Hulk” Boulder; Hulk Machine; Hollywood Hogan; Hollywood Hulk Hogan; Mr. America
Hometown – Tampa, FL (billed from Venice Beach, CA)
Debuted – 1977
Titles Held – WWF/WWE Heavyweight (6x); WCW World Heavyweight (6x); IWGP Heavyweight; WWE Tag Team (w/ Edge); NWA Southeastern Heavyweight (3x)
Other accomplishments – Royal Rumble Winner (2x); WWE Hall Of Fame; various television and film appearances as well as music albums in Japan and U.S.
Note: The following is done mainly from a kayfabe point of view…which is fitting for a character that only worked in kayfabe form. Hulk Hogan was a larger than life persona and as such, shall get a larger than life article. Enjoy!
It was a moment that could have prevented history from occuring as it did.
Terry Bollea wanted to be a professional wrestler. He attended the same High School as Dick Slater and Mike Graham. Slater and Graham did not know him, but he knew them. He wanted to be them. He wanted to be a pro wrestler. Inspired by Superstar Billy Graham, Terry saw himself as someone who could one day show that same charisma and entertain the wrestling fans. During shows in Tampa, he would be there, greeting his schoolmate, Mike as, “Mr. Graham.” He was determined. He wanted to entertain. He would play bass guitar in a local rock band, because he loved playing to the crowd. But it was Wrestling that called to him. Finally, Terry got his shot. Hiro Matsuda was charged with the task of breaking him in. Hiro decided to simply break him first. Less than a minute into Hiro’s first lesson to Terry would bring us to the moment of truth, before anyone realized the impact.
“So you want to be a wrestler?” asked the Japanese trainer. Terry’s leg was now broken and it was that period of time where he had to decide if being a professional wrestler would be worth the price. He could have said no. He could have written off wrestling then and there, opting possibly for a career in rock music as a bassist or simply a roadie or sound tech. In that moment of decision, there could have been no Hulk Hogan. No Hulk Hogan! No Hulkamania. No Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling Cartoon or movies. No Tiny Lister as Zeus. Possibly no WrestleMania or a strong enough push for expansion throughout the United States. Everything would have been different from how it is now, for better or worse.
In the following year, Terry would be debuting as a professional wrestler, because he said, “yes.” He was Sterling Golden and for a brief time, under the mask of the Super Destroyer. From Florida to Tennessee and Alabama, Terry was beginning to hone his craft, eventually settling on the name of Terry Boulder. After appearing side-by-side with Lou Ferrigno of TV’s, The Incredible Hulk and discovering himself to be even bigger, he became Terry “The Hulk” Boulder.
In the Deep South, Terry Boulder was a physical force and his bearhug could make many an opponent submit. He teamed up with Ed Leslie, who would become (for that time), Ed Boulder. For less than a minute, Terry thought he had won the NWA World Heavyweight title from Harley Race, but the decision would be overturned, leaving Terry to be labeled as, “uncrowned Champion.” It was the first, but not the last time that he would find himself cheated out of a World title. Terry however was able to hoist up the Southeastern Heavyweight title, after defeating Ox Baker. As was the times, Terry would soon find himself moving from the Deep South to a much bigger target, the Northeast. Specifically, the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
The World Wide Wrestling Federation of the 1970s was high on cultural backgrounds, with different cultures represented from Bruno Sammartino for the Italian fans to Peter Maivia for the Samoans. Pedro Morales for the Latino community and of course, the WWWF Heavyweight Champion at the time of Terry’s arrival, Bob Backlund, representing the rest of Mainstream America. WWWF Owner, Vincent J. McMahon decided for Terry to have a name that appealed more to the Irish audience, with Terry “The Hulk” Boulder being rechristened as Hulk Hogan.
“Classy” Freddie Blassie took Hogan under his managerial wing and in his Madison Square Garden debut, Hogan defeated a young Ted DiBiase. There would be no love lost between the two as the memories of that loss to Hogan would stay in the back of Ted’s mind for years. Hogan feuded with Tony Atlas over who was stronger. He also had a memorable feud with Andre The Giant, back when the feud was Upper Midcard level instead of Main Event. Hogan’s run in the WWWF was brief however, as he would eventually find himself in Japan.
