Posted By admin on January 4, 2009
History and Biography of Hulk Hogan
Date of Birth
11 August 1953, Augusta, Georgia, USA
Terry Gene Bollea
6′ 5″ (1.96 m)
One of the greatest, most popular, most hated and charismatic wrestlers of all time, Hulk Hogan is one of the men who helped parlay the circus-like world of professional wrestling from cult following into the forefront of American entertainment.
Hulk Hogan Fast Facts:
- Bowled in his youth, winning the Tampa city junior doubles bowling title with future pro Vic Pettit in 1966.
- Played bass guitar in a band while in high school, and earned enough money to buy two ’69 Plymouth Roadrunners.
- After Hogan put Richard Belzer in a headlock on his show Hot Properties in 1985, the comedian sued the wrestler for alleged injuries. The suit was settled out of court.
- Inspired by Jesse Ventura’s successful bid for governor of Minnesota, Hogan announced his candidacy for U.S. President on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1998.
- Built his Belleair mansion in Florida — site of Seasons 1 and 2 of his reality show Hogan Knows Best — with stone salvaged from demolished French castles; the house was put on the market for $25 million in June, 2006.
Hulk Hogan Relationships:
- Brooke Hogan – Daughter
- Linda Hogan – Wife (separated)
- Nick Hogan – Son
- Allan Bollea – Brother
- Kenneth Wheeler – Half Brother
- Pete Bollea – Father
- Ruth Bollea – Mother
- Jennifer McDaniel – Significant Other
In the world of professional sports, there are those select few athletes whose names are capable of drawing universal respect, admiration and awe. You have your legends and your all-time greats, but even they do not reach the level of the absolute elite. The level of “icon.” Champions whose accomplishments and contributions to their respective fields left an indelible mark on the sporting world. Baseball has the “Sultan of Swat”, Babe Ruth. Basketball has the celebrated Michael “Air” Jordan. The first and last name in boxing will always be Muhammad Ali.
In the sport of professional wrestling, where men and women would put their bodies on the line every night to entertain their audience, one name stood above all others throughout its one-hundred-thirty-year-old history. More than any other performer, he was responsible for the incredible growth in popularity the sport experienced over the past three decades, before mixed martial arts became the world’s most popular combat sport. He is the most famous professional wrestler of all time, and the most phenomenal drawing card in the history of the business. Standing tall at six feet, eight inches, and tipping the scales at well over 300 pounds of rippling muscle, he is the Immortal Icon of professional wrestling: Hulk Hogan.
Hulk Hogan was born Terry Gene Bollea on August 11, 1953 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, the third child of Italian-American couple Ruth and Peter Bollea. He had an older brother, Allan, as well as an older half brother from Ruth’s first marriage, Kenneth Wheeler. From the start, Terry was larger than life, weighing 10 pounds, seven ounces at birth. Peter Bollea (who nicknamed young Terry “Big Train”) worked as a pipe fitter in Panama. Ruth Bollea excelled in music and professional dancing, and also worked for the Navy as a secretary. Nine months after Terry’s birth, the Bollea family moved to Tampa, Florida. The Sunshine State would be where Terry received his schooling, attending Ballast Point Elementary School, James Monroe Junior High School, and Robinson High School.
At a young age, Terry learned to play guitar, which would help him down the road as he pursued dreams of rock stardom. Young Terry was also a standout in little league baseball. In one instance, Terry was chosen to participate in a series of all-star games. He pitched in the final game of the series, which saw his team win with a 4-3 score. In this series, Terry registered 10 hits in 14 times at bat, tallying a .714 batting average. Ultimately, baseball would prove not to be Terry’s calling. An arm injury he suffered during practice killed his dreams of playing professionally in 1967, at age 14.
Later that year, Terry started working out regularly at Hector’s Gym in Tampa, after years of battling weight issues. It was here where Terry Bollea started building the physique which would earn him international superstardom. Terry studied business administration at Hillsborough Community College as well as majoring in business administration and music at the University of South Florida. He also picked up a bass guitar and played in several Florida-based rock bands, including Infinity’s End, Koco, and Ruckus. Terry would spend the next 10 years of his life as a rock ‘n’ roll artist. He even found work as a studio musician for Atlanta-based Century Artists, working as a ghost player on recordings for Todd Rundgren, Iron Butterfly, and Blues Image, among others.
In his spare time, Terry would attend wrestling matches with his father at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa. Father and son also attended matches at the Tampa Sportatorium, where Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) – a highly regarded promotion run by the late, great Eddie Graham – held their television tapings. Towering over the other spectators in the crowd, Terry – a lifelong wrestling fan – passionately cheered on his favorites to victory. These favorites included “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and Superstar Billy Graham, the man who would later become his greatest influence in the ring. The massive youngster was so huge and so vocal that competitors inside the squared circle sometimes paused to take note of his actions. Terry loved watching professional wrestling, but never really considered it as a career option at the time.
