I think about you more than I should.
No, not in that Single White Female/The Fan sense.
Rather, I think about you the same way I think about Superman; rather, I’ve pondered what you mean in this modern age.
After all, you are Superman, of a fashion.
You made your living as the hero in the business of professional wrestling. When you dropped the big leg on the Iron Sheik in ’84, you launched what seemed at the time like a huge cultural movement: Hulkamania was alive and, to use your term, running wild.
For a kid like me who enjoyed cartoonish tales of good and evil, this was right up my alley.
Hulkamania ruled the world for the better part of the decade, even as Warrior Wildness threatened to usurp its place. But as the ’90s dawned, wrestling fans wanted something different. Hardcore fans wanted more consistent workers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who could put on high-quality matches. (That isn’t to say you couldn’t–you always worked with a deeper move set in Japan.)
You needed to stay relevant, and Hulkamania wasn’t helping.
Gone was the red and yellow, the prayers and the vitamins. Now it was biker black, treachery and bile. Hollywood Hogan became the heel to beat, a master planner who used his troops to keep him on top of the heap by any means necessary. The nWo was the hottest thing in pro wrestling, and it isn’t a stretch to say D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin wouldn’t have existed without it.
What’s more, wrestling was becoming relevant to popular culture once again. In no uncertain terms, you saved the business.
Who else could have?
Either way, it was clear that with no Vince McMahon to filter you, you couldn’t be stopped.
The amount of consideration I continue to give to Superman is baffling to everyone, even me sometimes. But I feel it’s necessary–to get a sense of who we are as a people, we need to know where our icons are and how they reflect upon us. Superman has the benefit of being entirely fictional. Sure, he’s at the mercy of whoever is running DC Comics at a given period, but he has a certain set of values from which he’ll never deviate. He’s easy to believe in because he’s so neatly inhuman.
After you choked the life from WCW with your creative control clause and your battles with Vince Russo (a man just as clueless as you, though in different ways), you set out to defy your physical limitations, which is admirable to an extent. You had knee surgery–this is more frequent than it should be, isn’t it?–and came back to the WWF to make one more run. Even though you returned as Hollywood Hogan, the fans accepted you the way they did when you were the Hulk.
Clearly, nostalgia is a powerful thing.
You fought the Rock, and in putting him over clean–a lesson you learned twelve years prior in the same venue with the Ultimate Warrior, and should have kept in mind against Sting–you became the biggest thing in wrestling again. You beat Triple H for the title–something that could only happen for someone of your stature.
Never mind you had to job out to Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar in succession–you still got your Wrestlemania match in 2003 against Vince McMahon, concluding an epic storyline that was decades in the telling.
There were matches against Muhammad Hassan, Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. Finally, you left because the money wasn’t good enough, and because you didn’t feel you were Vince’s biggest priority. But it isn’t as though you were leaving the spotlight. No, you’re Hulk Hogan. You can never do that.
You were indeed a legend, and you have done incredible things.
But when you decided to put yourself and your family on VH1 and expose all of your issues, you put distance between yourself and that legend. You became a mortal once again.
That’s the one draw about being human–it’s being interesting.
You made them all out of self-interest.
Flair knows how to cultivate and make new stars. As much as he wants to go forever, he knows one day he’ll be dead, and the business needs someone new to run with the ball. And because he got over as much with his ring work and psychology as with his innumerable charisma, he can tell who has “it,” who is more than just a body. Maybe deep down, you can too–after all, you put over Austin Aries in promos, before putting the TNA World Championship on him. But it isn’t just that.
Meanwhile, Ric Flair has given guys like Bobby Roode, AJ Styles and Jay Lethal the rub when necessary. Sure, he still wants to stay in the ring, even as it becomes more of a bad idea for him to do so, but at least Ric Flair knows when and how to put someone over, which is more than can be said for you.
I can count the number of times you’ve done it on one hand.
And after all you did in the ’80s to lift the business on your shoulders, not to mention all of your children’s charity work, that isn’t entirely terrible. But in your naked avarice, you’ve done nothing to bring anyone along with you without making sure you look best or pushing yourself first down your audience’s throat. Even now, after Ric Flair’s well-received return to WWE Raw, you’re looking at returning to the ring even though you physically have no business wrestling.
You’re more Hollywood than Hulk, and you have been for years.
Maybe you always have been.
Even as a young adult, I believed in Hulkamania.
But now, I don’t know what it is anymore, what it means.
Maybe you can tell me.