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Drive, Determination, Demandments: Hulk Hogan (Part 1)
This Sunday, WrestleMania XXX takes place at the Superdome in New Orleans. It’s amazing if you think about it, 30 years of WrestleMania. And on this monumental anniversary, the special celebrity host this year is The Immortal Hulk Hogan. Whether you wore red and gold in the 80s or thought he was the most overrated wrestler ever, one thing is clear, Hulk Hogan made wrestling popular. Much like the success of films like The Dark Knight and The Avengers did for comic books, the Hulkster made wrestling seem far more palatable to the average home. So, say your prayers, eat your vitamins and let’s meet Hulk Hogan.
Terry Eugene Bollea was born August 11th, 1953 in Augusta, Georgia, but was spent the majority of his life in Port Tampa, Florida. His first love was music and he played bass for years in a successful local band called Ruckus. He grew up a wrestling fan that idolized Dusty Rhodes and “Superstar” Billy Graham. Bollea was blown away by Graham’s physique and started lifting weights and working at Hector’s Gym in Tampa. During a Ruckus show in 1976, he met local wrestlers Gerald and Jack Brisco, Impressed by his look, they set him up with trainer Hiro Matsuda, and after some prodding, they got him to agree to try wrestling.
After more than a year with Matsuda, Eddie Graham, the promoter for Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF), booked Terry in his first match against Brian Blair (future member of the WWFs Killer Bees). After the match, Eddie gave Terry his first gimmick, the masked persona of “The Super Destroyer”, with had previously been used by Don Jardine. But, personality clashes with his trainer caused him to quit wrestling and opened a gym with a friend called Whitey and Terry’s Olympic Gym. There, he lifted with his close friend Ed Leslie (who later became Brutus Beefcake), and eventually he talked Leslie into wrestling. So, Terry called his idol Billy Graham and asked him if he could help the pair find work, not mentioning that he had yet to train Ed Leslie any wrestling whatsoever.
Thanks to a phone call from Billy Graham to promoter Louie Tillet, Terry and Ed moved to the Alabama territory, wrestling as The Boulder Brothers. After traveling and doing a show in Memphis, the pair was approached by Continental Wrestling Alliance (CWA) promoter Jerry Jarrett. With an increase of salary offered from $175 to $800 a week, the Boulder Brothers moved to Memphis. The pair was quickly popular in the CWA, in particular, Terry. Jarrett was quick to promote his young star and booked him on local television panel and morning shows. One of his first found him sitting alongside Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno. Bollea now stood 6’7”, weighed 295 pounds, and with 24” biceps, was a tremendously imposing figure. Jarret’s wife, Mary was amazed by how much larger Terry was than Ferrigno and soon after, he began working as Terry “Hulk” Boulder, though he sometimes also worked as Sterling Golden in Georgia.
Bollea was getting noticed; Terry Funk watched him wrestle and mentioned him to Vince McMahon Sr, who used him sporadically in 1979 and 1980. Also at that time in Memphis, he won his first singles title when he defeated Bob Roop for the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship (Northern Division). I believe you won the belt if you could remember the name of it without help. Back in the WWWF, Vince Sr was looking for more international appeal, and so he asked Terry to become a hard-hitting Irishman named Hulk Hogan, dyeing his hair red. Already losing his hair, he declined the ginger locks and stated, “I’ll be blond Irish”. Paired initially with Tony Altamonte and later “Classy” Freddie Blassie, he worked a series of matches as a heel against Bob Backlund and Andre the Giant.
In 1980, Hogan first visited Japan, where he was wildly popular. Hulk Hogan is called “Ichiban” in the Far East, meaning “Number One”. On a few visits in 1980-81, he wrestled everyone from Abdullah the Butcher to Ric Flair, always to packed houses, drawing huge money. He defeated, and even teamed with Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. By his return trip in 1982, he was easily the most popular American wrestling there, and may have even eclipsed the legendary Inoki in drawing power. Hogan sold out arenas, then air conditioners, and even recorded an album.
