March 1, 2005
Sheldon Kane III
HULK HOGAN: AN ICON IMMORTALIZED
By Sheldon Kane III
February 28, 2005, will forever stand as a monumental date to me. That will forever be known as the date World Wrestling Entertainment finally came to terms with their past and accepted Hulk Hogan as their greatest talent in history. On April 2, 2005, WrestleMania 21 weekend, the immortal Hulkster will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
I first discovered who Hulk Hogan was in 1983, when I was turning seven years old. A year earlier, I had just started watching professional wrestling for the first time, thanks to my father, mother, and uncles. I had my favorites of course, men like Tony Atlas, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, and Andre the Giant who would entertain and enthrall me with their exploits between the ropes. Like any other boy of my age, I also loved comic books, in particular Marvel Comics. Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk were not just favorites of mine, they were obsessions of mine as a child. So naturally, whenever my dad spoke of a wrestler named "Hulk Hogan", I thought he was just playing around with me. He knew the Hulk was one of my favorite comic book heroes, and I just thought he was being silly with me by telling me there was a "Hulk Hogan" out there. Yes, upon first hearing his name, I didn't think Hulk Hogan really existed (and over the years I have come to discover, some of you out there probably wish he didn't).
As I soon saw, he was real. He was VERY real.
The first time I ever saw Hulk Hogan wrestle was on January 28, 1984, on WWE's former flagship show, Championship Wrestling. This match aired just five days after he won the WWE Championship for the first time. The match was actually taped January 3 of that year, at the old Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which had become the home to Championship Wrestling's TV tapings. Hulk was teaming with Bob Backlund that day, defeating Mr. Fuji and Tiger Chung Lee in tag team action. Just a week earlier on January 21, Hulk had made his WWE return after an absence of several years, saving Bob Backlund from a three-on-one assault at the hands of the Wild Samoans (Afa, Sika, and Samula). Somewhere during this time - I can't remember when exactly - I saw pre-taped footage of Hulk's title win over the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden (The Night: January 23, 1984). I remember it was a Saturday morning, and it was on the WOR-TV channel from Secacus, New Jersey. And I remember being mesmerized by the crowd reaction he got after he broke free of the Camel Clutch, dropped the leg across his throat, and registered the count of three. I had never heard a crowd get so hype for anything in my short life. It was almost frighteningly loud to me. But amidst it all, I knew one thing above all else: Hulk Hogan was a man I would keep an eye on.
During the course of 1984, and into 1985, not only did I keep an eye on him, but as time grew on, he became something I never had before: a real, honest-to-goodness idol to me. The message Hulk Hogan would put forth to children and young adults worldwide was simple, yet effective: there were "three demandments" to follow in life, brother: train, say your prayers, and eat your vitamins (and beginning at SummerSlam 1990, "believe in yourself"). He espoused clean living, not taking any shortcuts to get what you want in life, and working as hard as you could to realize your dreams. You have to understand, this was all happening during a time when my parents were constantly at war with each other, and understandably weren't really around much to guide me in the proper direction. When Hulk Hogan came along into the spotlight and put forth this positive message for all young people to follow, I caught onto it. This idol of mine was setting me on the right path, and let me tell you all, it worked almost a little TOO well. When I first saw him wrestle live in person, on June 22, 1985 at the old Boston Garden, the electric vibe emanating through the audience that night was nothing short of surreal to me. This Hulkamania thing he spoke of wasn't just a catchphrase used to sell T-shirts or put asses in the seats. And if it was, it damn sure didn't feel like it to me.
Wanna know why to this day, I have never been high or drunk? Why I'm ambitious to such a ridiculously unrealistic degree? Blame the "orange goblin who never puts people over and holds the younger talent down", brother. Yes, I take anything involving the Hulk way too seriously, probably because the character had such a direct personal effect on me as a kid. I've battled the smart marks forever now when defending the guy. I've heard them all: he's too old. He has no "workrate" *rolls eyes*. He never gives the young guys a chance. He's a cripple. He makes bad movies (that one I can agree on). He needs to step aside. I've even heard people pick on his daughter, Brooke. Indeed, for decades now, my mindset has been: if you insult Hulk Hogan, you insult ME. You have to understand, this guy's message and influence set me on a positive path as a child that pretty much set the tone for how I live today. I feel I owe a lot to who I've become today to the man, and if that sounds crazy to some folks reading this, well, I offer no apologies, because well, that's the way it is. So yes, I do take the stuff way too personal. At least now I can share the reason why with you.
It's funny, the very things that annoyed some people about the Hulkster's matches are exactly what I loved about them. He was unbeatable, untouchable in the ring. He didn't need to know a thousand wrestling holds; when you're six-foot-eight, and 305 pounds, and have strength of almost mythical proportions, you really don't need to know very many holds. Yes, Hulk did have a good basic wrestling knowledge thanks to his trainings with Hiro Matsuda; he just didn't get to show it much here in the States. In Japan, however, he showed a surprising amount of skill. I even saw him use an enziguri once. But wherever it was he wrestled, he would go in there and destroy people. He'd feed off the energy of his Hulkamaniacs, mount a comeback at a point in the match when all seemed lost, roar his defiance, and overcome the most dire of adversities in the squared circle. Three right-handed shots from a 12-inch fist; an Irish whip to the ropes, followed by a boot to the face; and then, the famous Hogan legdrop. One, two, three. Done. It was easy, it was something fans could count on, and it was an awesome sight. That's why I loved it so much, because you could depend on the man to take out even the strongest of challengers. He has wrestled, and defeated, nearly every top wrestler of the last 25 years; Roddy Piper. Andre the Giant. Nick Bockwinkel. Antonio Inoki. Harley Race. Randy Savage. Paul Orndorff. King Kong Bundy. "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig. Sgt. Slaughter. Undertaker. Ric Flair. Sycho Sid. Keiji Mutoh. Big Van Vader. Big Show. Sting. Lex Luger. The Ultimate Warrior. Kevin Nash. Scott Hall. The Rock (in tag team action). Stone Cold (ditto). Triple H (who better to put HHH on his back for a three-count?). Chris Jericho. Kurt Angle. And I could count on him to do it every time. And the ones he never got around to defeating, men like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar...where are they now? Exactly.
I had the pleasure of meeting the man on four different occasions; he remembered me the third time, and told me, "Good to see you again, brother." I wore the colors of red and yellow as a child, and rocked the black and white of the nWo in the '90s. I cheered him on when he made his comeback in 2002, and today, I celebrate his life and career as he enters his second Hall of Fame. He is one of only six people to be an inductee of both the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the WWE Hall of Fame (Fabulous Moolah, Fred Blassie, Andre the Giant, George "The Animal" Steele and Vincent J. McMahon are the others), and for that I couldn't be prouder of the Hulkster. It's something to me; 20 years after being an eight-year-old boy who would go to school in his Hulkamania T-shirt carrying his Hulk Hogan doll with him for good luck, I stand here as a 28-year-old sales and advertising professional, still cheering on the greatest professional athlete I have ever seen, an idol of idols to me. The man. The myth. The legend. The immortal icon of professional wrestling: Hulk Hogan.
Thank you for everything, brother. It's time to celebrate with us one more time, and go home to relax with your family. You have done it all, and now you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Sheldon Kane III
Hulkamaniac since 1984