Rumors abound about Hulk Hogan returning to the WWE fold. He’s an all time legend for the company who main evented six out of the first seven WrestleManias and, more to the point, was the face of WWE during its original national expansion. On top of that, he was a top heel, heading up the New World Order in WCW, and an all time great nostalgia act for WWE as they transitioned out of the Attitude Era. Thus, it both makes sense why management would want him back and why fans would care enough for his potential return to offer weeks of news and speculation for the wrestling community.
Hogan doesn’t come without his baggage, though, after leaving WWE following a very public fall from grace after tapes leaked of Hogan using racist epithets. That’s in addition to him aging. While he has still suggested over social media that he has another match in him, it’s doubtful his body could really hold up to a match of any significance. Hogan has a reputation for politicking, too—championing his own cause above that of up and coming talent, and demonstrating a less than sterling record when he has significant political stroke, as was the case during his run with Impact Wrestling.
So what should WWE do with Hogan if he does indeed return? Perhaps more to the point, what missteps does WWE need to avoid? This article looks at eight constructive uses for Hogan in modern day WWE, and seven traps the company needs to be careful to avoid.
15 Use For Hogan: Authority Figure
While the authority figure role in wrestling can feel played out, WWE has largely been successful in making it work since the start of the new brand split, and a part of that comes down to having face or conflicted general managers, and ones whom fans are genuinely excited to see on their TVs, like Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, and Daniel Bryan.
Hulk Hogan could readily fit this mold.
As a face authority figure, Hogan could offer up the nostalgic fun of giving fans his old entrance and some posing, while only getting physical with the very occasional punch thrown on a special occasion.
It’s the kind of role that could allow the Hulkster to genuinely draw in some nostalgic viewers and excite a crowd on the mic without necessarily getting him too plugged into storylines and stealing the spotlight.
One of the biggest factors weighing in Hogan’s favor is his instant credibility. He’s on the very short list of the most famous men alive to have ever wrestled, besides having an imposing physical presence. As such, he’s the kind of character who can immediately, believably command respect in both kayfabe and reality like so few others will ever be able to.
14 Avoid: An In-Ring Return
There’s a generation of fans that will always, on some level, welcome seeing Hulk Hogan in a wrestling ring. For those who were children in the 1980s or whom were at least drawn into their wrestling fandom during the Rock N Wrestling Era, Hogan remains fixed the icon of all icons who fostered their first understanding of what wrestling was and could be.
On top of that, Hogan has proven himself in occasional wrestling appearances in the not so distant past. No, he’s not going to wrestle a five star classic, but it’s difficult to claim he did in his prime either. With a match kept short and controlled, used as a platform for Hogan to play the hits, he could still be a fun attraction in the ring as recently as his early 2010s run with Impact Wrestling.
Time marches on, though, and in a WWE ring increasingly populated by indie darlings who can legitimately go, there’s simply not much place for Hogan, in his advanced age and with his extensively rebuilt body to be working matches. There’s little good that would come from him getting in the ring. He wins and he’s burying a younger talent or, at best, taking the victory from a current star who could benefit from more. He loses and it defeats the purpose of Hogan returning as the nostalgic conquering hero. It’s for the best interests of everyone that he not be booked into matches at this point.
13 Use For Hogan: Pushing A Youngster
While Hogan is well past his prime as a wrestler, he has established a track record for helping out younger guys when he’s committed to doing so. Before Edge was a main eventer, the would be Rated R Superstar enjoyed a nice little credibility bump as Hogan’s short term tag team partner (and co-Tag Team Champion). When Hogan went to Impact, he briefly helped reinvent Abyss as his protégé, and later gave Jeff Hardy a boost by choosing him as the top in ring star for the Immortal heel stable. These developments demonstrate Hogan at his best at this point in his life and career—not as he guy body slamming anybody, but rather the guy mentoring someone else on how to do so, and cheering him on from the corner.
Whether he’s a manager, authority figure, or simply portrayed as somebody’s older, wiser friend for a specific angle, Hogan can do quite a bit to help push a younger ally.
On the flip side, one need look no further back than Hogan’s interactions with Brock Lesnar to see what Hogan can do to put over a younger rival. Whether Lesnar was bearhugging him into unconsciousness during his original run, or crashing Hogan’s party in his most recent WWE tenure, Lesnar came off as a monster, not for bullying or overwhelming just anyone, but one of the biggest stars who ever lived.