In Japan, the crowd took to the golden musclebound behemoth from the States, nicknaming him, “Ichiban,” as in, “Number One.” The Hulk Hogan of Japan was different from the Hulk Hogan in the States in that he was able to hone the more technical skills aspect of his repetoire, varying slightly from his more showmanship attitude back in his native country. “Ichiban” Hulk Hogan would be pitted against many of Wrestling’s best at the time, from Tatsumi Fujinami to Dusty Rhodes (the latter of which would wind up being more of a dream match by the late 1980s stateside). When not in Japan, Hogan was now playing to the Midwestern audience of the American Wrestling Association, headed by Verne Gagne and Stanley Blackburn. Not that it was supposed to be that way…
Upon leaving the WWWF, McMahon had wanted Hogan to wrestle for NWA promoter, Jim Crockett. Hogan had another option in mind that did not involve Wrestling, but a notable cameo in the film, Rocky III. VJ McMahon was less than thrilled and Hogan, fearing that he would never work New York City again after filming and promotion was done, wound up in the AWA. In the WWWF, Hogan had not endeared himself to the fans. His early run in the AWA was no different, but that would change upon Hogan splitting from his manager of the time, Johnny Valiant. The fans approved of this change in attitude and cheered him on as he took on various bad guys in the league. Hogan would do what was considered the unthinkable during this time, bodyslamming the mammoth Crusher Blackwell. Moving up the ranks, Hogan’s momentum carried him to a series of matches against the AWA World Heavyweight Champion, Nick Bockwinkel. Nick and his manager, Bobby Heenan would grow to dislike Hogan, Bobby very much so. The Hulkster, having all the momentum one could possibly have and in a league that was on the verge of breaking into a new era of Wrestling was just one obstacle away from cementing the start of a legendary run. That obstacle, being World Champion. It turns out however that the men of power in the AWA were uncomfortable with a man seen mainly as a power wrestler/brawler being their top guy and scoring several victories over Bockwinkel for the Championship, every win was almost immediately reversed. It was a frustration Hogan knew well from his days in the Southeast, but this time it was more intense. This time, he had what felt like a world of fans on his side, the only ones against him being the puppet masters in the board room. The anger towards wrestling authority, which would manifest 13 years later is a flame that ignited with Championship wins erased in the AWA. Frustrated, Hogan focused more on his Japanese schedule.
Back in Japan, the International Wrestling Grand Prix Heavyweight Championship Tournament was being held and Hulk Hogan was part of it. Scoring a rare Knockout victory over the much respected Antonio Inoki for that first Championship, Hogan’s legend was able to be cemented…in Japan at least. But it was 1983 and Wrestling was beginning to change with the times. Back in the Northeastern United States, the World Wide Wrestling Federation had become the World Wrestling Federation. Vincent J. McMahon was no longer in charge, selling the league to his son, Vincent K. McMahon, or simply Vince. And the younger Vince wanted Hogan back in his territory. In late 1983, still frustrated that having a fanbase was not enough to be the top man, Hogan returned to the now WWF…and back with manager Freddie Blassie, though only briefly for fate would soon intervene.
In late 1983, Freddie Blassie was also the manager of the much hated Iron Shiek. A private conversation with Bob Backlund would change Hogan back to the side of the fans. Just as quickly as he was reunited with Blassie, it was over and now Hogan was siding with the former WWF Heavyweight Champion. Making a surprise appearance, Hogan helped the very popular Backlund fight off Captain Lou Albano and the Wild Samoans. In January, 1984, Backlund was scheduled for a rematch against the Iron Shiek in an effort to win back the WWF Title. The injuries that Backlund had suffered however were too much, forcing him to eventually leave the WWF. A replacement was needed and Hulk Hogan was called upon for the chance of a lifetime. That night at Madison Square Garden, Hulkamania…having been in its embroynic stage since his time in the AWA was now truly born having defeated Iron Shiek in front of an excited audience. Andre The Giant, Rocky Johnson and others would celebrate with Hogan upon his Championship win and unlike before against Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel, this belt would not be going back to Iron Shiek on a reverse decision.