Ironically, it would be his aspiring music career which would lead Terry to his true calling. Many professional wrestlers who competed in the Florida area at that time would visit the bars where Terry’s band Ruckus would be performing. These were the very men Terry enjoyed watching compete on television and at the local Armory. One night after a performance, Terry approached legendary wrestling brothers Jack & Gerry Brisco at the bar. Terry’s impressive physical stature caught their attention, and the Briscos spoke to him about giving wrestling a try. The idea of stepping into the ring and becoming a superstar of professional wrestling was too good for Terry to pass up. He soon sold all of his musical equipment and left college to pursue a full-time wrestling career. This decision would not please his father Peter. Although a wrestling fan himself, Peter disapproved of his son leaving behind a college education for a career in the ring. However, there was no turning back for his son. Terry was determined to make it in the world’s most entertaining sport.
Eddie Graham’s son Mike, one of Florida’s most popular wrestling stars, was a senior in Robinson High School the same year Terry was a sophmore. As fate would have it, Mike Graham would be the man who introduced Terry to his trainer: Hiro Matsuda. Hailing from Yokohama, Japan, Matsuda was a feared and respected athlete who had held the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship, as well as many other titles. Within the first 30 seconds of his first training session, Matsuda broke Terry’s ankle, and proceeded to humiliate him in front of his class, kicking him while he was down and spitting on him. Matsuda then told Terry if he had the guts to return, he would be his teacher. Ten weeks later, Terry returned to Matsuda’s training camp, determined to push himself to his physical limits in order to become a professional wrestler. After nearly two years of training, Terry Bollea was ready to step into the ring for the first time, competing in Championship Wrestling from Florida.
He wrestled his first professional match on August 9, 1977, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Shortly after his debut, Terry donned a mask, and competed for several months as “The Super Destroyer”, a hooded persona first used by Don Jardine (aka The Spoiler), and subsequently used by several other wrestlers over the years. According to legend, Terry was so green in his earliest matches, he had trouble performing such basic maneuvers as running the ropes. It has been said Terry would often find himself entangled in them, or falling through them, to the crowd’s amusement. After competing for a few months, Terry felt wrestling was not the way he wanted to earn a living, citing small payoffs and not having enough of a chance to wrestle on big cards. Terry decided to quit the sport, and go to work on the loading docks of Port Tampa as a longshoreman. Within a matter of weeks, Terry was contacted by the Brisco brothers and former NWA World Champion Terry Funk, all of whom felt Terry had potential to become a high-profile wrestling attraction. Eventually, Terry decided to give the sport another try.
In 1978, Terry competed for NWA Southeastern Championship Wrestling, where Terry “The Hulk” Boulder became his new ring moniker. Terry earned the nickname “The Hulk” after appearing on a regional television talk show in the Alabama area in 1978, to promote a local wrestling card. The other guest on the show was Lou Ferrigno, a former Mr. Universe who was starring in a hit CBS drama series based on the Marvel Comics superhero, The Incredible Hulk. The show’s host looked in awe at Boulder and proclaimed to the viewing audience that he looked bigger than Ferrigno. Terry responded by telling the host, “That’s because I’m the real Hulk.” Not long thereafter, the “Hulk” name became forever attached to Terry amongst promoters, fans, and his fellow wrestlers.
In those formative years, Terry feuded with ring legends such as Ox Baker, Austin Idol, and a man who he would see a lot more of later in his career: the 7’4″, 520-pound Andre the Giant. Terry would eventually go on to win his first wrestling title, the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship (Southern division). Terry even had an early shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in May of 1979, facing NWA kingpin Harley Race. Terry also competed for Jarrett-Welch Wrestling in Memphis, Tennessee during this period of his career.
Another early ring persona for Terry was the cocky Sterling Golden, a name which was bestowed upon him by Georgia Championship Wrestling promoter Jim Barnett. Barnett took a look at the muscular, bronzed giant and saw a bigger, stronger, meaner version of Professional Wrestling Hall of Famer Gorgeous George. Using the nickname “The Wrestling Hulk”, Sterling Golden offered up to $10,000 to any wrestler who could break his submission finisher, the “Golden Squeeze” bearhug. He also captured the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship (Northern division), holding it for 25 days.
During his run as Sterling Golden, Terry was contacted by Vincent J. McMahon, a legendary promoter from the Northeastern United States who ran the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the parent company of the then-relevant World Wrestling Federation. After meeting with McMahon in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Terry agreed to come work for the World Wrestling Federation, under yet another new name: “The Fabulous” Hulk Hogan. At the time, the Federation had many heroes who represented different ethnic populations. McMahon was of Irish descent, and wanted to create a persona for Terry which would turn him into a roughneck Irish brawler. McMahon even instructed Terry to dye his hair red. Eventually, the idea behind making Terry an Irishman was dropped, but the name “Hulk Hogan” remained. His nickname “The Fabulous” was also quickly changed to “The Incredible”, borrowed directly from his Marvel Comics namesake.
