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#3 Hulk Hogan
Arguably the biggest star the industry has ever produced, Hulk Hogan peaked as a babyface in the 1980s and became the biggest weapon in Vince McMahon's war against territories; reverting the idea of a regional promotion into the Stone Age and launching the national era of professional wrestling. Despite switching companies in the mid-1990s, Hogan would reinvent himself into the biggest heel in wrestling, going from hero to insufferable bully and sparking the most lucrative heel faction in the history of wrestling. Even today, almost two decades removed from his peak, to some professional wrestling is still looked at as "that thing that Hulk Hogan does."
However, despite the ridiculous amount of star power that Hogan had throughout his career, wrestling fans still debate about the true merit of his career. While his business success speaks for itself, critics have rightly pointed out his lack of wrestling skills; the fact that he was in the right place at the right time in being paired up with Vince McMahon, and that his politicizing behind the scenes hindered the careers of numerous other wrestlers and played a role in the downfall of World Championship Wrestling. If anything, Hogan has had the most complicated career out of anyone on the list.
Hogan grew up in Tampa and began watching pro wrestling as a teenager in the early-1970s, which was also during the peak of Championship Wrestling from Florida. Hogan also watched Superstar Billy Graham wrestle against local hero Dusty Rhodes, and Hogan became enamored with Graham's enormous physique and began weight training. He also began to pursue a career in music, playing bass guitar in several rock bands in the area. A lot of the bars he would perform in were frequented by wrestlers that worked in the territory and one day Jack and Gerry Brisco noticed the bassist with a tremendous physique and asked Hogan if he ever thought about becoming a wrestler and that if he wanted to be trained. Since Hogan was a big fan of the industry, he jumped at the chance and began training with Japanese wrestler Hiro Matsuda.
After a year of training with Matsuda, Hogan made his debut in Florida wrestling Brian Blair in August of 1977. Although he enjoyed wrestling, he didn't like working with Matsuda and eventually quit wrestling and began managing a night club and opening a gym. After meeting Ed Leslie (Brutus Beefcake) Hogan convinced Leslie that they could become a tag team even though Leslie had never wrestled before. Hogan contacted Graham who he had formed a friendship with and Graham got him booked in Alabama in 1978. They began working in Alabama and also moved onto working in the Memphis territory for Jerry Jarrett. Hogan and Leslie began using the names Terry and Ed Boulder and when the TV show The Incredible Hulk became popular, Hogan began using the name Terry "The Hulk" Boulder.
Hogan began getting a bit of a push in Memphis and working for the Brisco brothers in Georgia. In May of 1979 he received a shot at the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship against Harley Race, losing to Race. He would capture a couple regional championships recognized in the Deep South before he was brought in by Vince McMahon Sr. to work for the World Wrestling Federation.
At this point in time, Hogan was still very much a novice when it came to professional wrestling. However, he kept attracting the attention of different promoters not because of his wrestling ability or his charisma, which was largely untapped at this point, but because of his look. Hogan's physique was incredible for the time; 6'6" and 300lbs of shredded muscle with enormous biceps, he was so unique that he really came across as an honest-to-god superhuman, blessed by the gods to conquer the wrestling world. Similar to Andre the Giant, Hogan's physical supremacy attracted the attention of promoters the world over who believed his inimitability could equal box office success.
Hogan was brought in as a heel in 1979 and was given the surname Hogan because McMahon, who had so much success booking different ethnic stars, wanted Hogan to be an Irish wrestler. Now known as Hulk Hogan, he defeated Ted DiBiase with a bear-hug in the first match at Madison Square Garden and was paired with former wrestler Freddie Blassie as his nefarious manager. He began to feud with Andre the Giant, and it would lead up to a match at Shea Stadium which saw Andre defeat Hogan as they wrestled on the undercard of the Bruno Sammartino vs Larry Zbyszko show. During his initial run in the WWF he also challenged Bob Backlund for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship on a couple of occasions, winning by count-out both times.
During the early-1980s the WWF had a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Hogan began making appearances in Japan. It was actually in Japan and not the United States that Hogan first began to realize his potential as a babyface, as Japanese fans quickly began to support Hogan, nicknaming him Ichiban, which translates to "number one." He wrestled Antonio Inoki, Backlund, Riki Choshu and Seiji Sakaguchi in his early days and began to improve in the ring. In 1983 he won the first ever International Wrestling Grand Prix, a worked-shoot tournament that ended when Hogan knocked out the mighty Inoki in the championship round.