In 1981, he was offered a role in the upcoming Rocky III. Hogan was told it would take 10 days to film and would be a big boost to his career and his parent company, the WWWF. When he brought it up to Vince McMahon Sr, he was told he couldn’t take the part. Vince was an old school promoter and said he didn’t want Hollywood influence on the company. He told Hogan he had booked him in multiple shows over that 10 day period, and added that if he didn’t appear, he was to be fired. Hogan boarded a plane, filmed the movie, and signed a deal with Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) soon after. Hogan was already a major AWA star by the time Rocky III hit in 1982, and after his time in Japan, he knew he could draw money. He began self-promoting himself by making t-shirts and having girls sell them from their trunk in the parking lot before shows. He usually ran out before the gates opened.
Verne Gagne and the AWA were already feeling financial pressure from the WWF. Vince McMahon Jr had purchased the company and was aggressively going after the top talent from every territory. Gagne saw dollar signs in Hogan and looked to move the aging Nick Bockwinkel aside and make Hulk the AWA World Heavyweight Champion, something his fans were demanding. However, before Gagne would elevate Hogan, he had several demands:
Hogan must sign and ironclad 5 year contract
Hogan must give up a substantial chunk of his Japanese income to Gagne
Hogan would have to split his merchandise sales 50-50 with Gagne
Hogan had to give up bachelor life and marry Gagne’s eldest daughter
Hulk declined the terms and in late 1983, he met and signed with Vince McMahon Jr and the WWF.
On the January 7th, 1984 episode of Championship Wrestling, Hogan ran to the ring and saved Bob Backlund from a 3 on 1 beating, proving he was now a babyface. Just 16 days later, he bested the Iron Sheik to win his first WWF Championship. Backlund had actually been the champion until December 26th, but forfeited the title to the Sheik when he was told the Hogan plans by Vince McMahon Jr, refusing to lose the title to Hulk. In another interesting twist, the Iron Sheik, who was trained by Verne Gagne, alleges he was offered a cash bribe by Gagne to damage Hogan’s knee in the match and end his career. Upon the match ending, Gorilla
Monsoon shouted “Hulkamania is here”, Hogan coined the term “Hulkamaniacs” and soon introduced the world to his famed 3 demandments, “training, saying your prayers, and eating your vitamins”. In a matter of days, he was a megastar.
Over the next year, he became a pop culture icon with his many appearances on MTV’s The Rock and Wrestling Connection, drew record attendance at house shows, and gave wrestling on cable great ratings. Over the next few years, his cultural impact allowed him to be on the covers of Sports Illustrated, People, and TV Guide, making countless television appearances on programs like The Tonight Show, The A-Team, and even co-hosting Saturday Night Live. He made a top 10 album, Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band, and of course, had his own Saturday morning cartoon, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling.
But, let’s get back in the ring…..on March 31st, 1985, he and friend Mr T defeated “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the main event of WrestleMania I. It was the biggest thing anyone around the business had imagined; Hogan had transcended the wrestling business. He had reached its apex, or so we thought. Through the rest of 1985, he would defeat a staggering list of stars like Don Muraco, Big John Studd, and Terry Funk. On a Monday (again, why the hell was it on a Monday?!) in 1986, Hogan toppled King Kong Bundy in the cage at WrestleMania II.
And then………….WrestleMania III. The buildup for the “biggest main event in sports entertainment” came from a classic wrestling storyline issue, jealousy between old friends. Hulk was given a large trophy honoring his 3 years as WWF Champion, and his buddy Andre came out to congratulate him. When Andre the Giant received a similar, but smaller trophy for being undefeated for 15 years (author’s note: this was not true) and was joined by Hogan, he became upset and left during the Hulkster’s speech. On an infamous Piper’s Pit segment, Hogan and Andre met face to face, along with Andre’s new manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Andre ripped Hogan’s shirt off, and along with it, his gold chain and cross from his neck. Roddy Piper showed Hogan and all of America his bleeding chest, and it was on. A challenge was made and accepted, and all that was left to do was sell out the Pontiac Silverdome, all 93,173 seats of it. On March 29th, 1987, Hulk Hogan delivered the “bodyslam heard round the world” and pinned the 520 pound Andre to retain the WWF Championship, one of the most well-known images in wrestling history.
