March 17, 2002. It’s cold, too cold on the streets of Toronto for this Vancouverite. I am with a good friend and we are roaming the streets near Sky Dome, people in costume and severely under-dressed for anyone but locals flood the streets chanting and raving. I would call them lunatics but life isn’t that black and white, today it was black and white or red and yellow depending on taste. You see that was the date of Wrestlemania XXVIII and the crowd in Toronto was firmly behind a well past his prime Hulk Hogan, for no apparent reason, at least to me. I was behind The Rock, younger, more athletic, better with the mic, better track record of entertaining matches simply put The Rock was just better in every category. Toronto didn’t care, they were still addicted to Hulkamania, I was, and am. a recovering Hulkamaniac. Whefirst discovered professional wrestling it was the beginning of Hulkamania, Wrestlemania, Hulk Hogan’s Rock & WRestling, A-Team, the WWE marketing team was learning their job and doing very well at it. Like the ornate figure head on the bow of majestic ship Hulk Hogan was the forefront of professional wrestling in the 1980’s. Also like that figure head he was just decoration and the real parts were less glamorous and more functional.
My first indication that the Hulkster was not the entire show was the fights that happened in my living room. Back in the 1980’s LJN released a ling on solid rubber WWE action figures, I had a few, my friends had a few, and together we could out book a Wrestlemania, the fights began like this: Kid 1: “I get to be The Dynamite Kid”
Kid 2:” No, I want the Dynamite Kid!”
Kid 3:”We have two…”
Kids 1 & 2: “YOU CAN’T HAVE DYNAMITE VS DYNAMITE!”
Kid 2: “THEN I AM BRET HART!”
Kid 3: ” I already picked Bret when you two were arguing.”
Kid 2 the picks up King Kong Bundy figure and smacks Kid 3.
As you can see by the above pic Bundy was a mass of rubber that could split a skull. Now the idiocy of pre-teen boys aside the key there is we never and I mean ever fought over who got to be Hulk Hogan. Fights would also break out over ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and Ricky ‘ The Dragon’ Steamboat, when I looked at it years later as I rewatched Wrestlemania III it hit me that I would never talk about he Hogan match, it was always the undercard that got the talk. Fair is fair; Hogan slamming Andre was a spectacle but Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat was dissected. That is the remnants of the Hogan era, his matches contained spectacle moments, not to discredit him they were incredible feats and moments not matches. The big stars saw their names in lights out side buildings and work at the end of the night (when cameras were on) but the big talents got the fans respect and conversation. It was a slow decent out of Hulkamania for me, there was to one moment that did it, too often the WWE hype machine built up a match only to be disappointed in the end product, I think the last truly engrossing match Hogan had while I was still a Hulkamaniac was with Randy Savage at Wrestlemania V. There were matches that over promised and under delivered near the top of the cards and then underneath there were the ones that under promised and over produced. By Wrestlemania VIII I was done, so much of the under card was performing above their promotional level and yet the show closing battle of the titans Hulk Hogan facing off with Sid Justice was probably the best outing either had in a while but still so vastly underwhelming that I just couldn’t handle it any more. I wanted to see Bret Hart, Mr Perfect, The Undertaker, Jake Roberts, these guys were delivering every time often well ahead of the hype they received. The Hulkster had lost his luster to me, I started to see a paint by numbers structure and a lack of gripping story in the ring.
Around that time Hogan began getting more film work, his wrestling time was limited and eventually he would transition to WCW as would many of the late big names of his era and the young talent that held our attention started closing the shows. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in particular, but credit to Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Jeff Jarrett, The Undertaker, Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. There was a catch though, a clear void in star power to draw eyes that the charisma of Hulk Hogan could not. The “gimmic” era of the WWE made it tough to get eyes on the in ring quality, wrestling clowns, garbage-men, tax collectors, hockey players (in full gear), plumbers, repo-men, even a star spangled hero didn’t cut it. Meanwhile Hogan had turned evil in WCW and ride another eave if popularity….or did he? sure he was top of the card but moat of the time he was working with the same few competitors. Even the WCW alternatives got so many repeat matches they felt like watching reruns of Fraser, fine the first time but lamer and lamer as they went on. WCW had the same formula, an amazing under card with a drizzled shit topping. Hogan was bad, Flair a shadow of his true self, Luger was over rated, The Giant was under developed, Sting needed a bigger challenge, Savage was over looked, DDP under valued and Bret was a shadow of himself after 97 and worse after 99. The under card contained Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Booker T and Raven. The supporting pillars under the high profile stars and again the marketing machine proclaimed that Hogan was the pinnacle, not that the WCW machine was any thing close to the WWF. There wasn’t much different when WCW collapsed and in early 2002 Hogan returned to the WWF in his black and white attire accompanied by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as the nWo.
In 2002 the WWF was a far different creature than the company Hogan left years before. It was not a one man show with a revolving door of challengers that came and went. The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit all sat at the top of the pile while Edge, Rob Van Dam and Booker T were looking to break through to the top, not to mention that Spring would see the debuts of John Cena, Randy Orton, Dave Batista and Brock Lesnar. The talent pool was too deep for anyone to jump in with out being able to swim and in the ring Hogan couldn’t swim. I will give him his due, he is an icon, he could hype people into seats and n his younger days he could go but as his star grew he didn’t need to, his talents were in his mouth and in his ability to pull sympathy. Before I am misunderstood that ability to pull sympathy is a key component to in ring work but I like a more well rounded performer. I started this love of wrestling under the bright light of Hulkamania, along the lines I gave up that addiction and on a cold St. Patrick’s Day in Toronto I watched as it ran rampant. I sat with 68,236 others and was in a very small minority that had given up the addiction to the red and yellow and I never went back. So when you see that wrestling meme or clip and think of me, leave The Hulkster out of it, I can’t discount his contribution but I don’t have to be a fan.