From there, everything fell into place. Hulk Hogan, who had already been courting the mainstream was now bringing with him the World Wrestling Federation and Vince McMahon. Each needed one another to succeed and with the WWF expanding and the NWA territories and AWA falling apart without Hogan, the power was now in Stamford, the WWF’s headquarters. Hulk Hogan would become synonymous with WrestleMania, teaming up with actor and former bodyguard Mr. T to defeat Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at the first WrestleMania. At WrestleMania 2, Hogan defeated the giant King Kong Bundy in a cage match.
WrestleMania III in 1987 would be the event that would place the WWF firmly on top of the Wrestling World once and for all and in its Main Event, it was Hogan defeating Andre The Giant, a match pitting two of the top names in recent wrestling history against each other. WrestleMania III would garner the largest audience in Wrestling History until 1995 and is still credited as the largest in the United States and North America. Andre, whose attitude had changed for the worse by that point would not be deterred in getting vengeance. Saturday Night’s Main Event was a popular occasional fill-in for Saturday Night Live on NBC and Hulk Hogan was the star of the show. In the much anticipated match in Early 1988 between Hogan and Andre, a special Friday Night prime time slot was set. And then…controversy and for Hogan, an old familiar pain of losing a Championship on the account of an official. His shoulders to the mat, he raised one of them up before the 3 count. But the 3 was counted anyway and with that, Andre was WWF Champion in front of a stunned audience. As it turned out, Dave Hebner, the scheduled referee for that match had been replaced by his brother Earl. Earl Hebner, on the take due to a lack of integrity, would screw Hogan out of his belt. For Earl Hebner, it would not be the last time he would intentionally screw someone out of the WWF Heavyweight title.
But that’s another story altogether.
To make matters worse, Andre would sell the belt to Ted DiBiase, now nicknamed, “The Million Dollar Man.” For Andre, it was about beating and humiliating his foe. For Ted, it meant a strange measure of revenge for a loss at Madison Square Garden all the those years before. For Hulk however, it was war. At WrestleMania IV, the title was held up by WWF President Jack Tunney. Hogan and Andre would battle each other in the tournament, but neither of them scoring the win. It would come down to Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage that night in Atlantic City, but Hogan…showing that he still had the potential to be a bad guy when the situation called for it, would blast a chair to Ted’s back with the referee never noticing. From there, Randy would score the pinfall and the title, celebrating his Championship with Hogan at his side. The Megapowers were born.
Things were going well enough until stress and paranoia on Randy’s part got the better of him. Combined with circumstance, the two would split and Hogan, who was popular with the fans no matter what, gained the fan’s side of the argument, incensing the, “Macho Man,” and leading to a battle over the WWF Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania V. It was at the same venue as the previous year’s event and whereas in 1988, Hogan was helping Randy win the title, now in 1989 he was taking it from him. With the Championship back with Hogan, all was well for the most part. A feud with Randy and with Tiny “Zeus” Lister, whom Hogan had a tedious working relationship with in their movie together, No Holds Barred and being able to team up with Brutus Beefcake, the former Ed Boulder. Being able to beat the bad guys was one thing, but Hogan discovered that his weakness was combating fellow good guys, especially someone who was considered a hero. An ultimate hero. An Ultimate Warrior.
WrestleMania VI in Toronto, it was Hogan’s World title versus Ultimate Warrior’s Intercontinental title. Warrior won and in a rarity in North America, Hogan would not only lose the title, but would do so without controversy. The spotlight was now on Warrior and Hogan was free to focus on his other love at that point, movies. Maybe it was the distraction of Hollywood, CA that led to Hogan being unable to defend himself from an attack by the massive wrestler known as Earthquake. Being Earthquake Splashed on the set of the Brother Love Show, Hogan’s career was feared as finished. Hulk had other plans, coming back and still proving to be a force. In late 1990 though, Hogan was starting to find himself bewildered by the actions of another man on the WWF roster. A man whose popularity once rivaled Hogan’s, but not anymore and certainly not now.