On November 13, 1979, “The Incredible” Hulk Hogan made his debut in the World Wrestling Federation, where his wrestling idol Superstar Billy Graham achieved his greatest notoriety. In his debut, Hogan wrestled three matches in Allentown, Pennsylvania during one of the Federation’s marathon television tapings. Hogan was victorious in all three bouts, squashing Harry Valdez in the first match, Paul Figueroa in the second, and Ben Ortiz in the third. One month later on December 17, Hogan made his Madison Square Garden wrestling debut, defeating Ted DiBiase in 11 minutes, 12 seconds. Hogan started out in the Federation as an arrogant heel (aka “bad guy”), clad in a golden cape and managed by the late “Classy” Freddie Blassie. During his first run with the Federation, Hogan feuded intensely with World Wrestling Federation Champion Bob Backlund, “Mr. U.S.A.” Tony Atlas, and Andre the Giant. Hogan and Andre would go on to clash in a historic match on August 9, 1980 in front of 36,295 fans, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY. This was part of the Federation’s Showdown At Shea event.
Hogan’s first World Wrestling Federation run ended in the spring of 1981, after he received an offer from actor Sylvester Stallone to be a part of his next film venture, Rocky III. McMahon had already booked Hogan for a series of matches in the Carolinas under the auspicies of promoter Jim Crockett Jr., and also felt Hogan was “a wrestler, not an actor.” Despite being warned he’d never again work for the World Wrestling Federation if he chose to be in the film, Hogan went ahead and accepted Stallone’s offer.
After filming his scene for Rocky III, Hogan made a brief return to Championship Wrestling from Florida, where he engaged in a series of matches with the powerful Mighty Igor. A short time later, Hogan made his debut in the Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association, promoted by former nine-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion and two-time NCAA Champion Verne Gagne. Hogan’s debut for the organization took place in grandiose fashion, on a special AWA edition of The Phil Donahue Show. Shortly thereafter, on August 1, 1981, his first AWA match took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he defeated Tony Leone and Chuck Greenlee in a handicap match. Hogan started his AWA run portraying his heel character from the World Wrestling Federation, this time under the management of “Luscious” Johnny Valiant. Despite his status as a rulebreaker, AWA fans reacted much differently to Hogan. The audience couldn’t get enough of the muscular Hogan, and soon AWA bookers were compelled to turn Hogan face (or “good guy”).
Rocky III premiered in theaters nationwide on May 28, 1982. Hogan’s role in Rocky III was “Thunderlips”, a buffed, egotistical wrestler who took on Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in a wrestler vs. boxer charity match. The role would garner international media attention for Hogan, and soon he was riding the wave of a crest of popularity, the likes of which had rarely been seen before for a professional wrestler. The seeds for what would become the cultural movement known as Hulkamania were planted.
Rocky III also helped Hogan meet the woman who would later become his wife. After seeing the film with her mother at a drive-in, a young lady from Los Angeles named Linda Claridge had a chance meeting with Hogan inside the Red Onion resturant in southern California. The strikingly beautiful blonde – who worked for a nail salon at the time – caught Hogan’s eye almost immediately. As appealing as she was to Hogan’s eye, her down-to-earth, soft-spoken demeanor also attracted him. Eventually, the two developed a strong relationship, and were married on December 18, 1983. Terry and Linda Bollea would go on to start a family of their own, bringing two children into the world; daughter Brooke, and son Nicholas.
At this point of his life, Hulk Hogan was enjoying enormous fan support in the AWA, but the adulation for the Hulkster didn’t stop there. Hogan was also immensely popular with fans in the island country of Japan, where puroresu (an abbreviation of Purofesshonaru Resuringu, the Japanese term for “professional wrestling”) is highly respected. There, Hogan competed for New Japan Pro Wrestling, one of the world’s most influential wrestling promotions, run by puroresu icon Antonio Inoki. Hogan first appeared in Japan on May 13, 1980, while he was still with the World Wrestling Federation. He would tour the country from time to time over the next few years, facing a wide variety of opponents ranging from Tatsumi Fujinami to Abdullah the Butcher to Dusty Rhodes. When competing in Japan, Hogan used a vastly different repertoire of wrestling moves, relying on more scientific, traditional wrestling holds and maneuvers as opposed to the power-based, brawling style U.S. fans were accustomed to seeing from him. Japanese wrestling fans were in awe of the gargantuan blond American, and nicknamed him Ichiban (which translates into “Number One”). The Hulkster’s fame grew to such large proportions in Japan, he even recorded a four-song EP there for Warner Brothers Records, with the band Pink Cloud.