Back in the United States, Hogan left the WWF in 1981 and moved onto the American Wrestling Association. He achieved some mainstream notoriety by appearing as Thunderlips, a villain in the wildly popular film, Rocky III. While he was originally slated to be a heel in the AWA, the fans began to gravitate towards Hogan who in addition to his physique was flashing terrific charisma in the ring and on interviews. He ended up turning babyface when Jerry Blackwell, who was a monster heel in the company, was beating up babyface Brad Rheingans in the ring and while several babyfaces ran into the ring to try and stop it, Blackwell easily dispatched all of them. Eventually Hogan came in to make the save and got the better of Blackwell, officially turning him babyface.
While feuding with Blackwell, the rise of "Hulkamania" a coined-term that described the overwhelming support Hogan was getting from the AWA fanbase began to take over the company. He graduated to feuding with AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkel and Hogan began a long pursuit of the championship. While it was believed to be a matter of when, not if, Hogan was going to win the championship, Bockwinkel continued to cling onto it by losing by disqualification or count-out. However, AWA owner Verne Gagne was committed to promoting slick technical wrestlers as the world champion and as popular as Hogan was, he was still very green in the ring and did not meet Gagne's qualifications for a champion.
This proved to be a tremendously bad decision by Gagne, and his refusal to give Hogan the championship, along with a clash with Hogan over the revenue coming from T-shirt sales, led to Hogan leaving the company, going to the WWF and eventually systematically destroying the AWA.
When Vincent K. McMahon purchased the WWF from his father in 1982, McMahon the younger had grand plans to take the WWF from a regional promotion located in the Northeast to a global phenomenon. To do so, he was going to have radically change the philosophy of the business; his biggest priority being changing the promotion from mock-sport, to open entertainment. The current WWF Champion was Bob Backlund, a smart technical wrestler who did most of his talking in the ring and whose greatest attribute was his marathon stamina. In McMahon's mind, Backlund was the antithesis of who he needed to represent his company, he didn't need a wrestler as much as he needed an entertainer, someone with the destined "larger than life" personality to lead the company across the world. The answer of course, was Hulk Hogan.
Hogan would end up falling into the lap of McMahon when he had his falling out with Gagne, and McMahon immediately began grooming Hogan as the next big thing. He defeated Bill Dixon in late December of 1983 in his first TV match back in the WWF, and cemented his status as a babyface in the company (remember, he had previously wrestled in the WWF as a heel) by saving Backlund from an assault from the Wild Samoans. Backlund had dropped the championship to the Iron Sheik, who held the title for a month before dropping it to Hogan in a shocking destruction of the Sheik on January 23, 1984, which saw Hogan steamroll the Sheik in under six minutes.
McMahon broke a lot of different rules when he promoted Hogan to the status of WWF World Heavyweight Champion. For starters it was believed that the world champion, whether it was NWA, AWA or WWF, had to be at least a passable wrestler, which Hogan was not. He also had to be a "legit" tough guy, either as an amateur wrestler or as a bar-room kind of guy, like Harley Race. Hogan was big and imposing, but never was mentioned in the same breath as a guy like Race. It was also believed that a wrestler, especially a babyface, had to chase the championship for a while and spend some time on the undercard before being elevated to champion status. Instead, Hogan decimated the WWF World Heavyweight Champion just one month after coming back to the company.
Yet, McMahon and Hogan proved that none of that truly mattered. Hogan was still green as grass when he won the championship and Madison Square Garden went crazy celebrating him. Curmudgeon promoters who criticized McMahon for promoting a wrestler like Hogan would soon be trampled by the duo as they marched across the country, rolling over other promotions and eventually reducing the wrestling game in the US to two companies, the WWF and WCW. Hogan's physique made him seem immortal to fans, and he just oozed charisma in the ring and became known for posing to the crowd after matches while the audience went into a frenzy. On interviews he had a distinct style that realistically relied on overacting and saying the words "Brother" "Dude" and "Jack" a lot; but he was very good at hitting the right points and promoting his upcoming matches and himself as a can't miss attraction.
