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Et Cetera - HULK'S RULES
by Jay Spree on 2002-10-08

Undoubtedly, the biggest name in the history if the wrestling business – certainly in North America, if not the world – is Hulk Hogan.

Sure, Steve Austin may have shifted more merchandise, and The Rock has achieved more mainstream appeal and crossover success. And in Japan, Antonio Inoki may as close as a wrestler can ever get to being a God. But as far as selling out arenas, being a cultural marking point, a national hero and role model, and being a catalyst for not one but TWO separate wrestling booms, no one can touch the man who is nothing short of the icon he claims to be. In fact, he is such a superhero that Marvel comics even owns the trademarks to “The Incredible Hulk Hogan” and derivatives thereof. If only they knew the internet’s passion for labelling him “The Orange Goblin”, they might lay claim to that, too.

Now, the legend (in his own time, no less) finds himself in another uncertain situation that has become in recent years as much his trademark as tearing a red and yellow t-shirt. Controversy has followed the man wherever he has gone, from steroid accusations to backstage manoeuvring, even to his unceremonious departure from WCW. Simultaneously one of the most loved and loathed figures in the business, both in front of and behind the curtain, Hogan’s career has recently found a new lease of life – only to be deep-sixed by an apparent impasse with Vince McMahon.


4 LIFE

Mere weeks after the reformation of the nWo, crowd reaction was such that it was deemed unnecessary to confine Hogan to the stable they had been building a central angle around, and instead (against all common sense that exists in a wrestling storyline) turned him back to wholesome babyface literally overnight, and sent him on a superpush right to the top of the card and the Undisputed Title, such as it was (indeed, in Hogan’s eyes, this was the TRUE unification of the WWF and WCW titles, since he never actually lost the WCW belt when he left). As has been the trend in recent years, everything from buyrates to TV ratings bottomed out even further under Hogan’s reign, although it is arguable that the best time to carry out such a reign (that was undoubtedly written into his contract) would be when his nostalgia act was fresh, in order to ride the crest of his new popularity.

In any case, the title was soon taken off him, and Hogan was fed as a sacrifical lamb to put over (yes, HOGAN PUT OVER) Brock Lesnar’s current monster heel push. After what was nothing short of an old-fashioned stretcher job, Hogan was put out of commission by Lesnar and hasn’t been seen on TV since.


SMALL PRINT

Which is odd, since WWF “injuries” (that is, the ones that don’t appear in the Ross Report and don’t involve compressed vertebrae) generally don’t last very long. In fact, they are usually settled in time for the next PPV, in order to generate some money. But not this time – despite the fact that people were starting to buy Lesnar as a legitimate champion, and despite the fact that Hogan merchandise was selling particularly well, the man has yet to rematerialise. Of course, he HAD settled into a comfortable (read: reduced) midcard spot, and any such rematch would undoubtedly have to result in a Hogan victory (at least, in his opinion). And after what amounted to a failed power play on Vince McMahon, coupled with a thoroughly immovable and incomparable all-powerful backstage influence of a wrestler who’s name WASN’T Hulk Hogan, it seems very much as if the man might be done with the WWF.

Or is he?

There have been many conflicting reports about the status of Hogan’s deal. Initially thought to be a one-year, seven-figure deal, it now appears that the contract may in fact have been a) only a six-month deal, or and/or b) an appearance, date-based deal, whereby Hogan would only be obligated to fulfil a certain number of dates. Indeed, this would not be dissimilar to the WCW-esque deals which kept Sting out of action for a year, and which Hogan may conceivably have insisted on (and Vince would likely have caved in to, given how desperate he was to hotshot the nWo angle). While we have heard everything from “Hogan’s deal is up” to “He’s fulfilled his deal” to “He was only working on a handshake deal” to “He’s a free agent” to whatever the hell else, the fact is this: Hulkamania = $$$, both to Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan. Neither of these men would turn down a dollar, so the only conclusion must be that there are issues beyond the supposed status of a contract. A new deal could be set out in hours, Hogan could be back on TV at the drop of a hat. So why isn’t he?


WHAT’S RIGHT FOR BUSINESS

You can see this from a number of perspectives. For Vince McMahon, you have the double-edged sword that a red and yellow Hogan run would derail the success of the nWo, as much as a Hogan-led nWo would prevent a babyface solo push. Factor in that the nWo has been an utter, self-destructive bust, and Hogan’s main event push lost the company a chunk of cash, and Vince may still regret bringing Hogan aboard in the first place. Then you’ve got Hulk’s viewpoint that he came in, did exactly what was asked of him, kept his nose clean, sold a ton of shirts and DVDs, even put over the new kid, and then Vince tries to screw him out of incentives for the Australia arena show (which, in fairness, would likely have sold out with or without his name on the marquee).

But as we’ve said – and seen – neither man is unwilling to build bridges if there is money to be made, Which there is. He may not be a main event draw any more, but Hulkamania still has dollar signs on it, and they both know that. However, look at both sides, and see who has the most to lose from Hogan not being on TV. For Vince, business is down anyway, and if he can save a million or two on Hogan, when he could be using that money to pay a Scott Steiner or Bill Goldberg – especially now that, with thousands of t-shirts and DVDs sold, he has arguably milked Hulkamania for all its remaining worth anyway – he doesn’t really need the Hulkster. From Hulk’s perspective, he has only a few more years left to make a decent slice of cash from an in-ring career, and between the WWF monopoly and his own failed attempts to start a promotion, there is only one place left to make that cash. In addition, the only other revenue stream he has, his imminent autobiography, would benefit hugely from both WWF endorsement and the WWF marketing machine. Broken down like this, you can easily see who needs who more in this relationship, and you can bet that while Vince loves that fact, Hogan hates it.


SPECIAL DELIVERY

Not only does Hogan job to Lesnar, but he irrefutably puts him over and gives him the rub, and sells like he would only for Andre, Earthquake, or any other ‘80s monster heel that he would get his heat back from. By not getting TV time, let alone a rematch or the chance to get his heat back, Hogan loses face. In addition, he puts this guy over as best he can to build him up as an unstoppable monster and reinforce the stature of the Undisputed Title, then Triple HGH comes along and gives himself a world title, politically making Hogan look like the fool for his efforts and coming out with nothing. Hogan loses face. Last week, Hogan’s relatives Mike Awesome and Horace Hogan, were unceremoniously cut from the WWF roster. And all the while, vignettes of Brock Lesnar killing the career of this legend are played all over the TV shows.

It certainly seems to me that Vince McMahon is sending a message to the Hulkster. He has absolutely nothing to lose – sure, a few hundred thousand more t-shirts would make a nice ivory backscratcher, but at the gates and as far as buyrates and ratings go, Hogan’s absence is not missed. On the other hand, if he gets to further cement his monopoly on the business by forcing no less than Hulk Hogan – not only a legend in the business, but also a political and backstage mastermind who plays promoters like a fiddle – to deal “Vince’s way or the highway”, who is Chris Jericho, or Rob Van Dam, or John Cena to argue?

Will Hogan be back in the WWF? Maybe. Maybe not. It wouldn’t surprise anyone either way. Both have much to gain by his return, but Vince has less to lose if he doesn’t. That said, with all the messages being sent to Hogan over the past few months, I wouldn’t want to be a Chris Benoit when the Hulkster gets back on TV.


Jay Spree


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