His name was Sgt. Slaughter and the former U.S. Marine was siding with Saddam Hussein in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm conflict. This angered many, including Hogan. Slaughter seemed unphased, especially after defeating the Ultimate Warrior to win the WWF World title. The mutual resentment between the two would lead to a match for the belt at WrestleMania VII in Los Angeles. That night, Hogan won his third World title and would proceed to feud with Slaughter throughout much of 1991. Upon defeating Slaughter and his minions for good, Slaughter would eventually see the error of his ways and, “get his country back.” For Hogan, though a new menace had arrived for him to deal with and it was for something many wrestling fans had wanted for years.
In a word…
Ric Flair arrived in the World Wrestling Federation in 1991 with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt in tow. The NWA did not agree with that and stripped him of the Championship. It did not stop Flair from still declaring himself, “The Real World’s Champion.” It seemed the natural progression would be for Hogan and Flair to battle at WrestleMania VIII, but the Hollywood bug was beginning to bite Hogan in a bad way. Finding dealing with a new breed of wrestler like The Undertaker did not help, either. Losing the Championship to the Undertaker, only to win it back days later in controversial fashion, the WWF and Hogan both seemed to be heading into a tailspin, especially after Ric Flair wound up with the WWF Championship after winning the 1992 Royal Rumble. For now, though Hogan Vs. Flair would have to wait. For Hulk’s departure match, he would take on Sid Justice, winning by Disqualification. But Hulk would be back. Why? Because Wrestling was his identity. It was part of his makeup. It was in his blood now.
In 1993, Hogan was back, this time looking to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship with his fellow Boulder, Brutus Beefcake. At WrestleMania IX, they tried, but a disqualification dashed their hopes of defeating Money Inc., a team comprised of Ted DiBiase and the former Mike Rotundo, Irwin R. Schyster. Fate would once again intervene as later that afternoon, Yokozuna would defeat Bret Hart in controversial fashion to win the World title. Hogan arrived to protest, leading Yokozuna’s manager, Mr. Fuji to issue an on the spot challenge to Hogan. Encouraged by Bret to take the match, Hogan entered the ring and moments later, Hogan was Champion for a fifth time.
Then strange things happened.
Hulk Hogan took the WWF Heavyweight Championship and toured Japan with it, including a big win over the Great Muta in Tokyo. His Japanese exploits were doing nothing for him back in the States or with Vince McMahon. And for Vince, things were beginning to be stressful enough with steroid accusations and a pending trial. And thus a plan was hatched against Hogan upon his return in June at WWF King Of The Ring. Hogan defended the title against Yokozuna, but had problems with the Samoan Sumo Machine. Just when things were beginning to finally sway in his direction, a disguised cameraman flashed fire to Hogan’s face, temporarily blinding him. A legdrop from Yokozuna and Hogan’s time in the WWF was over. Almost immediately afterwards, Shawn Michaels, in a backstage interview introduced his new bodyguard, Diesel. It was forshadowing to the Nth degree…even if the WWF did not necessarily recognize it at the time.
Now persona non grata in Stamford, Hogan focused on other projects. But now it was 1994 and once again, Wrestling was calling to him. Things were beginning to change in Wrestling that year. The World Wrestling Federation had something of a new identity on its hands. Ric Flair was back in World Championship Wrestling and after a down year in 1993, appeared to be hitting a stride. Even the independent scene was starting to have something of a shakeup with upstart Eastern Championship Wrestling discarding the National Wrestling Alliance in favor of going Extreme. Not wanting to be left behind in the changing tide, Hogan signed with WCW and in his debut, was given the world on a silver platter by its leader, Eric Bischoff. In Hulk Hogan’s first match, he defeated Ric Flair for the WCW World title and immediately, a Civil War among the fans began. The Pro-Hogan side, comprised mainly of Hogan’s fans from his WWF days and the Anti-Hogan side, comprised mainly of WCW fans, many of which were unhappy with Hogan getting the World title right away. It would lead to mixed reactions in the arena throughout the rest of 1994, all of 1995 and build to a crescendo in 1996.
