If we were to have a discussion about pro wrestling’s greatest and most well-known stars, the conversation would, by necessity, include “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, John Cena, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Truthfully, however, none of those household names would have enjoyed the success they did without the man who came before all of them, “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan.
Even if someone’s not a wrestling fan, they know all of these names, more so if they were around in the 1980s when WrestleMania was kicking off and Hulk Hogan was in a new movie every few months. All of those movies were bad, just horrible films, but people went to see them anyway because Hulk Hogan was quintessentially ‘80s, brother. He was everywhere, not just in movies but releasing his own albums and dominating the covers of magazines. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the World Wrestling Federation had broken into the mainstream entertainment world with WrestleMania, inviting pop culture icons like Liberace, Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper onto their wrestling shows.
Hogan became just as big an icon as any of those celebrities and he was very nearly untouchable as a hero to children and adults alike. But the key word there is “nearly,” as Hulk’s roller coaster eventually started to run into some turbulence, and when that cart hit a rough spot it really went off the rails. As high as Hulk Hogan’s peaks were, his valleys were the lowest of lows. Here are the biggest ups and downs of his career in the spotlight.
15. Up: His Final WWE Championship
After a career that had already spanned the better part of twenty-five years, few fans expected Hulk Hogan to be seeing a lot of success upon his return to WWE in 2002 after nearly a decade away from the company. He initially returned along with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as the trio revived their famous New World Order faction from WCW, but Hulk eventually branched out on his own and did the unthinkable: he defeated WWE’s crowned prince Triple H for the WWE Championship.
The jury’s out on whether the title reign was a success or not as many fans thought it was silly for the company to place the title on Hogan at his age and that he could barely keep a reasonable pace even without being the WWE Champion. On the other hand, there’s no denying the special moment that it was. It was vindication for a man who likely thought his days on top of the wrestling business were behind him and undoubtedly was one of the high points of his career.
14. Down: Time with TNA
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling has been trying to stay above water for a long time now, so when the company acquired the services of the biggest wrestling icon of all time things were sure to look up. Except they didn’t. In fact, when Hulk Hogan was hired by Dixie Carter to work for TNA things got much, much worse.
In an interview, Kurt Angle, who worked with TNA at the time, said that Hogan tried to do well by the company, taking it on the road. Unfortunately, Angle said the money to actually do that wasn’t there. In addition, Hulk’s paycheque in TNA was reportedly so high that it was eating into the company’s ability to pay other wrestlers and creativity suffered greatly. The three-year relationship between Hogan and TNA was so disastrous that it has been likened to WCW’s downfall in its final years, which Hulk Hogan is also largely blamed for.
13. Up: Dropping the WCW Title to Goldberg
Professional wrestling is a business of wins and losses, give and take. In the modern day, there’s a lot being said of “fifty-fifty” booking among the fan base and wrestling critics, which is the notion that no one can get ahead because the business is trying to get everyone ahead at the same time. That’s just not how wrestling works. When done properly, wrestling creates a megastar by having another megastar pass the torch, and that means sometimes the greatest thing one wrestler can do in their career is lose to another at just the right time.
That’s what happened on a 1998 episode of WCW Monday Nitro when WCW World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan lost the title to the rising star, Goldberg. Goldberg had been on fire for months and his transition to World Champion status felt natural. Hulk Hogan had been one of the most successful acts for almost twenty years, but one of his career highlights is still a loss. That’s what proper booking can do.
12. Down: Getting Fired From WCW
Just as Hulk Hogan was heavily criticized for nearly burning TNA to the ground, his sway backstage during his time in WCW has also come under fire for helping put the final nail in the coffin of that company before Vince McMahon bought it in 2001. Apparently, Hogan had “creative control” written into his contract, something that was becoming a problem as WCW wasn’t able to give younger stars the spotlight as often as they should have been.
Despite doing something great by helping Goldberg rise to superstardom, two years later Hogan was apparently back to wanting to dominate the Championship picture and Vince Russo, one of WCW’s head honchos, wasn’t having it. At Bash at the Beach in 2000, live on pay-per-view in front of millions of viewers, Russo broke character and publicly shamed Hulk Hogan before firing him and claiming he would never be seen in WCW again.
11. Up: WWE Hall of Fame Induction
Hulk Hogan had seen plenty of highs and lows throughout his wrestling career, having been a six-time WWE Champion and six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, as well as having left both of those companies on bad terms, but everything came full circle in 2005 when the Hulkster was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
As one of the most recognizable names and faces in wrestling, it’s surprising it took as long as it did for him to be inducted, but at that point in time there was no doubt that he was as deserving as anyone else who had ever laced up a pair of wrestling boots to occupy the Hall. Hogan had done everything there was to do in wrestling, and though he would spend much of the next decade in the midst of personal turmoil, at that moment everything seemed to finally settle down for him.
10. Down: His Public Divorce
Just about everyone in the world knows Hulk Hogan for his career in wrestling and his off-screen personality. In 2005, the public was about to get way more Hogan than they ever knew they wanted with the reality show Hogan Knows Best. The show followed the personal lives of Hulk and his wife Linda, as well as their teenage son and daughter, Nick and Brooke. It was a beautifully tragic viewing experience which no one should have wanted to watch, but we all did anyway.
Throughout the show, we saw Hulk and Linda as a very close couple, which is why it was so surprising years after the show ended that the two would be embroiled in a messy and very public divorce. Linda had filed for the divorce, claiming Hulk had cheated on her and wound up getting 70% of his liquid assets when all was said and done. Hulk might have finally been free of the divorce battle, but his reputation and wallet sure took a hit.
9. Up: The First WrestleMania
We could talk for days about the accomplishments of the most famous man to ever compete in a wrestling ring, but we would be remiss to not mention the moment that started it all. Hulk Hogan’s wrestling career started years before Vince McMahon decided to take WWE into the national spotlight with WrestleMania in 1985.
But if it weren’t for that first WrestleMania, Hogan’s name never would have reached so many ears and wrestling would never have become what it is now. Hulk went into the main event as the WWE Champion and all it took to make a hero out of him was a simple tag team match, which would see him team with famous actor Mr. T to face loathed villains “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Not only would this match give the young career of Hogan its true start, but it would also bring Roddy Piper into prominence as one of the greatest antagonists in the business.
8. Down: Sex Tape Scandal
Few things could be more shameful for just about anyone than a friend recording you having sex with his wife without your knowledge or consent and then sharing it with the public. Unfortunately, this happened to Hulk Hogan, and he had the added sting of being a role model for people all around the world. Why is it that all of our children’s heroes end up in some sort of filthy scandal?
Hulk Hogan’s close friend (at the time), radio host Bubba the Love Sponge, set his wife up with the Hulkster and a video camera while Bubba went to another room, telling them to do their thing. They did, and apparently, unbeknownst to Hogan, it was filmed and released to the entire world. A lawsuit followed but the damage had been done. The world had already seen “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan doing the nasty and it could not be unseen.
7. Up: The Mega Powers Explode
In a time when storylines lasted much longer than your modern wrestling angle, Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage were set to do battle at WrestleMania V after a two year build-up that saw them initially teaming together and calling themselves “The Mega Powers.” Things started going sour when Savage grew jealous of his wife Miss Elizabeth’s friendship with Hogan and the stage was set for an all out war.
WrestleMania V was marketed with the tagline, “The Mega Powers Explode,” and it was one of the biggest matches in the history of the wrestling industry. It stands as a career highlight for both men because it took place at a time when wrestling still felt very real to most fans and emotions were high. It was the clashing of two of the greatest icons the business has ever seen and quality matches like this played a huge part of why WrestleMania has remained so successful for so very long.
6. Down: Steroid Scandal
Just as Hulk Hogan played perhaps the most important role in the blossoming of professional wrestling into a worldwide phenomenon in the 1980s, he also played an integral part in what was very nearly the business’s demise. In 1994, Vince McMahon was embroiled in a nasty legal battle after coming under scrutiny for allegedly providing steroids to the wrestlers under his employ.
The public was ready and willing to believe the accusations brought on by the government as the sport had always been accompanied with the stigma of substance abuse. To make matters worse for Vince, Hulk Hogan took the stand and testified that he had, indeed, used anabolic steroids himself during his time working for Vince and the World Wrestling Federation. In the end, McMahon and WWE (then the WWF), barely escaped as the entire wrestling industry was very nearly being taken out at the knees.Hogan’s admission to steroid use during the trial was one of the most shameful moments in the career of the iconic Superstar.
