Voice Of Reason 4.22.02: A Hogan Reality Check

When Hulk Hogan and the nWo signed with the WWF to return as a killer heel stable, everyone in wrestling was worried about how it would impact the WWF. How would the lockerroom react? How would they remain true heels and not cool heels or faces? How long until Nash and Hogan used their backstage pull to move to the top of the card?

I don’t think anyone could have predicted how quickly Hulk Hogan turned face, returned to the red and yellow and rose to the top of the WWF mountain as WWF Champion. In a little over 2 months, Hogan convinced Vince McMahon that what’s best for the WWF business is something that failed miserably in WCW less than two years ago.

What’s incredible is how rushed everything seemed, and how little sense the decisions have made to this point. I realize that Hulk Hogan’s shelf life as a popular entity is limited, but moving so quickly will burn him out even faster.

Turning him face after Wrestlemania was the correct decision, but they easily could have squeezed a few more weeks of him with the nWo before pulling the trigger on the turn. However, with the brand extension, I can understand the need to separate him from the nWo to get them on separate shows.

The WWF proceeded to do a fantastic job of mixing Hogan in with the top level Smackdown talent. Guys like Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho were made to look like they were on Hogan’s level, and even Edge was given the rub by Hollywood. By keeping his TV time limited, the WWF seemed to know that overexposing Hogan was a mistake.

Then the WWF made the decision to have Hogan return to the “classic” red and yellow. This should have been the last step by the WWF to renew interest in Hogan after this initial burst of nostalgia. Instead, the WWF rushed it back, shortening the shelf life of Hogan’s popularity by a large degree. They still have his old music for a shot of life injected into a dying character, but by and large, the WWF has played all its Hogan nostalgia cards.

Putting Hogan into the World Title match at Backlash was also a rushed decision, but it looked good on paper. Wrestling fans, historically, love to follow a fan favorite as he chases the title. But instead of letting fans relish a chase, they put Hogan into the title match and had him win the title, all in under a month. Now with Hogan as champ, there is no intrigue left – the WWF has eliminated the entire mystique around Hogan’s return and ascent to the top.

In wrestling, and life in general, the journey to the top is interesting, the descent back to the bottom is usually painful. With no where else to go, the WWF has burned Hogan’s value out in only two months. And it will only get worse from here.

The idea behind the brand extension was to make sure overexposed stars like The Rock and Steve Austin were only appearing once a week, extending their life as top draws. The only person to appear on both shows would be the World Champ. The WWF Champion is now Hulk Hogan, who instead of being protected with limited TV time on only Smackdown, will be on both Raw and Smackdown, wearing down fans on his tired Real American act.

I saw how fans reacted to a face Hogan in WCW in 2000, and after a brief burst of increased interest, the backlash was even more negative than before. Sure, this isn’t WCW, but the fact remains that Hogan looks like an old man, doing an act from 20 years ago, against younger better wrestlers. Vince McMahon was so blinded by the short term popularity and backstage expertise of Hogan that he barely got over the storyline of “Hogan glorious return to the title.”

The chase is over before it began. The look and mannerisms of Hulkamania were all brought back at once. The monster heels are nonexistent. What exactly does a Hogan World Title do for WWF business? Wouldn’t having him get screwed at Backlash and then build towards a May rematch where the fans would rally behind him have been a better strategy? Or does Vince McMahon believe that Hogan’s popularity is so short lived that the fans would not have bought into the chase towards Judgment Day? Either way this title reign does nothing except devalue the World Title, and further feed the ego of the best wrestling politician of all time.

That is, unless Jericho goes over Hogan for the title, then you can disregard this column.