The set up to the main event at WrestleMania IV was ridiculous. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase paid Andre the Giant to wrestle and defeat Hogan, using WWF referee Dave Hebner’s twin brother, Earl, and a bad count, to do so. Andre immediately gave the belt to DiBiase (why the hell couldn’t Vince just let him have like a month with the title?) and since the title cannot be passed that way, it was declared vacant by WWF President Jack Tunney. A tournament was held, which Hogan and Andre were both disqualified from, allowing Randy “Macho Man” Savage to defeat DiBiase (with Hogan’s interference) and become WWF Champion.
After Hulk Hogan was brought out by Liz to help Randy Savage fight off the Hontytonk Man and the young Hart Foundation, the duo became known as the “Mega Powers”. This team ran wild over the WWF through 1988, defeating a number of “giant” teams like the “Mega Bucks” (DiBiase and Andre) and the “Twin Towers” (Akeem and the Big Boss Man). Things started to fall apart after the Hulkster accidentally eliminated Savage at the 1989 Royal Rumble. Along with rising jealousy over Miss Elizabeth, (if you’ve never heard CM Punk’s comments on this, watch WWE’s Top 25 Rivalries on Netflix, it’s priceless) the team split and would face each other in the main event of WrestleMania V, where Hogan claimed his second WWF Championship.
In 1989, Hogan made the horrendous film No Holds Barred with Tom Lister, Jr, who used his character’s name Zeus, at equally bad wrestling events over the year. Hogan won the 1990 Royal Rumble and then lost the WWF Championship to the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI. Through much of the rest of 1990, Hogan nursed “injuries” dealt to him by the 470 pound Earthquake (John Tenta) on an episode of The Brother Love Show. I remember Hogan discussing retirement and the letter writing campaign that kids could send get well cards to. When Hogan returned and beat Tenta at SummerSlam, he unleashed a new 4th demandment, “Believing in yourself.” In early 1991, Hogan won his second consecutive Royal Rumble, the only man to do so, and at WrestleMania VII, he would defeat Sgt Slaughter for his 3rd WWF Championship.
At Survivor Series 1991, the Undertaker defeated Hogan for the WWF Championship and held it….for 6 days, dropping the title back to the Hulkster at the Tuesday in Texas PPV. Both matches had been interfered with by the legendary Ric Flair, and so, once again, the WWF Championship was vacated. Ric Flair won the 1992 Royal Rumble, and started a short feud between Hogan and Sid Justice, which culminated in a match at WrestleMania VIII, which Hulk won (go figure). Soon after, Hogan was implicated in the WWF’s steroid case and took a leave of absence from the company.
He would return in early 1993, forming a tag team with his longtime friend Brutus Beefcake (Ed Leslie) called the “Mega-Maniacs” and managed by “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. At WrestleMania IX, they took on Money, Inc (DiBiase and IRS) for the WWF Tag Team Championships and lost by disqualification. After Yokozuna defeated Bret Hart for the WWF Championship in the main event, Mr Fuji inexplicably challenged Hogan, who came to the ring and beat Yokozuna in 22 seconds for his 4th WWF Championship. It was a horrible PPV, but there are 2 interesting pieces of rumor about this show. First, Hogan sported a black eye, rumored for years to have given to him backstage the day before by Randy Savage. Second, original plans called for Hulk and Beefcake to win the tag titles, but he declined, feeling he was above that position in the company. Yokozuna would defeat Hogan at the 1993 King of the Ring due to outside interference and Hogan left the WWF.