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25 Years Ago Today: Hulk Hogan Turns Heel & “Hollywood”

LEGENDS & ICONS IN SPORTS - Kevin Douglas Article

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It was 25 years ago today that pro wrestling transitioned from the 1980’s pop culture craze into the 1990’s trending television juggernaut with the Monday Night War between WCW and the WWF (now WWE).

The business forever changed how it presented itself to the masses when the biggest star in the history of the sports entertainment got with the times and turned heel (in other words the bad guy). Hulk Hogan who had represented the World Wrestling Federation for years as its “Real American” hero, would now represent the “New World Order” of wrestling in the rival organization World Championship Wrestling.

It was July 7th, 1996 when WCW finally put some serious damage to their competitor WWF as Hulk Hogan sided with “The Outsiders” to become the third man of the invading entity of WCW. One has to look at the history between Vince Mcmahon and Ted Turner to understand why fans were so into presentation. The two moguls were going back and forth for years for dominance in the world of pro wrestling.

Ted Turner became the owner of WCW in 1988 when pro wrestling was red hot in the 1980’s. Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant” broke records in 1987 with the historic WrestleMania III in Pontiac Michigan with 93,173 fans in attendance to see if Andre could end the three year reign of Hulk Hogan as WWF World Heavyweight Champion. In 1988, Hogan and Andre had their rematch breaking records again with the biggest television ratings for a pro wrestling match that still stands today with over 33 million viewers tuning in on February 3rd on NBC.

Ted Turner owning his own television station and other sports entities such as the Atlanta Braves believed he could get a chunk of the pie Vince Mcmahon was eating from. However, that was not the case as the WWF lived and breathed the business by acquiring all the top talent from his territorial competitors in the NWA (which Turner had a region of which he rebranded as WCW), AWA, and other regions such as Bret Hart’s father’s “Stampede Wrestling” in Calgary.

As the 90’s progressed, the WWF machine was starting to see a decline with the talent pool drying up and fans starting to gravitate to more mat based stars such as Bret “Hitman” Hart. The steroid scandal of 1991 with Hulk Hogan did no wonders for attendance as the media was quick to attack the psuedo sport’s main star for “cheating” his way to the top as his physical presence was enhanced to give him an advantage over some of the other wrestlers.

Eventually, Vince Mcmahon would move toward a “New Generation” of pro wrestlers such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Undertaker in the early 90’s after having a fallout with Hogan in 1993. This is where Ted Turner and his executive Eric Bischoff saw an opening by acquiring Hulk Hogan for television gigs such as “Thunder In Paradise” and also the ring. He would make his WCW debut in 1994 in a dream match with NWA great Ric Flair in a WCW title match that was dubbed “Match Of The Century” as the two men were the biggest stars of the 80’s for their respective leagues.

Hogan being on enemy turf would eventually get booed out of some arenas for being stale and overtaking the top wrestlers of the time such as “Stunning” Steve Austin, who would eventually become the star to replace Hogan as the top draw for the WWF later on as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Ironically, as Steve Austin did his infamous “Austin 3:16” speech at King Of The Ring a month earlier, it was only a foreshadowing of where a promo would turn the business upside down forever.

With all the tension building up from years of dealing with the frustration of fans slowly siding with “New Generation” stars such as Bret Hart in WWF and Sting in WCW, Hulk Hogan would be the surprise third member of the “The Outsiders”. It was a huge deal at Bash At The Beach in 1996 due to WCW presenting the former WWF Champion Diesel (Kevin Nash) and former Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramone (Scott Hall) as representing the “New Generation” of the WWF invading WCW on behalf of Vince Mcmahon.

The two men were heavily promoted only mere months earlier as the “New Generation” and Hulk Hogan as the “old generation” that sold out to Ted Turner in the entertaining “Billionaire Ted” skits where the WWF finally acknowledged WCW after years of denying their existence. The Monday Night War became very real as Nitro which debuted in the fall of 1995 was making a mark on the business and hurting the more established Monday Night Raw which came into existence in 1993.

Hulk Hogan being the biggest star from the WWF by a large margin was the catalyst for the NWO becoming mainstream when he teamed with the same stars that were promoted as his replacement in the WWF. WCW had struck gold as lapsed fans who stopped watching from the 1980’s wanted to see this new Hogan who called out the business and fans who turned on him after giving them entertainment and historic moments such as slamming Andre The Giant in 1987. He also called out the “Johhnny Come Lately” fans and executives who wouldn’t be fans in his mind if he didn’t “build that monster up north” of the WWF into a pop culture entity.

WCW would go on to win the ratings for 80 plus weeks after Hulk Hogan went to the darkside. The WWF would be forced to change their presentation totally and have more sports based reality television production where Bret Hart would end up calling out American fans for wanting blood thirsty content and anti-heroes like the NWO and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

The ball got started rolling when Hogan turned heel as the WWF responded with similar anti-hero personalities such as “The Rock” and rebel group Degeneration-X led by Shawn Michaels. It was such a classic time when the business broke tradition and rules to keep up with the changing landscape of television and society. Despite the greatness of the Attitude Era with new heroes and classic matches with box office smashing stars of Rock and Steve Austin, none of it would have happened perhaps if not for that night 25 years ago when the previous hero caught lightning in a bottle by becoming the biggest “heel” in the history of the business. Hulk Hogan solidified himself as the “Greatest Of All-Time” that night when he proved he still had what it took to be the leading charge and draw in the 1990’s after the steroid scandal and firing from Vince Mcmahon.

Hulk Hogan would return back home in 2002 when many did not believe Vince Mcmahon would bring back his greatest star after almost putting him out of business in 1996 and 1997. Hulk Hogan received a “Babe Ruth” like home return at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto when he faced The Rock as the crowd decided to cheer him over the new young hero. The two showmen at the end of the day know what is good for business. In an interview with FTW on USA Today, Hogan admitted that he never wanted to see the WWE go out of business. The wrestling star stated, “I was praying to God that wouldn’t happen. I prayed to God that we would become the No. 1 wrestling show, and that WWE would thrive and stay the monster that they were. WCW might become a little bit [of a] bigger monster. I never wanted anybody to go away. I wanted two different companies so talent could have a choice where they could work and make big, big money”.

A Hulk Hogan biopic is in the works about his life and career. The actor chosen to play the iconic wrestler is Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame and will be directed by Todd Phillips.

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