Utilizing the success of Hogan and the deep pockets of New York City, McMahon was able to bring in a lot of top stars from other promotions, mainly heels who could give Hogan a healthy slate of talented villains to feud against. Paul Orndorf and David Schultz were two of his earliest challengers for the WWF Championship, and both of them were known for their smart technical wrestling and antagonistic promos. Together, they were able to get respectable matches out of Hogan while also establishing him as a powerhouse performer who was nearly unbeatable. Hogan matches became very formulaic, with Hogan entering the ring like a house of fire and getting the crowd super-excited, only for the heel to use some form of immoral tactic to gain the upper-hand. Eventually, Hogan would make his huge comeback, known as "Hulking Up" where he would appear impervious to physical assault and hit his signature moves; three punches, an Irish Whip, a big boot and a leg drop to pick up the win. Critics would point out that this sequence was extremely predictable and that Hogan no-selling his opponents offense was killing realism in wrestling, but the reality was that none of that mattered; the crowd went crazy every time for Hogan and he became a sensational draw.
In March of 1985, McMahon gambled on promoting a wrestling supercard at Madison Square Garden called WrestleMania. Supercards and big shows had been happening for decades, but WrestleMania was different in that McMahon sunk a lot of money into numerous celebrities' appearances and worked closely with MTV to promote the event as not just a wrestling show, but an entertainment spectacle. Of course, Hogan was in the main event, teaming with TV star Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Orndorff. The event proved to be a tremendous success and launched the series of the most profitable events in wrestling history.
In Piper, Hogan had an equal who although not nearly as physically gifted as Hogan, cut scintillating promos and used various tactics (mostly teaming up with Orndorff and Bob Orton) to get the upper-hand on Hogan. Piper would prove to be Hogan's most memorable opponent from the golden-era of the WWF in the 1980s, although his biggest opponent would be in the man he usurped as the most beloved babyface in wrestling.
By early 1987 Hogan had been the WWF Champion for three years, and although he faced many challengers, including a bloody cage victory over King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania II, he had never seriously been the underdog in his matches. That may have changed when his former friend and the top babyface in American throughout the 1970s, Andre the Giant, turned on Hogan and aligned himself with the evil Bobby Heenan. The storyline became that Andre was jealous of all the attention Hogan was getting for being champion when he, Andre, was really the most dominant force in wrestling. Andre was billed as having been undefeated for 15 years in the WWF, an exaggeration for sure, but Andre had been booked in such a dominant fashion that fans could suspend their disbelief.
Under the guidance of Heenan, Andre challenged Hogan for a WWF Championship match at WrestleMania III which Hogan accepted. Over 75,000 fans poured into the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan to watch Hogan body-slam Andre and pick up the victory in what would amount to being the largest crowd to see a wrestling match in North American history up until that point in time. Hogan would continue to feud with Andre after WrestleMania, leading up to a rematch at Saturday Night's Main Event in February of 1988 which saw the championship vacated following a convoluted finish involving "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase paying off the referees to help Andre win the match, who in turn sold the title to DiBiase. The title was then vacated by WWF figurehead President Jack Tunney, but Hogan's over four year run as champion was over.
Hogan's wave of success came about not only because of his size and charisma, but because he was the beneficiary of just some brilliant promotion by McMahon. Not only did McMahon pay top dollar to get the best opponents for Hogan, but he relentlessly pursued mainstream appeal with his wrestlers, eventually landing Hogan on the cover of Sports Illustrated, getting him and his wrestlers on late night cable talk shows and getting them lucrative endorsement contracts. He also harnessed the power of Pay-per-view to promote his events, putting him steps ahead rival promoters and making his stars look bigger than everyone else. The result was that Hogan was the number one draw in wrestling for eight consecutive years; from 1984 to 1991. Hogan deserves a lot of credit for being that big of a draw, but there is no denying that he was also in the right place at the right time to get to work with McMahon.
It was Randy Savage and not Hogan who would end up winning the vacated championship at WrestleMania IV, although Hogan assisted in thwarting DiBiase and Andre the Giant from trying to steal the title from Savage in the main event. Throughout the rest of the year the main events for big shows largely shifted to being tag team matches as opposed to title defenses, as Hogan was still included in most of the main events, teaming up with Savage against the likes of Andre the Giant and DiBiase as well as The Twin Towers (Akeem and The Big Boss Man). The Mega Powers, as they were dubbed took on all comers until January when Savage's jealousy towards Hogan and his paranoia that Hogan had desires for his wife and valet, Miss Elizabeth reached a boiling point and he turned on Hogan during a match in February of 1989 against The Twin Towers. The explosion of the Mega Powers was a well-constructed storyline that led to Hogan defeating his former friend in the main event of WrestleMania V, regaining the WWF Championship.