On June 2, 1983, Hogan became the first International Wrestling Grand Prix tournament winner, defeating Antonio Inoki in the finals of a 10-man tournament featuring top talent from throughout the world. In what would become one of the most memorable moments in puroresu history, Hogan rendered the seemingly infallible Inoki unconscious on the floor of Sumo Hall with his “Ax-Bomber” clothesline, and was declared the tournament winner by knockout. This match is cited by many observers of puroresu as the “Fall of the Fighting Spirit Myth.” Hogan and Inoki also worked as partners in Japan, winning the prestigious MSG Tag League tournament two years in a row, in 1982 and 1983. Over the years, Hogan would continue to make stops in the Far East. His matches with Stan “The Lariat” Hansen, the Great Muta (Keiji Mutoh), and Genichiro Tenryu are legendary amongst Japanese wrestling fans.
Over in the United States, Hulk Hogan had been growing increasingly frustrated with the AWA’s locker room politics. Twice, Hogan had won the AWA title from Nick Bockwinkel, only to have the decision voided both times, leading to near-rioting among the audience (this was overturned by the AWA board in April 2005, thus making Hogan an officially recognized two-time former AWA World Champion). Hogan was also upset with promoter Verne Gagne’s demands for a percentage of his Japanese earnings in exchange for the AWA Championship. The final straw for Hogan came after Gagne refused to pay residuals to him for the sale of of Hulk Hogan T-shirts, which happened to be exact facsimilies of what Hogan himself had been marketing and selling.
Meanwhile, in the Northeast, Vincent K. McMahon had purchased the World Wrestling Federation from his father, and was determined to reinvent the organization under a fresh, new direction. At the end of 1983, McMahon brought the Hulkster back to the World Wrestling Federation, where he would become the public face of the company for the next decade. Hogan made his return to Federation action at a December 27 taping of Wrestling At the Chase, soundly thrashing Bill Dixon. A few days afterward, on January 3, 1984, Hogan would emerge again, this time performing a heroic act which made one thing clear to World Wrestling Federation fans: the brash, villainous Hulk Hogan they once despised was long gone. In his place stood a towering, red-and-yellow superhero primed to take down the bad guys, and revolutionize professional wrestling along the way.
During a marathon TV taping in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Hall, Bob Backlund was in the midst of a match against Samula (aka Wild Samoan #3). When Backlund realized he would never be able to have a fair match with Wild Samoans Afa & Sika lurking at ringside, as well as manager Capt. Lou Albano, he rushed to the dressing room to retrieve the man he enlisted to thwart the Samoans’ imminent interference. Hulk Hogan emerged from the locker room at Backlund’s side to the thunderous cheers of the fans. When the Samoans ambushed Backlund in the heat of battle, Hogan leaped into the ring with catlike quickness, saving Backlund from a three-on-one assault. The fans responded approvingly, as fervent chants of “Hogan!” erupted within Agricultural Hall. It became clear that a new era in wrestling history was just around the corner, one that would bring the industry to heights never before imagined.
A few weeks later, on January 23, the single most important wrestling match in history took place, a match which would forever change the course of the sport. On that night, Hulk Hogan surged into Madison Square Garden to face Tehran, Iran’s Iron Sheik for the World Wrestling Federation Championship. One month earlier in the same building, Backlund was defeated for the title by the Sheik, and was scheduled to take on the new champion in a rematch. Backlund, however, was still suffering from a neck injury he had suffered at the hands of the Sheik. When it became clear the amateur wrestling standout from Princeton, Minnesota would be unable to compete, he appointed Hogan as his replacement. From the opening bell, Hogan attacked with astonishing ferocity, pummeling the champion with a flurry of clotheslines, kneedrops, and elbowsmashes. Though he had been battered within an inch of his life, the Iron Sheik would soon mount an offensive, eventually locking Hogan into his submission finisher, the Camel Clutch.
With a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd cheering on their newfound hero, Hogan summoned the will and strength to power his way back up to his knees, rising to his feet with the Sheik attempting in vain to keep Hogan ensnared in his infamous signature hold. The challenger then charged backward, and squashed the despised Iranian against the turnbuckles, dropping him to the canvas. Hogan had done what no other wrestler in history had been able to do: break the unbreakable Camel Clutch. Feeling the positive energy from the jam-packed audience, Hogan ran the ropes, and came crashing down on the champion with a thunderous Atomic Legdrop. Referee Jack Lotz dropped to the mat, and slapped it three times at the five minute, 40-second mark. Madison Square Garden exploded into jubilation, for Hulk Hogan had just won his first World Wrestling Federation Championship. Hulkamania was born.
