Hulk Hogan’s Wrestling Career (Before Hulkamania)

Hulk Hogan Hulkamania

Hulk Hogan is undoubtedly the most famous and popular wrestler in history. He has managed to overcome the challenge of time and to become a pop icon in the 80s, 90s, and still is loved in the 2000s. He has will forever have his own chapter in the book of wrestling history and is known even by those who have never watched a match.

Hulk Hogan is a controversial man, capable of acts of generosity but also of great selfishness and betrayals of his friends. A man who has always placed money at the top of his priorities, but who has also been able to positively influence generations of children, embodying the myth of the superhero-like nobody before and after him.

But Hogan didn’t get all his success without a struggle. Hogan made a lot of ranks, burned bridges, and took risks that could have destroyed him in a second, and all to be able to achieve his goal of becoming wrestlings biggest star.

Before Wrestling

Terrence Gene Bollea was born in the city of Augusta on August 11, 1953. He grew up like many young men, with a passion for music, sports, and wrestling. In particular, Terry loves Dusty Rhodes and “Superstar” Billy Graham.

He did not just enjoy listening to music, he was a musician himself. He spent several of his early years playing bass in various rock bands around time. But when there wasn’t a gig to be done, you could find him in the local gym.

Terry spent much time at the gym and developed an excellent physique. One evening, while playing bass with his band, he was noticed by two wrestlers, the Brisco brothers. The Briscos convince Terry to give the wrestling world a chance and have him trained by Hiro Matsuda.

Old Wrestling Ring

Worst Trainer Ever

Hiro Matsuda is a well known Japanese wrestler from the classic era of wresting, who has held titles in several federations all over the world. It seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime and Terry knew it. 

Matsuda is an old school trainer, very severe, and determined to protect the business. Hiro believed that this big blond man didn’t have what it takes for a tough sport like wrestling, and in the first training session, he breaks Terry’s leg on purpose.

Terry Bollea, however, does not abandon his new path and returns to training as soon as he is well.

Hulk Hogan Before WWF

In the beginning, his career has ups and downs; for a long time, Bollea must work as a longshoreman to survive, and like many aspiring “sports entertainers”, he sleeps in his car to save money.

In the late 70’s he ran the local circuits and saw some success, probably due to his size and look. He begins to be noticed by several promoters, and ha and former NWA champion Terry Funk spurs him on to continue his career, saying that he could become the greatest.

He was right. By the end of the decade, Terry won his first championship, (the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship).

Funk would later be responsible for introducing Terry to, Vince McMahon Sr.

Hulk Hogan’s First Run In WWF

McMahon is impressed by what he sees, and hires Terry, giving him the name that will mark his career forever: Hulk Hogan.

Hogan would fight as a heel, together with manager Freddie Blassie, and has a feud with Andrè The Giant. The giant is faced with severe difficulties and risks losing for the first time in his career.

The mainstream turn of Hulk Hogan comes when he is chosen by Sylvester Stallone (with a suggestion from Terry Funk) to play the part of the wrestler Thunderlips in “Rocky 3”, This is the chance of his life for Hogan, who accepts with great enthusiasm.

But there is a problem: Vince McMahon Sr.

McMahon was an old school promoter who did not share Hollywood’s enthusiasm for wrestling crossovers and ordered Hogan to choose: honor his bookings and fight, or shoot the film but lose his job.

Hogan had no hesitation and agrees to play the part of Thunderlips, a character who has little screen time but was highly appreciated by the audience.

Hogan’s Time in AWA

Hogan, increasingly popular, begins to regularly fight in Japan, in the New Japan Pro Wrestling, winning prestigious tournaments and sharing the stage with the icon Antonio Inoki, both as a partner and as opponents.

AWA Wrestling

In the US he begins working in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), run by Verne Gagne, primarily in Minnesota.

Hogan made his debut as a heel, acting like his movie character, Thunderlips. But the audience cheered him on like a hero, and Gagne was forced to make him a face.

The Hulkamania phenomenon was beginning, and Hogan, as a good businessman, also starts selling shirts.

Gagne, however, just like McMahon Sr., was an old school promoter who does not appreciate Hogan for his ring skills; Gagne tried to put his son Greg Gagne over Hogan to become popular, but the public was not interested in him.

Hogan won the AWA world title on a couple of occasions, always beating champion Nick Bockwinkel (a protege of Gagne). Fans are excited, but Hogan’s victory is reversed due to controversial circumstances. It was a very common situation in the 80s, made popular by Dusty Rhodes (the good guy wins controversially, and on the following show, the victory is canceled), which had as the objective to test the fans’ reaction, prepare a rematch, and sell more tickets.

Fans were furious, and support for Hogan became so strong that Gagne can no longer ignore him and try to impose on Greg.

At this point, Gagne makes an offer to Hogan.

Verne Gagne makes Hulk Hogan an offer

Gagne’s proposal is very simple: Hulk will become the AWA champion, the top guy, and everything will be built around him, but all this under some conditions:

  • Hogan will have to become a member of the Gagne family, marrying his daughter.
  • Hogan will have to allow Gagne to become his manager and manage his bookings in Japan, giving Gagne a large percentage of all the money he earns.
  • Hogan will have to waive all merchandising royalties that Gagne still had to pay him.

Hogan had no hesitation in rejecting these conditions, and Gagne promised revenge.

Hogan made very good money in Japan and did not want to share them with Verne. The merchandising money was a modest amount (a few hundred dollars, according to wrestler Stan Hansen). Still, it was a matter of principle, that money was due to Hogan, and to give up money would create a dangerous precedent with Gagne.

Hogan and Gagne could not do business together anymore, and the rumors of this situation reached Vince McMahon Jr., son of McMahon Sr., who had recently taken over the WWF from his father and who had ambitious plans for national expansion.

Hulkamania Is Born

McMahon knew that Hogan was the perfect man for his vision and contacts him, promising him money, success, and becoming WWF World Champion.

Hulk accepts McMahon’s proposal, informs Gagne of his decision (Greg Gagne did not believe that Hogan is serious, and will continue to promote shows with Hogan’s presence, then having to reimburse fans when he finds out about Hulk’s absence) and December 27, 1983, returns to WWF.

Less than 30 days later, on January 23, 1984, Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden and became WWF World Champion. And so begins Hulkamania.

Ripped Hulkamania Shirt

It was a phenomenon that would last until 1992, marking the highest peak in professional wrestling history.

AWA was damaged by the loss of Hogan (and subsequently by many other talents), and in the late 1980s, it was forced to close.

Who knows what would have happened if Gagne had accepted the fact that Hogan was more popular than his son Greg.

What do you think?

Written by Mark

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