The majority of 1989 was mostly occupied in a bizarre feud with actor Tiny Lister, who played the character Zeus in a WWF-sponsored film No Holds Barred which also starred Hogan. The film is notable for being appallingly bad, but Zeus began to be Hogan's number one villain "in real life" challenging Hogan on multiple occasions, but Hogan always getting the upper hand. They finally settled their feud in December of 1989.
Despite the fact that Hogan had been a sensational draw for McMahon for more than six years, McMahon believed that he needed to find a successor for Hogan and move Hogan into a more ambassador role. For his replacement he chose Jim Hellwig, who was wrestling under a face-painted gimmick known as The Ultimate Warrior. Like Hogan in 1984, Warrior had a tremendous physique, lots of charisma and little wrestling ability. A heavy push by McMahon got him really over with the fans and his populaityr indeed rivaled Hogan's. Hogan of course was uneager to give up his spot and get put out to pasture, and a large riff began developing between McMahon and Hogan, their once harmonious relationship turned sour. McMahon essentially dared Hogan to do a clean job, and to his credit Hogan obliged, dropping the title in 1990 at WrestleMania VI in front of 60,000 fans at the SkyDome in Toronto to Warrior in what might have been the best match of either man's career, surprisingly enough.
Hogan then took time off from the company beginning in May of 1990 when he was storyline injured by Earthquake, a 450-lb former Sumo wrestler from Canada. He would return at SummerSlam that year and defeat Earthquake, followed by several more victories over the big man at subsequent events. Conveniently for Hogan, Warrior ended up flaming out as WWF Champion, his personality too bombastic behind the scenes and his demands for more money from McMahon troublesome. McMahon was forced to swallow his pride and go back to Hogan, having Warrior drop the championship in January to Sgt. Slaughter, who was working a gimmick as an Iraqi-sympathizer during the Gulf War, and having Hogan defend the honor of the USA and defeat Slaughter for the title at WrestleMania VII.
However, Hogan's drawing power was beginning to fade and while he was still popular, his championship run throughout 1991 was a far cry from the success he had in the 1980s. He feuded with Slaughter before swapping the title with a newcomer to the WWF, The Undertaker, dropping the title at Survivor Series when Ric Flair interfered and winning it back six days later at an impromptu PPV called This Tuesday in Texas, this time when Flair's interference cost The Undertaker. Because of the controversial finishes the title was vacated and awarded to the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble, which ended up being Flair. Hogan was eliminated by Sid Justice, who would turn heel and feud with Hogan until WrestleMania VIII, when Hogan defeated Justice.
The war between McMahon and Hogan intensified when Dr. George Zahorian, a doctor for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission was arrested for distributing steroids, mainly to WWF wrestlers and alleging that McMahon had not only taken steroids himself, but that he encouraged his talent to do so as well. Hogan became the star testimony in the ensuing trial because he was the WWF's biggest star at the time and clearly to anyone who knew anything about muscle-building, his physique was the by-product of steroid use. Hogan agreed to testify against McMahon in exchange for immunity, but on the witness stand his memory curiously ran blank and the prosecutors were unable to pin anything substantial on McMahon, allowing him to avoid conviction.
Yet McMahon still needed to get away from steroids in his company for the time being, and he began focusing his attention on wrestlers with more natural physiques aka not Hulk Hogan. After an extended period away from wrestling due to the trial, a noticeably smaller Hogan returned to the WWF in February of 1993 and teamed with Beefcake in a feud against Money Inc. (DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster). At WrestleMania IX, Yokozuna defeated Bret Hart for the WWF Championship when Hart was blinded by salt that was thrown into his eyes by Yokozuna's manager, Mr. Fuji. This led to Hogan coming out, challenging Yokozuna to an immediate match and Hogan quickly winning the championship.
The idea behind this booking strategy was that Hogan would drop the championship to Hart at SummerSlam in a babyface vs babyface match, firmly passing the torch into Hart's hand as the new face of the company. Instead, Hogan nixed the idea, saying that Hart was too small to beat him and that he didn't believe Hart could draw. The plan was adjusted on the fly and Hogan lost the title at King of the Ring in June of 1993 to the 600-lb Yokozuna, but only after a Japanese photographer launched a fireball into Hogan's eye so that Yokozuna could pin him, allowing Hogan to escape without having to do a clean job. Hogan wrestled Yokozuna on the international tours but now sick of working for McMahon, he waited until his contract ran out until the end of the year and left the WWF.