In the 1980’s, Hulk Hogan, the performer, and Vincent K. McMahon, the promoter, teamed together to revolutionize professional wrestling, taking it into the mainstream. Hogan became the leading role model for children across the United States and around the world. No other athlete in the world at that time, in any other sport, commanded such a loyal following from young America. The tanned, muscular champion with the famous “24-inch pythons” (referring to his biceps), spread the word of his “Three Demandments”, in which he urged his young Hulkamaniacs to train, say their prayers and eat their vitamins. He would add a fourth demandment in 1990; “believe in yourself.”
His popularity grew to heights never before seen by any other wrestler in North America, and translated into huge merchandising, with action figures, children’s workout sets, clothing, games, posters, and other products flooding the market. The sport itself was experiencing a revolution. Not since the golden age of television in the 1950’s had professional wrestling experienced a renaissance of this magnitude. Renowned celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Donald Trump, and others were seen attending matches. The success Hogan himself achieved helped garner him several television and movie roles, as well as a permanent place in the annals of American popular culture. Hogan even starred in his own CBS Saturday morning animated series, titled Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.
The Hulkster’s fabled World Wrestling Federation Championship run would last four years, 13 days, which was the longest championship reign in two decades. As champion, the Hulkster turned back a variety of capable challengers, including “Dr. D” David Schultz, Big John Studd, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. On March 31, 1985, the inaugural WrestleMania emanated live from Madison Square Garden. The event, which was seen by over one million fans via closed-circuit television, featured the Hulkster in the main event, teaming with television star Mr. T to defeat Piper and Orndorff in a tag team match. This bout would go on to receive Match of the Year honors, as voted by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine. A little over one year later, at WrestleMania 2, Hogan was once again the headliner, toppling the massive 468-pound King Kong Bundy in a thrilling steel cage match. The champion continued to steamroll his opponents, no matter how big, or how skilled, they might have been. Yet one opponent remained for Hogan to conquer, in order to lay claim to being the very best in the world.
His greatest triumph would take place at the most historically important wrestling event of all time: WrestleMania III, held on March 29, 1987 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. In front of a record indoor crowd of 93,173 fans, Hogan defended the World Wrestling Federation Championship against his former rival-turned friend-turned rival again, Andre the Giant. Hogan and Andre had wrestled one another many times before all over the world, but never with so much on the line, and certainly not before a global audience. Andre, in addition to being much taller and heavier than the champion, was also one of the few wrestlers to hold a winning record against Hogan, having emerged victorious in the majority of their matches. Despite these overwhelming odds, Hogan was determined to overcome this insurmountable challenge. He was successful. In a moment which would live forever in the annals of sports history, Hogan lifted “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and bodyslammed him to the canvas. Hogan then finished Andre off with his famous Atomic Legdrop, and registered the three-count after just over 12 minutes of action. It was the first time Andre the Giant had been defeated by pinfall in a World Wrestling Federation ring.
Hulk Hogan’s first run as World Wrestling Federation Champion came to a controversial end on February 5, 1988, in a match against Andre the Giant broadcast live on NBC. 14 months later, the Hulkster would capture the gold again, defeating his former tag team partner “Macho Man” Randy Savage in a classic match at WrestleMania V. Hogan would go on to win the title three more times before exiting the World Wrestling Federation in August 1993. Along the way, Hogan had many more legendary matches and rivalries, with challengers including the Ultimate Warrior, Earthquake, Sgt. Slaughter, Undertaker, and Sid Justice. The Hulkster also won two Royal Rumble Matches, in 1990 and 1991, respectively.
By the time his famous 10-year Federation run had come to a close, Hulk Hogan had headlined nine WrestleManias, held the Championship five times (totalling nearly six years), starred in three major motion pictures (No Holds Barred, Suburban Commando, and Mr. Nanny), and had defeated nearly every top Federation name of his era. The time had come for Hulkamania to enter a new phase.
After leaving the World Wrestling Federation, Hulk Hogan planned to take time off from the sport and focus on his new action-adventure syndicated series, Thunder In Paradise. The action-adventure series starring Hogan, Chris Lemmon, and Carol Alt was filmed at the Disney/MGM Studios, which happened to also be the location of national television tapings for media mogul Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. WCW Executive Vice President Eric Bischoff’s intent to help turn WCW into a profitable venture, combined with rising fan demand to see Hogan return to the ring, fueled his desire to sign the Immortal Icon to a lucrative contract. Hogan was twice approached on the set of his show by Bischoff and all-time great “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, respectively, in hopes of convincing Hogan to do business with WCW. Eventually, Hogan decided to accept the offer and don the vibrant colors of Hulkamania once again.
Before Hogan could focus on the next chapter of his ring career though, he had to conquer a daunting challenge outside of the wrestling arena. During the last few years of Hulk Hogan’s celebrated run in the World Wrestling Federation, he saw his career and his legacy nearly destroyed. The Hulkster was hit with allegations regarding the use of anabolic steroids, claims which Hogan first publicly denied. However, these allegations would not go away; they continued to haunt Hogan and the Federation as a whole, even after he had left the promotion.
Eventually, World Wrestling Federation Chairman Vincent K. McMahon was brought to trial by the United States government, charging McMahon with distributing steroids to Hogan and other Federation competitors. Under oath, Hogan admitted he had been using steroids from 1975 to 1989, before they were outlawed. He denied, however, that McMahon had sold him steroids, or injected him. Uiltimately, both counts against McMahon of steroid distribution were dismissed, thanks in large part to Hogan’s testimony. The courtroom erupted in applause, exulting in McMahon’s triumph. Both Hogan and the World Wrestling Federation were now able to move on, albeit in different directions. With the steroid scandal now a thing of the past, Hulk Hogan was able to refocus on his career in the squared circle.
Hulk Hogan signed with World Championship Wrestling on June 11, 1994, after a red-and-yellow ticker tape parade was held in his honor at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. In his first WCW match on July 17, mere days after testifying in McMahon’s federal government trial, Hogan won the championship from Ric Flair, at Bash At the Beach. In his first two years with WCW, Hogan clashed with Flair, Big Van Vader, and a young monster named The Giant (Paul Wight, aka the Big Show), who would bring Hogan’s WCW Championship reign to an end in controversial fashion at Halloween Havoc, on October 28, 1995. That same year, Hogan issued the infamous Hulk Rules CD. The 10-song effort was recorded with a backup group named “The Wrestling Boot Band”, whose members included his wife Linda and his business manager, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. Known for being comprised of curiously self-celebratory tracks, Hulk Rules has since taken on cult classic status.
While Hogan’s first two years in WCW were successful, they were not without difficulties. The 1990’s was vastly different world from the 1980’s, and fans who grew up watching the Immortal One began to look at his famous hero image through eyes tinted with cynicism. In a wrestling world populated by “Austin 3:16” and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), there was not much room left for the classic All-American good guy. Hogan’s controversial request to have full creative control over his matches and storylines in WCW did not endear him to fans either. Many observers felt he abused this perk in order to maintain his spot at the top of the card, often at the expense of other competitors. With fan support slowly declining, Hogan needed to make a drastic career move, one he hoped he would never have to make. For the first time since 1981, Hulk Hogan was to become a hated rulebreaker.
On July 7, 1996 at Bash at the Beach, Hulk Hogan shocked the sports world by turning against his legions of Hulkamaniacs, aligning himself with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the New World Order (nWo). Outraged fans filled the ring with debris as an angry and frustrated Hogan lashed out at fans whom he felt turned against him, telling them to “stick it”, and declaring his allegiance with his newfound cohorts. The Hulkster of old seemed to be buried forever, replaced by the black-and-white clad “Hollywood Hogan”, leader of the nWo. Hogan would go on to defeat The Giant for the WCW Championship at Hog Wild on August 10, 1996. His reign would subsequently last for the remainder of the year, as well as most of 1997, with the exception of a five-day period in which Lex Luger reigned as champion. The nWo soon became the hottest property in wrestling, helping WCW garner 84 straight Monday night ratings victories over the World Wrestling Federation. Like he did in the 1980’s, Hogan was leading the wrestling world to places it had never been before, with the sport itself experiencing a growth in popularity which even dwarfed that of the previous decade.
Hollywood Hogan was riding high with the nWo, but before long, the foundation of this notorious faction was starting to crumble. After Hogan lost the WCW Championship at Starrcade on December 28, 1997 to Sting, a rift developed within the nWo. Despite losing his title, Hogan felt he was still the leader of the nWo, while “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash felt it was his turn to take over the reins. 1998 saw nWo friction at an all-time high, with the clique splitting into two factions: the classic heel “nWo Hollywood” led by Hogan, and the babyface “nWo Wolfpac”, led by Nash. Following a year of tumultuous highs and lows, Hogan appeared ready to call it a career when he announced his retirement live on The Tonight Show. He attempted to launch a run for the U.S. Presidency in November, at the behest of his boss Ted Turner, who felt Hogan was popular enough to capture the nation’s highest office. Hogan’s run for President never materialized, and he was back in the ring on the January 4, 1999 edition of Monday Nitro. A controversial WCW Championship switch between Hogan and Kevin Nash (four words: “finger poke of doom”) ushered in a new era of the nWo, with the two factions uniting as one.
Over the next year and a half in WCW, Hogan would be welcomed back in the good graces of fans worldwide who had missed cheering their hero on to victory. He remained one of the good guys for the rest of his WCW tenure, yet he found himself undergoing numerous changes in his persona, ranging from a short-lived return to the red and yellow to once again donning the black and white of Hollywood Hogan. Hogan also played a blue-collar type who was fighting to keep his job under the rule of Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff. On July 9, 2000, after six WCW Championship reigns and a successful run which garnered huge profits and ratings for the company, Hogan left WCW amid a bitter public dispute with Russo, who was WCW’s Creative Director at the time. By 2001, WCW was out of business, having been purchased by the World Wrestling Federation for $2.5-million.
