WrestleMania 18 was a pretty memorable night. Sandwiched in between an ‘alright’ Four Corners elimination match between Billy & Chuck, The APA, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boys and an ‘ok’ Triple Threat match between Jazz, Lita and Trish Stratus was one of the most unforgettable bouts in WrestleMania history. For the first time ever, The Rock battled Hulk Hogan before 68,237 fans in Toronto, Canada. For those of us who remember that night, the atmosphere inside the Skydome during the 16 minute match was simply electric. The Rock, the 21st century mega-star, was standing nose to nose with Hulk Hogan, the living legend from years gone by. I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard an audience so divided; one half was in support of The Great One, the other half were staunch followers of ‘Hulkamania’. After The Rock pinned Hogan, many viewed this as the ‘passing of the torch’ (as if The Rock needed a torch) from wrestling’s past to wrestling’s future. After years away from the promotion, it was a glorious night for Hogan and it would be the catalyst for The Hulkster’s last major run with the WWE. It’s interesting to note that the original plan for that event was for a Hogan Vs Austin match, but this idea never got off the ground since ‘Stonecold’ had apparently disapproved of the re-hiring of the three original NWO members just two months earlier. Austin had no desire to work with Hogan and accepted a mid-card match at the event against Scott Hall instead. In doing so, not only did he sacrifice his participation in a major match in wrestling history but he also surrendered a massive paycheck. And it seems that Austin was not alone in his dislike of The Hulkser; Hogan’s self-serving behaviour in the WM18 match against The Rock angered many wrestlers on the WWE roster. Despite supposedly being the devilish heel, Hogan did all he could to elicit cheers from the Skydome crowd to massage his own ego. And even though The Rock walked away with the victory, Hogan walked away with the fanfare.
After that historic night, Hogan’s time with the WWE became dogged with disagreements and friction; he allegedly clashed with Vince McMahon a couple of times over the creative direction of his character and left the promotion in August 2002. He was expected to return later that year at the Survivor Series and do battle against WWE Champion Brock Lesner. But while Vince wanted Hulk to lay down for ‘The Next Big Thing’, Hogan wanted the title. No agreement could be found, so Hogan stayed on hiatus and Lesner squared off against The Big Show instead. Hulk re-emerged in 2003, losing again to The Rock at No Way Out before squaring off against Vince McMahon in a Street Fight at WrestleMania 19. He then entered into the Mr America gimmick, and was headed towards a Hair Vs Mask match with Vince at the Vengeance pay-per-view in July. But Hogan’s apparent frustration with his position in the company boiled over after the Smackdown taping on June 24th 2003, and he walked out of the WWE again. Vince McMahon announced on TV that Mr America (aka Hulk Hogan) had been fired. And that was that…
Hogan wrestled for NJPW and flirted with TNA over the next couple of years before the WWE Hall of Fame came calling. Inducted by Sylvester Stallone on April 2nd 2005, it marked Hogan’s re-re-return to the WWE, and conveniently coincided with the production of his VH1 reality series, Hogan Knows Best. The series debuted on July 10th 2005, and drew a strong audience rating. The whole thing was an obvious nod towards the mega-successful MTV reality show The Osbournes, which had finished that same year. From what I understand, Hogan believed that this exposure would help his daughter Brooke’s fledgling singing career. The series, in which cameras basically followed the Hogan clan around 24/7, had ‘staged’ written all over it and the producers seemed hell bent on making the family appear as ‘crazy’ as possible; from Hulk’s pilates classes to his spying on Brooke’s dates. In May of this year, Hogan claimed that the show wasn’t ‘reality TV’ at all, but was actually scripted.
On the wrestling side, Hogan had been thrust into the WWE main event picture again, and successfully pinned Shawn Michaels in their ‘Legend Vs Icon’ match at SummerSlam 2005. Despite the event being a huge success, the rematch that many expected never materialised. Michaels quickly shot down the idea since The Hulkster wasn’t interested in returning the favour and losing to him, and HBK had no intention of laying down again for Hogan. So, Vince McMahon went back to Plan A; Hogan Vs Austin at WrestleMania 22. Once again, Plan A was dead before it had even begun. Steve Austin walked away from the WWE in October 2005 following creative disagreements and he wouldn’t return for nearly 6 months. In reality, the Hulk Hogan/Steve Austin dream match will never take place; allegedly The Texas Rattlesnake cannot stand The Hulkster on a personal level and neither man’s ego will allow them to lose to the other. Instead, Hogan continued doing all he could to elevate his daughters standing in the celebrity world by involving her in an angle on WWE TV involving Randy Orton. The two tangled at SummerSlam and Hogan won clean again. It marked two consecutive SummerSlam events in which part-time Hogan had cleanly pinned a full-time member of the WWE roster. Again, thanks to Hogan’s belief in self preservation, no re-match ever occurred.
