Hulk Hogan Was An Entertaining In Ring Worker
The contributions of one Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, to the world of professional wrestling are undeniable. At a time when the American wrestling business consisted of several big territorial promotions, he significantly helped make Vince McMahon’s vision of turning the WWF into a national promotion a reality. With his overwhelming charisma and creative mic skills, he knew how bring thousands of fans into arenas across the nation to watch him beat up the villain of the month. Sold out venue after sold out venue packed into the nosebleed sections… he was certainly the biggest star of his era. However, many so called “smart fans” claim that Hogan was a performer who was very charismatic and a good talker, but not a very good worker. And while I agree he may not fit the definition of a GOOD worker by the standards of Dave Meltzer, Wade Keller or most internet smarks, it is my opinion that he was an ENTERTAINING worker. At least from 1984 to 1992.
When Hogan wrestled in Japan in the seventies, he actually learned good technical wrestling. If you watch one of his matches in Japan, you’ll see him do moves that you probably never or rarely witnessed him do in the United States, like a drop toe hold into a front face lock. But that was because Japanese wrestling fans were more appreciative and demanding of actual in ring work than American wrestling fans. American wrestling fans, generally speaking, have always cared more about the storylines and the Hollywood aspect of wrestling, and because of this, Hogan didn’t bring his technical skills from Japan over to the U.S. In the WWF, his offense was pretty basic. Punches, clotheslines, body slams, suplexes, elbow drops, atomic drops, a big boot and a leg drop…that wasn’t his entire brawling repertoire but you get the picture. You weren’t going to see sunset flips or a crucifix pin from him.
But that’s not to say he didn’t still care about giving American wrestling fans their money’s worth during his matches. Fans who paid their hard-earned money to see him wrestle some bad guy still got a good show from him between the bells. He brought lots of entertainment DURING his matches. I am not talking about how he “worked the crowd” and elicited big crowd reactions, but rather what he actually did between the ropes was entertaining.
The first reason I will discuss is his use of facial expressions. Hogan always had the gift of having an overly animated face. Whether he was attempting to convey a burst of intensity while throwing punches at The Genius or body slamming the 400 lb. Kamala, getting angry at Jimmy Hart for interfering, or laying on the canvas, exhausted and writhing in pain, you could see it in his face. He usually overacted, both during his matches and in his promos, but you could always feel the emotions he was giving off and it was certainly fun to watch. Some wrestlers, like Bret Hart, are criticized for always having the same expression on their face during their matches and it is a valid criticism. But one thing you can say about Hogan is his face was always animated during his matches and it made them more enjoyable to watch. (For the record, in spite of this Bret Hart was obviously still a great worker.)
The next reason I will discuss, as I alluded to earlier and will now expand on, is Hogan’s ability to sell for his opponents. Hogan was usually pretty good about letting the other wrestler get in a decent amount of offense during a match, at least in the eighties. In fact, many times his opponent would dominate him for the entire middle part of the match before he started his usual comeback. He tried his best to make fans think he was experiencing a great deal of pain at the hands of Mr. Perfect, Randy Savage, King Kong Bundy, etc. and, in my opinion, conveyed to the fans that he was in danger of losing the match. He even bladed sometimes and seeing the blood run down his face helped fans understand the excruciating pain he was feeling.
Yes, he did no sell for his opponents while he was doing his “Hulking Up” routine. But the situation called for it. The whole idea was that Hulk was suddenly getting a huge adrenaline rush and for a brief period of time and just couldn’t feel pain. His character was sort of a super hero, so the Hulking Up sequence was appropriate. But before this point in the match, he normally sold very well for his opponents. And as I’m sure you all know, the more punishment a wrestler takes during a match, the more exciting it is when they hit their comeback. While Hulk wasn’t quite as perfect at executing this concept as Shawn Michaels, he was still very good at it.
But something I hardly ever see anyone give Hogan credit for is the many, many times he would add a gimmicky sequence, for a lack of a better term, to his matches to add some extra entertainment value and make them more fun to watch. This is hard to explain without offering examples, so here it goes. Most of the time when Hogan was wrestling someone that was 400 or more pounds, he would attempt to body slam them early in the match, but act like he wasn’t strong enough. Then near the end of the match, while he was Hulking Up and was full of adrenaline, he would attempt the body slam again and this time successfully pull off the great feat of strength. The fact that he tried it once before and failed added drama when he successfully attempted it the second time. Hulk pulled off this routine with King Kong Bundy, Kamala, Earthquake, and most famously with Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 3.
But Hogan had a lot more tricks up his sleeve than just failed body slams. On an edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event when he wrestled the Honky Tonk Man, the two of them did a sequence during the match where Hogan took Honky’s guitar, chased him around the ring with it, and finally managed to crack him with it as he climbed back into the ring. During another Saturday Night’s Main Event Match, this one against Harley Race, they did a spot where Harley attempted to do a splash on Hogan, who was lying on a table. Hogan moved just in time and you heard a loud crack as Harley hit the wooden table (it didn’t break). We’ve witnessed many table spots in today’s wrestling, but in the 80’s in was innovative, and it added some much needed entertainment value to the match with the slow, prodding, old Harley. At WrestleMania 7, during his main event match with Sgt. Slaughter (the Gulf War was going on), they did a sequence where the Iraqi sympathizer Slaughter draped the Iraq flag across a prone Hogan before he pinned him. Hogan kicked out and angrily ripped the flag in half, making for a perfect lead in to his Hulking Up routine.
Another common gimmick Hulk employed was imitating someone’s trademark to mock them. Like slapping his stomach during a match with Kamala or prancing around the ring to mock The Genius. It was fun to watch and livened things up. During an early match with the Macho Man, while Macho was lying outside the ring, Hulk went and put on the same trademark sunglasses that Randy wore during his entrance to make fun of him.
Even his trademark Hulking Up routine itself added another element of fun to his matches. Whether Hogan was bouncing King Kong Bundy’s head off all 4 top turnbuckles in succession, motioning to the crowd that he would pull off Masked Super Star’s mask, or whatever, he always had fun ideas for his matches to add some more theatre to them. He was a true showman.
Now, Hogan wasn’t all about facial expressions, selling and gimmicky routines in the ring. At least not from 1984 to 1992, his original run in the WWF. Hulk actually had decent mobility for a big man and was a good brawler. Not as good as Stone Cold Steve Austin in the late nineties, but he was respectable. And at the time he could still take a fair amount of bumps during his matches. But as time went on his body got more broken down (I think using the leg drop as his finisher contributed greatly to his back problems). By the time he turned heel in WCW, he couldn’t move around the ring as well and couldn’t take as many bumps. No matter how animated his facial expressions were then or how fun his gimmicky ideas for his matches were, nothing was going to make up for his deteriorating physical skills. He could also sometimes be a selfish worker, as he dominated Sting and Bret Hart during matches in WCW when the storyline didn’t call for it. By 1996 Hulk Hogan truly was a bad worker, and really did fit the definition of someone who was charismatic but just couldn’t wrestle.
While I don’t recommend wasting your time on the WWE network watching WCW pay per view main events with Hogan during his N.W.O. run, I highly suggest watching his old Saturday Night’s Main Event matches. You won’t see matches filled with exciting near falls like Steamboat/Savage, and you won’t see cool technical maneuvers and gritty realism like in a Bret Hart match. But you will have a lot of fun watching Hogan’s decent brawling, combined with his animated facial expressions, dramatic selling and fun added sequences to his matches. He didn’t offer skilled wrestling, but he did offer entertainment before, during, and after the bells rang. And I feel you will be entertained greatly by most of his matches from 1984 to 1992.