From July 2000 to November 2001, Hogan was out of the public eye. He had been dealing with self-doubt and depression following his WCW departure, wondering if he had anything left to give back to the sport he loved. Hogan also spent this time remaining at the bedside of his ailing father Peter, who passed away in December 2001. Prior to his death, father had urged son to return to wrestling and “fix it.” His father’s words of encouragement, coupled with a need to silence the critics who had long been saying he was “washed up” and had been “holding down younger talents”, reinvigorated the Hulkster. After undergoing surgery on his knees, and defeating Curt Hennig in a one-shot match for the fledgling XWF promotion, Hulk Hogan once again had the “Eye of the Tiger.” He was ready to return home, to the World Wrestling Federation.
Hogan returned to the Federation in February 2002, once again leading the New World Order, with original members Hall and Nash right behind him. The evil Hollywood Hogan was pitted against The Rock at WrestleMania X8 in Toronto, on March 17, in a bout which would be named 2002’s Match of the Year. Despite wearing the black and white colors of the nWo, the 68, 237 fans in attendance cheered their old hero passionately, urging Hogan to ditch the nWo for good and embrace Hulkamania once again. On the April 4, 2002 edition of SmackDown, Hulk Hogan emerged in his classic red and yellow, to confront Undisputed World Wrestling Federation Champion Triple H. At Backlash on April 21, the Immortal Icon won his sixth Federation Championship, decisively beating “The Game” in a memorable title clash. In the midst of his reign, the World Wrestling Federation changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), thus marking the Hulkster as the first World Champion to compete under the new WWE banner. Hogan also picked up his first tag team honor since winning the MSG Tag League tournament in 1983, teaming with Edge to take the World Tag Team Championship.
The Hulkster feuded with several of WWE’s finest of the era, taking on Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and even the man whom he teamed with in the 1980s to bring WWE into every household in the nation: Mr. McMahon. At WrestleMania XIX on March 30, 2003 at SAFECO Field in Seattle, the Hulkster downed McMahon in a violent street fight, in front of 54,097 rabid Hulkamaniacs. A frustrated Mr. McMahon attempted to bench Hogan days later by paying him to sit out the remainder of his contract. Hogan soon returned, as the masked “Mr. America”. While the gimmick was short-lived, Mr. America did succeed in driving Mr. McMahon insane throughout the spring of 2003.
2003 also saw the Hulkster receive the sport’s highest honor: induction into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (PWHF). Hogan’s class also included such wrestling legends as Walter “Killer” Kowalski and Lillian Ellison, better known as The Fabulous Moolah. Located in Amsterdam, NY, the PWHF is considered by most to be the sport’s official Hall of Fame, recognizing the greats who helped make professional wrestling an exciting pastime for millions of fans throughout its long and colorful history. Now more than ever, Hulk Hogan was truly “The Immortal Icon”, taking his place alongside celebrated names such as Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, and Andre the Giant, among others.
Even after being immortalized in the PWHF, Hogan continued to step into the ring and take on anyone who challenged his superiority. On October 13, 2003, Hogan traveled to Japan to defeat Masahiro Chono in a hard-fought battle, contested in front of over 47,000 fans at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Ultimate Crush II event. During the press conference following this match, an unsuspecting Hogan found himself ambushed by then-NWA World Champion “The King of the Mountain” Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett stunned the wrestling world by attacking Hogan with his signature guitar, leaving the Immortal One in a pool of his own blood. It appeared Hogan was set to challenge Jarrett for his title in the NWA’s Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) promotion, but knee surgery prevented Hogan from making any appearances for them. Jarrett’s shocking assault on the Hulkster would later be named one of TNA’s 50 greatest moments.
On April 2, 2005, Hulk Hogan was inducted into WWE’s own version of the Hall of Fame by Sylvester Stallone at a ceremony held at the Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles. The induction was met by a sustained standing ovation, and loud chants of “One more match!” The following night at WrestleMania 21 at the Staples Center, Hogan gave his Hulkamaniacs a preview of things to come, saving Eugene from an attack at the hands of disgruntled Arab-Americans Muhammad Hassan and Khosrow Daivari. One month later at Backlash, the Hulkster teamed with “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels to defeat Hassan and Daivari in tag team action. To the shock and disgust of fans everywhere, Michaels turned against Hogan on the July 4, 2005 edition of RAW, hitting the icon with his “Sweet Chin Music” superkick. On August 21, the Hulkster gained revenge by soundly defeating the self-proclaimed “Showstopper” in a historic one-on-one match at SummerSlam. Simultaneously, Hogan was also enjoying great success in a different arena: reality TV. A series documenting the the Hogan family’s daily life, titled Hogan Knows Best, premiered on VH1 on July 10, 2005. It was the highest-rated premiere in VH1 history.