12 Avoid: Color Commentary
There’s a time honored tradition of wrestlers transitioning from their time in the ring to working color commentary. The role makes perfect sense for those wrestlers well liked by fans and with a gift for gab to keep them in the spotlight and allow the credibility of their in ring careers to push them as believable experts regarding what’s going on in the ring today.
As a special guest commentator, particularly for a match Hulk Hogan might have some specific, emotional investment in, I could imagine him being successful enough. It would, however, be a huge misstep for WWE plug The Hulkster into this kind of position on anything resembling a full time basis.
Sure Hogan is popular, and sure he can talk. The interviews from his most iconic period on top of WWE don’t exactly hold up all that well to time, though, as hindsight has made it increasingly clear he was more about enthusiasm than coherent storytelling. To make matters worse, Hogan has a history of big time slips of the tongue. Whether it was mis-labeling the now the New World Organization upon its inception in 1996, or even more infamously calling the Superdome in New Orleans the Silverdome at WrestleMania XXX (twice before he realized his mistake), Hogan has proven he shouldn’t be anyone’s first pick to call an important match with precision.
11 Use For Hogan: A Redemption Story
The biggest public hold up to Hulk Hogan returning to WWE is the same reason why he was let go by the company in the first place. Hogan was caught on tape using the n-word—about the most offensive language in our contemporary culture. Nearly three years have passed, and Hogan’s behavior hasn’t necessarily been forgiven, but while he’s been mostly out of the public eye, his mistakes are inching closer to being forgotten. If he truly is brought back in the immediate future, it’s a sign that WWE doesn’t see him as enough of a threat, in reality or in public perception, to keep locked out any longer.
A number of Hogan’s African American friends and former colleagues have come to The Hulkster’s defense, claiming they never took him to be racist. Still, they don’t speak for the larger black community, nor for every individual. Mark Henry commented as recently as doing media work for WrestleMania 34 and his own Hall of Fame induction that he wasn’t sure how he’d feel about WWE welcoming back Hogan.
One option to both have Hogan come back and at least pay lip service to those he hurt the worst would be to not bury his past comments, but address them hands on and have Hogan make amends. Pro wrestling’s a difficult form with which to tell a nuanced story, but Hogan could nonetheless publicly apologize on a live mic in the ring as gesture towards seeking his redemption.
10 Avoid: Bringing In Brooke Hogan
Hulk Hogan is a father of two, and it makes complete sense that he’d want to do what he can to exchange his own celebrity status and connections to help his kids get ahead in their own pursuits. So it was that his family life became the subject of the Hogan Knows Best reality TV series, and so his daughter has enjoyed opportunities in her attempts at a pop music career.
While Brooke is an adequate singer and dancer, and reasonably attractive, it’s not clear she’d have made any headway as a professional musician without her dad. Furthermore, there’s no reason at all to think she’d have been hired by Impact Wrestling and cast as the kayfabe authority figure over the women’s Knockouts division were it not for her dad’s influence.
Lacey Von Erich alluded, in her visit to Steve Austin’s podcast, that she was working with Brooke and other daughters of famous wrestlers on starting a new wrestling promotion, but it’s unclear if that project will get any traction.
It’s not unrealistic that Hulk would try to broker a deal to get his daughter in with WWE.
Were she to work a few guest spots, like she did for Hulk’s summer rivalry with Randy Orton back in 2006, it could be fine, but anything more than that level involvement would be, at best, a waste of WWE’s resources, and at worse a slap in the face to the hard working women on the WWE payroll nowadays.
9 Use For Hogan: An Injury Angle
For all the baggage that Hulk Hogan may carry at this point among smart fans and among fans of color, he remains one of the most globally popular figures in wrestling history. There’s a power in that to continually use The Hulkster for a variety of purposes. Among them? The prospect of generating heat for a heel by having injured Hogan, or offering an inspired reason for a good guy to fight in avenging someone taking down the legend.
Wrestling has had many visitations upon this theme. Whether it was The Freebirds giving Fritz Von Erich a heart attack to spur on the patriarch’s sons, Sycho Sid going after Jose Lothario to get at Shawn Michaels, or a more recent case like Seth Rollins threatening to break Edge’s neck unless John Cena agreed to reinstate The Authority to power in late 2014—the level of success has varied, but the aim was similar to pull on fans’ heart strings by watching a beloved legend get hurt.
Brock Lesnar would be an obvious choice to take out Hogan once again, but the honors could also go to someone like Rusev breaking the Immortal one’s back with The Accolade, or Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens giving him one of their signature beat downs. In any of these cases, Hogan can still garner sympathy from his loyal fans, and it’s a prime use for him.
