In the modern era of professional wrestling history, thereâ€™s no denying that one man, regardless of his limited wrestling acumen, took the genre by storm and helped bring the quasi-sport into the mainstream. That man was Terry Bollea, in his WWF gimmick of Hulk Hogan. But it was promoter extraordinaire Vince McMahon who created the gimmick, booked him to incredible success, and got the kids behind the 300-pound, family-friendly behemoth. The question is, could others have filled this role to the same success, or was Bollea the only man capable of leading the Hulkamaniacs?
TODAYâ€™S ISSUE: Could anyone have become the Hulkster?
When you imagine Darth Vader, you hear the booming voice of James Earl Jones in your head. When you think Rocky Balboa, you think Sylvester Stallone. When you picture Dirty Harry, you instantly see Clint Eastwoodâ€™s face. But why? Is it that only these men could have possibly filled these roles? Of course not. You associate them with the famous characters because thatâ€™s what youâ€™re accustomed to. Itâ€™s what youâ€™ve learned – that only Eastwood as Dirty Harry could have asked the punk if he felt lucky, that Jonesâ€™ voice is the sound generated by Anakin Skywalkerâ€™s iron lung suit, and that Rocky is a short Italian with crooked lips and overly manicured eyebrows.
But this association only happens in your mind because itâ€™s how the characters were originally presented to you. Certainly it would seem odd today to have others in those roles, but if you had never seen and heard Jones, Eastwood, and Stallone in the iconic characters, you could just as easily have accepted others in their place, and learned to associate THEM with Vader, Callahan, or Rocky. And the same is true of a wrestling character like Hulk Hogan.
The key ingredients used to create the Hulkster were his impressive size and physique, which we all know McMahon could have found anywhere in the country. Bolleaâ€™s charisma and ability to connect with the fans were also integral to the Hogan character, and while perhaps a little more difficult to uncover, these aspects werenâ€™t impossible to find. There have been charismatic big men in the sport before, and McMahon could have scouted any number of gyms, beaches, or bars around the world to find one to â€œwearâ€ his Hulk Hogan â€œcostumeâ€.
Bollea has virtually no wrestling skill, and for the majority of his long career he told the same story in the ring over and over: the virtuous champion instantly takes control of the match against his vile foe in a display of good over evil, until the baddie uses some diabolical trick or illegal tactic to take control. Hogan then absorbs huge sums of punishment, never willing to give up, until finally something the bad guy does pushes him too far, and he â€œHulks-upâ€. He then becomes â€œimpervious to painâ€ as the late Gorilla Monsoon liked to claim on commentary, wagging his finger at the heel before throwing three ugly punches, gently kicking the villain in the face, and dropping his leg across the heelâ€™s throat for the sure victory.
Since the wrestling demand on the character was minimal, most muscle-heads could have been taught to execute the simple scheme with a few weeks of training. Supposedly Hogan matches in Japan are far better than his famous WWF routine, and while I realize Japan is a hotbed of true in-ring excitement, I canâ€™t imagine Bollea ever executing anything more complex than his wafer-thin â€œchain wrestlingâ€ display of working a rear waist-lock into a drop toe-hold, ending in a riding headlock. Enthralling.
What about the characterâ€™s appearance? Did Hogan absolutely need to be balding with long, white hair coming down the back of his head? No, that didnâ€™t directly contribute to the characterâ€™s success. Did he need the goofy mustache and the orange-tinge to his skin due to excessive tanning bed exposure? No, this look never really mattered, either. The large frame and big muscles were crucial, but again, Vince could have found hundreds of men with those physical features. Tall and muscular was all the character really needed to be.
Hogan enjoyed one of the biggest pushes of all time, and he was usually booked into such an underdog babyface role kids HAD to love him. Some big, scary, nasty monster from a nightmare (Bundy, the heel Andre, Yokozuna) or a diabolical villain (Piper, Orndorff, Savage, Slaughter) would perpetrate a cowardly attack on the beloved fan-favorite because they were jealous of his championship and popularity, but not confident enough to take him on like a man.
So Hogan was at a huge disadvantage, fighting uphill against all odds, trying to do the right thing while â€œtraining, saying his prayers, and eating his vitaminsâ€. How could a kid NOT love a guy like that? This was easy storytelling, and it certainly worked. It wasnâ€™t his impressive move-set or great ring psychology that got him over, it was his role in the story.
But what was inside the gimmick? Bollea brought very little of himself to the character. He metaphorically put on the white hat and gun belt, climbed on his horse, rescued the damsel in distress, and won the shoot-out against the bandit every time. Therefore we remember him as a great cowboy. But he really didnâ€™t do much, and his own personality never shone through from beneath the red and yellow, unless thereâ€™s far less to the man than even I, a Hogan-hater of the highest order, am willing to believe.
Either way, it seems it didnâ€™t matter who wore Darth Vaderâ€™s creepy black ensemble, provided he was tall. My conclusion is that the same could be said for the Hulk Hogan character. Many others could have been the Hulkster. Letâ€™s face it â€“ if you put a blue, skin tight uniform and a red cape on a tall, handsome, well built, dark-haired man, youâ€™d have Superman, wouldnâ€™t you? The guy who saves the day at the last moment is the hero, and most people root for the hero. It isnâ€™t rocket science to deliver a dastardly evildoer and put him up against an honest, loyal, caring hero whoâ€™s in it for the people, not for his own gain.
The way McMahon presented Hogan, any tall muscle-man in red and yellow, saying the same lines and wrestling the same matches Bollea did, would have become an icon in the industry. Whatcha gonna do, Brother?
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. â€“ â€œThe man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.â€ – Confucius