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Popcorn Match: Hulk Hogan, Heel

Popcorn Match: Hulk Hogan, Heel

Note:  In wrestling parlance, a “popcorn match” refers to a low-stakes, humorous, or otherwise light-hearted match typically presented right after the intermission, while fans may still be making their way back from the concession stands. The match isn’t important enough to make fans jump out of the popcorn line and get back to their seats, so it doesn’t cut into concessions sales. We’ll use our Popcorn Matches to talk about non-WrestleMania happenings, dive into more obscure topics of interest to one or both of us, close-ups on particular wrestlers or trends in the business, etc. Is there something you’re wondering about that you’d like to see get the Popcorn Match treatment? Drop us a comment or an email!

This Popcorn Match was inspired by a text exchange between your co-authors while watching the debacle that was the WrestleMania VII main event.

Tim:  The Iron Sheik was right: Hulk Hogan is a jabroni

Rich:  Iron Sheik was a face the whole time. We should have listened to him

Tim:  We should do a post about how shitty Hogan is

Rich:  He is the personification of America:  cheat and lie while singing your own praises to the point of brainwashing everyone into loving you.

Rich:  Betray your best friends constantly but gaslight everyone into thinking you’re the victim

So needless to say we have some feelings about Hulk Hogan and his monstrous shadow over every WrestleMania from 1 (1985) to 9 (1993). We both admit to being Hulkamaniacs as kids, eagerly anticipating his every appearance and match, and losing our pre-pubescent shit when his rock anthem blared from the speakers. And his effect on the course of the WWF, and of professional wrestling as a whole, is incalculable. Hogan and Vince McMahon took pro wrestling from a scuzzy fringe attraction to a mainstream, televised form of entertainment, and elevated people like Hogan and Andre the Giant into household names. Hogan’s feuds with The Iron Sheik, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior created some of 80s wrestling’s most enduring moments and set the template (for better or worse) for how wrestling storylines would develop. And he is one of the few wrestling superstars whose fame transcends his origins in the business, a distinction shared by a very select few.

Hulk Hogan tears off his t-shirt
Rich & Tim realize they spent a worrisome amount of time as kids watching a grown man strip on TV

And yet, revisiting nine years’ worth of WrestleMania matches, at a distance of 20+ years, has given us some perspective on the more problematic aspects of Hulk Hogan’s persona and ring presence during these formative years for the WWF/WWE. So we’d like to present our argument for why Hogan is actually a misunderstood heel for most of this pivotal era in pro wrestling.

We’ll give Hogan legitimate face cred for the first two WrestleManias. In the first, he backed up his buddy Mr. T in a tag team match and managed not to make it all about himself. In the second, he faced a monster opponent in King Kong Bundy and got a great underdog win in a dangerous steel cage match, all while injured as a result of Bundy attacking him during their feud. There’s a couple of heel moves in this one, most notably Hogan using Bundy’s singlet strap to choke him.

Black and white head shot of Andre the Giant, eyes wide open and staring at the camera
The answer has been staring us in the face all these years

WrestleMania III seems, on the surface, to be another legit face role for Hogan, if you view it only through Hulk’s perspective. Let’s flip it, though, and see how this whole thing looked for Andre. First, Hogan claims Andre is his best friend, and Andre supports his buddy by popping champagne with him after Hogan’s win over the Iron Sheik to take the belt. Bros for life! But soon after, when Hogan is honored for his tenure as champion, Andre congratulates him but Hogan makes it weird by saying Andre’s handshake felt a little too firm to him. Umm, ok. Maybe not a big deal, maybe he was just having a bad day, or maybe his hand was sore from weightlifting and the handshake hurt. But we start to suspect something’s up when, at an award ceremony celebrating Andre’s fifteen years of being undefeated, Hogan shows up to brag about himself. He goes on about it long enough that Andre walks out, and soon after starts showing up with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Perhaps Bobby is a better friend, who actually listens to Andre, and is helping him recognize that Hogan has some narcissistic tendencies. Let’s look at some of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, as explained by the Mayo Clinic. People with this disorder may:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them

Hmm, this is sounding a little too familiar. Eventually Andre reaches his breaking point and, on that infamous episode of Piper’s Pit, snaps and rips off Hogan’s shirt and his crucifix necklace, leading Hogan to agree to wrestle Andre for the belt because he feels betrayed. No introspection, no consideration that he may have been a shitty friend. And of course he wins, and is rewarded by the adulation of 93,000 fans at the Silverdome at WrestleMania III. We may have created a monster.

(From left) Andre the Giant, Bobby Heenan, Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan on the episode of "Piper's Pit" in which Andre attacked Hogan
Hogan and “Best Friend” Andre the Giant attempt to talk it out with the help of a facilitator, but Hulk is not ready to face his own culpability for his failed relationships.

Andre and Hogan revisit their feud during the tournament portion of WrestleMania IV where, in a quarterfinal match, Hogan hits his former “friend” with a steel chair. When Andre retaliates with a chair shot of his own, both men are disqualified. It doesn’t stop Hogan from hanging around the ring after his loss, though, posing and flexing for the camera and the fans as he did in previous WrestleManias. Those were main event matches, though, at the end of the card. There’s still a whole lot more show left, including the remainder of the tournament for the vacant Heavyweight Championship title. Let’s revisit that symptom list again, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. Those with narcissistic personality disorder also may:

  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want

Getting DQ’d for hitting someone with a chair and still celebrating like you won seems to check both of those boxes, we’d say.