8 Avoid: Joining The Creative Team
Most of the most serious criticism for Hulk Hogan comes not from his time with WWE at all, but rather the periods of his career spent with WCW and with Impact Wrestling. The common threads between those two tenures? Chief among them was the fact that there wasn’t clear, consistent leadership from the company Hogan working for, and Hogan was in a position of notoriety and power such that the company need him much more than he needed them.
As a result, Hogan infamously exercised his stroke mercilessly in WCW for the benefit of him and his friends. By the time Hogan signed with Impact, his full time wrestling days were long over, and his formal position had more to do with charting a course creatively and influencing business decisions. Thus, he was a bit less overtly invested in putting himself over. There are several key decisions that get attributed to Hogan. He suggested the company do away with its distinctive six sided ring (and dismissively calling it a playpen, thus demeaning the company’s history up to that point). He pushed for the Immortal and Aces and Eights stables that felt a lot like nWo retreads. And he vocally got behind moving Impact to Monday nights into direct competition with WWE’s Monday Night Raw (catastrophic to ratings at the time).
To say Hogan’s decisions as a businessman and creative contributor are uneven is pretty generous. WWE will be best served to keep him strictly to an on air talent role.
7 Use For Hogan: Ambassador
Today, John Cena is celebrated for his extensive work with kids through the Make a Wish Foundation, not to mention being a well spoken and thoughtful representative of the company on the talk show circuit. Before there was Cena filling these roles ably, and arguably elevating them to new heights, there was Hulk Hogan, who got the ball rolling.
Vince McMahon positioned Hogan as the original face of his wrestling empire on account of The Hulkster’s look, charisma, and gift for gab. These qualities allowed Hogan to push the WWE product on all manner of platforms not previously accessible to the company, all of which made him key to taking pro wrestling more mainstream than it had ever been before.
Despite having some slips of the tongue in recent years, and his much maligned use of racial epithets, Hogan still by and large knows how to communicate with the media in ways that get a message across and create excitement.
Moreover, he is known to be good with kids. Thus, using The Hulkster as a non-wrestling representative of the company remains viable and a good way to take advantage of his legacy without bringing any of his baggage into the current WWE product.
6 Avoid: The New World Order
WWE loves its nostalgia trips, and there’s a real argument to be made that Hogan got things started on that dimension of the company’s business model. Indeed, just as WWE got into the business of really pushing it’s Hall of Fame and marketing DVDs that chronicled the careers of past stars, Hogan was a driving force. He’d just returned, and his star turn at WrestleMania X8—earning by far the biggest reaction of the night—charted a course for how WWE would treat returning legends.
Indeed, both Hogan and WWE love the New World Order, too. The act made Hogan relevant again in the late '90s, and was essential in making WCW competitive with WWE in the Monday Night War. WWE has brought the group back for guest spots, and Hogan not so subtly tried to emulate its success with heel factions in Impact Wrestling.
The fact of the matter is, however, that the core three members of the nWo, Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash have no business getting in the ring at this stage of their lives. Moreover, while it is fun to celebrate nostalgia now and then, WWE has also dug itself a hole in now celebrating its own history too aggressively and at the expense of its current roster. It’s cool to see The Undertaker, Triple H, or Kurt Angle in the ring at a WrestleMania. However, it’s remarkable to think current era veterans like Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston have never worked one-on-one matches at the biggest show of the year, and you have to wonder if WWE favoring nostalgia has put a glass ceiling over these guys.
5 Use For Hogan: Talking Head
With the WWE Network in full swing, WWE creates more original content than ever, and particularly so in the documentary and highlight reel genres. It can be fun to see stars from yesteryear make unannounced appearances on these shows (Lex Luger coming out of the woodwork for one), and difficult to rebuke the credibility of legit legends weighing in (Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, etc.).
Hogan has been missing from these kinds of productions in recent years, since WWE released him from his part time deal and would be a welcome addition back for these purposes. Particularly when it comes to discussions of the 1980s into the 1990s, the Monday Night War, or even the early 2000s, which are due for a retrospective treatment anytime now, Hogan’s voice is valuable, immediately recognizable, and often interesting. If WWE ever does buy out Impact Wrestling (or at least its tape library) Hogan could further add a fascinating dimension of commentary there. While his work with the company is largely maligned, we also haven’t heard much of The Hulkster’s side of things from that particular venture.
