This Sunday night at WrestleMania 30, Hulk Hogan returns to the event he helped build from the ground up to play host. It will be a triumphant return for the Hulkster, who left World Wrestling Entertainment in 2007 and only recently returned after a three-year stint with TNA Wrestling.
Back home in the company that made him an international icon, Hogan will have the opportunity to entertain a brand-new generation of fans and create new WrestleMania memories to live forever.
Born Terry Gene Bollea in Augusta, Ga., Hogan began his legendary career in Florida, where he was taught respect for the business from the start. He had his leg broken to test his will. On August 10, 1977, he had his first match for Eddie Graham's Championship Wrestling against B. Brian Blair, who would go on to success in WWE as a member of the Killer Bees tag team with Jim Brunzell.
In Alabama, he partnered with longtime friend Ed Leslie as the Boulder Brothers, but it was only a matter of time before he caught the eye of prominent individuals in New York. By 1979, he debuted for promoter Vincent J. McMahon in Madison Square Garden. His first match in that historic building, a venue he would sell out many times in the future, was against the not-quite Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase.
Less than a year later, he was wrestling Andre the Giant in Shea Stadium in front of 36,000 fans. It would be the first major match between the two, but as wrestling fans are well aware, it would not be the last.
A dispute with McMahon over his availability to appear in the Sylvester Stallone film Rocky III led to Hogan departing New York. After completing the film, he would travel to Minnesota and become a major star for Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association. He regularly competed against the Heenan Family and challenged Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Heavyweight Championship.
No matter how popular Hogan became, no matter how rabidly fans reacted to him, Gagne did not believe the tall, bronzed Floridian was good enough to carry his promotion's championship. The realization that he would never reach the top of the promotion, coupled with a very impressive offer from Vincent K. McMahon to return to New York, led to Hogan's departure from AWA.
On January 23, 1984, Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to capture his first WWF Championship. The win catapulted Hogan to the top of the industry. Announcer Gorilla Monsoon declared, "Hulkamania is here!" That statement signified the beginning of the phenomenon that would sweep the nation and lead to Hogan becoming a mainstream star.
He led the company to its greatest heights ever, helping to accomplish McMahon's vision of taking WWF national. He headlined against top stars of the era, including Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper, the latter two leading to the main event of the inaugural WrestleMania.
Combining professional wrestling with mainstream celebrity, WrestleMania was the biggest entertainment extravaganza of all time. Hogan, the biggest star in the industry, teamed with television tough guy Mr. T to take on Piper and Orndorff in a match that featured Muhammad Ali as guest enforcer, Billy Martin as guest ring announcer and Liberace as special timekeeper. Hogan and T won the match, and the event became a major success.
Hogan would continue to ride a wave of momentum over the course of the next two years. He feuded with King Kong Bundy, leading to a WrestleMania 2 main event, and was involved in a heated personal feud that led to a steel cage showdown against Orndorff in Toronto at The Big Event. That show drew 74,000 fans and gave McMahon an idea of the drawing power of his top attraction. He would put that drawing power to the test with his next major event.
WrestleMania 3 was held at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit, Mi. on March 29, 1987. The main event pitted Hogan against former friend-turned-rival Andre the Giant in what many believed to be the biggest main event in professional wrestling history. Andre was billed as having been undefeated for 15 years, while Hogan had held the top prize in WWE for over three years. Something had to give, and anticipation was at a fever pitch as they took to the ring.
Hogan won the epic encounter, but his rivalry with Andre did not end there. In February of 1988, Hogan lost the WWE title in controversial fashion, setting up a tournament at WrestleMania 4 to fill the vacant championship. The Hulkster fought to a double disqualification with Andre, resulting in the elimination of both stars. He would appear later in the show, helping Randy Savage defeat Ted DiBiase to become champion.
His friendship and partnership with Savage would lead to the creation of the Mega Powers team. The duo defeated DiBiase and Andre at the first SummerSlam pay-per-view but unfortunately jealousy would strike, causing Hogan and Savage to split. Miss Elizabeth, Savage's manager at the time, was caught in the center of the rivalry, and at WrestleMania she would watch as her two charges competed in a heated main event for the WWE title.
Hogan would capture his second title at the show and would successfully defend it throughout 1989 and into the early portion of 1990. His next challenger would prove to be one of his greatest—his ultimate, if you will. The Ultimate Warrior entered Toronto's SkyDome for WrestleMania 6 and knocked off the Hulkster to the surprise and shock of fans across the globe.
It had been years since Hogan suffered a clean loss. By passing the torch to Warrior, it allowed him to take time off from the squared circle to focus on a potential film career.
When he returned, he focused on a feud with Earthquake, who had put him on the shelf following a vicious attack. Their match at SummerSlam 1990, despite being the first of two main events, was a far hotter program than the Ultimate Warrior's feud with Rick Rude, leaving some to wonder whether or not it was done on purpose to sabotage Warrior's title reign.
