The word “mania” has been in the English language for about 700 years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that it truly came into its own. We’ve had Beatlemania, Ribmania, and Jonasmania. Linsanity was pretty close, too. There isn’t a cool one for One Direction though, I just googled it. Sorry, I’ll get back to the point. In the minds and hearts of wrestling fans, 2 “manias” stand above the rest: Hulkamania and WrestleMania. Forever tied together, these two explosions of unreasonable excitement have caused some of the greatest moments in wrestling history. Without one, the other would not be what it is today.
Though Hulk Hogan is arguably the most recognizable figure in professional wrestling, Hulkamania didn’t take off as quickly as one might think. Starting his run in 1977, Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, was mostly cast as a villain. Going through numerous name and slight image changes, the soon to be Hulkster’s 6′ 7” and 300 lb. frame was a stark contrast to the traditional, amateur trained wrestlers who still dominated the title scene. Though Hogan would almost become prototypical for the next generation of stars, at the time he was seen as a giant. In fact, when Hogan joined the WWWF in late 1979, it seemed like everyone’s champions, from the federation to the AWA and the NWA, all stood under 6′ 2”. Even Bruno Sammartino, the WWWF’s most beloved figure, stood only 5’10”.
After an interesting but failed run in the northeast, Hogan left to hone his style in Japan. His reputation and popularity were on the rise. Hogan would soon return to the United States as a heel in the AWA. This would soon change. After appearing in Rocky III in 1982, Hogan became the top face in the company. For the first time, Hogan was indeed “Hollywood.” It was in the AWA that Hulkamania was born. Gone was the wrestler of the past and here was the wrestler for the 1980s. A star of television and of film, as talented as he was marketable. Hogan should have saved the AWA right then and there, showing the promotion’s innovative thinking and affirming him as the peoples’ champion. The only problem was that they weren’t all that innovative and Hogan would never win their title. Bummer.
Vincent K. McMahon saw green and signed Hogan in late 1983. After one match back in his old persona, Hogan made his heroic status clear on January 7th 1984, saving Bob Backlund from a brutal attack. By the end of the month, Hogan had the championship and Hulkamania was finally able to run wild. The “WrestleMania Age” of wrestling truly began. Hogan’s over-the-top persona and appearance finally made the change that innovators like “Superstar” Bill Graham and Adrian Street saw coming. It was no longer necessary to book NCAA champions as your top competitors, now those who sought to expand and exploit the art of wrestling as just that, an art, could dominate the business. Hogan was a phenomenon because he was both the heir to the great legacy of professional wrestling and the avatar of his era. Hogan was the hero of the ’80s and the general public took notice.
With Hogan flying high, McMahon could begin to plan the greatest of coups. On the back of Hulkamania would rise WrestleMania. WrestleMania was built on the same principal that Hulkamania would grow on. Hogan’s size and personality required villains who could match his over the top image. It was no longer about convincing the crowd that a heel was just a physical threat, they need to be a psychological one as well. Hogan’s persona helped take wrestling from a fairly structured form to a multi-media entertainment sensation. Gone were the restrictions of old, in the new world of wrestling, the stakes could be anything. Hogan’s villains weren’t just cheaters, they were supervillains. WrestleMania was possible because Hulkamania changed the potential of the form itself.
Often referred to as a “chosen one”, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was as important to Hulkamania and WrestleMania as “The Immortal One” himself. Though not present for all of Hogan’s legendary run, Piper set the rules of the game Hogan was to play over and over again. The fact that Hogan and Piper’s clash at the first WrestleMania was NOT a title match nor a singles match is extremely important to this point. Hogan’s feuds were never completely focused on the title, they were focused on the destruction of the enemies of the crowd. To be a true enemy of Hogan, one had to be an enemy of his fans. Hulk was a champion in an older sense, the representative of his people. Hogan had both the company (which at the time was portrayed as a good thing) and the public in his corner. He was their defender from these monsters, the last line of defense. This is never more evident than at WrestleMania III.
