Hulk Hogan's legendary appeal was successful because so many little things helped make his character work. The Hulkster was an icon during his heyday as he transfixed audiences with his finger waving, flexing, and shirt ripping. Hogan opened up on Apter Chat where he discussed the etymology of many aspects in his wrestling persona and the inspiration he was fortunate to choose from.
Hogan spent one year working for Vince McMahon Sr. in 1979, but he left to transform into the Superstar we know today. During his hiatus from the New York territory, Hogan found much of his footing and eventually returned in 1983 when Hulkamania ran wild.
"You know when I left the WWE originally [in 1980] and I went to work for Verne Gagne, I had a great deal in Japan," Hogan remembered. "I spent weeks and weeks, sometimes twenty weeks a year over there and I loved it over there because I actually got to wrestle over there and I didn't have to do the 'ear thing' and it was just totally different, it was fun for me it was kinda like how I learned how to wrestle.
"So going to Japan was fun and stuff like that but I've always dreamed about being the champion in New York. When I was there the first time [Bob] Backlund was the champion and even as a bad guy, kinda like how I heard how the crowd reacted to me and Andre [The Giant] at Shea Stadium, the Superdome -- not the Silverdome, brother -- for Bill Watts and working with Mike Labelle -- I worked all over with Andre. Then even in Japan, I was always the heel and I had that black leather armband and [Classy Freddy] Blassie would load it with a piece of metal and then I'd knock Andre out with it. "There was always that really great reaction so I had always dreamed that, 'Oh my gosh, if I could [do this in WWE].'"
Hogan was starting to put the pieces together as a heel and then he received some treasured advice from Gagne which really set his previous experience into high gear. Until then, Hogan was selling like any wrestler normally would, but through his time with Gagne, Hogan was able to add a vital aspect to his repertoire which became a staple of his character.
"Then what happened is I went to Minnesota for three years and I really honed my craft," Hogan continued. "Verne Gagne actually taught me how to start shaking and 'Hulk Up' and Verne actually taught me that, how to come up. He could coach me, 'now you gotta start shaking and if somebody hits you with a lead pipe in the head you act like it doesn't hurt you. When they dropkick you, you don't go down... when they hit you with four dropkicks you just wobble.'"
Although Hogan's new tactic of no-selling moves during his comeback would pop crowds and get him over, his opponents didn't seem to enjoy it as much. Gagne did tell Hogan to sell eventually, but when he fell, Hogan had a unique way to rally the fans.
"It used to piss off all the other wrestlers cause Verne told me to quit selling," Hogan said. "I said, 'Guys! It's not me! It's Verne! Verne's telling me not to do this,' you know and it was true. Verne didn't want me to sell. Once I did sell, he said: 'Once you go down and sell, sell like you're a 100-pound girl so you get sympathy.' That's why when I did finally sell I'd start crawling around and that building would start rumbling, brother. It would rumble so loud when I started selling, it went crazy.
"So when I went back to [WWE], I finally learned my craft. I learned how to be Hulk Hogan. I was making all my shirts at the mall. I was ripping them off when I was up there, so I had it figured out before I came back this time. So when I hit the ring against the Iron Sheik it just took off and it was the most fun time of all for me in the wrestling business because like I said, it was the first time.
"Then the transition into the nWo, I always knew if they would let me be a bad guy again now that I had it figured out I could be the best bad guy ever. The dirtiest, nastiest, most evil bad guy and then when the good guys came at me I'd drop down and beg like the biggest chicken ever like Ray Stevens. I had a blast, but the first run with the red and yellow was the most fun."
Hogan was finally able to beg off like Stevens when Eric Bischoff turned him heel in WCW as The Hulkster traded his red and yellow for nWo white and black. He was borrowing from heroes of professional wrestling's past way before his time with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as he explained how legends inspired him and he picked from the best minds available to form his character.
"When I first started working in Pensacola [Florida], Austin Idol was there," Hogan said. "He used to be a friend of my brother's before my brother passed away.
"I knew [Idol] as a kid and he was really nice to me because he knew my brother really well. So when I went to work with him in Pensacola I watched him and he had the gimmick down, brother. He was the first one that I heard say 'Idolmania' so guess what I did? Guess who's the first one I saw do 'the ear?' Austin Idol, I saw Austin do it. So I kinda watched him work and I said, 'Oh okay, I get it... Austin Idol, Dusty Rhodes... I got this. I can figure this one out.' So I kinda took the hot sauce from each one of those guys.
"You know when I'd go down to sell and that one finger would come up brother... you know I'm selling and that one finger starts shaking. That's Dusty Rhodes all day long."
Hogan merged many different aspects of different legends in order to create something special for himself. One unique part of his persona came when he would rip off his shirts to pop the crowd. Hogan explained how he first stumbled across this idea and that the pre-cut rips in the back of his iconic look were due to a strategic necessity.
"I was in a six-man tag at the Rosemont Horizon [now Allstate Arena] and the place was sold-out of course," Hogan said. "It was me, Greg Gagne, and Jim Brunzell in the AWA [...] There were three Sheiks against us three and that night when I was in the ring I had a shirt made up that said 'Hulkamania' on the front and 'Python Power' on the back at the local mall there and in the middle of the ring, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell ran up to me and ripped my shirt off -- just ripped it off me. I was in crazy shape back then, I was a lot younger and the crowd went nuts. I went, 'Okay... that worked!' I didn't even know they were gonna do it. So I just start ripping my shirt off after that, you know?
"But the cuts in the back were my ex-wife. I used to buy smaller shirts -- the bigger I'd look, right? So instead of buying like an extra large shirt I'd but a medium shirt and there's no way I could fit in it. So I'd cut the sleeves off so it'd make me look just huge. Then because I didn't want to look like an idiot and some shirts are harder to rip, I'd always put a little tiny cut in the neckline so it would tear evenly when you pull it. Because sometimes you go to rip a shirt and you just can't do it and you look like an idiot, you know?
"I would cut a little tiny rip in the front and my ex-wife would say, 'That shirt looks horrible on you, it's so tight, is that a small' I'd go, 'No, it's a medium, come on!' She goes, 'Let me make it a little better for you.' So she cut the three little cuts in the back which actually gave me room to breathe and opened my shirt up a little more. So that's where all that stuff started."
If you use any portion of the quotes in this article please credit The Apter Chat with a H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription