The term “legacy star” is banded about every time a former WWE superstar returns to the fold. It was the phrase applied to The Rock during his various recent runs and even ahead of Batista’s return before the Royal Rumble.
This past Monday on Raw another legacy star arrived back on TV. In fact, he is probably the very definition of legacy star: namely Hulk Hogan. The most famous superstar the wrestling world has ever had and the face of the then WWF’s journey from one of the many wrestling territories in America to a global phenomenon.
His pitch was to say your prayers and eat your vitamins (no, not the same vitamins that got him the stand-out physique he had, right enough). He was the guy chosen by Vince McMahon to spearhead the company’s national expansion and boy did he take that ball and run with it.
As a fan of wrestling nostalgia I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that his appearance didn’t interest me. I was never a fan of Hogan but he was the man that was front and centre of the WWF’s 80s peak period that introduced a generation of kids to these huge muscle-bound American superheroes. For many Hogan was the biggest superhero of the lot. Heck, in fact hearing his music blare out on Raw again was pretty cool. There, I said it.
Even now if you stopped ten people in the street and asked them who Hulk Hogan was you would struggle to find anyone that hadn’t at least heard of him from his film career if not his wrestling one. Chances are that if you grew up in the 80s or 90s as a wrestling fan then you would likely have had at least one piece of Hogan merchandise: be that a Hogan t-shirt (I've got one of those), an action figure or a nWo shirt (AndI want one of those -Ed).
As Bret Hart outlined in his book 'My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling' Hogan was treated like a king in the WWE. He had a separate dressing room and all the privileges associated with being the main man. But the thing was, at the time, no one begrudged him that. Every superstar in the venues locker room at whatever show Hogan was on knew that by being there their purse at the end of the evening would be a good one. Conversely, if they were on one of the other two cards that didn't feature the Hulkster then their share of the gate would be lower and thus less of a purse.
You would think by the sounds of that Hogan’s legacy, after a career spanning more than 3 decades, would be still intact. Sadly, though, that’s not the case.
To be diplomatic, recent years haven’t been at all kind to the man behind Hulkamania. With the exception of his first appearance on WWE TV for seven years this week, he’s largely come across as an ageing rock star running through the greatest hits in front of ever diminishing crowds. Performing an act that has become more and more outdated with every outing.
There was the less than memorable stint with TNA, the airing of dirty laundry following his divorce from Linda and the sex tape. Perhaps more damaging of all was the arrest of his son Nick and the subsequently released phone calls where Hogan and his son appeared to try and pace the blame onto the victim of the crash and the discussion of a reality show based on the incident. All of the above have sullied his legacy.
Had Hogan’s in-ring career ended after his 2002-2003 stint or even after the less successful 2005-2007 run with the WWE we’d be discussing the fact that he bowed out when he could still, just about, move in the ring.
We’d be talking about his role in the early success of Wrestlemania, his bodyslamming of Andre the Giant at the event’s third instalment or his heel turn at WCW Bash at the Beach 1996 when he ended some 20 years as a fan favourite to align himself with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in the nWo. These were revolutionary moments in the history that we not only can't take away from Hogan but that changed the face of wrestling.
Instead, however, here we are looking at Hogan and sort of feeling sorry for him. A man that's put his family front and centre of his 'Hogan Knows Best' TV show, a show that reeked of a need for money and has since divorced his wife from that show and seen his son jailed.
Those that have seen him step inside the squared circle will be left feeling more sorry for him. Those that paid for the honour will have been left angry. While he may have been ridiculed for his in-ring act during his peak years for every match ending with a big boot and leg drop. Now he can barely do the former and would struggle to get up if he was stupid enough to try the latter. It left him looking like a real life version of Mickey Rourke's character from The Wrestler.
The most damaging thing had to be the incident involving his son and the subsequent fall-out. After a disastrous drag racing crash, fuelled by alcohol, left Nick Hogan's 23-year-old passenger with irreversible brain damage Hogan and family were caught on tape blaming the comatose victim, whining about the justice system, trying to get star celebrity treatment and house arrest. They even went as far scheming to make money from the paralysed victim’s suffering by hoping to turn the whole sorry affair into a reality TV show.
More recently the few wrestling fans that even bother to watch TNA will have seen him in the General Manager role with the company. His role with them appeared all encompassing. When asked what Hogan’s role would TNA President Dixie Carter stated would be everything from booking talent right through to how the shows looked. If Carter thought that bringing in Hogan back then would be a game changer then she was sadly mistaken. She even brought in Eric Bischoff. That combination worked back in the WCW. Surely it would work again… Well, no. No it didn't work.
One of the first acts was to ditch the six-sided ring that for all the complaints aired from time to time by the talent at least separated the promotion from their competitors. Surely something you would want as a fledgling wrestling company. It is really the only memorable moment from his run there.
Despite Hogan's contract expiration date coming at a time the company was desperately trying to reign-in expenditure, his final scenes saw Dixie Carter beg Hogan to stay. In fairness, that moment probably said more about TNA and Carter than it did about Hogan.
No one can dismiss the achievements that Hogan made in taking wrestling and the WWE to a brand new audience. After all, what came first Wrestlemania or Hulk Hogan is a modern day twist on the chicken and the egg causality dilemma. However, looking at a sixty year old man strut out to the ring clad in a feather boas can't generate a reaction other than pity.
What a toll the last few years have had on the legacy of a man that is synonymous with professional wrestling. No more is Hogan immortal. No more is he the king of the field that he once was the figurehead of. Instead, we have an old man trying to cash in on previous glories. It would probably be amusing if it weren't so tragic.