There is no question that Hulk Hogan will go down as one if not the most successful box office attractions in the history of professional wrestling. Hulkamania was a legitimate movement that brought fans to the arenas, tune into on television and buy all of his merchandise. As big of a star that Hulk Hogan was, he certainly hit some bumps in the road to superstardom. His very first stint in the then WWF is proof of that.
Terry Bollea’s initial trek into the New York territory in 1979, was orchestrated by then NWA wrestler Terry Funk, who introduced the rather green, but physically impressive specimen to Vince McMahon Sr.. McMahon was in search of a top heel for his company and wanted the heel to be of Irish descent. Vince Sr saw the potential in Bollea and gave him the opportunity. He bestowed the “Irish last name” of Hogan and decided to use Hulk as his first name considering Terry Bollea was already using it in other territories as Terry ‘The Hulk’ Boulder.
Vince Sr wanted to dye Hulk Hogan’s hair red, but Hogan realized his hair was thinning out and convinced Sr to be a blonde Irishman instead of a red headed one. To complete the new persona, Hogan was given a manager in the form of former wrestler turned manager in ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie. Hogan was also given the nickname of ‘Fabulous’ to make sure fans knew he was a heel. Initially, Hogan had his chest hair shaved to form what looked like the letter ‘T’, but according to Hogan, it was in the shape of a tornado. Vince Sr wasn’t a fan of the look and had Blassie shave it off his new protégé.
His debut was to take place at the television taping in Allentown, Pennsylvania against a journeyman known as Harry Valdez. This didn’t come off smoothly as Hogan was arrested the night before for having a gun in his car. Luckily, Gorilla Monsoon had some connections and was able to get Hulk released in time for the taping. The day of his WWF debut, Hogan had new boots and tights made up. Vince Sr wanted him to come out in a ring robe or jacket, but Hogan didn’t have one, so Gorilla Monsoon let him borrow his ring jacket.
The other issue was Hogan didn’t have a finishing move of his own developed yet. He and Vince Sr went back and forth on what it could be. They finally settled on a shoulder backbreaker. Hulk said it wasn’t a move he was completely comfortable with because he hardly, if ever used it before. Hulk said that the finisher was very stiff and actually hurt his opponents, so it was ultimately scrapped and for the interim, used a standard bear hug.
By 1980, Hulk Hogan was approached to take part in a movie sequel from actor Sylvester Stallone called ‘Rocky III.’ Stallone, a wrestling fan, thought Hulk would be perfect for a small role in his movie as the character of ‘Thunder Lips.’ Thunder Lips was also a wrestler that was very egocentric. The character was The Ultimate Male, or The Ultimate Object Of Desire that would fight Rocky Balboa in a match for charity.
The movie roll was a huge opportunity for Hogan and he knew it. He approached Vince McMahon Sr about the movie offer with a lot of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Vince Sr. didn’t share the same amount of excitement. For Vince Sr, he was an old school promoter who believed that wrestlers should just wrestle and leave the acting to actors. Vince also felt by Hulk taking the role, it would somehow expose the wrestling business. With that said, Vince told Hulk no. Hulk Hogan wasn’t going to just give up on this golden opportunity and insisted that he needed to accept it. It was then, that Vince McMahon Sr gave Hulk and ultimatum…either turn down the offer and continue working for the WWF or take the offer and never wrestle again.
Of course, Hulk accepted the offer to appear in Rocky III and as Thunder Lips and the movie became a box office smash earning 270 million dollars worldwide in 1982. The movie also helped make Hogan into a more recognizable star in pro wrestling. Vince Sr had kept his word and fired Hulk Hogan after agreeing to star in the movie. While Hulk’s appearance in the movie was brief, he still needed to wrestle to make money. So Hulk traveled to Japan and then the AWA to wrestle. Unfortunately, the AWA’s Verne Gagne was another old school promoter, who didn’t capitalize fully on Hogan’s outside success. After teasing fans with Hulk winning the AWA world title, Hulk became frustrated and quit the company.
He then headed for the NWA, where he was booked to appear at the NWA’s very first Starrcade show in 1983. By that time, Vince Sr’s son Vincent Kennedy McMahon was taking over the WWF. Unlike his father, Vince Jr saw the limitless potential someone like Hulk Hogan could be for the company and convinced Hulk to return. The rest of course, became wrestling history.