In the first of a series of articles looking at the WWF in 1993, Craig looks at Hogan’s run with the company from his return in February to leaving after a European tour in the fall. A controversial time including an impromptu title win, rumoured failure to put Bret Hart over and an unwillingness to even drop the belt cleanly.
No one can doubt the credentials of Hulk Hogan; after all he was the face of the WWF during its rise to the top of the wrestling world during the 80s. Simply put, Hogan was the man. Sure, there were better technical wrestlers on the undercard but few could match his charisma and even fewer were as big a draw as he was.
That said, by 1993 the dynamic had changed completely with the wrestling world’s interest in Hogan waning and Hogan’s interest in the sport at a similarly low-level. In a 1994 interview with UK Wrestling Magazine Powerslam – helpfully posted online by The Inside Network – he said “Over the last few years, I’ve been playing mind games with the wrestling business. My heart and soul hasn’t really been in it.” That much was clear when he stepped back into a WWF ring in February 1993 for the first time since Wrestlemania 8.
Much had indeed changed in that period. Around Wrestlemania 8 news sources began to allege that Dr. George, a doctor for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, had sold steroids to wrestlers and in particular Hogan, forcing the man who had been a “say your prayers and eat your vitamins” hero to many to take a leave of absence.
When he was to return it was to a lacklustre reaction. His real life friend Ed ‘Brutus Beefcake’ Leslie had had a parasailing accident and had plates fitted into his face. The WWF played this into a storyline, who’d have thunk it, with The Million Dollar Man and I.R.S attacking Beefcake. This prompted Hogan to return to the company where he made his name and the stage was set for Money Inc (Dibiase and IRS) to defend their titles against Hogan and Beefcake – The Mega Maniacs – at Wrestlemania 9. Hogan was unsuccessful in that attempt to win gold but still got his hands on some later on in the show.
After Yokosuka had defeated then champion Bret Hart, Mr. Fuji challenged Hogan to an impromptu match which he won with his leg drop and became a five time WWF champion. Vince McMahon hoped that this would lead to a Summerslam programme where Bret Hart would defeat Hogan – in a passing of the torch moment – and regain the title. Hogan, however, had other ideas.
Hogan stated, in the same interview, “Basically it was a case of where the promotion and I did not get along and couldn’t reach an agreement on the direction we wanted to go. We had contrasting ideas, creative differences. You know, Vince McMahon had other wrestlers he wanted to place in the spotlight. At the time, I thought that Hulkamania could generate more interest, he thought otherwise.”
Instead then, believing that Hart wouldn’t be a draw and having issues with his size, Hogan would face Yokozuna at June’s King of the Ring event – where Bret Hart would prove doubters wrong to a certain extent by being crowned King of the Ring – where he dropped the belt to Yoko. That would be Hogan’s last appearance on a WWF event until 2002. In fact, he sat out the remainder of his contract other than appearing on a European tour in August 1993 which he had already promised to do.
Now, from a business point of view I can understand the rationale for including Hogan on the Wrestlemania 9 card. After all, his name would have attracted casual or lapsed fans to buy the event. And as for the title switch, as sour a taste as it left, it could have worked had Hogan put in any effort as the main man in the WWF.
Not once did Hogan appear on WWF television in the 70 days between winning the title and dropping it. Sure, 1993 Raw was completely different to the current product where the Champion appears, and usually wrestles, week in week out. But even still. A few taped promos and that was it.
Hell, his first in-ring appearance after winning the WWF title wasn’t even in the WWF but rather a special attraction match with IWGP Champion Great Muta. This match gained notoriety for Hogan’s comments after the match, where he described the WWF championship as a toy in comparison to the IWGP belt. Hogan would go on to make less than 10 in-ring appearances between the two PPV’s, and not one of those was a World Title defence. Instead, we were “treated” to re-matches of him and Beefcake against Money Inc.
A motivated Hogan that was willing to use his run at the top to help establish new stars would have worked and more importantly would have paved the way for a series of new main eventers. What we got, instead, was an uninterested WWF Champion that rarely appeared on television, refused to put over anyone new and wouldn’t even drop the belt cleanly back to Yokozuna. A frustration at the lack of interest the crowd had for him, a focus on issues out with the WWF or just having fallen out of love with wrestling? Perhaps a combination of all three but one this is for sure. Hogan wasn’t nearly the same draw as he was in the 80s and with a desire to make more movies, he must have been worried about directors realising that his star power wasn’t what it once was.