When compiling a list of the most well-known wrestlers in WWE history, it usually begins with the iconic Hulk Hogan. Somebody who isn't very far behind, however, is current face of the company, John Cena.
Has Cena reached the point where he is equal to Hulkamania at its height?
Hogan and Cena are similar in a lot of ways when you think about it. Neither has ever been the greatest in-ring worker, both appeal primarily to a younger demographic, both have transcended the world of wrestling to some degree and both became so popular that the older fans either revolted or are currently revolting against them.
Cena is a modern-day Hogan for all intents and purposes, and the sequel never quite seems to live up to the original. Seeing as Hogan's heyday in the WWE lasted from around 1984 through 1992 or so, he obviously did some things differently than Cena, but the characters are almost one in the same.
Is John Cena as big of a star as Hulk Hogan at his height?
The reason I would say that Cena hasn't quite reached Hogan's level yet is that Hogan was more mainstream in his day. A big part of that was the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. Not only was Hogan beloved by wrestling fans, but he did a lot of work with top rock stars from the mid-1980s such as Cyndi Lauper and often appeared on MTV, so he reached totally untapped demographics.
Hogan also starred in movies, and so has Cena, but essentially all of Cena's movies have been WWE Studios releases that non-wrestling fans aren't going to watch. Hogan was just as popular as the top athletes, musicians and movie stars of his day—I'm not sure Cena can quite say the same for himself.
You also have to take into consideration the state of professional wrestling during their respective primes. Hogan was perhaps the primary reason why the WWE was able to take wrestling from a territorial venture to a worldwide phenomenon, as the industry experienced its biggest boom ever during the 1980s.
Cena, on the other hand, is the face of wrestling during a time that is universally considered to be a recession of sorts in the business. Both Hogan and Cena were the headliners for PG programming, but the WWE was in much better shape under Hogan.
I understand that times change, and the Attitude Era's success has hurt the perception of Cena, but you can't argue with results.
Perhaps above all else, I have to give credit to Hogan due to the fact that he was able to turn heel and remain equally relevant and entertaining as he was while face. The fans turned against Hogan during his final year or two with the WWE, and the WCW fans had grown tired of his act as well, so he decided to agree to one of the most shocking heel turns in wrestling history.
Hogan executed it perfectly, and his ensuing character was great. Many believe that the transition was so seamless for Hogan since the "Hollywood" gimmick was actually more of an accurate representation of Hogan as a person.
Whatever the case, Hogan most definitely showcased his versatility in WCW.
Cena has yet to make that historic heel turn, and I'm not sure that he ever will. Even if the WWE is down compared to what it has been, Vince McMahon is still making a ton of money, and a large percentage of that is thanks to Cena.
With that in mind, McMahon has to take both the business side and the creative side into account when deciding on the direction of Cena's character.
McMahon is a business man through and through, so I think we all know what direction he'll choose to go in. So, while Cena's failure to live up to Hogan isn't totally on his shoulders, I can't bring myself to call Cena Hogan's equal or superior until he brings wrestling out of the doldrums and proves that he can excel as a heel as well.
Neither of those things seem to be on the horizon, though, so I still consider Hogan to be the undisputed king of professional wrestling.