In addition to his clear value in the role, if WWE wants to take it slow, and ease Hogan back into the fans’ consciousness, involvement as a talking head is a near perfect choice for not taking chances with a bad reaction from a live audience.
4 Avoid: The Patriot Angle
One of Hulk Hogan’s calling cards during his original run on top of WWE was that of an all-American hero. It was a reasonable enough way to book Hogan in the latter days of the Cold War. He steamrolled The Iron Sheik to win his first world title, and went on to have Andre the Giant, Kamala, Nikolai Volkoff, Dino Bravo and a variety of others at hand to offer varying degrees of threats, with varying degrees of focus on their characters coming from outside the US. His Gulf War feud with Sgt. Slaughter largely represented the end of the American hero versus heel foreigner model seeming viable at the main event level (though, of course, WWE would go to the well again with Yokozuna representing Japan).
In 2018, with WWE making high profile inroads with business in the UK, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and a variety of other markets, besides being a more internationally viable entertainment company than ever before, revisiting Hogan as the patriotic conquering hero is one trap WWE needs to avoid.
Especially after making headlines with his racially insensitive remarks, the last thing WWE should do now is to trust Hogan with playing an American patriot with the level of nuance the current cultural climate demands.
3 Use For Hogan: A Sit Down Interview
Whether you love him or hate him, Hulk Hogan is one of the most important figures in wrestling history. He’s someone who folks are eager to hear from, whether they are devout fans hanging on his every word, or even if it is for the purpose of poking fun at him. Better yet, he does not mince words or back down from questions. While it has gotten him into trouble more than once, and The Hulkster has been known to tell tall tales, the results of interviews with him nonetheless tend to create headlines.
Hogan has rarely given involved, sit down shoot interviews, though, in the style of a podcast or WWE Network show, and particularly not since the scandal of his tapes using racist language. It could be interesting, then to see him on a show like Legends with JBL, Straight to the Source, or The Stone Cold Podcast, especially if it were a live show for which WWE didn’t have the opportunity to carefully edit things. There’d also be potential in Hogan as more of a small panel participant, talking with Vince McMahon about the rise of WWE in the 1980s, or with Eric Bischoff about WCW. Another option: a visit to Table for 3 with the likes of fellow New World Order founders Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, or with faces of WWE like John Cena and Steve Austin.
2 Avoid: A Feud With The Authority
When Vince McMahon became WWE’s first proper heel authority figure, he was walking into largely uncharted territory. He’d stay in the Mr. McMahon character on and off for over a decade, with the inherent limitations that he was already north of fifty when he started playing the part, and not a properly trained wrestler, so the gimmick would have a ceiling on it.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have largely followed in Vince’s footsteps as real life senior executives who have been on air as the evil overlords of the on air product for most of the last five years. When Triple H first became an authority figure, as a face, he felt like a breath of fresh air for combining iconic status, with veteran credibility, with the knowledge he could still go in the ring when he needed to. Years later, those same dynamics, particularly playing the heel, feel awfully tired.
If Hogan were to return as either a legend or authority figure himself (presumably replacing Kurt Angle) one of the more obvious directions to take his character would be to place him in a feud with The Authority.
Whether it were Hogan getting in the ring one time, or serving as somebody’s mouthpiece, this potential angle sounds tired before it has even begun, particularly considering the extent to which Angle, Mick Foley, and Shane McMahon have all already played that part in recent years.
1 Use For Hogan: NXT Guest Trainer
Hulk Hogan’s not necessarily the first guy you’d turn to in order to learn the mechanics of how to be a wrestler. There’s a reason why a guy like Lance Storm is so highly regarded in that arena—while he may not have been the most charismatic or ultimately successful wrestler in the world, his fundamentals were beyond reproach, and he worked in the big leagues long enough to have name recognition to boot. While Hogan has the name value to compete with anyone, and he managed a lengthy wrestling career for himself, his time in the business was never about precision or advanced workmanship. It was all about connecting with the people.
In that vein, Hogan would be a fascinating guest trainer at the WWE Performance Center. Most of the talents who make it to NXT already have the bare bones fundamentals down, but Hogan could be the guy to teach so many intangibles about charisma and talking fans into the building, not to mention a compelling weight training coach. Just as guys like Johnny Gargano have spoken publicly about going to finishing school with Shawn Michaels, Hogan could be a fine mentor to a prospective franchise player in the making like Aleister Black or Ricochet, or monster heel prospect like Babatunde or Killian Dane.