It would not matter. By January, Sgt. Slaughter had beaten Warrior and set up a feud with Hogan for WrestleMania 7. At that show, Hogan defeated the Iraqi sympathizer and captured his third WWE title.
A fourth title came with a victory over The Undertaker, and by the end of 1991, it was becoming clear that the tone of WWE was changing and the great American hero who urged kids to take their vitamins and say their prayers may be becoming passe.
After a match against Sid Justice at WrestleMania 8 that was billed as his retirement match, Hogan took a break from wrestling.
A year later, he returned to the business and headlined WrestleMania 9. Following a disqualification loss with partner Brutus Beefcake to tag team champions Money Inc., Hogan came to the aid of Bret Hart, somehow found himself partaking in an impromptu WWE title match and wound up leaving Las Vegas with the WWE Championship.
The heat on Hogan following that ego boost was significant. Most pointed at that fifth title reign as a political power move that setback everything WWE had accomplished in pushing Bret Hart to the top of the company. When Hogan dropped the title back to Yokozuna at King of the Ring and left the company, few were sad to see him go.
In June of 1994, WCW's Eric Bischoff convinced Hogan to sign with the company and in the process become direct competition to Vince McMahon's WWF. The company celebrated the signing by throwing Hogan a grand parade through MGM Studios and treating the signing as the biggest in the history of professional wrestling.
And it was.
Hogan made his in-ring debut for WCW at Bash at the Beach 1994 and immediately captured the WCW Championship from Ric Flair. Over the course of the next two years, he would feud with Flair, Arn Anderson, Vader and the Dungeon of Doom and was a major force in getting the promotion's Monday Nitro program off and running in September of 1995.
By 1996, however, Hogan's popularity was waning. Fans greeted him with jeers, the tired good guy shtick having run its course. At Bash of the Beach in July, he made a stunning turn and joined Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in the genesis of the New World Order.
The turn would fuel business and catapult WCW to the top of the wrestling world. As the leader of the nWo, Hogan would become the most hated man in the industry. His antics with the group made Nitro destination programming and set up some of the most anticipated matches in WCW history.
At Starrcade in 1996, he faced Roddy Piper in a rare clean loss. Six months later, he teamed with Dennis Rodman in another loss, this time to Lex Luger and The Giant. Finally, after a year-long build, he dropped the WCW title to Sting at Starrcade 1997.
Hogan's time in WCW, while hugely successful, was also tainted by claims of backstage power plays. The creative-control clause in his contract made it very difficult for him to ever be put into a position where he was portrayed as being weaker than his peers. Yes, he did the right thing for business and put over Piper and Sting and even Lex Luger, but eventually he always got the win back.
It was his unwillingness to put over young talent or even prepare them for the future, not to mention several questionable booking decisions directly involving him, that led to the downward spiral of WCW. Hogan's final appearance in WCW came at the Bash at the Beach in 2000.
In February of 2002, he returned to the soon-to-be-named WWE as part of the nWo. It was Vince McMahon's attempt to inject some life into his product, but the crowd did not want to see Hogan has a villain. They welcomed the Hulkster back with open arms, cheering him even after he did heinous things such as attempting vehicular homicide on The Rock.
Speaking of The Rock, Hogan accepted the challenge of the Great One, setting up one of the most iconic matches in WrestleMania history for its 18th edition. The two superb entertainers captivated the audience in Toronto with Hogan delivering his best performance in years. Rock would win the match, but Hogan would end up riding a wave of nostalgia.
At the following month's Backlash pay-per-view, he defeated Triple H to capture the WWE Undisputed Championship. He would not hold it long, but the power of Hulkamania was running wild. He would feud with a new generation of stars, including Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, before dropping back out of the spotlight.
He returned in early 2003, setting up a match against Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 19. Those two influential figures in WWE history feuded over who was really responsible for the success of both WWE and its signature event. Their bout was a bloody one that saw Hogan defeat McMahon and prove himself more than capable of delivering under the bright lights and on the biggest stage.
Hogan would make subsequent returns in 2005 and 2006, feuding with Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. Unfortunately, a dispute with McMahon over payment for his 2006 bout against Orton led to Hogan's departure from the company.
After a three-year run with TNA, Hogan now finds himself back in WWE. His announcement of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal lent credibility to the match and made it more important than any other WrestleMania Battle Royal ever held.
Hogan is that rare performer who transcended the wrestling business. He helped carry the industry into mainstream consciousness and partnered with Vince McMahon to build a wrestling empire that continues strong some 30 years later. He achieved success in every promotion in which he spent significant time (including New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he wrestled Tatsumi Fujinami) and has proven to be relevant in every era in which he has appeared.
Today, he is an outstanding ambassador for the sport of professional wrestling, a sport that is still very lucky to have someone like him.