GIF of Macho Man (with Lord Alfred Hayes and Sensational Sherri) saying "You may not like it, but accept it"
When someone explains that Hulk Hogan is actually the heel of nine years worth of WrestleManias

Hulk’s feud with Macho Man leading up to WrestleMania V seems to provide more evidence. As with Andre, Hogan claims Macho Man is his best friend, but then gets too chummy with Macho’s wife, Miss Elizabeth, despite Macho Man sending clear signals that he’s uncomfortable with their relationship. When Macho Man calls out Hogan, Hulk plays the victim, suggesting that Macho hits Elizabeth, causing Macho Man to go insane from Hogan’s gaslighting. Let’s see a few more of those symptoms, shall we? 

  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

“The Mega Powers Explode!” indeed.

GIF of a waving American flag
Ugh, spare us this bullshit

For the sake of space we’ll skip WrestleMania VI, where Hogan faced the Ultimate Warrior, and WrestleMania VII, where he fought Sgt. Slaughter, FOR AMERICA! We do want to note for the record that flag waving, nationalistic bullshit is the easiest kind of pop for a face to get. It’s cheap and lame and you don’t win any points with us for it. Unless you’re NIkolai Volkoff singing the Soviet anthem, fuck off with your faux patriotism.

poster for WrestleMania VIII, featuring Sid Justice and Hulk Hogan
Hogan and “Best Friend” #3 Sid Justice

Hogan’s feud against Sid Justice leading up to WrestleMania VIII seems like a replay of his earlier “significant interpersonal problems” with Andre and Savage. Hogan claims Sid is his best friend (deja vu all over again) but, leading up to the Royal Rumble, tells his friend that the Rumble will be every man for himself, and that both he and Sid should do whatever it takes to walk out with the belt. When it comes down to the final three, though, and it’s Ric Flair, Sid, and Hogan, Sid helps Flair flip Hogan out of the ring, eliminating him. In retaliation, Hogan reaches back in the ring and grabs Sid to help Flair put him over the top rope, giving Flair the win over Hogan’s supposed “best friend.” While Flair quietly leaves as the Champ, Hogan and Sid start jawing in the ring. Sid is apologetic while Hogan is having none of it. The crowd sides with Hogan and over the subsequent three months between the Rumble and WrestleMania VIII, Sid gets deemed “Psycho Sid” (nice ableism, Hogan) from the gaslighting eating away at his mind. One last check-in on those narcissistic personality disorder symptoms:

  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation
Hogan is held from behind by Yokozuna while Mr. Fuji goes for salt to throw in his eyes
Hogan’s secret feelings of insecurity, shame, and vulnerability lead him to steal the spotlight (and belt) from Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX.

That last symptom in particular brings us to WrestleMania IX, and the absolutely unconscionable way Hogan steals the main event moment from a skyrocketing Yokozuna. In the WWE Icons documentary on Yokozuna, Hogan admits that his ego got the better of him, leading him to insist that he, not Yokozuna, leave Las Vegas with the World Heavyweight Championship belt. It was a shitty thing to do to his younger colleague, it put his own ego above the need to tell a compelling and logical story, and most importantly, it dragged down our rating of WrestleMania VIII by one star. One. Whole. Star!

We feel it’s prudent to end with the immortal words of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, from his rap song “Be a Man,” featuring DJ Kool, from the 2003 album, Be a Man:

Cover image from Randy Savage's 2003 album, "Be a Man"

They call you Hollywood, don’t make me laugh

Cuz your movies and your actin’ skills are both trash

Your movies straight to video, the box office can’t stand

While I got myself a feature role in Spider-Man 

In conclusion, Hulk Hogan was a heel all along, the Iron Sheik was right, and Hulkster owes the ghosts of Macho Man, Andre the Giant, and Ultimate Warrior, and the still with us Sid Justice some sincere apologies. Also, if you are suffering from Hulkamania, please consult your doctor.

Iron Sheik: The Cassandra of 80s Pro Wrestling

7 thoughts on “Popcorn Match: Hulk Hogan, Heel

  1. Hey, Tim & them. Long-time, first-time. I’ve never been a fan of combat sports, but I’ll read high-quality writing on any topic.

    I would be interested in posts – Popcorn Match or otherwise – that discuss times that Big Wrestling deviated from the presumptive script.

    For example : Your youthful affection for Dr. Hogan was likely a product of hard-sell advertising (i.e. the WWF ramming an inferior product down our credulous throats, in an attempt to draw in new demographics of potential fans). But surely there have been times when wrestling fans responded in unexpected ways, and the Company decided to to acquiesce to the unforseen desires of their fan-base?

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment, Richard, and thanks for reading! This is a great suggestion. So far we’ve seen it a bit with the earliest appearances of Jake the Snake, where WWF clearly tried to position him as a heel, but the fans liked him too much to root against him. Off the top of my head, the other big one, much more recent, was when fans basically harassed the WWE into making Daniel Bryant the champion. We’ve got a way to go before we get to that, so in the meantime we’ll keep our eyes open for other instances!

      Liked by 1 person

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