In WCW, Hogan tried to be the good guy. He fought against Kevin Sullivan and his evil forces. He had Sting put him over as an overall swell guy. Many of the WCW fans however just were not ready to embrace the identity of everything WCW fans were against at that point, which was Vince McMahon’s vision. Hulk Hogan was that living, breathing vision and he was now in WCW. The fans resented him, many of them forgetting that Hogan knew how to be a bad guy if that is what they wanted. And what the fans wanted, they would get. For the New World Order had now arrived, allowing Hogan vent out his angst against wrestling management from over the years at the beginning.
Perhaps Hogan thought back to that fateful conversation with Bob Backlund in 1983…then saw what had become of Mr. Backlund himself in 1996. Hogan was not about to ally himself with an evil manager this time, instead teaming up with two of the hottest commodities in Wrestling at that point, Kevin “Diesel” Nash and Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, forming the NWO. Hall and Nash were back in WCW with vengeance in mind, looking to pay the league back for its treatment of Vinnie Vegas and the Diamond Studd. Hulk was WCW World Champion during much of that time between 1996 and 1998, as he and the NWO ran roughshod over everyone, causing many to join them in order to escape further punishment. He helped drive Sting to the point of insanity and after his controversial loss to Sting at Starrcade 1997, his deep rooted resentment for authority shot into overdrive. The overdrive however wound up having an effect on the rest of his group, leading to a split between NWO factions. Hulk Hogan…now Hollywood Hogan had NWO Hollywood while fellow charter member of the NWO, Kevin Nash was part of NWO Wolfpac. Scott Hall was stuck in the middle, eventually siding with Hogan. Throughout all of the turmoil, Hogan found himself distracted from the approaching new force in WCW, a man named Bill Goldberg.
One night in Atlanta, Hogan lost his WCW World title to Goldberg after falling victim to the Spear/Jackhammer combo like so many others before him. Just as before in 1993 after losing to Yokozuna and 1983 after the controversies of the Bockwinkel matches, Hogan eventually decided to take a step back, falling out of the limelight and temporarily retiring. After teasing a Presidential run, he would return once again, taking part in one of the infamous moments in Wrestling history in January 1999. Scott Keith labeled it the, “Fingerpoke Of Doom.” Apparently during Hogan’s time off, he was able to patch up differences with Kevin Nash. Nash, having defeated Goldberg recently at Starrcade 1998 in controversial fashion, would literally lay down for Hollywood, giving Hogan the WCW World Championship again and causing fans to grow angry. The anger this time no longer consisted of wanting to see Hogan get his, but this time the anger of the fans hit where it hurt more…by changing the channel to WCW Monday Nitro’s rival, WWF Raw Is War, where a man who was an early casualty to the influx of Hogan’s influence in 1994, Mick “Cactus Jack” Foley had just won the WWF Championship. WCW never recovered and after a series of strange events, which included Hogan once again embracing the fans, the organization was now the Titanic. The culmination to the strange and sad shape of WCW was at the annual Bash At The Beach, the same event where in 1994 Hogan had debuted and in 1996, had Hogan forming the New World Order. In 2000, it was not about construction, but destruction. Jeff Jarrett laid down for Hollywood Hulk Hogan at the order of Vince Russo, WCW’s Creative Head at the time, allowing for Hogan to once again win the WCW World title, or so he thought. Hogan had a bitter rivalry with Jarrett at that point, but Jarrett’s actions perplexed him, especially with Jarrett leaving without a word spoken immediately after the farce of a match. Leaving with what turned out be just a copy of the WCW belt, it was announced that Hogan was not the actual Champion by Vince Russo. With Russo’s verbal damage done, Hogan left WCW, never to return. In March 2001, WCW was purchased by the World Wrestling Federation. Hulk Hogan at the time probably could not have cared less.
