The 33 year career of the biggest pro wrestling star in history is over. WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Hulk Hogan underwent a grueling spinal fusion operation in December. Taking bumps are out of the question thus preventing Hogan from ever wrestling again and guess what…nobody cares.
Maybe it is the lack of interest in pro wrestling, maybe it is the nauseating overexposure of Hulk Hogan in the media the last few years, maybe it is TNA Wrestling’s lack of relevance outside their small world, but one would think that the end of Hulk Hogan’s pro wrestling career would be one of the biggest stories of the last month. But guess what? There have been no tributes, no major media coverage, and not more than a blip coming out of the wrestling media. To put this into perspective, Daniel Bryan getting fired for choking John Cena had more press in a week than this story has received in a month.
There will always be arguments as to who the greatest pro wrestler was of all time. Genuinely it comes down to Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. But if you change the question to who was the most successful pro wrestler of all time, it would be hard to argue against Hulk Hogan. Sure you could make arguments for Bruno Sammartino and Steve Austin and they would be legitimate arguments for sure. Yet if you look at what Hogan did for the industry by injecting (ouch those puns) it into popular culture and making it a phenomenon in the 1980s there is nobody else in my mind that was bigger than Hogan.
I started watching pro wrestling in 1982 so I grew up as a big wrestling fan right smack dab in the midst of the Hogan era. I attended many live events at the Philadelphia Spectrum featuring Hogan including his first WWF title defense in Philadelphia. I saw it with my own eyes and the guy was a rock star beyond anything that you see today. I was too old to see Bruno Sammartino live in his heyday but I saw Austin as well. Austin was huge and no doubt about it, he saved the WWE and reinvigorated the company at a time when the company was in huge trouble. But if you look at longevity and lasting impact, I don’t think anyone touches Hulk Hogan.
I know I know. “Nobody ever retires in pro wrestling.” Even Hulk Hogan with terrible back, hip, and knee troubles got inside of the ring just last March and even wrestled on a full tour in 2009 against Ric Flair. Well a lot can happen in less than a year and for Hogan, it happened. Hogan has now endured a reported seven back surgeries in three years but this last one was the surgery that ended it all. It could take up to two years just for Hogan to get back to where he was before the surgery and any kind of wrestling bump, fall, or even jarring of his body could be disastrous. Seeing those pictures of his back I can’t imagine Hogan lifting weights or even thinking about wrestling a match again.
The big question here is whether Hogan himself realizes his career is over. The yellow elephant in the room when it comes to Hogan is divorce. Hogan has reportedly lost millions to the point where he was crying poverty in divorce hearings. At 57 years old I can’t imagine many money making opportunities for Hogan to recoup even a quarter of his fortune without wrestling. Could Hogan don the tights a few more times for a huge payday say in Japan with the thinking that he would do nothing in the match but rip his shirt off, sell a little, hit a big punch, and take it home? He could but the ramifications of Hogan even jarring his body the wrong way by throwing a punch should be enough to keep him out of the ring for good.
Hogan is one of the most polarizing figures in pro wrestling and pop culture for that matter. In wrestling just as many love him as the ones who can’t stand him. He found renewed fame with reality television but the family fallout following the shows has turned a lot of the public off to the Hulkster. I see him on television all of the time with Troy Aikman in those campy Rent-A-Center commercials but it isn’t the same. That is just not how the fans who grew up with Hulkamania t-shirts in their drawers want to remember their fallen hero.
The fact is that even with Hogan’s repeated surgeries he has always had aspirations for one more big WWE match. There have been rumors for the last three years about negotiations for a John Cena vs. Hulk Hogan WrestleMania main-event. As painful as that match sounds, it would probably be a lot of fun to watch for the crowd reactions alone. The match never happened and barring some kind of miracle never will. Instead Hogan’s final WWE appearance was on the RAW 15th Anniversary show in 2007 in which he challenged Randy Savage (yes in 2007) to a match in a WWE ring saying, “Never say never brother.” Well I’m saying never.
You may not like him and he may not have always done the right for the wrestling business but Hulk Hogan deserves better than that. At some point it would be nice to see him and Vince McMahon mend fences even if just for one night and end Hulkamania where it started…in a WWE ring. Call me a dreamer but that is something I won’t say “never” to just yet.
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