Hulk Hogan: the man, the myth … the … well, myth is a good place to stop. Hogan in many ways is the gatekeeper to the modern era of professional wrestling. (Ric Flair is the other one, but let me focus on one overhyped legend at a time).
With the age of Hogan, we saw professional wrestling move away from the arenas and move away from a regular, live, serialized entertainment form and into a ‘national’, TV and PPV based monstrosity that warped the entertainment value, completely removed professional wrestling from a sports based product, and began the path of overly scripted performances (in-ring and promos).
[adinserter block=”1″]Despite all the accolades and assumptions, it doesn’t take much analysis to put together the reasons for the scripting. Hogan was a weak imitation of his predecessor at the head of the WWE/WWF/WWWF promotion, and he couldn’t attract regular fans to the “clubs” on a monthly basis.
While the booking in the early-to-mid 1980’s was similar, familiar to long term fans, there was a vast and jarring difference between the expectations of what happened in the ring, how the matches were built, how the emotions were tugged at, and how engaged fans were with the concept of professional wrestling.
The last reflections of “programming” existed in the Hogan era: opponent comes in; establishes himself as a monster, as talented, as a threat; usually several matches occur on PPV, TV, big events; reasons exist as to why those matches continue; eventually the Champion overcomes the opponent; opponent disappears, moves down the card or gets repackaged.
That’s a formula that worked for several decades.
That’s a formula that’s been ignored for the past several, and much to blame for diminishing returns (fans, attendance, profits).
That’s a formula that any company that wants to be successful (*cough* ROH *cough*) should emulate.
But the modern era is straight out of the hyperbole of Hulk Hogan.
Larger than life characters, never mind the believability. Third person promos full of bombast, replete with ego, readily hammered out by keyboards but seldom spoken from the heart. Sure, there’s a guy like Hogan or a guy like The Rock or some several other examples of talent that can project themselves through other people’s words, but those guys are few and far in between.
Guys before the modern era were able to project themselves because they were themselves first and foremost.
What’s completely mind-blowing is that professional wrestling is the purest form of “Role-playing” known to man, and yet in an era where Role Playing Games are more socially acceptable and more known by modern man, professional wrestling promoters/companies and talents are vastly less understanding of the concept than ever.
What’s worse is that the concept of professional wrestling as a pseudo-sports construct is even less understood, and it was bad enough about 20 years ago from my own experience. Not to get into names or companies, but I was in the tidal wave of Collectible Card Games and also a emerging ‘insider’ in the professional wrestling world. No one in the gaming world understood professional wrestling, and a major company attempted to connect to WCW’s mainstream popularity.
The problem was, that the gaming mind never grasped that professional wrestling is, at its core, a fight. a battle where two opponents try to beat each other (with violence, wrestling skill or acrobatics of a sort) and win by pinfall, submission or other rules. CCG’s were all about counting to 10 or 20, and so wrestling was addressed the same way.
I was dumbfounded at the time that the concept of exhaustion, being beaten, being unable to continue were alien concepts, that fak that preten that talent performing their talents in portraying a professional wrestling match (whew) should be well aware of variations of storytelling in the ring and present a compelling match in many ways.
I am dumbfounded now that virtually every promotion known to man (save CHIKARA and AAW and to some degree the Gabe Sapolsky run promotions) haven’t a clue about the various dimensions of storytelling that can and should be involved with this quaint, violence portrayal called professional wrestling.
Sure, I digress.
Hogan began this disconnect, because when he started there was a guy who was wowing the crowd and making professional wrestling believable and no true fan questioned the concept.
By the end of the Hogan dominance, that certain promoter was chasing every nickel and dime and laying bare the concepts of kayfabe for tax benefits.
All the while the experts and the journalists pretended along that professional wrestling was finally out of the smoke-filled rooms and faked along with the notion that Hogan was a great professional wrestler and that things were never better.
All the while Hogan’s public speaking and words and denials — while the culture of the locker room was seen by those with common sense to be troublesome—helped pave the way for realities of the 1990’s to become what they became.
What professional wrestling became, in the ring, after the Hogan era is a peculiarity.
These days the hardcores whine about John Cena’s five move repertoire. But setting aside the early 1990’s match against Muta, Hogan had little interest in doing much in the ring except for punch and kick and an assorted clothesline (which the Japanese called an Ax Bomber, to give him some uniqueness).
But bumps? Hogan? Is that a joke I’ve shared with a friend or a joke on those who claim Hogan’s greatness?
The most interesting question is this: How would Hogan fare in 2015, the era cemented by his influence on the industry (but also heavily influenced by his biggest rival to greatness and influence on the industry: Ric Flair.)
To whom can we compare the master of the “Leg drop of DOOM”?
To the aforementioned John Cena? Sure. There’s the look, the limited moves and the babyface-despite-a-smugness-about-him attitude. Then again, there’s no jingoism, no hulking presence, no surfer-dude mentality, no larger-than-lies life charisma. But Cena doesn’t benefit from the fading remembrances of booking that benefitted Hogan: no turnstyle of heels (just repeated matchups with Orton), no babyface-in-danger angles, no hint of having to draw the same core audience to the same arena for years in a row.
Hogan couldn’t do that, and it’s doubtful that Cena could, but the days of booking Madison Square Garden every 3 or 4 weeks is long forgotten.
How about Roman Reigns?
Can we all imagine the fanboys complaining that Hogan can’t do a 20 minute match, shows nothing in the ring, can’t bump and hurt people? Well, Hogan never really had that reputation.
The concept of timing a match from the entrance to the post-match nonsense began with Hogan (based on a few private conversations), but we get less entrance music, less patience with crowd cheerleading and almost no expectation of sticking around the ring beyond normal expectations.
Uhm, I really didn’t mean it that way.
Yet Roman Reigns is a much purer athlete than Hogan, a much better student of the game and a guy with potential beyond his mishandling.
Hogan was made by his timing and his handling and being a watered-down version of a really great Champion (who had to come back to boost the attendance in all the clubs that went downhill, when Hogan couldn’t maintain attendance in the same place three times in a row, let alone years).
Hogan took it to another level due to his … look and natural charisma, and got every opportunity after others failed. (I recall the obvious potential shift to Duggan (before that unfortunate pull-over), to Savage (who was definitely in the Ric Flair mode of wrestling) and that strange interlude to Bret Hart, whom Hogan would never put over).
[adinserter block=”2″]But Hogan’s in-ring performances make Roman Reigns look like Joe Stetcher, Joe Scarpello Samoa Joe. His promos these days would be outlandish, and his ability to make professional wrestling appear real (considering the weak in-ring and the outlandishness) is best reflected in the loss of average attendance in all arenas across the country, overall since 1980.
I mean, c’mon, the 1980’s were the cartoon era, and who was the ringleader?