In the 1980s, there was no question as to who the two leaders of pro wrestling were: Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. They were an amazing contrast on multiple levels. Hogan was the WWE champion, the larger than life hero who’d boast of his greatness while doing short matches ending with that famous legdrop. Flair was the NWA champion, mostly an arrogant rich heel who could back up his talk with being able to work 45 minutes matches with anyone. For years, wrestling magazines would cite them as the greatest “dream match” ever with fans wondering what would happen if they met. They finally had that big feud in WCW with Hogan mostly coming out on top.
Yet fans still debate which one meant more in the 1980s. Both were the stars of their promotions and each can brag about helping wrestling succeed. Hogan had the mainstream fame and attention while Flair was more respected for his great ring work and handling a harder schedule. Here are 5 reasons why Flair was the face of wrestling in that decade and 5 why Hogan was to remind younger fans how these two are bound together in being two icons of the business.
10 HOGAN: A True International Presence
Flair could have an impact abroad as he would do matches in Japan and Puerto Rico and even trade the NWA title abroad. But Hogan just had it so much better in terms of being an international star. NWA/WCW never cracked the Canadian market while Hogan was a monster star in the Great White North with WWE.
He could also do business in Japan as well as across Europe, Asia, Mexico and elsewhere. Flair just never had the massive international fame in the ‘80s that Hogan did to help wrestling stand out.
9 FLAIR: Better Class
Hulk Hogan was a larger than life figure who presented himself as a loud muscleman. In contrast, Flair was a man boasting some amazing class. He would always be dressed in thousand-dollar suits and brag about wealth (“my shoes cost more than your house!”) while flying in private jets and taking limos everywhere.
Flair presented himself as a higher class of heel which won him fans while also making fans hate his act even more. He’s admitted he could have spent his money wiser but Flair’s great style and promos helped make him a true star of the decade.
8 HOGAN: Brought Wrestling to Mainstream
While pro wrestling was popular, it was still mostly seen as just cheap entertainment appealing to a niche audience. It was Hogan who helped bring wrestling into the mainstream like no one else. He was on talk shows, the cover of “Sports Illustrated” and other magazines and his amazing promos and look helped WWE, and wrestling as a whole, take off into a new level.
It’s doubtful wrestling today would be so huge if not for Hogan’s impact as the countless casual fans he brought in as kids would grow up to become serious fans and some (like Edge) becoming stars themselves. Hogan’s impact on the business in this decade cannot be denied.
7 FLAIR: The First Supercard
It has to gall Vince McMahon a bit that he wasn’t the first to create a wrestling supercard. It was Jim Crockett who crafted Starrcade as a major closed-circuit TV event as well as a huge show. The reason was to push Flair who faced Harley Race in the steel cage main event for the NWA title.
It was a testament to Flair’s star power and from there, Starrcade was seen as his show with him in the main event every year for the rest of the decade. It was thanks to Flair that the "supercard" became a wrestling mainstay.
6 HOGAN: A True Superhero
While Flair carried himself as someone with class, Hogan fit into the larger-than-life feel of the 1980s. This was a time of mega-action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, of cartoons like G.I. Joe and an overall feeling of “bigger is better.” There was also how Flair was a heel for most of the decade while Hogan was a true hero for the fans.
He presented himself as a clean-cut guy with the “eat your vitamins and say your prayers” talk and kids truly loved him. Flair was the guy fans loved to hate while Hogan they just pure loved to shine in that decade.
5 FLAIR: A Technical Master
As the old saying goes, Flair could carry a broomstick to a five-star match. A famous story is how Kerry von Erich was completely out of it in one battle but Flair still made the audience think they were watching a thrilling contest. He could keep that up in scores of matches with just about any opponent. Flair could even make Ricky Morton or Road Warrior Hawk look like contenders.
Throw in how he could put on a 60-minute match with ease and Flair was a ring master that Hogan could only dream of being. Whenever fans in the ‘80s wanted excellent wrestling, they looked to Flair.
4 HOGAN: Bigger Main Events
Flair had his share of great main event programs with Dusty Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat. But Hogan was the one who got the massive main events in WWE. His WrestleMania III battle with Andre was a huge deal as Flair could never get over 70,000 people for one of his matches.
The Mania V match with Randy Savage was likewise gangbusters business and his battle with Andre on NBC in 1988 drew a huge rating. While Flair’s matches were better, Hogan’s clearly had much larger drawing power in that decade.
3 FLAIR: Handled an Insane Schedule
In the 1980s, the NWA title really meant something as the champion would defend it on a nightly basis in various territories. Flair handled that schedule better than anyone else. Hogan would defend his belt once or twice a week.
Flair would show up at a town, do a show, party until the early morning, travel a few hundred miles to another town and do another 40-minute match on two hours' sleep. He’d even occasionally do two matches in a day. That he could keep up that pace speaks volumes about Flair’s skills.
2 HOGAN: Pop Culture Icon
The biggest thing holding Jim Crockett back was a lack of mainstream recognition. Flair himself summed it up on one of his DVD docs: “It hurts to say it but you ask any non-wrestling fan and they won’t know who I am. But they will know who Hulk Hogan is.” Hogan transcended wrestling to become a major face in movies and TV shows, not to mention countless commercials. That's without mentioning his huge merchandising.
Whenever pro wrestling was mentioned in the 1980s, it was Hogan most people thought of. To this day, he’s linked to that decade more than Flair as a major face in all of pop culture.
1 FLAIR: Much better Opponents
While Hogan could face some quality guys like Randy Savage, many of his opponents were the “big men” of WWE who were known for size more than skill. Most of those matches ended in a Hogan squash. Flair could count rivals like Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Sting, Vader, Roddy Piper, Terry Funk, Harley Race and more.
Flair could bring them to a new level and hang with them in some amazing battles on a nightly basis, several of their matches true classics. Hogan got the fame but in terms of who had the better guys to work with, Flair was the true winner.