For the rest of 1993 and into 1994 Hogan mainly focused on acting while also occasionally wrestling big matches for NJPW, including a January 4 Tokyo Dome show against Tatsumi Fujinami. However in June of 1994 Hogan made headline news when he signed with Ted Turner and WCW, the WWF's main rivals and began working for WCW. Unlike the WWF, WCW did not feel that Hogan's ability as a top draw was past its expiration date and he would win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship his debut match, defeating Flair at the Bash at the Beach PPV in a dream match—a match that had been avoided in the WWF due to numerous issues.
While Hogan did increase WCW's notoriety, the fact was that as a babyface McMahon was correct in ascertaining that Hogan was no longer the top draw he once was, as business remained largely the same for WCW during Hogan's 15 month reign as champion. Of course WCW did not help itself at all by giving Hogan top challengers to work against, having him work with often nonsensical villains such as the Dungeon of Doom. He would lose the title when it was vacated during a match with The Giant in October of 1995.
Hogan began to take time off WCW television as he planned his next move. Meanwhile, in May of 1996, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, who wrestled previously for the WWF and were top stars under the ring names Razor Ramon and Diesel respectively, invaded WCW as The Outsiders and began laying waste to the roster. At Bash at the Beach in July, The Outsiders hinted that they had a mysterious "third man" in their group that would join them in their six-man tag team match against Savage, Sting and Lex Luger. Despite the promise of a third-man, Hall and Nash started the match on their own and made quick work of the WCW stalwarts, eventually knocking Luger out of the match completely. While The Outsiders were double-teaming Savage, Hogan made his way down to the ring, presumably to help Savage but instead performed his patented leg drop on Savage in the most notable heel turn in wrestling history. Hogan than cut a promo aligning himself with Hall and Nash and calling themselves the New World Order (nWo) and ridiculing the fans for not supporting him enough when he was a good guy.
Hogan's heel turn was so shocking and so well-booked by WCW that it immediately allowed them to surge ahead of the WWF and really ignited the Monday Night Wars. The fact that Hogan, a hero for so long to so many people, could stoop so low and become a bad guy was unthinkable to wrestling fans, and anything involving the new radical organization became must-watch TV. Hogan, who had grown increasingly stale as a babyface, began to thrive as an insufferable bully heel who terrorized the rest of the WCW. Now going by "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan and trading in his trademark yellow and red trunks for black ones, he quickly won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, defeating The Giant at Hog Wild and held it for almost a year.
His first major feud came against an old rival, Roddy Piper who had reinvented himself as a lovable babyface who was committed to sticking it to Hogan. They eventually met in the main event of Starrcade 1996 with Piper winning in a non-title match and despite both men being well past their primes in the ring, the event was an incredible financial success. Hogan would move into 1997, successfully defending the championship over The Giant and getting a pinfall victory over Piper at SuperBrawl in February. He did drop the championship in August of 1997 to Lex Luger, but Hogan quickly regained it five days later at Road Wild.
At the same time Hogan had to keep an eye on Sting, the heart and soul of WCW who had reinvented himself as a dark, brooding hero modeled after The Crow, a popular character from a graphic novel and film. Sting's allegiance to either WCW or the nWo was in question up until he attacked the nWo with a baseball bat at Uncensored in March of 1997. He then began a slow pursuit of Hogan in a wonderfully orchestrated storyline that eventually saw Sting meet Hogan at Starrcade 1997, with Sting winning the championship, albeit in a ridiculously overbooked manner that would sadly become a trademark of WCW in the years to come.
The championship was vacated but Sting was able to beat Hogan cleanly for the title at SuperBrawl in May of 1998. Sting's title reign however would be short-lived as he lost the championship to Savage at Spring Stampede. Hogan would then turn on Nash by hitting him was a baseball and challenged Savage for the championship, which Hogan won on the Nitro after Spring Stampede when Nash and Bret Hart interfered. This would cause the nWo to splinter into two factions, the nWo Hollywood led by Hogan and the nWo Wolfpac, led by Nash.
