Say what you will about Hulk Hogan-that he has a limited move set, that he owes his career to steroids, or that he rarely put anyone over. Despite these misgivings, Hulk Hogan is arguably the greatest wrestler of the modern age (mid 1970’s and on) and one of the all-time greats. His only real competition is “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
When you look at greatness, you have to account for longevity and drawing power. Wrestlers such as the Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were arguably bigger than Hogan but they had nowhere near the longevity of either Hogan or Flair. Short-timers such as Goldberg and Ultimate Warrior had even shorter time in the limelight, largely by their own choosing.
So what makes Hogan so great? First, he is the man who made the World Wrestling Federation into a national promotion. As we shall see, Hogan helped Vince McMahon turn the WWF from a regional wrestling promotion into a national one. The WWF had many supporting players on the face side but only had one superstar i.e. Hulk Hogan.
Second, Hulk Hogan enjoyed mainstream appeal. Not only did he bring in so-called casual fans but he brought in non-fans as well. With Hulkamania running wild, it suddenly became cool to be a wrestling fan. WWF promoter Vince McMahon took pro wrestling out of the smoke-filled halls and to a certain extent, legitimized wrestling. None of this would have been possible without Hulk Hogan leading the promotion.
Third, Hogan had a tremendous look. He wasn’t wrestling’s only muscleman at the time but he had the 24” pythons that made him famous as well as an impressive almost giant-like height. Hogan might not have been the Lou Thesz of his time but he had an imposing look that made you believe that he could take on anyone and win.
Some had said that Hulk Hogan rarely put anyone over. As WWF champion, he had to guard his spot and maintain his marketability as an unstoppable force. In all fairness to the Hulkster, he had reasons to question some of the men he put over. When asked to drop his WWF strap to Bret “The Hitman” Hart, he refused, arguing that Bret was too small to make a loss realistic and that Bret Hart would never get over. While Hulk was wrong on both counts, it should be pointed out that he hadn’t lost to any smaller wrestlers during his WWF tenure. One can argue that it would stretch credibility that the man who had successfully battled behemoths such as King Kong Bundy, Earthquake, Big John Studd, and Andre the Giant would lose to a man shorter and lighter than him.
I still remember the brouhaha raised when Hulk Hogan was asked to put over Billy Kidman. Hulk did put him over but it did little to boost Kidman’s stature in the eyes of fans. It was simply too ludicrous to believe that Kidman could beat Hogan multiple times. In the end, Billy Kidman stayed at the level he had always wrestled at, that of a highly skilled cruiserweight.
As for Hogan’s move set, he did so much with so little. When you watched a Hogan match, you knew you were going to see a lot of punches, the big boot, the clothesline, and the legdrop. Toss in a rake of the back, running his opponent’s face on the ring ropes, and an occasional chair shot and you had your typical Hogan match.
However Hogan wasn’t unusual for his time. Consider “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant who was tremendously over in Jim Crockett Promotions but whose move set consisted of a punch, elbowsmash, and sleeper. “Handsome” Jimmy put plenty of butts in the seats despite his limited wrestling ability.
And Hogan wasn’t the only WWF champion with a limited reportoire. While his predecessor Bob Backlund was a tremendous amateur wrestler, Backlund’s predecessor, the legendary Bruno Sammartino had a very limited move set (unfortunately I have not seen Bruno’s matches from the 1960’s so I cannot comment on whether he used more moves in his prime). Bruno’s moves basically were a punch, stomp, and bearhug.
While Hulk Hogan’s moves were limited during his time in the WWF, he proved that he could work more technical matches when he was invited to compete in Japan. As Wrestling Observer fans who cream in their pants at the thought of seeing Masa Chono battle the Great Muta will attest, wrestling in Japan is known for a strong technical style. Hulk Hogan wasn’t Tiger Mask but he was capable of rising to the occasion and giving the fans what they wanted.
Over the course of three decades, Hulk Hogan would do what every successful wrestling star has done, keep himself in the limelight and change his character to keep fresh with his audience. Join me over the next several months as I look at the enduring legacy of Hulk Hogan.