Andre the Giant went from one of the most beloved characters in the business to one of the most despised in essentially one move. In one respect, Andre was right. Going “undefeated” for years, there was no one else who deserved a shot at Hogan’s title. The legitimacy of the threat was established. By joining with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Andre proved that he was willing to dismiss the fans to get his shot. He may have been right, but he was being selfish. Holding the title was not about athletic prowess, but the right to hold such power. It was this aspect that made the fan favorite Giant into the greatest villain Hogan would ever face. Andre’s defeat is probably the most important moment in the history of professional wrestling, but also may be where Hogan’s ties to WrestleMania weaken.
Out of the first nine WrestleManias, Hulk Hogan would headline eight. Almost all would follow the Andre formula to some extent, the greatest exception being his clash with the Ultimate Warrior. This repetitiveness slowly became damaging as Hogan had already done the impossible. Yes, there were great moments after this with opponents like Randy Savage and the aforementioned Warrior, but to this day WrestleMania III is seen as the pinnacle of classic Hogan. After that match, it should have been time for another to conquer their greatest foe.
At WrestleMania VIII, Hogan wrestled Sid Justice, three matches after Ric Flair lost to “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the belt, a match more deserving of a main event. While originally fortified by Hogan’s title reigns, WrestleMania had moved past Hulkamania. They had a synergy, but only when booked correctly. WrestleMania now needed to be the most important show of the year, exploiting the strongest feuds of the day. Sticking Hogan in the main event was no longer a guarantee of success. The fans wanted WrestleMania, but they were souring on Hogan. Hogan would win the title at WrestleMania IX, in an unannounced, seemingly impromptu match, but by then he had lost the crowd.
For nearly a decade, Hogan would be separated from WrestleMania. WrestleMania proved to not need him. While the Hulkster wrestled in WCW, the WWF shifted from the brightly colored heroes and villains that defined the Hulkamania era towards more aggressive characters. It would be ridiculous to claim that the characters of the ’90s were actually less over the top than their predecessors (satanic priests and dancing pimps aren’t typically world class athletes), but they certainly were a new breed. What remained from Hogan’s days was, in the good editions, a focus on combining great wrestling without dropping intriguing, well-developed storytelling. In turn, the matches were still about the characters and the belt was an enhancement to their stories. A Super Bowl can be like watching grass grow (yay, Seahawks) and no one can really complain. If that happens at a WrestleMania, someone is liable. By WrestleMania XVII, the WWF had destroyed it’s competition and even without the stars of its past, WrestleMania was as big as ever.
Then at WrestleMania XVIII, something incredible happened. Hogan, having returned to the WWF earlier in the year, was to face The Rock. The Rock, a media giant and rising film star stood as, arguably, the only analogue to Hogan in 2002. Hogan, having adjusted his persona during the ’90s, was to be the heel in the match. The crowd decided that they did not accept this. Gone was the fatigue from years of Hulkamania, and the crowd was willing to accept their champion back. The old knight finally had an adversary worthy of his attention. Regardless of how he was portrayed, Hulk Hogan meant something different when placed in a WrestleMania match. Hogan lost that match, and it wasn’t supposed to be the main event, but Hulkamania was reborn. A few months later, Hogan had the belt. He would remain as a consistent player through WrestleMania XIX, where he would face Vince McMahon in a grudge match. Hogan would miss WrestleMania XX, but had a brief run-in at WrestleMania XXI after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. This would be his last WrestleMania…until now.
Hulk Hogan has returned to the WWE and will be hosting WrestleMania XXX. After years of tedious storylines in TNA Wrestling, there is still only one place Hogan can truly call home. There are also valid questions. With a seemingly endless list of legal troubles, has Hogan’s imaged been tarnished? Can he be the hero he once was? Has the crowd grown tired of the star? Does the younger fanbase even know who he is? Can he wrestle one more match? It is entirely possible that there isn’t anything more to it than giving a man who helped build the brand a role in it’s 30th anniversary, but this is wrestling. Rumors will run wild. How the crowd reacts to Hogan at WrestleMania won’t be known until it happens. Maybe, just maybe, Hulkamania will get to run wild one more time.