Tuesday 4 December 2012

Down and Out in Orlando, Florida

Nearly thirty years ago Hulk Hogan body slammed and leg dropped The Iron Sheikh in Madison Square Garden to capture his first WWF world title. He was champion for the next four years, spearheading the promotion's expansion from regional territory to national powerhouse. By the early 90s he'd gone part time and was eying a career in Hollywood. That didn't pan out and so 'The Hulkster' returned to wrestling full time.
He did not head back to the WWF however. Thanks to the famous steroid scandal that hit the Fed in ‘94 (and also because of the offer of a fat paycheque) Hogan wound up in WCW. He defeated Ric Flair for the Big Gold Belt in his debut match on July 17th 1994 and remained with the company until it was sold by AOL Time Warner in March 2001.
Hulk's final appearance for World Championship Wrestling came at Bash at the Beach 2000. He won the company's world title from Jeff Jarrett in a whacky worked shoot (or possibly legitimate shoot, nobody seems entirely sure) that was more angle than match, prompted by disagreements between Hogan (who had a creative control clause in his contract) and head writer Vince Russo, and never appeared for the league again.
At the time many felt that Hogan’s career as a headline attraction in wrestling could be over. A return to the WWF seemed likely. A run in the main less so.
Hulk proved everyone wrong. He inked a contract with the WWF in early 2002 and made his first appearance for the company in over eight years at February's No Way Out pay-per-view. While the nWo reunion he was a part of on the show was ultimately underwhelming and disappointing it set 'The Hulkster' back on track to the top.
He was in the most anticipated match of WrestleMania X8, facing The Rock. Despite losing that match he was booked to headline Backlash the next month. Not only did he headline that show but he toppled Triple H to become a six time WWF champion. His reign didn't last long (the belt changed hands again at May's Judgment Day) but that didn't matter: Hogan had risen back to the top of the card in record time, despite his age and physical limitations.
By WrestleMania XIX Hogan was feuding with Vince McMahon and once again got himself a prime slot on the bill. He and the chairman clashed in a wild and memorable street fight that featured the surprise return of Roddy Piper and went on a respectable second from last.

One more WWE run, brother?!
The law of diminishing returns finally began to catch up with 'The Hulkster' shortly after that. Fan reactions decreased, his physical state worsened and he had a variety of fallings out with WWE management. 2005 saw him inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and main event SummerSlam against Shawn Michaels, arguably the final meaningful aspects of his WWE career (at least for now).
Hogan's most recent WWE appearance was the 15th anniversary edition of RAW, held on December 10th 2007. Things went quiet on the Hogan front until October 2009 when it was revealed he, along with former WCW chieftain Eric Bischoff, were to join TNA. And that, readers, was the first sign that Hogan had finally accepted that he was not the huge draw he had been in the 80s.
It was widely believed at the time of the announcement that 'The Immortal One' was only returning to TNA (he had briefly been linked to the group during one of his sojourns away from WWE in 2003 but had never appeared in an arena for them) because of the very expensive divorce he was going through. Hogan had teased a trip to TNA before, but only when negotiating with WWE. Having exhausted his options in New York the former NWA affiliate was his best bet for making quick cash.
Hogan and Bischoff made their IMPACT debuts on January 4th 2010. Almost three years later the pair have done exactly nothing to make TNA a more important part of the wrestling landscape than it was prior to October 2009. They have created no new stars, signed nobody to attract new fans, failed to increase ratings, and storyline quality remains the same. They have contributed nothing of value.
At 59 years of age and with a knackered back a return to the ring for a full match seems unlikely. Even with the shortcuts offered by a street fight or similar gimmick it seems a long shot. The occasional hobble-in to give bad guys a pasting seems to be the guy's limit for as long as he remains with TNA.
And how long will that be exactly? Hogan's contract came up for renewal late last year or earlier this year. That he's still with the group makes it clear he re-signed. Knowing Hogan's knack for self-preservation and bargaining prowess it seems unlikely that he didn't at least enquire with WWE about a potential return.
I think that sooner or later Hogan will be back in WWE. The TNA paycheque may be nice but sooner or later Vince McMahon is bound to find a use for 'The Hulkster' again. When that happens he'll easily outbid Dixie Carter. Perhaps the bigger question is whether Hulk will wrestle for WWE again. It may seem unlikely now but for the right price I suspect his back issues may disappear. Don’t count out one final ‘Mania appearance.

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