Unsurprisingly if you read that last paragraph, WCW began to lose ground to the WWF and by the summer of 1998 they were equals again after WCW had dominated for half of 1996 and all of 1997. Eric Bischoff decided that Hogan would lose the championship to newcomer Goldberg, who unlike nearly everyone else in the company was nearing his prime and building momentum as a draw instead of losing it. Hogan was defeated by Goldberg at a Nitro show that brought over 30,000 fans to the Georgia Dome. He then spent the rest of the year feuding with the nWo Wolfpac and wrestling celebrities like basketball player Karl Malone and talk-show host Jay Leno; and no I did not make that last one up. He also wrestled Warrior, who was brought in as a desperate attempt to stop the ratings slide. Warrior and Hogan met at Halloween Havoc 1998 in a match that was so comically horrible that it is easily the worst match to ever take place on a major company's PPV.
In November he announced on Leno's show that he was retiring from pro wrestling and that he was running for president, drawing on the attention that former wrestler and Hogan enemy Jesse Ventura had recently been elected governor of Minnesota. Obviously, Hogan was not serious and he returned to the ring in January of 1999. Nash had just upset Goldberg at Starrace 1998 and Hogan stepped up to challenge Nash for the title when Goldberg was "arrested" for alleged sexual misconduct towards Miss Elizabeth, who was also in WCW. The fans supported Hogan for challenging Nash but it all ended up being a rouse as Nash famously laid down for Hogan after Hogan poked him in the chest and Hogan covered him to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and ending the feud between the two factions of the nWo. "The Fingerpoke of Doom" as it is now remembered became the go-to example for WCW inadequacy.
After dropping the championship to Flair at Uncensored two months later, Hogan and the rest of WCW begin to fizzle out. He took time off, came back as a face and beat Savage for his sixth and final WCW World Heavyweight Championship, but by that point the company was in such disarray that the title was rendered pretty much meaningless. He dropped the title at Halloween Havoc 1999 when he laid down for Sting and immediately left the company. He got in a worked-shoot feud with head writer and storyline matchmaker Vince Russo that was incredibly confusing and boring to fans and helped spiral WCW towards the bottom. He made his final appearance for WCW in June of 2000 when he was cussed out by Russo on PPV.
After sitting out of mainstream wrestling for nearly two years, Hogan returned to the WWF for the first time since 1993, as WWE relaunched the nWo with Nash and Hall coming in as well. Hogan then had a match against The Rock at WrestleMania X-8, which shocked the world when the crowd turned on the wildly popular WWE superstar and cheered for the villainous Hogan. Hogan lost the match but the reaction convinced the WWF to have him turn babyface, bringing him back out in the red and yellow and running a wave of nostalgia that saw him actually win the WWF Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship from Triple H.
However, nostalgia could only carry Hogan so far and although the initial support for him was huge, it was clear it had a short shelf life and Hogan dropped his final world championship to The Undertaker in May. Hogan continued to work for WWE, mostly with younger talent like Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar before defeating Vince McMahon of all people at WrestleMania XIX in a street fight. He left the company shortly after due to creative differences, but returned in 2005 and engaged in a feud with Shawn Michaels, culminating in Hogan beating Michaels in a match at SummerSlam that is notable for Michaels overselling Hogan's offense, reportedly as a response to Hogan insisting that he go over Michaels even though Hogan was in his 50s and hardly mobile in the ring. A similar match took place the following SummerSlam where Hogan defeated Randy Orton, and Hogan left the company once more noting that he was dissatisfied with the payout from SummerSlam.
In 2009 he became a figurehead business partner in TNA Wrestling, and began to run the company as an on-screen-authority figure. Hogan quickly commanded a lot of the spotlight in TNA, starring as the leader of Immortal, a cheap-knock of the nWo and managing to turn most of the attention of the company onto himself. After several years of ineffective leadership both in storyline and in real life, he left the company in 2013. He returned to WWE in 2014, but after making sporadic appearances he was whisked away in 2015 when a recording of Hogan making racist comments about his daughter's African-American boyfriend surfaced.
So why not rank Hogan number one? The strongest argument is that Hogan is one of if not the greatest draws in wrestling history; and achieved a tremendous level of mainstream success and notoriety beyond traditional wrestling circles. Steve Austin may have been a bigger draw at his peak, but he never quite became as popular as Hogan did outside of wrestling. Hogan also drew money for a longer period of time than Austin, and was successful both as a heel and as a babyface. People will criticize him for his ego and helping sink WCW, which is valid, and the fact that he didn't do many jobs; but the reality is that nearly every great wrestler has a huge ego and is severely protective of their status; it is just how the business works and this list is filled with guys who at one time or another refused to job to someone else.