He briefly had a group called the XWF, but that went nowhere and with Vince McMahon looking to inject a poison into the WWF in Early 2002, if only to smite the recently returned Ric Flair, Hogan found himself back in the WWF for the first time since the fireball incident in 1993. This time, though he was Hollywood Hulk Hogan and he was part of the NWO with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Things quickly deteriorated though after his loss to The Rock at WrestleMania X8. Once again embracing the fans, who refused to boo him, Hogan fought against the NWO briefly and then focused on wanting to be Heavyweight Champion once again. In the battle of Triple H’s, Hollywood Hulk Hogan would defeat Hunter Hearst Helmsley (officially, “Triple H”) for the WWF Undisputed Heavyweight Championship, but would soon lose it to old nemesis The Undertaker. Despite the brief title reign, it proved to be a sweet moment of time for Hogan, who just six years earlier had been character assassinated by the WWF in the Billionare Ted’s Rasslin’ Warroom skits.
At around this time, the World Wrestling Federation changed its identity to World Wrestling Entertainment and it was split into two brands, Raw and SmackDown. Hogan would eventually become part of SmackDown, winning the WWE Tag Team Championship with Edge, after defeating Billy Gunn (known in 2008 as Kip James) and Chuck Palumbo. It was Hogan’s first Tag title reign, but would also be relatively brief as he and Edge would lose the Championship to the team of Lance Storm and Christian (now Christian Cage). Wanting to get back into the Heavyweight title picture again, he ran into a juggernaut named Brock Lesnar. Given Hogan’s history, it was somewhat ironic that after losing to Yokozuna’s legdrop in 1993, he would fall victim to his first finisher as a wrestler, the Bearhug to Lesnar. Hogan would take time off to heal and when he returned, he found himself embroiled in a feud with Vince McMahon. Just before Hogan debuted in WCW in 1994, he had testified against McMahon in the Steroid Trial against him. McMahon’s resentment of this eventually boiled over after years of holding it in and now it was a battle of icons to see who could lay claim for the success of Sports Entertainment at WrestleMania XIX. Hogan would be victorious in what would be to date, his final WrestleMania match. McMahon forced Hogan out of action afterwards, leading to Hogan disguising himself as the masked, Mr. America. Hogan had worn masks before, including some matches as Hulk Machine back in his initial Hulkamania run in the mid-1980s, then part of a running joke on the masked Machines name. His time as Mr. America was also something of a joke, inspiring Midnight Rider flashbacks for some fans and strange shenanigans on SmackDown between the disguised Hogan and McMahon. McMahon however would have the last laugh, discovering video evidence of Hogan unmasking himself to the fans with a wink and firing him.
Hulk Hogan decided to go to the one place he knew he could always get away from the sometimes ridiculous American wrestling scene. Japan. After defeating former NWO ally, Masahiro Chono in a friendly, but competitive match, Hogan mentioned in a postmatch press conference something that he had hinted at here and there since his departure from WWE and that was wanting to be NWA World Heayvweight Champion. Former WCW adversary and current NWA Champ, Jeff Jarrett wound up paying Hogan an unexpected visit, bashing him over the head with a guitar and challenging him to show up in Total Nonstop Action, where the NWA World belt called home at the time.
Hogan never showed up. It is possible that the anger Jarrett carried towards Hogan from 2000 was too much to deal with. Or maybe the details just could not be worked out. For TNA fans, some of which were old WCW fans who had refused to go along with the, “InVasion,” of 2001 it was a sense of satisfaction. Given that, it is quite possible that Hogan once again gave the fans what they wanted and for TNA fans…it was simply not showing up.
Since then, Hogan has appeared sporadically in the Wrestling World, mainly in WWE. Even in his post-prime state, he was able to post victories over Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. He saved Eugene Dinsmore from an attack by Muhamad Hassan and Khosrow Daivari at WrestleMania 21. He was even inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. His most recent appearance in WWE was at the Raw 15th Anniversary event in December 2007 when he fought off the Great Khali from attacking the dimunitive Hornswoggle. There was also his match against Paul Wight in Memphis which was an independent production.
While Hulk Hogan nowadays is known as that guy from Hogan Knows Best or that host fella from American Gladiators (in their current form), or the host of Celebrity Championship Wrestling or even as the father of not-so-safe driver, Nick Hogan or not-so-great singer, Brooke Hogan…he will always be synonymous with Professional Wrestling…for better or worse. For his accomplishments and overall impact on Professional Wrestling, Hulk Hogan is #3 on Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 of the Modern Era.
And to think…it could have all been different with a snap.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.