Despite the apparent animosity that Hogan was garnering in the WWE locker room (mostly due to his dipping in and out of the company when he felt like it, only returning to claim a big win and an even bigger pay check), Vince McMahon was still running with him. With WrestleMania 23 heralding from Detroit, Michigan, the plan was for Hogan to battle The Big Show at the event. It would be 20 years after Hogan’s most famous match against Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3 which had originated from the same city. Unfortunately, The Big Show was so broken down by this point, and so in need of a lengthy spell away from the ring that, in January 2007, plans were changed again. With Donald Trump striking a deal with Vince McMahon to participate in The Battle of the Billionaires Hair Vs Hair match at WrestleMania 23, the original plan was for Hogan (Trumps choice) to compete against Shane McMahon (Vince’s choice). It’s worth noting that, at one point, both Shawn Michaels and Booker T were linked to the match as well. However, Hogan/WWE fallout number 2,676 was on the horizon. During his appearance on the ‘Bubba the Love Sponge’ radio show on January 12th 2007, Hogan received a telephone call from WWE Senior Vice President (Talent Relations) John Laurinaitis’ secretary, Anne Russo. She had called Hogan to ask for his opinion on the list of names being considered for the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame. Unaware that Hogan was on a live radio show and that he had placed her on speaker phone, she unwittingly gave away the top-secret list of contenders for the whole world to hear. The candidates included Jake Roberts, The Honky Tonk Man, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Mr Fuji, Bob Backlund, Rocky Johnson, Ted Dibiase, Dusty Rhodes and others. Needless to say that when Vince McMahon heard about Hogan’s bizarre prank, he hit the roof and the relationship he had with The Hulkster quickly soured. Hogan’s name was rapidly erased from the WrestleMania 23 line up, but for Hulk Hogan and his family, things were about to become much, much worse…
On the evening of August 27th 2007, Hogan’s 17 year old son Nicholas Bollea crashed his Toyota Supra in Clearwater, Florida at a speed in excess of 60mph (despite that portion of the road having a 40mph speed limit). Nick was released from hospital the following day but his passenger, 22 year old John Graziano, was not so lucky; he hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt and suffered brain injuries so serious that he will require full time care for the rest of his life. Following the crash, the VH1 network suspended filming on Hogan Knows Best and while the case against Nick Bollea was being put together, Linda Bollea filed for divorce from Hogan on November 24th after 24 years of marriage. Apparently, poor Hulk didn’t even know his wife had taken this action until a reporter presented him the paperwork that Linda had submitted to the courts. Nick Bollea was sentenced on May 9th 2008 to eight months in Pinellas County Jail and, if things weren’t bad enough already, the recorded telephone conversations he had made from his incarceration to his mother and father were released to the press. These recordings were unsettling; Hulk Hogan could be heard saying that crash victim John had received some ‘heavy s**t’ from God because of some of the things he was ‘into’. Nick agreed, claiming that John was a ‘negative person’. Obviously, the press jumped all over this, hammering the Hogan’s for essentially blaming the accident on John Graziano. On June 10th 2008, in an attempt at damage control, Hulk Hogan appeared on an episode Larry King LIVE, alongside Nick’s attorney, David Houston. Whether this was Hogan’s idea, or whether he had taken advisement from elsewhere, we’ll never know. What I can tell you is that it was a terrible error of judgement. Coming off as decidedly self-righteous, Hogan jumped between singing the praises of the victim and his family, (direct quote — “We love John and in no way would we ever want to hurt John or the Graziano family”) and taking cheap shots at John Graziano’s mother, Debbie (direct quote — “I had no idea she was homeless at the time, living out of the car and between friends”). Hogan then went on to heroically state that when he and his wife found out this information, they rented her a town house and bought her furniture. Hogan had apparently been providing her with $5000 per month for living expenses and to help put her other son, Michael, through college. They even provided funds to help cover the costs of her father’s funeral. How kind of him to broadcast such private information to the watching world.
When King read out a statement from the Graziano’s attorneys, expressing the families understandable bitterness towards the Hogan’s, Hulk somewhat arrogantly claimed that he forgave them because “they know not what they do. They’re not conscious, they’re not present, they don’t understand”. Hogan claimed that his comments on the aforementioned tapes were simply examples of a desperate father trying to keep his fragile son from unravelling. Personally, I wasn’t too convinced of Nick Bolleas apparent mental and spiritual collapse, since he can be heard asking his father to arrange a reality TV show based around his experiences. When Hulk asks which production company Nick would like to work with on the show, Nick responds with “I want to do it where I’ll make the most money”. Hhhhmmm…..
The last 12 months must have been very hard on Hulk Hogan and his family. Many have said that ‘Hulkamania’ is dead, and it’s true that his public image has taken a vicious battering. Thanks to such intense scrutiny by the press, and his own decision to serve his family up on a ‘reality TV’ plate, the heroic mystique that Hogan carried around with him has slowly faded away. Have we seen the last of The Hulkster in pro wrestling? Probably not. But I believe it will be very difficult for him to perform in front of a crowd again, trying to reignite the passion and the faith that so many people had for him for so long. The aura of Hulk Hogan has been tarnished forever and it’s doubtful that he’ll ever be able to salvage it.