5. Up: Icon VS Icon
It may feel as if it were only yesterday, but in wrestling years it was a lifetime ago that Hulk Hogan battled The Rock on the grandest wrestling stage in the world at WrestleMania X8. The year was 2002 and Hogan had only recently returned to WWE after almost a decade of absence, during which time he mostly competed for the competition, WCW. Hogan came back to WWE playing the bad guy alongside Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as the New World Order, and he was set to face the ultimate babyface, The Rock.
The audience did something unfathomable for that time: they booed The Rock and cheered the heel who was there to beat him up. That was the power of Hulk Hogan, known as “Hollywood” Hogan when associated with the nWo. The sight was so surreal for 2002 that it was impossible for any wrestling fan to not have goose bumps. The match wasn’t the greatest technical spectacle, but the WWE Universe made it feel like an instant classic and perception is reality in this case as it has gone down as one of the most legendary moments in WWE history.
4. Down: Nick Hogan’s Accident
Few in the public spotlight, and even fewer specifically in the wrestling industry have had so many various ups and downs in both their professional and personal life as Hulk Hogan. In 2007 he would face one of his most gutting personal trials when his son, Nick, and Nick’s friend John Graziano, were involved in a serious automobile accident that left Graziano with severe brain damage which was said would require full-time medical care for the rest of his life.
Nick, who was seventeen years old at the time, served some time in jail and came under heavy scrutiny as it was suggested in the media that he may have been speeding and possibly intoxicated at the time of the accident. This naturally affected Hulk himself, as he was eventually accused of purchasing beer for his underage son prior to the crash that injured the twenty-two year old Graziano. Graziano’s family filed a lawsuit, but the family and Hulk Hogan apparently came to some sort of financial settlement.
3. Up: New World Order Formation
There aren’t a lot of pro wrestlers who have the longevity to repeatedly reinvent themselves and find consistent success. Hulk Hogan has received a lot of criticism over the decades he’s been involved in wrestling due to things like drug use or his ego, but something no one can take away from the Hulkster is his numerous, varied, and mostly successful runs in both of the two top wrestling promotions in history.
Hulk’s WrestleMania past is well documented and we’ve discussed his sixth and final WWE Championship reign in 2000, but it can be argued that the majority of his popularity comes from his time in the New World Order. The nWo almost single-handedly led WWE to ignite the flames of the Attitude era as a response to WCW’s massive ratings.
2. Down: Fired by WWE for Racist Comments
Not many have had such a laundry list of tragic stories and family dramas as has Hulk Hogan. Hogan has easily had one of the roughest personal journeys of any professional wrestler in the world, and what’s unique about Hogan’s journey is that it’s hard to feel sorry for him in many cases. Hogan’s worst moments in the spotlight have often come as his own hands, such as his drug use or abuse of power behind the scenes.
There’s no denying it, though: nothing has crashed Hulk Hogan’s career quite as badly as the racist comments he made years ago which came to light in 2015. The comments were made during the infamous sex tape Hogan didn’t know was being made, and they were the worst kind of bad, repeatedly dropping the N-word and proclaiming himself a racist. Hogan apologized once word got out, but he lost his job with WWE, was apparently removed from the Hall of Fame and has been publicly shunned ever since.
1. Up: Slamming Andre the Giant
“The Immortal” Hulk Hogan wrestled on each of the first nine WrestleMania events and was the main event for nearly all of those. There’s no denying it: Hulk Hogan was the face of WWE for over a decade, and rightfully so. He was a megastar at a time when wrestling was everywhere, just breaking into the mainstream. However, even though Hogan helped WrestleMania set the world on fire in the annual show’s first and second main events, WrestleMania III would bring Hogan the most defining moment of his career.
Hogan’s opponent for WrestleMania III was his former best friend, Andre the Giant. Andre was a five-hundred-pound monster and much was made about the fact that there was no way Hogan could defeat him, but he did. It’s a storyline used all the time in modern wrestling but in 1987 it was new and special, so when Hulk managed to pick up his massive opponent and body slam him and then pick up the victory, the live crowd and viewers at home were in total uproar. It a special moment, one that may never be duplicated, and Hulk Hogan has that body slam to thank for his entire career.