But I can't rate him number one and here is why; he was just such a flawed performer that I find it hard to believe that he would be nearly as successful if he didn't peak at the right time. If Hogan came along today with his skill-set he would still get a big push from WWE, but his wrestling skills were so poor that a significant amount of the fanbase would reject him and he would not receive the universal adoration that he got as a babyface at his peak. Plenty of fans hate John Cena because they view him as an inadequate wrestler and Cena is twice the wrestler that Hogan ever was. In addition his character would come across as much too cheesy, although I believe that a character similar to Hollywood Hogan could certainly be successful today.
Charisma is something that usually translates pretty well to today, as guys like Dusty Rhodes, Buddy Rogers and Billy Graham still comes across as great performers today. Hogan? I just don't know if fans would take him seriously today. Take a look at a famous segment during his heyday, the contract singing between Hogan and Andre the Giant for their match at WrestleMania III. While Bobby Heenan is the natural antagonist and Andre is stern and confident, Hogan comes off as a complete crazy person. Pulsating and sweating on his seat and completely overacting on every single piece of dialogue, in its time it was considered a great segment, but today it comes across as unintentionally hilarious. If a wrestler gave that kind of performance today, or really at any other point other than the 1980s, they would be ridiculed.
That's not to say Hogan was not good at cutting promos and being charismatic because he certainly was—I just don't see it translating well over time. Austin and his character and his ability would have been successful at any point in time, same with Inoki and Flair. But Hogan? The 1980s were a unique time in American pop-culture, we turned Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the biggest movie stars in the world and they could barely speak English, but they looked big and intense and that was all that mattered. Hogan fit right into that style and he was huge during that era, but I just don't see someone with his shortcomings being nearly as successful today as he was during the 1980s.
Lastly, and this really has nothing to do with Hogan but rather the modern perception of Hogan, and that is that Hogan "put wrestling on the map" and popularized wrestling, which of course is pure fiction manufactured by the whitewashers who manipulate history to serve the purpose of WWE. While Hogan did reach a certain level of success that saw him do things like host Saturday Night Live, the elevation of his star power is grossly overrated today.
Wrestlers have gotten attention by mainstream media outlets since the 19th century, and in a lot of ways Hogan and the WWF took the weekly coverage of wrestling in newspapers away by focusing less on sport and more on entertainment. Stars like Frank Gotch, Ed Lewis, Jim Londos and others were often spoken along with the biggest names in sport of their day, but nobody talked about Hogan in the same breath as they did with Joe Montana or Magic Johnson.
Another myth is that Hogan made wrestling more popular in the 1980s, which of course is incredibly untrue. While the WWF became much more popular because of its attempt to go national and harnessed the power of PPV, wrestling as a whole went downwards because instead of 10-15 territories drawing 8,000+ people to an arena each weekend, only the WWF and WCW could realistically do that by the end of the decade. The business of professional wrestling was far stronger in previous decades and saying Hogan took wrestling mainstream is like saying McDonalds took the hamburger mainstream—yes it became the most popular provider but overall consumption of it did not dramatically increase.
Attendance wise, while Hogan was an awesome draw wrestlers in the past like Jim Londos, Buddy Rogers, Bill Longson and others were just as impressive draws, if not more so. The myth that Hogan took wrestling out of smoky armories and into arenas is just that, a myth. Hogan was a huge star, but in wrestling history he is not the star unparalleled and that, combined with his flawed performance, means he will have to settle for number three.
Next week #2 will be revealed, WOOOOOO!.
The Top 50 so far (click link for description of the qualifications of the list):
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu
28. Abdullah the Butcher
27. Keiji Mutoh
26. Bob Backlund
25. Mil Mascaras
24. Nick Bockwinkel
22. Shawn Michaels
20. Riki Choshu
19. Dusty Rhodes
18. Dory Funk Jr.
16. Harley Race
15. Andre the Giant
14. Kenta Kobashi
13. The Rock
12. Jumbo Tsuruta
11. Stan Hansen
10. The Undertaker
9. Verne Gagne
8. Terry Funk
7. Mitsuharu Misawa
6. Giant Baba
5. Bruno Sammartino
4. Antonio Inoki
3. Hulk Hogan