By the latter half of the 2000’s, professional wrestling’s glory years were fading, as mixed martial arts became the new choice for many wrestling fans. However, this did not stop Hulk Hogan from picking up a couple of huge victories for his Hulkamaniacs. In a highly anticipated match at SummerSlam on August 20, 2006, the Hulkster defeated “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton in front of a sold-out crowd at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden. The following year, on April 27, 2007, Payroll Management Group presented a special Memphis Wrestling card, titled Clash of the Legends. The Immortal Icon was the headliner, toppling familiar rival Paul “The Great” Wight (Big Show) at the FedEx Forum.
Later in the year, Hulk Hogan – as well as the entire Hogan family – found themselves facing down some of the toughest challenges life could possibly throw at them, challenges which had nothing to do with wrestling. On August 26, Nick Hogan was involved in a serious car accident in Clearwater, FL. Nicholas and three members of the pit crew for his drifting team, using two of his father’s vehicles – a yellow Toyota Supra and a silver Dodge Viper – were driving to a steakhouse when when the single-vehicle crash occurred at Court St. and Missouri Ave., near downtown Clearwater.
While Nick Hogan was released from the hospital the following day and was said to be okay, his passenger, 22-year-old former Marine John Graziano, suffered eye and brain injuries which are expected to leave him in the care of a nursing home for the rest of his life. According to most accounts, John had not been wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Nick was indicted as an adult on November 7, 2007 on four criminal charges. He would plead no contest and was sentenced to eight months in Pinellas County jail on May 9, 2008 (Nick Hogan would be released three months early for good behavior).
During his son’s time in jail, the Hulkster would find himself under intense media scrutiny. The celebrity gossip website TMZ.com released audio tapes of Nick’s jailhouse phone conversation from his overnight incarceration, including a conversation with his father. On the tapes, Hulk Hogan stated “Well, I don’t know what type of person John was or what he did to get himself in this situation. I know he was pretty aggressive and used to yell at people and used to do stuff. But for some reason, man, God laid some heavy s**t on that kid, man. I don’t know what he was into.” The jailhouse tapes would make the rounds in news media outlets, taking Hogan’s remarks at face value and creating a sensationalized news story to sell papers and draw television ratings. Not since the anabolic steroid controversy of the early 1990’s had Hulk Hogan dealt with such negative press. Regardless of the media’s attempt to use these tapes to destroy his name and his legend, Hogan’s fans stood firm, knowing the comments made on said tapes were likely made at a moment of emotional weakness.
His son’s accident was far from the only personal issue Hulk Hogan was facing. Months earlier, on November 20, 2007, the Hulkster’s wife Linda filed for divorce in Pinellas County, FL, after nearly 24 years of marriage. The split has taken some ugly turns since, including Linda accusing Hulk of attempting to trick her into signing a post-nuptial agreement and concealing millions of dollars that were made in a real estate transaction. She also made an effort to try and have the Hulkster jailed, for alleged failure to pay an agreed share for a Las Vegas condominium. Through it all, the Graziano family’s lawyer has maintained that he feels the divorce could possibly be an attempt to divide the family’s assets from a planned civil suit against the Hogan family regarding the Nick Hogan-John Graziano car accident.
Throughout all of this personal turmoil, Hulk Hogan has kept his head up, maintaining his focus on work and giving his millions of Hulkamaniacs something new to look forward to. On January 6, 2008, NBC presented the revival of the syndicated series American Gladiators. Hogan serves as co-host of the new series, alongside boxer Laila Ali. The athletic competition show has been a ratings success for NBC, with two seasons are already in the books.
The Hulkster has also presented a new series for the CMT cable channel, titled Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling. Featuring Hulk Hogan as one of three judges alongside Eric Bischoff and Jimmy Hart, the series takes 10 celebrities (coached by Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake and “Nasty Boy” Brian Knobbs) and puts them through the rigors of training for the squared circle. Each week, the contestants must compete in the ring before a live audience to showcase what they have learned. By the end of each episode, the judges critique the trainees on their overall performance, with Hogan having the final say over who faces elimination. He does so by telling the ejected performer, “You’re a jabroni! Get out of my ring!”
No matter how tough the challenges may be in his professional life or his personal life, Hulk Hogan remains one of the most enduring and beloved names in American pop culture. He will forever be remembered for his impressive physical prowess, unbridled charisma, and his unique connection with his Hulkamaniacs. Like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth, Hulk Hogan is an icon who revolutionized his chosen sport. Hulkamania will truly live forever.