Pro wrestling used to be a niche entertainment, like roller derby or monster truck rallies. The faithful knew where and when to attend, and there were some minor celebrities, but it was such that a given performer could be "The Masked Mangler" in Vince McMahon's WWWF in New York City one week, and "Bob the Nature Boy Bourgeois" the next in the Rougeaus' territory in Montreal.
Cue the early 1980s, and cross-promotion started quick fast in a hurry. Music videos pioneered on a new station, MTV and they wanted to be bigger, bolder, flashier. The decade was about men in makeup, big hair, punk hair, New Wave, and The Road Warrior. Pro wrestling was a natural fit, and soon you had rasslin' fans cheering on Cyndi Lauper one minute, and MTV making Hulk Hogan a household name the next.
Vince McMahon's son, the current "Vince McMahon", decided to go big or go home. He consolidated, bought and/or flat out put out of business competing territories. Pro wrestlers of long time standing who were bulky, had back hair and broken teeth were out, a new breed of good looking bleach blonde pretty boys with steroids were in. The exceptions were the ugly wrestlers who played the bad guys - the craggy faced Iron Sheik, the bull-looking Boris Vorloff or whatever Russian sounding name they gave a dockworker from Minnesota.
The industry went from seedy rednecks in school gymnasiums watching aging ex-football players and construction workers throwing each other around by the chest hair, to big money entertainment. Standardized. You knew it was good family entertainment with good looking steroid boys. You could follow the action on television or in magazines even if the story continued in a former rival territory in a different region of the country. Cross-marketing to toys, the burgeoning pay per view market which McMahon pioneered, never mind wrestling's now legendary Super Bowl of sorts, Wrestlemania.
And the whole thing was carried by balding, bleach blonde 303lb Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea of Augusta, Georgia, waving the flag and accentuating his heavy tan with red and yellow tights and accessories. When Hulk burst into the room, the room came alive - even though he wasn't actually that proficient a pro wrestler, and a real wrestler broke his leg to dissuade him from even training.
His public persona was one of a devout Christian patriot who lived - and told his little fans to emulate - a regimen of prayers and vitamins. An older friend showed me a while back the remanants of his prized "Hulk Hogan workout set" that he was proud to have as a child: two small sand-filled dumbbells and a workout tape narrated in Hulk's characteristic gruff staccato. Never mind the fact that Hulk solved his problems on screen with the application of a folding chair to the back of the head, he was genuinely seen as a positive influence, and the cash registers sang all over the world.
The bloom started to come off the rose when the "I always win" schtick stated to fall flat. A series of contests in which one person is guaranteed to win is really not that fun to watch, and the scripting becomes stale and borin-- oh wow, Hulk wins again. But Hulk didn't want to lose, not only because of personal pride, but because he genuinely believed he had the stroke to script it. And he did, taking his act from company to company as this unstoppable, unbeatable force. Beat down looks to finish Hulk! Hulk suddenly becomes impervious to pain! He stares like a madman as the other guy punches him futilely! Then into the ropes! Boot to the face! Into the ropes! Leg drop! Pin! Hulk wins again!
By the time I took a passing interest in it, WCW had satirized this, having him appear as "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, the bad guy. But the man still had draw, and his defection brought fans. Part of it was the attraction America had towards the anti-hero, you could hardly blame him for turning heel when the good guy of WWF at the time snarled, threw the double middle finger, and guzzled beer as he mocked John 3:16.
But the bloom also started to come off the rose: as people fatigued of him, even though they still marked out for him super crazy, they couldn't ignore:
- The reality show, the trying to sell his daughter out as some kind of singer or property. It seemed you couldn't watch the TV he was on without his daughter being in the picture somehow.
- When his son seriously crippled one man and killed another in a road racing incident, someone taped the conversation in which Hulk said 30 days in jail was no big deal, and they could totally sell the rights to his story when he gets out. The stone cold, mercenary merchandizing and profiting from the tragedy annoyed a lot of people. Two men would never walk again, but all Hulk saw was dollar signs for his family.
- The divorce: Hulk's wife left him and said some interesting things about him on the way out as she took more than half the proceeds of the marriage. Yes, they were swingers. Hulk was gay. The latter wasn't a big deal, but Hulk made a public comment about understanding how O.J Simpson must have felt, and that was the wrong nerve to press.
For a while it was fashionable to interview retired wrestlers about the industry, and few people had anything nice to say about Hulk Hogan. Back-room dealing, back-stabbing drug addict who'd whore his wife out to anyone who wanted her and tried to nail anything in a skirt that moved. The born again ones called out his supposed Christianity as well.
Hulk went from WWF to WCW. WCW to TNA. He did a few things for the WWF again on the side, after all, in small doses he was still a huge draw. But something surfaced that even he couldn't dodge.
It was an interview with former friend Bubba the Love Sponge that did him in. Formerly very good friends, apparently there was something involving a sex tape that drove them apart. Apparently banging the guy's wife isn't a good way to get into his good books. Or is it? The fact that Bubba according to Hogan said having sex with her was okay - along with the fact that it was recorded. A setup? Sponge got a lot of money for the sex tape, and America got to see Hogan's erect penis in silhouette.
What they didn't at first get to see is a racist tirade that Hogan made while in bed with the woman, describing blacks as "f-cking n-ggers" and in essence saying he didn't mind his daughter having sex with the billionaire black man financing her record deal's son because money. "I don't know if Brooke was f-cking the black guy's son," Hogan reportedly said. "I mean, I don't have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, fucking n-ggers. But then, when it comes to nice people and sh-t, and whatever." "I mean, I'd rather if she was going to f-ck some n-gger, I'd rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n-gger worth a hundred million dollars!" he reportedly said. "Like a basketball player! I guess we're all a little racist. Fucking n-gger."
Some things your career can rebound from, and some you can't. In 2015, using that kind of invective is a no-go.
The WWE (formerly WWF) quietly pulled every mention from Hogan from its website. Just like they did with Chris Benoit when he murdered his wife and son, they simply excised him and all mentions of him, and all merchandise - from wwe.com and every affiliation. He is no longer judging Tough Enough. According to the legends, canon and roster of the WWE, it is as if the man never existed, even though he was the man that mostly helped make them the juggernaut they were.
Hogan has not denied the speech, saying simply that they were out of character, not who he was - and that he will endure the storm. But in addition to his physical prowess being defeated by age, injury, and multiple surgeries - ones that have cost him over five inches in height - his legacy is in tatters, killed by thousands of small relevations, an infinity of tiny cuts.